Thursday, 30 September 2010

Pigeon English - Friday Flash


She was from Portugal, he Latvia. This much they had established through their second and third languages. English as the lingua franca. That and a good deal of pointing both at themselves and the imaginary latitudes of their mother tongue homelands from here in the heart of Trafalgar Square. Their respective crows may not fly straight and true, but two pidgins were very much in evidence.

Though many words were missing from their ungainly English, the effect was to make their exchange seem strangely formal. Clipped of the flourishes of metaphor, it was to the point, yet none too expressive nor invasive.

"The weather, it is good for touring"

"Yes. Perfect".

"Have you seen much?"

"Yes, I have seen many things".

Back home such an utterance might have been delivered in their native language with an audibly heavy heart, at all the miseries witnessed. Here, merely a statement of a dedicated application to sightseeing. All prattle maintained fluffy and light.

Nor were they fluid enough to punctuate their speech with inflection or emphatic gestures. Yet it didn't seem to hinder understanding in the slightest. In fact, it made for a certain crystalline clarity. Perhaps they were just too concentrated on pouring all their energies into properly elocuting such alien words, rather than injecting them with any weight.

"Charming" was her reply to his polite if vacuous probing as to how she was finding her stay in England. By which she didn't quite mean that all the English were charming, (the hawkers at the London Eye had been a bit too importunate, while as for the demonstrators outside the Houses Of Parliament, one didn't need to understand the precise content hurled toward the venerable edifice to know it was vitriolic. Their faces contorted in hate told her all she might ever need to know). Nor did it quite mean she herself had been charmed. But charm was the closest English transliteration she possessed, for a more complex set of responses she was simply unable to give voice to. It seemed to please him for an answer, since he enthusiastically seconded her seeming endorsement like a nodding dog with a sugar high. At least the conversation, the connection, was persisting. Limping along, however stiltedly.

Each enunciation was followed by a hiatus before a response was forthcoming. It was like witnessing a conversation conducted via interpreters whispering through invisible headphones. The wan smile or slow shake of the head emerged long after the reverberation of the inquiry had died away on the air.

"... you like, yes?" The 'yes' not being entirely transparent as to whether it's a triumphant self-affirmation of a successfully uttered sentence, or a genuine seeking after her response to the particular inquiry. Her response gives little indication either. A wordless grin, for which lacking the calipers of intimacy he could not calibrate its dimensions in order to span towards her intent.

She extended her hand out for a valedictory shake at the same time- or was it possibly a split second reaction time late?- he dipped in his head to plant a kiss on her cheek. She rocks back on her heels before swiping her still poised arm across his face. The percussion of which forces us pigeons reflexively to take momentarily to the air.

We see at least a hundred of these scenes every day, even between speakers of the same language. Seems like whatever the impediments to shared language, such misunderstandings are universal. Beyond communication.

Us pigeons felt safe enough to flap back down to the ground and resume our cooing. We did however, have to form a guard of honour parting the way as the Portuguese lady stormed off.

The language of love? It's strictly for the birds...




26 comments:

Laura Eno said...

Love the pigeon viewpoint on pidgin English! I guess the people weren't adept at non-verbal signs. I loved the "...like a nodding dog with a sugar high."

Linda said...

What Laura says exactly! Dialogue spot-on for these two characters. Peace...

G.P. Ching said...

My favorite part is the dialogue at the top which reads like it is straight out of any high school language text. Loved the pigeon eye view of things too. Clever story!

John Wiswell said...

I'm relieved I don't see five hundred cases of this a day. One of the reasons that, when I can, I deliberately take myself out of the public space. The few of any human cases I encounter, I cherrypick for the people I just can't give up and those that are enticing morsels. Kind of a mental pigeon, you could say.

afullnessinbrevity said...

A unique perspective on the interaction of human relationships. Very acute observations. Wonderfully written.
Adam B @revhappiness

Sam said...

Spot on! A great story, and the dialogue was sublime. Put me in mind of asking directions of a Slovakian barman in German, that being our only common language.

Jen Brubacher said...

Next time I walk through Trafalgar Square I'll be eyeing those pigeons a little differently.

Mandy K James said...

A very accurate observation of how English as a foreign language is sometimes used.

The nodding struck a chord in particular. ..."he enthusiastically seconded her seeming endorsement like a nodding dog with a sugar high."

I recognise that action very well. I do it when I talk to people I'm only half understanding or if I want to encourage someone in their explanation of something difficult. Hope they didn't go away thinking I was a dog with a sweet tooth.

Very well done :)

dijeratic said...

A bird's eye view of desire indeed - I love little short films like this (could be, easily), light-hearted with a little lesson learned.

Lovely.

Laurita said...

Fun, unique view of the awkwardness of human interaction. Body language is also a handy one to learn.

Tony Noland said...

I love the idea of the lingua franca putting such restrictions on the emotions they can share, yet connecting through the common frustration at not being able to express themselves fully.

A complex interaction that's all too common.

alisonwells said...

Sharp and interesting observation. But what if they DID try to have a relationship? What are the complexities of that above and beyond the normal distances.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I once dated a Latvian. His English was very good but things still got lost in translation. And I've often wonder what the pigeons in the Square think about.

One thing though - you say "Her response gives little indication either." which switches to present tense, while the rest of the piece is in past tense. Is that deliberate?

Sulci Collective said...

i wanted to convey the moment of the pigeon looking up to watch the response - the only other part like that is when just before she slaps him and the pigeon tries to work out if the boy deliberately ducked in to kiss her seeing her hand outstretched to shake, or it was genuinely simultaneous

Deanna Schrayer said...

"...like a nodding dog with a sugar high." Love that Marc! And what a fine, original viewpoint this is. Your work never fails to astound.

Craig Smith said...

Enjoyed the unique viewpoint. If it were true I would enlist a flock of pigeons and start my own spying service :).

Well done!

Gracie said...

Ah, what the pigeons see. Interesting, imaginative story, Marc. Yeah, things get lost in translation even when you speak the same language sometimes. Well done!

Mari said...

You portrayed very well the difficulties of communication between non-native speakers, although I agree with your pigeon that native speakers of any language have the same problem.

Very interesting the pigeon POV. They must have much fun on our expenses, heh.

Pamila Payne said...

I love that your stories are so clever, and yet so relatable, even when it turns out that the narrator (s) isn't even human.

~Tim said...

Masterfully done. Too bad, as you point out, that such misunderstandings are common even between speakers of the same language.

pegjet said...

I found myself leaning in to my computer screen, trying to catch their words and see if they were connecting or not.

The others liked the dog image, but you had some really terrific paragraphs in this one. The second one pulled me into the scene, made me slow down and pay attention, if you will.
The charming paragraph too, gave me interesting depths.

You have a keen eye and ear. And then you have a wonderful way of relating that into a nugget of fiction.

Janet Lingel Aldrich said...

Neat ... it's never occurred to me to wonder what pigeons think of us! I really liked this and the take on the difficulty of communication.

Bukowski's Basement said...

What an inventive little flash... kudos!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please answer to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at sulcicollective.blogspot.com could post it.

Thanks,
Jules

Lou Freshwater said...

Yes, indeed.

Crystal said...

You did such a good job portraying the struggles of language barriers, and such a unique viewpoint.