Monday, March 31, 2008

I just don't belong here

Then I allowed myself to ask the one most forbidden question of them all: What if it's not true?

It was hard for me to ask myself this because I had been trained that doubting the truthfulness of the gospel is itself a sin. Yet I couldn't escape seeing this as the only possible conclusion.

Once I allowed myself to ask this question, the answer became painfully clear. All my life I "knew the church was true" because I had been trained to know it was true. I had no evidence. A "burning in the bosom" on the part of a few million people out of the billions on the planet did not constitute evidence for such an elaborate and nonsensical story.

I felt like I needed to get out and walk around to think. I had been so lost in my own thoughts that I had hardly noticed Janie at her own desk reading her own copy of the Book of Mormon, although perhaps not gaining quite the same insights from it as I was. I told Janie I was going for a walk. She admonished me to be careful out walking in the dark like that, and to be sure to be back before curfew. I promised to be careful, and I set off along the long and curving path back under the bridge and back up to campus. It was starting to get dark out, but the path was lit. Read the rest of the story ->

Carnival mania!!!

After a few weeks of not bothering to submit to any carnivals, I've gone on the carnival circuit again. So have a look at two of my favorite carnivals: The Humanist Symposium and The Carnival of the Godless!!!

Then I'd like to announce the inaugural edition of a brand new carnival: The Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy!!! Have a look at the amazing number of posts that Lina of Uncool has rounded up!!! As you probably know, I'm hoping for a day when favoring women's sexual freedom and autonomy will just be called "feminism" and won't need to be segregated in a separate feminist carnival. However, it's not surprising that this issue is a huge sore spot on the butt of feminism. Feminism is a political movement that aims to promote the interests of more than half the human population, and women as a group have some pretty diverse interests, not to mention a variety of attitudes and beliefs about sexuality.

Then, of course, this month's Stermys are up!!! Check out four of the most excellent posts in blogspace from the month of March 2008!!!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Me, my kids, and "teach the controversy"

First and foremost I want to teach my kids skepticism: to question and think for themselves. The conclusions (the myths of magic are fiction, the gods don't really exist) are secondary. The last thing I want is to teach them atheism as a dogma.

My 6-year-old son Nicolas adores science and nature shows. I mentioned that we've taken up watching broadcast television, but left to his own devices Nico would rather watch his DVDs of C'est Pas Sorcier ("It's Not Magic," a French science show) and Walking With Dinosaurs. As a special treat for Nico, his daddy recently brought home the DVD set of the David Attenborough series Life in Cold Blood about all different types of reptiles and amphibians. Partially because Nico is fascinated by snakes:

rattlesnake cross-section, by Nico

And partially because the DVD case had a picture of a chameleon on it -- an animal we've seen live in the Masala rainforest section of the Zurich Zoo:

chameleon, by Nico

So what's the problem? None of this is controversial.

Well, sort of.

Naturally Nico's naturalism extends to the study of primates (as we see from his family tree I posted here on Main Street Plaza), and he likes to talk about our cousins among the other great apes. Again, there is no controversy on this point in the scientific community. But...

There is controversy about it in my family. And we'll be visiting them back in Minnesota this summer. And I'm kind of wondering what will happen if he starts talking about primates with his (human) first cousins. Nico's not yet aware of "the controversy" -- is he going to get told about "Adam & Eve" and "Noah's Ark"? I'm a little concerned about this, and I imagine my sister is equally concerned about my kids telling hers about their ancestors among the great apes.

We've been blissfully sheltered here in Europe. We haven't had to tell our kids anything about Jesus either way because the subject simply hasn't come up, even when we were visiting Lourdes. And now -- for the first time -- my kids will undoubtedly witness people praying, and it will be up to us (the atheist parents) to come up with some sort of reasonable explanation to give them.

Any of you parents out there have any suggestions on how we should prepare them before setting off on our trip this summer?

One more thing to keep in mind is that all of this science and biology we've got going on at our house is about genuine fascination with life and how it works, not about indoctrination (as much as the "I don't believe in evolution" crowd have made me neurotic about it). Take this whale evolution video. It's true that I found it on a (rather famous) atheist blog, but you'll note that the video says nothing about God. (At least the science one doesn't.) I showed it to Nico once, and he insisted on watching it so many times that my husband finally just downloaded it to Nico's computer so he could watch it whenever he wants. It inspired him to draw this picture:

Basilosaurus, a whale ancestor with tiny back legs, by Nico

And then later, while hiking through the woods, he gathered sticks and taped them together to form a basilosaurus skeleton so he could play paleontologist. (Nico's so funny, always asking us when it was that the dinosaurs left their bones in the ground and whether we'll one day leave our bones in the ground too...)

And -- to continue this absurdly shameless brag-fest -- he totally gets it from me.

Ever since I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes has always been to observe all of the little animals I could find: frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, insects. As my family can attest, when I was Nico's age I had an extensive collection of live caterpillars. Now that I'm grown up, if I see a lizard, I can share the fun of observation by pointing it out to my little family as I did in Lourdes or we can sit around watching bees gathering nectar from flowers:

abeille, guêpe, frelon, bourdon, by Nico

I shouldn't do this but...

my brother was announcing his conference speaking engagements, and even though it means mixing business and peasure by giving away my real identity again, I'm tempted to announce my own. And it's not just my usual petty sibling rivalry -- giving a talk at a Java conference is something I've wanted to do for years!! I know, TMI, I shouldn't be admitting to such nerdy fantisies, but I gotta be me!!! ;^)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Interviewed by the Student Review

On Tuesday I had my lunch interview with Paige. I started my school day as usual by swinging by the cafeteria and getting my meal plan breakfast and lunch as sack meals so that I would have some food to bring to share. After spending the morning in my Latin and Multivariable Calculus classes, I set off for Paige's house.

It turned out that she lived off-campus in a house that she and a group of other girls were renting. That sort of set-up appeared a lot more fun than the dorms, especially since she had her own room.

Paige's room was full of candles on various foreign-looking candle-holders that appeared perhaps to be from India or at least from Pier 1 Imports. The candles weren't lit as there was daylight streaming in through the window past the Indian-print cloth that served as a curtain. She was playing some soft music in the background that was at once mournful yet kind of funky.

For lunch Paige had set out some whole-wheat bread and cheese and fruit. Despite this apparent penchant for natural food, she was willing to partake in the cookies and chips from my sack lunches when I offered. Then we both took a seat on some of her many floor-pillows to continue eating and discuss her article.

I started by telling Paige that my friends had suggested my strange hairdo after hearing me constantly complaining about all of the conformity at BYU. I wanted to try to make myself sound brave and/or heroic in this story, but ended up explaining honestly that I couldn't stand all the dirty looks I was getting, and after less than a single morning of it, I took to doing my hair so as to cover the shaved half whenever I was on campus. Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lazy, linky weekend

Unlike last year and the year before, I don't have any cute pics of coloring eggs with my kids for everyone's second-favorite christo-pagan festival. This is because I told my husband that I needed to spend the whole weekend working on the lecture I'm giving at a Java conference, and he gallantly offered to take the naughty ones (as we've nicknamed them) to visit his mom. Naturally, my first thought was "Party time!!!" so I spent Easter Sunday enjoying the hospitality of a lovely and charming fellow exmo Wry Catcher.

I had a whole post planned about what the BBC and French television stations are teaching my kids about science, biology, and evolution (are there any American science programs for kids, BTW?) but in the interest of getting some work done this weekend, I'll put that off until I have time to prepare the scans, photos, and screenshots. In the meantime, here's some fun stuff from blogspace:

First, I narrowly escaped hosting the 29th Carnival of Mathematics. Not that I'd object to hosting it, it's just that it's not clear I'm qualified since the last time I posted about math was my post about celtic knotwork (perfect for me because it's celtic and it's not work, hehe!). See the comments of that post for the mathematical part. Anyway, I asked a real mathematician to host the carnival instead, and I was right -- he did a great job!!! Interestingly, he included some posts from my own husband's blog!!! I'd link directly to my sweetie's blog, but I don't think he wants me to (don't worry -- not that he thinks people who read my blog are weirdos or anything, it's just a question of separation of business and pleasure). I'm starting to think maybe I should at least subscribe to my husband's RSS, though, so I can see what he's up to when he's not busy taking care of the naughty ones.

Then -- as much as I hate to just repeat what all the other bloggers are linking to -- I have to make a special exception today since this is just about the funniest thing that has happened in blogspace in some time. It turns out that some creationists interviewed some scientists for a film that was supposed to be a balanced presentation of the battle between science and "Intelligent Design" called "Crossroads," but was in reality called "Expelled" and was made to show how "I.D." is unfairly "expelled" from the science classroom. Among the scientists interviewed was atheist superblogger P. Z. Myers who has been mocking the filmmakers on his blog lo these many moons since they interviewed him. You might think that the filmmakers wouldn't care what P. Z. writes about them on his blog, since hey, he's just a random guy with a blog, right? Well, you'd be wrong, as the producers demonstrated by singling him out to be barred from a screening of the film. Apparently the producer was so flustered by the sight of the mighty P. Z. Myers that he didn't even notice Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) standing right next to him, so Dawkins was admitted to the screening. (I'm reporting this all second-hand, so take it with a grain of salt and visit the primary sources for yourself by looking here and here.)

The icing on the cake?

In the credits they thanked P. Z. for his contribution to the film. Oh, if only he could have been there in person to accept those warm and heartfelt thanks!! lol

Friday, March 21, 2008

Back among the T.V. watching hordes...

You may recall that I'm always on about how -- when I moved to France seven years ago -- I gave up dependence on the car. (If you missed it, see here and here.) Well, it's a lesser-known fact that in the same fit of bourgeois bohemian purity we also gave up the oh-so-twentieth-century habit of television in favor of the Internet and just watching DVDs on the computer.


Mostly because the Internet is my imaginary friend and to a lesser degree because of my theory that T.V. is the root of all evil whereas the Internet will save us all. (And if you somehow missed that one, it's here. Me and my wacky theories -- how did I forget to make a "my wacky theories" subject label?!) That and I don't like to have McDonald's marketing crap-disguised-as-food directly to my kids.

We were such purists! In fact, the last time we stayed in a hotel my 4-year-old Léo pointed at the T.V. and said "Mommy, can you put a movie on the computer?" That was cool. Sadly our freakishly T.V.-free lifestyle has come to an end.

Here in Zürich, we've temporarily moved into a furnished apartment, and no living room can properly be called "furnished" without a flat-screen T.V.!! (Not in Zürich anyway.) Note that our living room back in Bordeaux was not "furnished" in any reasonable sense of the word, even though Nico did help us decorate a bit:

Grandma drew the calendar and Nico provided the hand-penciled "Wiggles" logo.

Actually, back then I tried to avoid posting (or even taking) pictures of the inside of our house because it looked like this:

I like to call this one "We're trying not to raise him too close to godliness..."

But what the heck, now that we've used up that old house to the point where we had to abandon it and move, I guess I can post one more photo of it:

This is, of course, why we used to spend all out time outdoors:

But I digress.

Back to this crazy T.V. thing -- I have to admit it's much more entertaining here where all the programs are dubbed into German. Which I don't understand. (But I'm working on it!)

So, I admit it -- the other night my kids and I were basking in the warm glow of the boob tube, mouth-open-mesmerized trying to comprehend the Germanized version of "Hannah Montana." It was kind of interesting. It's simple enough that you can kind of figure out what's going on even without understanding the words, and I'm not sure I missed much. Given the loud and obtrusive laugh-track, I'm guessing they have to clue people in to which parts are funny because it wouldn't be obvious otherwise.

Anyway, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to watching "Bob der Baumeister." :D

Monday, March 17, 2008

A visit to the honor code office...

The interview was in the administration building, which was a funky 60's-style building which had the shape of a narrow X, like a chromosome, when viewed from above. I handed my letter to the receptionist and took a seat in the waiting room. Some other kids were also there waiting, undoubtedly for the same sort of interview. They all looked perfectly normal, so I couldn't imagine what they might have been called in for, yet their eyes were studiously fixed on the walls or on their own shoes, and they had looks on their faces that could be either read as guilty or apprehensive.

I looked up at the wall myself and noticed that Joseph Smith's famous quote "Teach them correct principles and they will govern themselves" was displayed there. I could hardly fault the prophet's wise words, yet it struck me as shockingly ironic to find this particular quote here in the realm of temporal punishment for misbehavior. I began to wonder what the Honor Code Office meant by posting that. Were they trying to set people at ease by suggesting that there wouldn't necessarily be any real punishment? Or perhaps they felt that kicking people out of school fell into the category of "teaching principles"? Finally I figured that they were playing mind games with us and trying to break our brains by presenting us with the most blatantly false true message possible.

I was still contemplating this strange message when my turn came up and I was ushered into an office. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, March 15, 2008

So why does the South Pole exist?

Actual conversation from this morning:

Nico: Is the South Pole in the middle of Antarctica?
me: Yes, it is.
Nico: Is the South Pole the only part of Antarctica where there's penguins?
me: Actually, the penguins don't live at the South Pole because it's too far away from the ocean. They live more around the edges, by the sea [indicating on the map Nico has drawn of Antarctica].
Nico: So who lives at the South Pole?
me: Nobody lives at the South Pole.
Nico: So why does the South Pole exist then?
me: Oh, I dunno. No reason, I guess...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Studies in eccentricity: The Grasshopper King, by Jordan Ellenberg

Imagine a language so precise that there are tens of thousands of different ways to translate the sentence "I kicked the dog." Using the nominative, the genative, the dative, the accusative, the ablative, the locative, the transformative, the restorative, the stative; the operative and its tricky counterpart, the cooperative; the justificative, the terminative, the reiterative, the extremely popular pejorative, the restive, the suggestive, the collective, the palliative, the argumentative, the supportive, the reclusive and the preclusive, the intuitive and the counter-intuitive, the vocative and the provocative, the pensive, the defensive, the plaintive, etc., you can capture every nuance of the phrase.

Was it a field-goal swing, a sideways foot-shove, a horizontal sweep involving the entire leg? All these, and more, called for different verbs. Was the kicking of the dog habitual, or a one-time action? Does the speaker mean to imply the kick is apt to be repeated? And whose dog is it?

Now imagine this language holds a rich folk literature -- grimmer than Grimm -- full of perversely dark humor and a dreadful, hateful poet whose work changed the face of literature and possibly the course of history. There you have the language of a fictional little valley in the Carpathians called the Gravine.

I like stories set in academia. The university scene has a peculiar social life to it found nowhere else. But Jordan Ellenberg's novel The Grasshopper King captures a key element of a professor's life that I've never before seen illustrated this well: that the research itself is exciting and fun -- even if your treasures are locked away in books or in your impenetrable colleagues' minds instead of being hidden in more traditionally exciting locations such as a temple of doom.

Here's a little taste:

In Gravinic it formed a series of perfect dactyls, which by an unfortunate chance coincided exactly with the endless tack-eta of something inside our radiator; so I seemed always to be hearing it, whenever the nights got cold. My English version of the rhyme went as follows:

Little Bug, Little Bug, my son Little Bug,
It is time to do your lessons for school,
Hurry, hurry, hurry, Little Bug!
Or Mama will throw you to the jackals.

This was typical. Gravinian nursery rhymes were all alike in their earnest didacticism, their brevity, and their termination in sudden, usually unpleasant surprises. As I shouldn't need to point out by this time, my translation fails to capture the full meaning of the source text. The original, for instance, strongly implies that the jackals in line 4 are not a vague and distant threat, but rather a specific set of jackals, probably nearby, very possibly inside the house. In English all this is lost -- and with it, I think, the verse's special charm.

In human terms, this book is a very masculine portrait of the life of the mind. It's a grand re-telling of the clever quip of Socrates when someone asked him for advice on whether he should marry or not and Socrates replied: "Whichever you do you will regret it." Some of the characters in this book are bachelors, married to their research. These guys come off as a little odd socially. Other male characters are married to actual women, which is worse. In this story, a romantic relationship is something that comes upon a man unexpectedly. He might try to predict it a bit like weather -- to know when to react by wearing a sweater or carrying an umbrella -- but the idea that one might contemplate the type of relationship he wants (and plan a strategy to get there) is absent.

That's not to say the characters in the story are less interesting than their scholarship. The inhabitants of Chandler State University (and neighboring Chandler City) are as richly eccentric and full of life as the poets of the Gravine. The plot is too, while we're at it. The key to understanding the work of the great Gravinic poet Henderson may well be known to a brilliant professor who has mysteriously fallen silent, and researchers in town and around the world pull out the stops to try to find out what he'll eventually say.

Now if you're still undecided about whether you want to find a copy of this book and read it yourself, the magic of the Internet can help solve your problem (just as it solves so many problems that pre-Internet peoples had to deal with). You see, the first chapter or so of this book is available online for free through Google books here. (Note unfortunately the "Preview This Book" tab unfortunately doesn't show up for some people -- not sure why or how Google books works...) I can tell you that this segment alone is entertaining enough that it's worth the bother to read it online. If you're looking for something a little different for your recreational reading tonight, why not try this? And see if you don't get hooked.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Girl talk

Cindy seemed quiet and withdrawn at lunch on Sunday and also later at church. I couldn't help but notice that Hyrum didn't come by to meet her at church and walk her home this week. On the way home, she was kind of shuffling along looking at her feet rather than being her usual cheery self.

From talking to Amy at church I understood that Cindy's date hadn't gone well, but I didn't have the details. Amy suggested that I come to their room after church to help her cheer Cindy up.

I went back to my room and got changed, and then I went over and knocked on Amy and Cindy's door. Cindy was in her bathrobe with a mud mask on her face and cucumber slices over her eyes. She was reclining in bed with about a million small pillows -- their whole collection -- carefully arranged to prop her up in a comfortable position. Amy was sitting in a chair doing Cindy's nails. They had some Beatles music playing softly in the background.

"C'mon in, Lynn," said Amy as I pushed open the door and then closed it behind me. "We've decided that what Cindy needs to cheer her up is a day at the spa."

"Spa Amy," said Cindy, giving a little smile. Read the rest of the story ->

Carnival of stories!!!

It looks like I'm not the only one out there who has stories to tell about BYU, both true and fictional.

Beanie-cap Tom has posted his own tales of lost love at BYU (and he followed up with another love story from his youth). And then -- this is an oldie, but not to be missed -- Sister Mary Lisa's misadventures in friendship, love, and lust getting knocked-up at BYU.

Leaving BYU a bit, Ninja writer C. V. Rick has some new Mormon childhood adventures for you in Apartheid Billy. Then, if you'd rather read Mormon lit fiction instead of memoirs, Sideon has up a new episode of Season of Truth. On the other hand, if you like funny memoirs but you prefer Jewish ones instead of Mormon, check out The Exterminator's bus cruise with his grandma!!!

(Sorry if I've missed any. Feel free to link to other stories -- true or invented -- in the comments.)

Then on to the real carnival: the 16th Humanist Symposium!!! This one is full of insights on facing the void and starts with a tale of the life of a classical musician. The next one will be hosted by our good friends at Mind on Fire, so be sure to gather up your best humanist insights within the next few weeks and submit them here!!! :D

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Born in a resort: my real-life BYU boyfriend

Since I've written a fictional story about BYU, perhaps I should tell you a little more about what I really did at BYU.

I arrived as a freshman and newly-minted apostate in the fall of 1989. Almost everyone arrives at college friendless at first, but I had added the disadvantage of being a lone unbeliever among the faithful in a place where being an unbeliever was more than just being a pariah -- it was against the rules.

When I set out to find a boyfriend, the only real qualification I had in mind (beyond breathing, human, male) was not Mormon. Naturally when the campus environmentalists club announced an organizational meeting, I was there with bells on, dragging with me the least-Molly I could find from among my dorm-mates from Budge Hall. These days being concerned about the environment is almost respectable in Mormon circles. In those days, it wasn't. It looked like a good opportunity to meet some rebels.

Unfortunately, the organizers (and the rest of the club, if there was one...) never showed. Aside from me and my friend, the only person there was Steve. I had just turned eighteen; he was thirty-five and still an undergraduate. But he was just what I needed.

Steve was a funny guy. Mostly "funny ha-ha" but there was one thing funny-strange about him: he'd recently been expelled from BYU (for smoking pot), and instead of learning his lesson from this, he'd gone through the repentance/readmission process and came back. This is the kind of selection you get when you go looking for rebels at BYU. Of course I didn't know about his expulsion when I first met him -- I didn't even realize he still had one foot in the church. I treated him as though he were as much an apostate as I was, and after a few weeks with me, he was.

When I met him, Steve was living in a little motor home parked in a trailer park in the far end of Provo. After graduating he moved it to a cheaper-yet-less-legal spot behind his friend's shop in Salt Lake and lived there. He felt it was foolish to join the rat race just to get nicer accommodations and buy more and fancier stuff. As Americans we're born in a resort, he said, where (on just occasional, marginal employment) one can enjoy the simple pleasures of life: books and education, decent food, a little travel, a little weed. He liked to spend his evenings relaxing in his mobile home watching programs he'd recorded on his VCR at the foot of the barely-double bed, working the controls without getting up by pressing the buttons with an old fencing sword he called his "remote control."

And, yes, Steve was the guy from the infamous BYU library story. He was also the one who introduced me to reading primatology books, which I love to this day. He had great stories: about growing up in California, about the pretty Mormon girls in his High School who'd flirted with him to convert him to Mormonism, about his Italian mother and about his father who'd at one point worked setting up pins in a bowling alley, back when that was done by humans, about the archaeological dig he'd participated in to get his financial aid to attend BYU after so many years, about his years off from education, spent -- among other things -- selling heroin, cocaine, and satellite dishes. Sounds like a winner, I know, but any hard drugs were years in the past, so it was cool because he was a little dangerous but not really. He was an intelligent, articulate person who provided a window on a whole array of life experiences that were completely alien to me. He was rich in experience, and I learned from him.

Of course I didn't see it that way at the time. With all my Math and Latin I felt I was a lot smarter than he was, and in my youthful arrogance I wasn't shy about telling him so. But I loved our adventures. One time we drove all the way to Tijuana, via Las Vegas and then a crumbling hot springs resort in California, forgotten by everyone but a few aging guests. Even spending the weekends with him in Salt Lake (once he'd moved there) was an adventure since his friends there were such characters -- they deserve blog posts of their own, if not whole novels.

Back at BYU I explained all these trips as "visiting friends" until the year I moved into an (unapproved) studio apartment and no longer had any roommates to answer to. I had never found pot very interesting, but when Steve offered me a joint to take home, I took it and smoked it in the Student Review office when none of the other BYU-level-rebel kids on the SR staff were around. Why? Because I was baaaaaaad. I was the uber-nerdmeister of badassness in my rebelliously hand tie-dyed t-shirts and other naughty outfits.

It's fun to be young and out to find life wherever it may be hiding. For me, sitting in the warm sunlight on a picnic table in a little trailer park, sipping a glass of white zinfandel (or some other such foolish thing), was a taste of something entirely new.

So is truth stranger than fiction?

You be the judge: BYU

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

On the campaign trail!!!

For Obama again? Nope, for myself this time!!!

I don't know if this is real or not, but it looks like this year's "Niblets" are gearing up!!!

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Chanson, how can you possibly hope to win a coveted Niblet? You couldn't even win sexiest atheist blogger when you held the election yourself!" But I've learned my lesson from that experience. Instead of going with a cheapo "Poll Daddy" solution, next time I'll use top-of-the-line Diebold voting machines.

True, the "Niblets" are awards for faithful Mormon blogs -- at least faithful enough to qualify for the Bloggernacle -- so that makes me a bit of a dark-horse candidate. But I think if there's a miscellaneous write-in category I have a good shot at winning "Nicest Evil Villain."

I can count on you guys to nominate me, right? :D

Monday, March 03, 2008


When I got to my room, I found that Janie was in there with her ironing board all set up and a huge pile of ironing she was working on. It looked like a bunch of men's shirts, so I didn't ask her about it because really I didn't want to know. The Jesus-flavored pop music she was singing along to didn't seem terribly conducive to appreciation of Shakespeare, so I just said hi and dropped off my things and took my copy of Hamlet to the study room at the end of the hall.

My sister April was there in the study room at a desk with a bunch of books open.

"Hi, what are you in for?" I asked her.

"I have a paper to write for my European History class. And you?" she asked.

"I have to read and understand Hamlet by Monday morning," I replied. Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Est-ce que it pokes?

Now that he's four years old, my little Léo has figured out the trick for speaking both French and English: The overlap in vocabulary is huge, so if you don't know the French word, just say the English word with a French accent (and vice-versa), and you'd be surprised at how often that works. (For his early language development, see bilingual babies).

Léo's English doesn't seem to be affecting his French very much, but he's definitely enriching his English by translating stuff literally from French, with some funny results.

The first one is "Est-ce que...?" That may look daunting to non-francophones (it means "Is it that...?"), but it's two simple syllables (pronounced "Eska") and it's just a trick for turning any statement into a yes/no question. We don't have any such convenience in English (we have to do that whole messy inverting the subject and verb thingy), so Léo just carries it over wholesale, producing questions like "Est-ce que it pokes?" That question was meant to be something like "Does it sting?" but was clearly influenced by the French version of the question: Est-ce que ça pique ?

Another funny one is the redundant pronouns. Instead of just using stress for emphasis (as in "I saw him" vs. "I saw him"), the French like to throw in redundant pronouns (as in "Moi, je l'ai vu"). Léo likes to do this in English too, so rather than saying "I did it" he'll say "Me, I did it."

But I think my favorite Léo-ism is "But sure!"

In English, it's tricky to contradict a negative. If someone says "He's not here," you could say "Yes, he is," or "Yes, you're right" -- so "yes" alone can have two opposite meanings in response to a negative. French gives you three choices: oui and non (corresponding to the usual "yes" and "no"), plus a third option si -- just for contradicting negative statements! Cool huh?

Once you've gotten used to using si, it's hard to go back to not having it (you'd be surprised how useful it is!), so Léo has decided to equip the English language with its own version of this useful word: "sure!"

And since why say oui, non, or si when you can say mais oui !, mais non !, or mais si !, Léo translates the mais as well.

So the correct response to a statement like "You can't have any" in Léo's language is "But sure!" :D