Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Syntax, Semantics, Translation

My daily commute, by car, takes me through a couple of tiny villages called the Shelfords. The road through them is quite narrow, and is littered with parked cars - parked by convention on one side of the road.

Traffic in the morning is heavy, and when one is travelling north one jumps from gap to gap in the parked cars - allowing oncoming traffic a clear passage. This is difficult as often you can't see what might be coming south around a corner, and how far away it is.

This morning I jee-yust squeezed into a gap before a line of oncoming cars - unfortunately this gap was very small - and the little car that followed behind me a bit too closely couldn't squeeze completely in as well. I squooshed forward as far as I could - parking sensors squealing in protest. But still the road in the other direction was pretty well blocked.

A couple of oncoming cars managed to wiggle through, but eventually the traffic jammed. Then an extraordinary thing happened. A woman in a south bound car spoke to me in a language foreign to me. I can understand a bit of some Romanic languages, especially if I'm aware of the context. Sometimes, although the meaning is clear, it's hard to guess which language you are hearing. In this case - I'm pretty sure she was speaking "chav".

Chav, it seems, has a quite gutteral delivery - and is best spoken with a wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command. The words are short and simple, meaning it is necessary to repeat them, loudly, even as the person to whom you are speaking is moving into the distance.

Her semantics were:

"Well - I see that, due to an unfortunate sequence of events, we are at an impasse. Although other people with similar sized vehicles have managed to pass through this gap - I don't have the judgement to do so. I note that you are driving a Citroen - I understand that this marque has a corporate tradition of quirky proportions - the front overhang of these cars is quite large - making it hard to be exactly sure where the nose of the car ends. Allow me to be of assistance by pointing out that you have a few inches of clearance left in front of you. I fully understand that you are unwilling to pull out of the gap you are in - because you fear it would be selfish and only exacerbate our problem. However due to my unwillingness to move further forward - the only solution we have is that you push out into the oncoming traffic. We have been here for some time now, and I am feeling a little rushed and flustered. So would you be so kind as to attempt this? Thank you and good day"

Her syntax was perhaps a little curter.

I can well imagine that this woman meets all minor vicissitudes of life shrieking like an ape squabbling over fruit. What a shit.

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