Learning a language with a toddler is nothing like any kind of school. You learn different words at a different speed. It has left me completely fluent on the playground level but still stuttering when I try to speak Swedish at work.
But in a sort of Zen-ish way, it highlights the fictions of form that our languages place on us. I’ve found this especially in Swedish versus English, more so than French, Hungarian or Croatian. Those languages made me think differently, but the concrete words always seemed to translate.
This morning, Baby B scratched his big sister in an expression of toddler independence/anger/out of control-ness. I was out for a bit and when I came home, NK said that “He ‘reeved’ me!”
Riva is a Swedish word for scratch. More like claw. But they use it for scratch. So I said, “Oh, he scratched you?” and she got all confused and said, “No! He ‘reeved’ me!”
Because scratching an itch and scratching someone aggressively are two words in Swedish. One in English.
It goes both ways. Swedish has one word for both plant and flower. Swedish has one word for pigeon and dove.
However, English has only the word duck. You can have a mallard, but it is still a duck. In Swedish, mallard and duck are as different as, well, pigeon and dove.
All of this is probably one reason expats are more creative, according to the Economist, at least.
But maybe it is also a good defense against what they call first-language attrition – when you slowly lose both words and context in your native tongue. I once spent a week trying to remember the word “bulldozer,” for instance.
I do not think I will have the same trouble with scratch.