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3/24/09 Antecedents and Tables

Peace Corps Volunteers regularly stumble over vocabulary. We reach for a word, and can't find it.

Everybody knows this. After all, we're learning a language that has no common root with English.

But what is less well known is that this happens not only in our "target language" - be it Tamazight, Darija, or what have you - but in English.

When it happens, the PCV usually slaps their forehead and/or the table and says something like, "I'm losing my English."

You'd be amazed what words we forget. I watched a 2nd-year Volunteer, just a week before finishing her service and returning to the US for the first time in 27 months, struggle to find the word roof. She ended up giving its Tam equivalent - STr - which a friend translated for her.

Last week, I forgot the word table. Fortunately, I was sitting at one, and I tapped it fervidly while staring at my American friend, wide-eyed. "Table?" she offered. I hung my head. "Yes, table," I said with a sigh, then shook my head and continued my sentence.

A few minutes later, the word antecedent tripped off my tongue. I interrupted the point I was making - about the challenging Tamazight pronoun rules - and demanded of my friend, "How can I remember antecedent and forget table???" She just laughed and assured me that it happens to us all.

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