Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Sandwich (Σάντουιτζ)

Once upon a time, there was a lady (and I suspect there were quite a few of them like her) that couldn't say the word 'sandwich'. When Kiria Soula talked about sandwiches (and it was often, because she owned and operated a milk bar with her husband which served lots of them), she always called them 'sammidge'; it just came out much easier for her to pronounce the word in this way, and everyone she spoke to (eventually) understood what she was talking about (given the context).

One evening, just as she had finished her household tasks for the day, Kiria Soula flopped onto the sofa and sighed. "And tomorrow the routine starts all over again," she lamented, "with sammidge-making early in--"

She did not get the chance to finish her sentence.

"It's not 'sammidge', Mum! How many times have we told you!"

Her face went gray. Her daughters, noticing her anxiety, decided to teach her how to pronounce the word properly, maybe because they were a touch embarrassed about the way their mother spoke. Was it because it made her sound uneducated (which she was), or just that less refined in her ways (which she wasn't)? Anyway, how difficult could it be to try calling a sandwich a sandwich instead of a 'sammidge' as she had been accustomed for so long? Was she simply being lazy and not applying her knowledge? After all, her daughters could pronounce the English language like dinkum Kiwis, as well as having a good grasp of the Greek language (they spoke that with a Kiwi accent too), so it couldn't be that hard, could it?

On the other hand, maybe her daughters just wanted her to show people that she was still capable of learning new tricks at a late stage in her settlement in New Zealand, after being a permanent resident for 25 years and having no desire to return to her birth country of Greece.

"Sarnd-witch," said Voula.

"Sar-dou-itz," said Kiria Soula.

"No," said Toula, "seeeend-oo-itch," in her best Kiwi accent.

"Siiii-dou-its," said their mother.

"If you can't say the 'd', just say 'sun-witch', Mum," said Koula.

"Sunwish," said their mother.

"SAND-WICH!" her daughters all cried out together.

"Sund-o-its," she attempted, cowering in fear at her daughters' outbursts.

"GOOD!" they cried. "You're learning!"

The following day when Kiria Soula was at the milk bar, a man walked in and checked out the sandwich counter.

"Aaaah, any leris chayz ang marmi'e sangwidges left, by any chance?"

cheese lettuce marmite sandwich kiwiana
Classic kiwiana sandwich: cheddar cheese, marmite (or vegemite) and lettuce.
Thank the Earl of Sandwich for his gourmet talent.

Kiria Soula did not know how to spell English words (she would write them using the Greek alphabet, leaving the job of formal sign writing to her daughters), but that didn't stop her from understanding what the gentleman was saying to her. Kiria Soula saw immediately that there was an empty space where the lettuce cheese and marmite sandwiches were supposed to be - they were, after all, the most popular ones and always went fast.

"No, so-ree, no mo le-ri tziz a ma-my sund-o-its. Ay me-key some now, OK?"

"Ah, beg ya pardin?" asked the man.

"I may-key NA-OU," she emphasised, " le-ris, tseez a ma-my sund-o-its, OK?" she said hopefully. They usually understood her on repetition.

"Aw right, ged 'z gol'," said the man, nodding his head in comprehension. "I'll 'ave two, please." He held up two fingers in the air, in full knowledge that he was making the F-sign without Kiria Soula realising the hidden undertones in his gesture.

"O-chay," said Kiria Soula, and she turned to the back of the kitchen where her husband was having a cup of coffee and a smoke (back in the days when no one questioned people about what they did in their private space).

"Eh, Yianni, dio marouli tsiz e ma-my sammidges, o-chay!" she hollered out to him. (She still needed to practice the plural of 'sandwich'.)

As the customer waited for his sammidges to be made, he also picked up a carton of Just Juice and a peanut slab (all part of a good kiwi lunch). As he was in a slight hurry, he asked Kiria Soula how much everything cost, so he could pay her now and be back on the road as quickly as possible.

"Figh dola, pliz" replied Kiria Soula, holding up the outspread fingers of her right hand with the palm side facing him, just in case he didn't understand her again.

Yes, she did know she had just made the Greek 'F-you' sign to him, but he didn't know that, did he?

*** *** ***
For various reasons, some English words are difficult for native speakers of Greek to pronounce correctly. They can't quite grasp the length of the English vowels, mixing up words like 'ship' and 'sheep', so that they sound as if they are pronouncing both words in the same way, which may sound quite harmless, especially when context is taken into account. But this is not the case with 'shit' and 'sheet', especially when the latter is pronounced as the former, inducing confused looks, convulsive laughter or frustrated frowns of revulsion on the part of the listener. Vowels in Greek have the same length - 'a' is 'a' and nothing else.

Modern Greek is a 'la-la-la' language; syllables nearly always have an open sound at the end, and all Greek words end either with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or the 's' or 'n' sound. Large clusters of clumsy consonants (the 'closed' sounds of a language, ie anything that is not a vowel) are not a feature of Greek, which is generally a very easy language to pronounce, similar to Spanish and Italian. This 'la-la'la' feature of the Greek language may be one of the factors that accounts for the large number of large words in the language, but this should not make these long words less easy to pronounce, just possibly a little harder to remember. Words like 'sandwich', where so many 'closed sounds' (consonants) are pronounced together ('--ndw-i-tsh') separated only by an insignificant 'uh' sound (the infamous schwa sound 'ə') are very difficult for Greek speakers to pronounce since they don't involve opening their mouths so much.

cabbie's dinner
My husband's Mediterranean sandwich with mizithra, tomato and pepper; Greeks prefer their sammidges toasted.

And of course, exactly the same problem arises for English speakers trying to learn Greek; a friend of mine avoided calling his wife by her given name for a long time, because every time he tried to say 'Athanasia', a word associated with immortality, he'd call her 'euthanasia' instead...

For an interesting snippet of sandwich history, read Sandy Oliver's post

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