Saturday, September 18, 2010

Somehow & Anyhow

One of my favorite, favorite things about learning about new cultures is language. I'm no linguist by any means, but I very much enjoy thinking about and trying to understand language and it's use in cultures. Language can often give deeper insight into cultural differences that you wouldn't necessarily think about. It's also one of my biggest sources of laughter and amusement. The things that come out of people's mouths (both others to me as well as me to their ears) can cause hysterical fits and private jokes for weeks.

Two of my favorite partial phrases that Nigerians consistently use are "(something) is somehow" and "(something) just anyhow."

For example, tonight at dinner we had spaghetti. It tasted different than it usually does and someone remarked "This sauce is different. It tastes somehow." Which when you really think about it from an American perspective the second sentence is saying virtually the same thing as the first sentence, and really neither one are giving you any clue into how it is different. Often when I try to press someone on what they mean by this "somehow" I get no further. "What do you mean 'somehow'?" "I don't know, just somehow." You quickly learn to stop asking for more information because you know it won't get you anywhere.

As for the other one, one of the kids was giving a summary of a book he read and said about 5 times "The main point of the book is that you shouldn't spend your money just anyhow." This phrase is a little more clear...obviously you shouldn't just spend your money with wild abandon but "just anyhow" is still pretty vague and it's used in other contexts where it makes a less clear point.

For me, as a naturally inquisitive person and a qualitative researcher, this sheds light on one of the more frustrating cultural differences that I've noticed about living in Nigeria. It's very hard to get people to understand that I really, really & truly want them to describe this "somehow" or "anyhow." For me, it speaks to how Nigeria is much less concisely verbally expressive than the US and that less value is placed on exploring specific meanings of abstract concepts. This is not to say that Nigeria isn't expressive because Nigeria has some of the most beautiful art and music in the world. It's just a different style of expression, one that does not lend itself well to the type of information I am usually seeking. Often when someone does try to explain something to me it is filled with round about stories with metaphors and analogies and I'm left with a blank expression and hours of thinking to try and figure out exactly what the person was trying to tell me. I want and am looking for 2-3 sentences telling me a precise definition where they are looking to create a visual scene in my mind and some kind of holistic understanding of the topic of hand. It's one of the most challenging things I have to work on while I am here. In the beginning I used to zone out after a few minutes of what seemed like nonsensical rambling and then just pretending to understand what the heck they were trying to tell me, but now I'm getting better at following through the story and grand picture and usually get what the person is trying to express. I'm sure I still miss nuances, but overall I'm getting their meaning. And more importantly I've learned I can't just ask questions anyhow and that sometimes I just have to accept a non-descript somehow or two and make up a meaning for myself.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

I don't always leave a comment, but I read every blog post you write. I check every single morning and every evening to see if you've written a new one. I should let you know!