Istanbul, July 2012
I’ve been taking Turkish lessons every day for about two months now. It takes up quite a lot of time, as language learning is wont, and ought, to do. But there’s always some new concept or vocabulary that’s surprising or delightful enough to shake me out of my initial 10 AM stupor (yes, 10 o’clock is early!).
A few days ago it was the word for jigsaw puzzle, yapboz, which melds the two verbs ‘make’ (yapmak) and ‘break’ (bozmak) together. Which I thought was pretty neat. Last week we also learned how to express ‘as soon as’ in Turkish, which is done by linking a verb and its negative form, so that “As soon as I leave the house” / Ben evden çıkar çıkmaz, literally translated into English, gives us “I leave/do not leave the house.” I love how this construction reflects an idea of ‘as soon as’ as the threshold between the performing of an action and its not being performed. ‘As soon as I leave the house’ is that micro-moment where I both leave and am not leaving, or where I am neither leaving nor not leaving. (This makes the most sense for me when I get up/do not get up in the mornings!)
Today we were told the Turkish equivalent for ‘blah blah blah’: ‘mış mış da mış mış.’ Besides being really fun to say (it sounds a little similar, but not identical, to ‘mush-mush-da-mush-mush’), what’s really awesome about it is that the repeated mış is the grammatical ending that defines the Turkish ‘unwitnessed past tense’. In other words, Turkish is a language quirky and philosophical enough (or ‘gossipy’ enough, as Doğuş puts it), to differentiate between the ‘witnessed past’ and the ‘unwitnessed past’. As an example, “Zeynep smuggled an iguana in her pocket to school today” could be relayed in either of those tenses, one with the implied meaning that the speaker witnessed it personally, and the other implying the speaker had merely heard about it indirectly. This means that verbs in the mış state are often used in the telling of stories, jokes, anecdotes, hearsay etc. Which makes the Turkish ‘blah blah blah’ that much funnier/apter/more sarcastic.
Anyway, our teacher warned us today that this unwitnessed past business is tricky. The mış tense is apparently responsible for many subtle shades of meaning and usage, not all of them intuitive or easily apparent. Oh well. I’m still looking forward (albeit a bit apprehensively) to learning its ins & outs, especially since the beginning has already proven sufficiently entertaining!