Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Contemplating Language...

Hey everyone :)

I just got back to Ottawa from a long Thanksgiving weekend in the USA last night. I had such a wonderful visit with my friends and got to have lots of turkey and pumpkin pie which made me very happy! I would *love* to learn how to make pumpkin pie - I don't think that's on "the list" for recipes I'll learn in school, but if I can find a good recipe, I'm definitely going to give it a try!

Now that I'm back in Ottawa, though, holiday celebrations have unfortunately come to a dramatic halt as I (along with the rest of the students in Basic Pastry class) prepare for the written exams this coming Friday. From what I've learned talking to Chef and listening to some of the Advanced Pastry students talk about their Basic-level exams, it is going to be very difficult :( We pretty much need to know all the recipes we've done so far, their ingredient lists, etc. by heart along with the more "scientific" information like the temperature at which sugar cooks (121 degrees Celsius) and the composition of an egg white (88-90% water and 10-12% protein albuten). It's definitely a lot of material to learn, but I've been studying, and I have about 1.5 more days to study, so I hope I'll be ok!

In other news, I went to the grocery store today (Loblaws) and smelled my first Christmas trees of the season! They had a bunch of trees outside the store, so everyone walking in and out of the store got a whiff of their wonderful pine-y scents! However, there is *still* no snow here if you can believe it! All the snow from the other day melted rather quickly and according the the news station I was listening to on the radio, if it doesn't snow by this weekend, this month of November is going on record as the 4th warmest November in Ottawa since 1889!

Now, for a bit of a philosophical tangent before I get back to studying:

How much does the language we use shape our thought? For example, as you and I have learned from my time at Le Cordon Bleu, the French language has many more words than we do in English for certain culinary techniques and dishes. Two of my favorites are detrempe (dough without butter inside) and paton (dough with butter inside) because they seem to accurately reflect the importance of butter (or beurre) to French pastries. Now, I know we all joke that Americans love butter too and put butter on *everything*, but the heavy use of butter in French cooking isn't conceived of in the same way as it is in America. The butter isn't, for lack of a better word, abused in French cooking. It is respected as an important past of the dish. It is savored. It is valued. In America, it seems we just pile it on without really thinking about it. The French *do* think about it. They think about it very much. So, I guess what I'm wondering is that if we, in the United States, would think about something like butter differently if we had words in our language (like detrempe or paton) that demonstrated more of a respect for butter. I think we would.

I've taken a few classes during my undergraduate studies that touched on this issue of language and thought - it is so interesting to me! The consensus (in the academic world) seems to be that language does shape our worldview and how we interact with the environment around us. At first, I remember being almost scared by how much language shapes thought - I wanted to remain as unbiased as possible and was concerned that there was nothing I could do to remove some of my biases because they were reflected in the words I used every day. However, feeling this way was of no good to anyone - I couldn't just stop talking and using my words because I was afraid! What I could do, though, was just have more of an awareness of the words I used and choose them more carefully. I remember, for instance, when I was little, being told by my parents not to use the word "hate" because it was such a strong word and carried such power. I regret to say that I definitely disobeyed my parents on that one, though. It seemed like *everyone* else used "hate" in their speech, so I figured there couldn't be anything that wrong with it....and saying "dislike" or even "strongly dislike" instead of "hate" just seemed like too much trouble and effort. The words I used didn't really matter, I thought. All that mattered was that I conveyed my thought as quickly as possible. And, "hate," being a one syllable word, was much "quicker" than "dislike," a two syllable word, so I used "hate." Now as I think about this though, I wonder if our society is just too concerned with being fast and moving quickly that we are not paying enough attention to the words we use and reflecting upon how those words are shaping our worldview. "Dislike" might take a bit longer to vocalize than "hate," but the word "dislike" contains the word "like" within it, making it a bit milder and perhaps even reminding us (on a subconscious level) that some things are not *all* bad - there is good to be found in most things. "Hate," however, is just "hate" - pure and simple. Now I'm not saying that the word "hate" should never be used, for there are some things that really deserve to be hated, I think. What I do question, though, is whether "dislike" is more of an appropriate word for situations that might not warrant full-on hate.

Hate is easier to say, though, isn't it? This also made me think about what we do when we cannot come up with a word to reflect how we are feeling at a given moment. When expressing our feelings to another person, how many times do we just "settle" for a word when we just cannot seem to think of a more accurate one? I have learned from some of my friends who are bilingual speakers that sometimes it is easier to express a certain feeling or emotion in a language other than English because English just doesn't have a word for that feeling (or vice versa). How many times do we just settle on a word just so we can "get it out" and convey our thoughts? How many times have we put pressure on another person to do so? All this just made me think that maybe we should have more patience with others before getting upset when they can't seem to say what they are thinking or feeling right away. They might just be searching for the right word to use, and our pressuring them isn't really going to help. I think this applies a lot to children, which is one of the reasons I think everyone says teachers of the younger grades need a lot of patience. Children tend to take longer to express themselves than adults, and I think this is partly due to the fact that they aren't as comfortable with words yet and want to choose the right one. Instead of getting impatient with them though, maybe it is better if we let them (and everyone) have the time they need to express themselves. If not, we risk misunderstandings and conflict. Here, I'm thinking of an instance when someone in a relationship might be pressured to say "I love you" when that is not what he/she really feels, but is simply trying to express a strong admiration or respect for their partner. This can potentially lead to conflict down the road if the individual was simply pressured to say the four-letter-word too quickly.

Hmm...just something I was thinking about.


  1. My mom mad pumpkin bread once. You should try was delicious! But pie is also good.

    NO SNOW IN CANADA!? Ridiculous. It is already too cold here :( I woke up yesterday and had frost on my car.

    I too have thought about using the "word" hate. I think it was in spanish class...I learned that spanish speakers don't say they "hate" something...unless they strongly hate something. It is a strong word. But you're right...there is no short way to say you don't like something in English...which is unforunate.