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Notes on "Language"

By Lewis Shiner

After I posted this story, I got a response from a reader named Kim Loh.

Kim was pleased to see a story that mentioned her home country, Malaysia, but had a few bones to pick with Tom's knowledge of her language:

Tom's assertion that there is "only one word for food in Malay, and it could mean anything from 'this is my lunch' to 'eat me'" is inaccurate.
In Malay, food is makanan. Eat is makan. "This is my lunch" translates to ini adalah makanan tengah hari saya, tengah being "mid" and hari being "day." (Without tengah hari, ini adalah makanan saya just means "this is my food.") "Eat me" literally translates to makan saya. So it's technically impossible for someone who speaks fluent Malay to mistake "this is my lunch" for "eat me." Perhaps ini makan saya could cause the confusion of meaning Tom described in the story, but the presense of ini already causes makan to mean "food" and not "eat."

Thanks, Kim! I'm not going to change the story at this late date--I no longer remember where I got my misinformation, and I'll just charge the mistake to Tom's professorial arrogance. But I'm glad to have the truth available for those who are interested.

By the way, you can see some of Kim's quite impressive artwork at www.artofkimloh.com.


© 2009 by Lewis Shiner. Some rights reserved.

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