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Julia’s house (Assyrian lessons from a 3 yr old)

This is a couple weeks ago. Seana’s in town and we go visit our cousin Natasha and her 3 year old Julia. Natasha has a little bit of work to do so we offer to watch Julia so she can finish (and so we can get on with the drinking and eating).

Julia is smart as a whip and has so much energy, that between her and Russy, the Russell Terrier in the house, I have to take a knee. We bounce from hide-and-go-seek to drawing to trying to figure out which one of the eight remotes will play Kung Fu Panda in the span of about five minutes.

In the middle of this, Julia stops abruptly and asks, “Can we talk in Assyrian?” (Of course, saying this in Assyrian.) Seana and I nervously make eye contact and shift attention back to her. How do you explain to the child that you kinda sorta understand, and can say a few words but don’t really speak well? Actually, I did learn how to say, “I understand Assyrian, but I don’t speak” for just such an occasion. So I try it out on her. “Anna barmuyan suraiya, eena lemson robba sotan.” Yeah, that’ll do the trick, I think.

Hmm. How to describe Julia’s expression? She’s contemplative, as if she’s smelling a little stinky piece of cheese. She looks a little sad for us. Also, confused. But careful. The responsible adults in her world are at least bi-lingual and I worry that she thinks she’s gaining the upper hand.

She remains quiet, as if calculating her next move. Poor thing. We’ve put her in a terrible position. She can speak both and prefers to mix and match. Actually, she speaks an adorable hybrid of Bay Area English and Urmeznayeh Assyrian. Julia overhears when I tell Natasha, “she’s so cute,” and insists through her teeth (again in Assyrian), “I. am. not. cute.” She’s in an Assyrian-speaking household, we should be the ones adapting, making her feel comfortable. I mean, she’s 3 for Christ’s sake.

So, Seana and I throw out some Assyrian words we know, stumbling and groping for meaning like a drunkard pulling an unfinished cigarette butt from the gutter and putting it to his lips. “Boucta…um…shapirta brati. hmmm.” “Itakh kha snack?” This isn’t going well. Julia first looks at me and then at Seana. The tiniest downward angles form the corners of her mouth. Again, the flared nostrils. Pity? Disgust? Nah, I think confusion will cover it. But then, just as suddenly, she turns her back to us and continues chattering away, still drawing easily from Assyrian and English, focusing her energy on more important matters – Kung Fu Panda.

you want us to speak what?

7 thoughts on “Julia’s house (Assyrian lessons from a 3 yr old)

  1. Haha, I literally had to throw my head into the air a couple times to laugh, as if my computer could not endure direct laughter.

    I find it so interesting that this incident struck you because I am so used to similar embarrassing not-understanding-Assyrian scenarios. Since you understand most all Assyrian you can reply and it doesn’t really matter if you do so in English. Only a 4 year old would directly say “Can we speak Assyrian?” because she doesn’t understand that we can’t. Understanding fragments of what is being said is just so frustrating– understanding half a joke or half a story. After the punch-line has been revealed and everyone is laughing I have to nudge the person beside me – what was that word? oh…bear!! Yes very funny!

    I guess what I’m trying to say is welcome to my world! As usual, I am jealous of your mad comprehension skills.

    1. oh, shoot. is she 4, not 3? oopsies. But I think you’re exactly right, I haven’t been called out like this since I was a kid. And even then, the only folks with big enough balls to show open disapproval was our great grandparents’ generation. “Ay” they would say, “why don’t you answer in Assyrian?” clucking their tongues against the roof of their mouths. Our grandparents, Sona in particular, insisted that we spoke, “akh miya” encouraging us to say what we could, never minding that we sounded horrible. It also struck me that she wasn’t just disappointed, she was genuinely confused. “Wha? Who are these so-called adults that don’t understand our language?” Also, I think I’ve been really good at faking, and it’s only recently, when Sylvain asks me to translate for example, that I realize how little I really understand.

  2. I laughed so hard at the same time felt guilty not continue to speaking Assyrian. Omg I left you a scar from childhood didn’t I?

    1. haha, oh god, I knew you would be offended by this. If I’m scarred, at least I got a blog post out of it didn’t I? Masekh sota hadiya 🙂

      1. Yes indeed babe? Its all good yimmy.

  3. Is there really such a thing as Assyrian? As in, Ashurbannipal? Or am I missing the point here – well she is evidently a very clever puss!

    1. That’s correct @butimbeautiful, as in Ashurbannipal. We still exist, no country but we’ve got a language (although, as you know, I speak it terribly) and a flag and we love to party. For some hairy shirtless fun watch clips from the Assyrian convention:

      Thanks for reading!

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