…and now for something completely different.

What is it that excites — gratifies — engrosses you? Or, as we say, what blows your skirt up? This is a serious question, one that each of us can and should examine seriously.

I get a charge out of learning new stuff. When I feel I’ve learned enough about an activity or topic to satisfy my curiosity, I start to lose interest. I’m still interested in the topic in the abstract, or at least I’m knowledgeable enough to regurgitate what I’ve learned and curious to pick up new tidbits, but the thrill is gone.

This observation is by way of being a preliminary to the prediction that the Oblong Blob may be about to branch out, to poke henceforth at sundry curious topics rather than remaining monolithic. Over the years I’ve done quite a lot of fiction writing, but the prospect of continuing down that path is just not enticing me at the moment. Or, as we say, “Been there, done that, what’s next?” For a couple of years now this blog has been almost exclusively about writing, and I may continue from time to time toss in a random observation related thereto, but the old days of the freewheeling Blob seem poised to spin back into view.

My other abiding interest, electronic music, is in much the same condition of subjective personal desuetude. I keep launching one of my astonishing music apps, starting to compose new pieces, and losing interest. Wavetable oscillators? Filter cutoff modulation? Send effects? Why am I yawning?

Last fall it occurred to me that I might enjoy learning French. I’ve never mastered another language; I always felt that English was enough — and indeed, I’m pretty good at English. My sister had a B.A. in French. She died five years ago. So maybe this odd interest in French is by way of being a tribute to her. Or maybe it’s just a fresh enough topic to get my pulse rate up.

I’ve been going through the beginning French lessons in a website called duolingo. It’s not a bad way to start, I think. duolingo teaches strictly by immersion; there’s never any explanation of the grammar. But with an Indo-European language that shares a lot of vocabulary with English, immersion may be workable, up to a point. I also bought a book of French grammar, which is a big help.

Aside from the shared vocabulary, though, French is a challenge. The spoken language sounds very different to English, and there are many silent letters in the written language, so an English speaker who hasn’t mastered the differences is going to speak with an atrocious accent. I tend not to pay much attention to the diacritical marks above vowels, because such marks almost don’t exist in written English, so I sometimes stumble over French spelling. Those marks are important if you want to spell French words correctly.

French has masculine and feminine endings for both nouns and adjectives, and the gender of most nouns is unrelated to their meaning, so you just have to memorize the gender along with the vocabulary. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block, though, is the French system of verb endings and the prevalence of irregular verbs. If I hadn’t had three years of Latin in high school, French verbs would be even harder than they are.

duolingo sometimes presents idioms and expects you to translate them idiomatically. You’re expected to translate “enchante” (with an accent over the final e, if you please) as, “Pleased to meet you.” That’s fairly ridiculous, in my opinion. It means, “Enchanted.” Duh. But if you’re going to France as a tourist, I suppose idioms are what you’ll want to know. I’ve also looked at another online service, busuu, that gives you more sentences and more vocabulary to wrestle with. duolingo is paced much more leisurely.

Today I thought, hey, why limit myself to one new language? Why not learn Swahili, Welsh, or Cherokee? So I had a quick look at duolingo’s introduction to Hungarian.

As they say in New Yawk, fahgeddaboudit. I sincerely doubt whether it’s possible to learn Hungarian using duolingo’s immersion model. Hungarian is not an Indo-European language, and that’s a crucial difference. In the absence of common vocabulary, and without a solid introduction to grammar, Hungarian seems, to the novice (to this novice, anyhow), rather impenetrable.

On the other hand, the fact that a language is Indo-European doesn’t guarantee anything. Last year I had a brief look at Hindi. Hindi is an Indo-European language. It’s descended from Sanskrit, and Sanskrit is a relative of Latin. But quite aside from the rather tangled written script, Hindi has a whole bunch of consonants that have no equivalent in English. We have, for example, t and d. In Hindi, there are six different versions of each of them, and those differences change the meanings of spoken words.

For now, I think I’ll stick with French.

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