I have recently noticed a strange phenomenon that happens during the early stages of an expat’s attempt to learn the language of their host country. I have decided to call this phenomenon, ‘The Unintentional Question Effect’ since it happens when an expat unintentionally adds a rising inflection to the end of a sentence, thus making everything they say sound like a question.
The rising inflection is often added simply because we are questioning if we have said what ever we were trying to say correctly with out committing first degree language murder.
I will use a normal every day activity to better demonstrate this phenomenon:
Imagine that you enter a small café in Amsterdam with a desire to purchase a simple beverage, a coffee for example. You find a suitable seat, maybe one by the window over looking a pleasant view. The waiter approaches you with his order pad and a smile. He greets you in Dutch and you return he’s greeting. This establishes a simple relationship between you, that of customer and beverage supplier. He then asks you what you would like to drink.
“Wat wil je drinken?”
You wish to practise the Dutch you have learnt so you reply that you would like a coffee:
“Ik wil enn koffie?”
The rising inflection you unintentionally add to the end of the statement is simply displaying your unfamiliarity with the language and asking the un-spoken question:
“Did I say that right? Is that how you say that in Dutch?”
However, the waiter does not hear the unspoken question since it is unspoken. He hears a different question that does not make you sound like someone attempting to speak an unfamiliar language. Instead, it makes you sound like someone who has forgotten to take their medication:
“Do you think I would like coffee? Do I look like the kind of person who would like coffee? Do you think I would like tea instead of coffee?”
Shortly after you add that you would like milk? and sugar? the waiter starts to back away to call the local hospital and ask if they are missing any patients.
The same thing can happen in many other situations. Telling a cab driver that you would like to go to the train station might suddenly take on another meaning:
“I’d like to go to the train station? Do you think I will enjoy myself at the train station? Are there many fun activities for a thrill seeker such as myself to take part in at the train station?”
Even a simple statement like, “my name is Stuart,” said in another language by a confused expat can suddenly sound like a puzzled conundrum of confusion posed by a two year old suffering from concussion.
I’ve confused and (probably) scared a lot of Dutch people by introducing myself in such a way but at least all the waiters in Amsterdam seem to agree that I look like more of a tea person then a coffee person.