I recently made the decision to give up on learning Tajiki. I hate to admit it, but there it is. I’ve been getting nowhere in my studies, and my level of the language is so low that I’m unable to pull more than the isolated word out of the conversations that surround me every day. And my textbook, while comprehensive and excellent for a student with all the time in the world, is not meant for itinerant vagabonds who are only spending a month on the ground. To date, I have been taught no fewer than 19 words for different kinds of in-laws (*), but I still haven’t found the chapter that will tell me how to haggle over prices in the market or get the marshrutka driver to drop me off at my stop (thankfully, Russian serves me well). Time to cut my losses and move on to Azerbaijani, I suppose.
I just made a conscious decision not to learn the language of my host country. This really bothers me. Rationally, of course, I know that almost all Tajik citizens of age are fluent in Russian, and that learning Tajiki for such a short stay is somewhat superfluous. Even more rationally, I know that I have limits, and that a realistic respect for them has led me to this path.
But. But. I hate this, always. It feels disrespectful to my host culture to not even make the effort to meet it halfway. And, even more, it deepens my sense that I don’t belong here. I hate that I can’t open my mouth without outing myself as an outsider. I hate that people’s conversations sound like nothing more than streams of indistinguishable phonemes to me. I hate not being able to read signs in the windows of businesses, nor fill out important forms without assistance, nor even navigate the building of my own MFI without someone leading me to the right place. It makes me feel helpless and uncomfortable.
Well, at least I learned some interesting details about Tajik culture during my short stint with the language. Did you know that Tajik twins are traditionally named Hasan and Husein (if they’re boys) or Fotima and Zuhro (if they’re girls)? Or that a child with a lot of birthmarks is often named Kholdor or Kholdona (which are basically Tajiki for “Birthmarky McBirthmarkerson”)? Or that one born with an extra body part is often named Ziyodullo or Ziyoda? How traumatizing would it be to have to spend your life introducing yourself with “Hi, I am a person with twelve toes”?
(*) Хушдоман, модарарӯс, модаршӯ, амак, қайнато, хусур, падарарӯс, падаршӯ, янга, кеноя, язна, почо, қайин-сингил, хоҳарарӯс, хоҳаршӯ, ҳевар, қайнӣ, додарарӯс, and додаршӯ, for the curious.