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Old 13th Jan 2005, 10:06   #1
gil
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wavid
gil! I demand you tell us more about your father and the Spanish Civil War! I do remember distantly in Palimpular past that you have some connection with old Eric Blair - is this how that came about?
The answer to this is quite complicated. I'll summarise. My father came from a long line of Scottish folk, and would, in the normal course of events, have had a simple life as a history teacher in Edinburgh. He was, however, a life-long anti-Communist. As a young man, he got in with some young Edinburgh Italians who were joining Franco's side in The Civil War, and they went and joined up. He found some difficulty in maintaining sympathy with the events, and with a couple of his Italian companions went to Italy to support Mussolini. In due course he became one of Il Duce's bodyguard. Before the war started, however, he was told he had to decide what side he was fighting on. He returned to Scotland and was immediately imprisoned for six months without trial, then released on condition he joined the army, which he did. He spoke fluent Italian, so he was taken into the Intelligence Corps. When he confessed why he spoke Italian so well, they pragmatically sent him to India and taught him Japanese. He spent the rest of the war parachuting into Burma behind Japanese lines with a detachment of Ghurkas, intercepting Japanese dispatches and translating them. After the war, he received some kind of hush-hush decoration from Mountbatten, who reckoned his work saved thousands of Allied lives.

He and Blair met after the war. I don't know the details. They were left-wing Socialist versus right-wing Socialist, if you like, but both had experience of the nastiness of war and they eschewed the extremists of their respective "sides", and had a lot of common ground.

He spent the rest of his life in the Far East, as a teacher, headmaster, and, eventually, Deputy Director of Education in Brunei. He spoke three dialects of Chinese, Urdu, Burmese, Malay and most European languages. He could write Chinese and Kanji freehand.
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 13:31   #2
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Wow, what a career. Sort of a latter-day Flashman in some respects. You wouldn't care to share a photo by any chance if you have one?
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 14:18   #3
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This taken in Nepal during his training in 1942 or so

His graduation photo
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 14:24   #4
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Two questions, gil - hope you don't mind - but have you been lucky enough to inherit your father's talent for languages? And would love to know if by any chance he kept a journal. If so, it would certainly make for some riveting reading, me thinks ....
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 15:48   #5
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Languages - to a very small extent. I can read and write French and Swedish / Danish / Norwegian. I don't speak them well from lack of practice (30 years now). It takes me a few days of exposure to native speakers to assemble the vocabulary and comprehension. I can read German and Spanish. I speak, or used to, Malay, but that's easy.

On the other hand, I am fluent in DOS, Windows and NT-based PCs, Un*x, C, C++, JAVA, Pascal, COBOL, Fortran, EMA, HTML , Macromedia Flash , Paradox , Informix and no doubt others I've forgotten. Also 6502, Z80, 8048, 68000, 86000, and various Hitachi Assemblers, so, perhaps it's the same talent.

Journal - regrettably, no. Everything I know about his life I learned from him and his siblings, all now deceased. He was never keen to talk about the war, so I picked up snippets at longish intervals. My aunt filled in some of the gaps after his death. He wrote down plenty about language and politics, but no autobiography, I'm afraid.
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 18:04   #6
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Quote:
Languages - to a very small extent. I can read and write French and Swedish / Danish / Norwegian. I don't speak them well from lack of practice (30 years now). It takes me a few days of exposure to native speakers to assemble the vocabulary and comprehension. I can read German and Spanish. I speak, or used to, Malay, but that's easy.
"Small extent"? I think not, for a Brit that is positively amazing.
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 20:06   #7
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Couldn't agree more, Notty. 'Small' to me is hello, goodbye and how much? in the usual lingos, but definitely excluding Malay. Am very envious of that talent of yours, gil. Sounds as if you must have had a spell in Scandinavia - yes? Are Swedish, Norwegian and Danish so very different to each other? Or is it more a matter of variations on a theme? I've often wondered if those who are talented at languages recognise the patterns of speech better than those who aren't. I heard it from a mathematician, that the same principle applies with numbers - that it is the patterns formed in number-juggling (albeit very complex ones) that the maths whiz recognises clearly, whereas non-number-crunchers (numerical manglers, if you will) are blind to such things.
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 20:16   #8
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This is far too fascinating to stay as an adjunct to the Guantanamo thread, so I have split it off and given it its own place.
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Old 15th Jan 2005, 13:44   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HoneyPotts
Couldn't agree more, Notty. 'Small' to me is hello, goodbye and how much? in the usual lingos, but definitely excluding Malay. Am very envious of that talent of yours, gil. Sounds as if you must have had a spell in Scandinavia - yes? Are Swedish, Norwegian and Danish so very different to each other? Or is it more a matter of variations on a theme?
Without wanting to tread on Gil's polylinguist toes, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are largely mutually intelligible and closer to each other than some dialects of English, and should therefore probably be called Scandinavian dialects. The reasons they are called languages have much more to do with politics than linguistics. For centuries Norway lay under the colonial domination of first Sweden and then Denmark, so when it finally achieved independence in the last century it was more than a little keen to have it's own culture, it's own identity and its own 'language'. Swedish, it's fair to say is further away from the other two, because of its longer independence and nationhood, but even then the vocabulary and grammar are so similar that you only need to tune your ears in to understand much of what is being said, in the same way that someone from Kansas would probably take a while to get used to a Glaswegian.
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Old 17th Jan 2005, 9:17   #10
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What Bakunin said is largely correct. I bracketed the three Scand languages for that reason. However, there are considerable differences in spelling, pronunciation and word usage that can be guaranteed to evoke (incomprehensible to me) much hilarity at times.

Finnish is another thing again. It is vastly different from any of its neighbours. Look at any Finnish web page and you'll see what I mean.
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