Monday, March 9, 2009

The Ear of the Beholder

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

I’ve always thought that statement was overblown. For example, I’ve known a lot of people who claimed to be unimpressed with the looks of a young Farrah Fawcett. But I never met anyone who would brush her aside for a date with Bea Arthur.

Jennifer Aniston is to Brenda Vaccaro as Pamela Anderson is to Judi Densch as George Clooney is to Colin Mochrie as top-quality pizza is to that stuff you microwave at 7-11.

People like to brag about how individualistic their tastes are. But the truth is our tastes are a lot less original than we’d like to believe. Yes, I know that somewhere out there is a man who thinks Bea Arthur is the hottest woman who’s ever walked the face of the earth and there’s a person who thinks 7-11 microwave pizza is manna from heaven. But they’re such rare anomalies that they cannot all by themselves prop up the far-reaching statement “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

And that’s why I seldom talk about how I feel about spoken German, Russian, and Hebrew languages. I find them beautiful. But, when I say so, people simply don’t believe me. Many go so far as to correct me. No, they say, the Romance languages are beautiful. German, Russian, and Hebrew are harsh on the ears -- abrupt, unkind, and without music.

I’ve had people tell me straight up that I’m mistaken. Surely I’m confusing German with Italian. Or perhaps I’ve simply never heard spoken French.

Yes, the Romance languages are soft and lilting and very well-paced. But to my ear, a number of non-Romance languages are just as beautiful if not more so. I even like the sound of Arabic and Farsi (though not as much as any of the languages mentioned above) and I find Haitian Creole and Ibo (Nigeria) to have a sort of thumping, rhythmic beauty all their own.

I don’t have an ear to appreciate Scandinavian or Far Eastern languages. And there’s something about Brazilian Portuguese that weirds me out. (Every other word sounds, to me, French, while the words in between sound Spanish and the accent sounds like neither. I find that fascinating but disorienting.)

George Clooney, charming as he is, is not my type. But I’ll confess -- here and now for posterity -- that he’s hotter than Kevin James if you’ll just believe that I really do find the German, Russian, and Hebrew languages pretty.


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6 comments:

David said...

One of the most beautiful women I ever knew had a face that looked like it had caught fire and someone stomped it out with a track shoe. She also had a mouth that would make a Navy chief blush. Still, one of the most beautiful women I've ever known.

June Casagrande said...

Hmmm ... I'm having a little trouble picturing that.

I'll keep standing by and waiting for someone to say the most beautiful woman in the world has blonde hair, dark roots, wrinkles, and no butt or waistline. (I would even accept, "It's her knowledge of grammar that makes her so stunning.)

: )

Joel said...

1) I've studied Hebrew and it is definitely--to my ear--one of the most euphonic languages ever. The romance languages often sound like treacle to me. Arabic, Russian and German are also enticing. I imagine that part of what we like is the earthiness, substance and texture. To me it's the difference between chewing on a good steak and sucking down corn syrup.

2) The grammar mojo is definitely great sexiness. Sigh. If you have a single, female friend who shares that hotness and who's attracted to big, goofy-looking guys who love words and such, please send her my way.

3) I'm so much more interested in how a woman sounds and what she has to say than in her conformance to society's standards for physical beauty. Not that I am indifferent to appearance; but if Jennifer Aniston sounded like Fran Drescher's "The Nanny" and had George W.'s mental acuity, well, the curves would matter little. Of course, if she sounded like Nigella Lawson and put thoughts into words like Emily Dickinson, I wouldn't mind admitting that I liked the way she looked.

Um, again, if you hear Aniston speaking in a delicious British accent, reciting original verse, and expressing an affection for aging widowers, please let her know that I'm waiting.

Ok, this is sounding way too much like a personals ad.

8'FED said...

I hesitate to say that a whole language is beautiful or not when so much depends on the individual speaker and, in many cases, dialect. But I once browsed a whole website of Swedish regional dialects and chose this speaker as the sexiest.

I have songs in various languages represented in my CD collection (just blogged about that yesterday, actually). Just for you, here's some Hebrew which should play if you click on "listen to album samples".

June Casagrande said...

"I imagine that part of what we like is the earthiness, substance and texture."

Yeah. That. Totally.

Re the other stuff, I'm too pre-coffee to say anything more poignant than your thoughts were entertaining and interesting. I like Jen as Fran. Jescher?

June Casagrande said...

8'FED: I had a feeling you'd have some expertise here. (I hesitate to blog about stuff like this because, not being a linguistics person, I don't fully understand what I'm talking about -- i.e. the interrelatedness/origins of German, Hebrew, etc.)

I've never even heard of Bambara!

Thanks for pointing out the Meir Banai stuff (all new to me). I like it. Back in my clubbing years, my friend had a copy of this http://www.israel-music.com/ofra_haza/shaday/

We played it over and over. Good stuff. I'm a sucker for dance beats.

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