Native Speakers

Back again! Back from a ten-day immersion in an English bath, with a large dose of pine-scented Scottish bath salt added to it. I feel very clean now, and ready to go. If only the weather would cooperate a bit more all would be very well. Sadly, it doesn’t. Hot, hot, hot. My brain began to fry as soon as it got off the plane. Praise be to the Gods for fans and cold showers.
I used my time with the natives well, and tried to settle a few points about English grammar and vocabulary. Surely the natives would know, right? Wrong. Not even native speakers, especially not native speakers, can tell you unambiguously whether something is this, that or the other. Ask four people about the distinction between two apparent synonyms (as I did), and you get five different answers. But at other times they will all agree that something “just isn’t as we say it”. There are definitely rules. The natives can invariably tell after only a few sentences if someone (i.e. Yours truly) is one of them or not. But the rules are implicit, elusive, and trying to write them down results in an endless list of “ifs” and “buts“ and “howevers“. All grammars, even the most detailed ones, are necessarily summaries, simplifications. So are dictionaries. Giants such as the OED for English or the “Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal” for Dutch approach perfection. Approach it, never attain it, not even after the hundred-plus years it took to produce them or the umpteen supplements that are still to appear. In the end, it all boils down to ‘Fingerspitzengefühl’, as the Germans so aptly put it. You simply ‘feel’ that something is right. If you are a native speaker, that is. I’ve got a long, long way to go yet – and I love every step.