Settling in, settling down

One big difference between Kyrgyzstan and the states is that everyone is married by 25, 30 at the very latest. So Aika – my host family’s eldest daughter, 19 – is already obsessed with marriage, and even got a proposal on her birthday (two days ago).

Aika on her 19th birthday, holding roses from a suitor.

Aika on her 19th birthday, holding roses from a suitor.

She hardly knows the man, isn’t particularly interested in him, but is seriously considering it. All her friends told her to do it … can you imagine? Married by 19, and then you’re supposed to start having babies immediately. She told me she’s not sure, since she wants to finish university and maybe visit Turkey or Germany.

Aijamal and Damira, getting ready for the spectacle.

Aijamal and Damira, getting ready for the spectacle.

Damira, Aika’s mother, works in the biggest bazaar in the city selling meat dumplings to shoppers. Her husband, Murat, is an engineer of some sort at a hospital (I don’t know exactly what this means). And Aijamal, the youngest daughter, is 8 and in elementary school; she was in a huge dance performance for Bishkek’s 134th birthday. The city put on a crazy half-nationalist, half-soviet spectacle the city for itself (they had hundreds of kids dancing in the main square – all wearing traditional Kyrgyz outfits – with a man dressed up as a khan wandering among them, plus people with baby carriages randomly walking through – a “marry young and have babies” message, loud and clear from the city government – and finally gymnasts and “sportsmen” waving Kyrgyz flags and running around chaotically among the dancers).

Bishkek's 134th birthday celebration.

Bishkek’s 134th birthday celebration.

I spend almost all of my time in Kyrgyz classes – 5 hours per day, plus 6 or so hours of homework each night. It’s coming along nicely but still so tough (I guess it’s only been 2 weeks, but still…). They arrange their sentences completely differently, with the most important information communicated last. Also, verbs come at the very end of a sentence (unless there’s some more important adjective in need of emphasis) and instead of prepositions almost everything is a post-position. So, for example, instead of saying “I went to the store with Lindsey” they say “I Lindsey with store to the went.” Also, a lot of the info is communicated by adding endings to nouns and verbs rather than using separate words. So the sentence in Kyrgyz looks more like: “I Lindsey with storeto wentwe.”

I was thinking about all the behavioral-economics studies that have found that people most strongly remember information that comes first, then information that comes last, and finally information that comes in the middle. But what if those findings are linguistically situated, and specific to romance-language speakers? As far as i know they’re mostly based on American university students (and some research was done in Spanish speaking countries, I think) … but if you grow up with a language that communicates the most important information last, wouldn’t that restructure your overall perception of narration (and of narrative importance)?

Bishkek's 134th birthday celebration, with a statue of the national hero Manas looming over the dancers.

Bishkek’s 134th birthday celebration, with a statue of the national hero Manas looming over the dancers.

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