Monday, 18 January 2016 18:24

It’s a language thing – or is it?

Unknown languages can sound 'different' Unknown languages can sound 'different'

Being a language teacher and lucky enough to speak several myself, I’m always fascinated by foreign tongues. I like listening to them and wonder what it’s like to speak them, what grammar structure they might have, the different sounds one needs to make…

I certainly got a good earful of different sounds during the past week. I’d decided to venture out on a bus trip to Nicosia again, telling myself it would be good for me to have to sit still without distractions for an hour and a half.

As it happened to be a public holiday, it was a day off for many of Limassol’s Asian housekeepers, carers and cleaners, and the passengers ended up being: myself, a veiled lady with a child, an elderly African gentleman, a young Eastern European couple, an old Cypriot lady, a young Cypriot man and lots of young Asian women. I am actually not able to differentiate well, but presumably from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam…

In fact, I had recently read that 20 % of Cyprus’s population are foreign nationals – the second highest percentage in the EU after Luxembourg. Of these foreign nationals, 13 % are other EU citizens and 7 % are from third countries. Among the third-country nationals, citizens of the Philippines topped the list at 5%.

Always a bit concerned about bus drivers’ often unpredictable and not exactly gracious behaviour, I was pleased to see ours was respectful and friendly. He kept asking all the young women though to “Move back, please” when they wanted to sit near or behind him.

Soon, I understood why. The cacophony of the laughter, greetings, chatter of their different high-pitch languages was quite loud. They were obviously excited about their day off (from a most likely taxing job), the trip ahead, the friends they’d see, and so forth.

At one stop, the driver actually turned around and shouted “Please keep quiet”. Not angrily, but very loudly. The teacher in me actually considered telling him later on that “Could you keep it down, please?” may sound better. But then again, probably no-one would know of the difference in nuance anyway. And no-one seemed bothered.

Things did calm down and soon everything had evened out into an almost musical sea of whispers, now hushed laughter and still-audibly-cheerful conversation.

Yet, I kept wondering when and if it was actually acceptable to tell someone to be quiet in a public space. True, in the bus driver’s case the noise level probably did distract him. Funnily enough, he did not seem to find the much-louder Greek being spoken non-stop right next to him to be of any distraction. Or is it only ‘acceptable’ to tell someone of a foreign culture to ‘be quiet’?

The acceptance of others, their backgrounds and languages is surely something to think about as people of different nationalities are mixing more and more all over the world – by choice or by force. We better keep thinking or, better yet, get used to it.

Article as published in The Cyprus Weekly of January 15 

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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