Language crossovers everywhere

I may never stop marveling at the languages spilling out of my friends’ mouths.

In my mind, the map of “where my friends are from” is colorful, but it’s becoming downright kaleidoscopic the more the people actually break out their languages. We’re crossing all sorts of linguistic borders here.

At school, meeting my project partner from China, discovering she had majored in German, introducing her to Yvonne, my first Chinese German-studying friend, and then watching in awe as they spin off in die Deutsch Sprache, discussing which city they spent their year abroad in…

In my hall kitchen, hearing my Japanese hallmate chatting in Japanese with his European friend, finding out (ecstatically, of course) his European friend is Italian, and then stretching out all the Italian I can with him before exiting the kitchen to give them back their time in Japanese…

Out at the Diwali festival, listening in total awe as my hallmate Siri, who’s from Norway, converses mellifluously in Hindi with my Indian dears Kopal and Pallavi (and the rest of our gang chomps on festival dosas)…

Languages are barriers to understanding, and they are bridges to understanding, and I find them utterly beautiful. Yesterday, Kopal and I were at the British Museum learning about the Rosetta Stone and the famous revelation that, in presenting a text in three different scripts, it could help decode Egyptian hieroglyphics. I’m reminded also of my mom’s work as an interpreter, and how she steps into the dramatic limbo of language differences every time she goes to work. It inspires me!

*UPDATE*

I found this article in The New York Times about how linguistic differences between editors from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have added to “edit wars” on Wikipedia China. It’s an interesting (and not physically violent) example of how powerfully language choices can rewrite the tone of history. At the end, there’s also a comment on Wikimedia Foundation’s definition of acceptable debate, which recalled some of my class discussions about how media organizations define their “best business practices” differently, depending on their home base. Other variables aside, I can’t help but wonder if Wikimedia would uphold the same kind of ideals if it were founded anywhere other than Florida, U.S.A.?

 

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