Sunday, 1 July 2018

Language matters!

Last night we went along to María’s Mid Century bar where the music is always good for a beer and to catch up with our internet stuff. As a rule the atmosphere there is really pleasant. María is friendly and usually bubbles over with enthusiasm for things musical.

Occasionally there is a group of strident women there having a conversation they simply MUST share with everyone. Maybe it’s the years of having been almost second class citizens in their own country in Franco’s time, when women needed their husband’s or father’s permission to do things like open a bank account, but some modern Spanish women really overdo the assertiveness thing. It’s a bit like smoking; women smoking was so frowned on for so long that you get the impression some women smoke just because they can. I say these things as someone who has spoken up for feminist issues at teachers’ union meetings. I simply find that when assertiveness tips over into aggressiveness, it gets a little harsh! That’s all.

Anyway, they weren’t around last night. Everything was calm and the music was foot-tappingly good. And we made the acquaintance of an Anglo-Argentinian family: fairly outspoken English father, very calm Argentinian mother and a pair of sandy-haired boys who might have been twins but turned out to be a short (his own description) twelve year old and a tall nine year old. The father was getting so amusingly agitated, in two languages, at the family ganging up on him to sit inside, when he wanted to sit outside so that he could smoke, that I just had to strike up conversation with the mother. Which developed into a conversation with the whole family.

Later María commented that there had been more English-speakers than Spanish-speakers in her bar that evening. That was not strictly true as the English-speakers were also Spanish-speakers but I knew what she meant.

At some point we asked about the boys’ bilingualism, for they seemed to slip easily from Spanish to English. The parents said they had always used both languages but now spoke mostly English when the family was all together. A few years ago, when the younger child was five or six, living in Spanish-speaking places, they had realised that his English was slipping away. His Spanish was secure as he spoke it in school and out of school with friends, but they wanted his English to be as good. And so they decided to speak English at home. It seems to have worked.

I must say I was impressed by the boys. I have come across some quite brattish ex-pat children, especially one or two home-educated ones, who have been allowed, even encouraged, to consider themselves the most important centre of attention in a group of adults. These two had the confidence of children who are used to being around a lot of adults, but adults who speak to them as if they are sensible mini-adults. However, when their mother thought they might be getting a bit too chatty, she quietly reminded them that we interesting new adult people might have our own agenda for how we planned to spend our evening. No fuss, just a gentle hint!

The older boy gave me his opinion of regional languages. After all, they are going to be living here, in Redondela as it turns out, and will undoubtedly have to learn some Galician at school. They have been living in Valencia for the last few years, where they have had Valenciano inflicted on them - “if you can call it a language,” said the young boy, “Where else in the world would I need to speak Valenciano?”

He’s probably right. Valenciano, Mallorquín and probably a few others around there are all variations of Catalán, as I see it anyway. There are almost certainly experts who would disagree with me but I have heard enough discussion about the difference between the Galician spoken in Orense and the Galician spoken in Lugo to be fairly convinced that I am correct. There are vocabulary differences from one area of Greater Manchester to another. Fifty years ago you could probably have called their dialects different languages. I have a friend who slips back, depending on who she is talking to, into the dialect of the district of Oldham where she grew up and where her parents worked in the local cotton mills.

Nobody published any works of literature in that “language” though, and so nobody is standing up to defend its being protected.

 Or taught in schools!

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