Thursday, July 5, 2012

Not English again!

Some years ago my roommate was from Argentina. Each morning she would wake up, see me and groan, "oh, no it is English again!"

I thought of Maria recently when a woman said to me that she should not be expected to sit and listen to lengthy speeches in a language she doesn't understand.

Here in New Zealand those of us whose mother tongue is English, understand almost every word we hear, the jokes, the allusions, the shades of meaning.

Occasionally we may be in a situation where the predominant language is not English: on a marae or at an ethnic function.

We have some choices.

We can relax and enjoy not needing to pay close attention to what is said, though we do appreicate a brief summary.

We may enjoy hearing a more musical language than the clickety clack of English. We can surely enjoy the singing and the atmosphere.

Many years ago Arthur Grimble a colonial office cadet in the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) commented to his superior on the protracted, elaborate and repetitive greetings of the local people.  He was reminded "we are not here to teach them our manners, but to understand theirs".

We might consider that we are fortunate to experience something of the richness of another culture with the language and ritual of formal occasions,  close to home.

We could also spare a thought for those whose mother tongue is not English and who operate here every day in our language with all of its challenges including its pesky prepositions and illogical pronunciation.

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