Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Loving Babel

Barbara here.  This will be a short, possibly rather incoherent, post because I am on holiday in Portugal, and all thoughts of writing are far away  So is my laptop, which I left at home in favour of my lightweight mini iPad. Portugal has been around as a country since the 12th century and although its language is romance in origin, it has evolved as a unique language distinct from its Spanish neighbour. The rugged mountain range to the east and the country’s affinity to the ocean to the west have also helped to maintain the uniqueness of Portuguese language and culture.

But things have certainly changed since I last visited continental Europe nearly 50 years ago. The European Union, free movement of citizens and commerce, and fifty years of peace have created a wonderful sense of diversity and coexistence. Walking down the streets of Lisbon, sitting in restaurants, and riding the bus, I am surrounded by a sea of languages.  Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, and every variety of English. Plus Chinese and Japanese.  Snatches of language, all expressing the same sentiments; awe at a stunning vista or intricate cathedral, delight at a succulent shrimp dish. All sharing the landscape together. And even more importantly, switching back and forth between languages depending on the need.

One sunny afternoon at a sidewalk cafe, we were listening to our waiter switching effortlessly from English (us) to French (next table)to German (table across). We asked him how many languages he spoke. Five, he said matter of factly. Proudly.

Multiple languages abound on signs and menus as well. Being from Quebec and living now in Ottawa, I am used to bilingual signs and chatter (not to mention the many New Canadians and visitors). But this effortless, unselfish-conscious intermingling, this eagerness to embrace whatever word works, is so refreshiing. Stripped of political subtext and social stratification, words help us share our commonalities. They open up our world.

Now off to bed. 


Donis Casey said...

Funny you should mention...I just this minute read an article on how 70% of Europeans speak at least two languages, and some speak many more than that. Whereas Americans are ignoramuses, not to put too fine a point on it. (I'm joking. Don't picket my house.)

Donis Casey said...

p.s. hope you're loving Portugal!