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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The price of traversing linguistic borders

On the way to the airport last week to catch my flight to Barcelona, I see a big billboard advertising the upcoming visit to Paris of 50 Cent and his posse. It prompts a recollection of a recent conversation with a British colleague about his French wife's favorite American movie star: a man she calls "Reeshar Zhayr". You might remember him from American Gigolo. Then there's the Parisian rapper with a new album currently being advertised on subway posters. It's called Ouest Side.

All this linguistic mixing and matching goes through my mind as my taxi zooms past the massive picture of 50 Cent, with his "name" in meters-high letters. And I wonder why Parisians don't call him Cinquante Centimes.

Our friend Fiddy, aka Cinquante Centimes

A few minutes later, I ask the asian cab driver, in French, where he's from. He says China. So, I continue in Mandarin, wishing him a happy Dog Year, in honour of Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year) which passed just a couple weeks back. I'm very proud of this exchange until my Mandarin runs dry -- bone dry -- a few sentences later.

So, the cabby and I revert back to French, in which he has an easy fluency and great accent, and in which I have neither. White Boy, here, is off to Barcelona in his fancy suit, driven by a cabby who's fluent in at least two languages, and his passenger, who's lived in both languages' origin countries, is incompetent in both.


And I don't mean the French coastal city.


Comments on "The price of traversing linguistic borders"


Anonymous sjcasale said ... (1:19 AM) : 

I had wanted to write on this, or the irony of the "global platform" -- to borrow another's mechanical phrase -- that is English as today's lingua franca is that those who speak it as a first language are the first to be put at a disadvantage.

Most native English speakers -- mostly white boys from US and Commonwealth -- don't speak another language fluently, unless you count Brooklynese. Smatterings of this and can be fun, but they will get one only so far.

They don't help in meetings where non-native speakers shift in and out of English with ease. Bi-lingualism will become standard for global trotters, if it isn't already is, and it's those who speak the language that reins that will have to do the catching up.


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