Friday, September 24, 2010

Random People - Counting Languages

Washington DC is truly an international city, partly because of the wide range of people whose family origins represent many countries and partly because this is a popular global tourist destination.

I spent a few hours on the National Mall last Sunday and decided to try counting the different languages I heard. My total was at least nine; there were probably more but I do not know enough about some similar-sounding languages to tell which is which.

Of course I heard American English. Someone whose native language is not English might think people from Maryland, Illinois, California and Georgia speak four different languages, but for purposes of this count, I’ll lump the various American English accents together as one. I did not hear British English that day but I often do detect that brand of the language on visits into DC.

Other languages I could identify during this daytrip: Spanish, German, French and Italian.

Some languages I heard were less obvious to me. I heard many people speaking various Asian languages. I do not know which ones but I could tell by looking at the speakers that there were visitors from at least three different Asian countries.

My best guess on three other languages I heard: African (not sure which country), Arabic (many languages derived from that starting point sound the same to my ears) and Indian (guessing at that one, partly because of the speaker’s clothing).

Learning more than one language is the norm in many countries but not in the USA. I have started to learn three different languages in my life but so far I still only speak English. I regret not paying more attention in my youth. If I had, I’d now speak Spanish and French. I began Italian lessons a year ago but dropped out because of time issues. I plan to restart that one next year.

Human verbal communication probably began in just a few places as just a few languages but has developed in hundreds of directions in the thousands of years since humans first spoke. One reason is because various cultures developed in isolation from each other. Today, however, we are connected globally and it would be great if there was a common Earth language. English may be the closest thing we have to that because it is often the second language learned in many other developed countries.

Fortunately there are two forms of communication that seem to transcend all language differences: laughter and a smile.

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