Chapter 05
Street Language

You talkin' to *me*?

Listening closely walking down the street, I hear two or three non-English languages per block. Sometimes it's groups talking among themselves. More often these days, though, that language comes from a person sitting in a café or walking alone. Wonderful thing, mobile phones. And headsets. People walking down the sidewalk, carrying books or groceries, jabbering away in Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, Hindi, Swahili, whatever. I've heard a couple languages that I didn't recognize, didn't even recognize the sound of, full of unfamiliar syllables and cadences. Asian, African, Baltic maybe.

The other day I heard the same phenomenon with adults rather than students. I was walking past the Faculty Club just as a fancy dinner was letting out. Men in suits or black tie, women in nice dresses. Groups of four to eight gathered on the stairs and then dispersed in every direction down the sidewalks. As I passed through them and by them, I did not hear a word of English. I heard Spanish, French, Portugese (I think), something Scandinavian, and something Slavic but not Russian.

It is actually slightly less jarring to hear someone talking in another language walking down the street. At least I know that they are not talking to me.

Update 20130406

A snippet heard in passing. A group of six or seven late college kids talking at a bus stop. One is a tall, black woman with very short cropped hair, actually African. She says, "If I don't get a job within three months after I graduate, I'll be sent back to my country." And there is a collective gasp from the rest.