Vulcan’s Peak

Non-English languages

October 28, 2006 2:15 pm

(First, this NASA photo is gorgeous and needs to be on a poster.)

Public transportation is such an amazing place for people-watching. I got on the subway last Thursday and sat down to find that across from me were a young man and an older woman conversing in an Asian language. It went something like “languagelanguagelanguageJesusChristlanguagelanguage-” (he reaches into his messenger bag and pulls out a zipper case, out of which he pulls two books) “languagelanguageBookofMormon languagelanguagelanguage…” And sure enough, his nametag reads “Elder Chung, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

(Aside: I don’t know how old you have to be in order to be an Elder, but he looked about 25.)

They were a seat apart, both leaning over it in order to hear each other over the noise of the train. It seems to be an actual conversation — perhaps she’s actually interested? Now he seems to be giving her an address and now he’s reaching into his breast pocket, pulling out cards with pictures of the temple in Salt Lake City on them. We get to my stop and they part, the woman getting off with me, the young Elder Chung staying on the train.

I’m not sure why they fascinated me so much. In general, I find the idea of proselytizing repugnant and insulting. Maybe it was the language. Maybe it’s just that it wasn’t aimed at me.

I guess it’s just the size of the city, but I hear people using all sorts of languages with some regularity. Spanish is fairly common, as are Asian languages (which I wish I could distinguish so I didn’t have to lump them all together like that) — I see Asian tourists around Harvard all the time. I even hear German now and then — once I was in the grocery store and a mother was telling her toddler that he could open his treat in the car, but not before. “Im Auto,” she kept insisting, while the little boy wailed “nein!” (only it came out more like “neiiiiiiiiiin!!!”). Part of me wanted to be the creepy lady who speaks to the kid in a language he doesn’t expect to hear from strangers in the U.S. and he shuts up from the shock and surprise of it, but I was good. Too many ways that could backfire.

7 Responses to “Non-English languages”

E wrote a comment on October 28, 2006

Ich habe ‘Wilkommen zu Amerika’ zu drei deutschen Maennern gesagt…

Pug wrote a comment on October 29, 2006

Man, you’re too good too often. I’m certain that being creepy can be loads of fun!

Carmen wrote a comment on October 30, 2006

Ugh… mormons are everywhere.. like the flakes of dead skin we shed constantly and can’t avoid…

Anyway, yeah, languages are awesome. 😀 And it is hard telling Asisan languages apart – if I can’t identify it as Japanese, I’m pretty much at a loss. D: Though I guess if it isn’t also tonal it’s probably Korean. Everything else though is guesswork.

Odette wrote a comment on October 31, 2006

Carmen, your metaphors never cease to disgust and amuse me. 😉

Carmen wrote a comment on October 31, 2006

I’m like a shark. I’ve just got to.. keep making analogies.


Pug wrote a comment on November 1, 2006

Carmen scares me sometimes.

Carmen wrote a comment on November 2, 2006

I can but try.

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