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200818Re: THEORY: Don't speak my language!

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  • Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets
    Feb 2, 2014
      On 2 February 2014 12:39, Siva Kalyan <sivakalyan.princeton@...>wrote:

      > French is sometimes cited as an example, in that French-speakers
      > supposedly insist on correcting foreigners’ faulty French to the extent
      > that it discourages them from even trying to speak it. (Let me hasten to
      > point out that this is not true of any French speakers I’ve met, in France
      > or outside.)
      You were lucky then, because it's indeed quite a common trait among French
      speakers (including myself. Although I try to minimise it, it was enough
      that my husband has abandoned learning French. I was just trying to help!).

      > Japanese is (or at least used to be) a quasi-example of this; I’ve heard
      > that in at least some kinds of situations, a Japanese person will insist on
      > talking to a foreigner in English because they would feel “threatened” if
      > the foreigner addressed them in Japanese. (Again, not true in my
      > experience.)
      What I've heard was that some Japanese people simply cannot believe
      foreigners can ever hope to understand the Japanese language, so they
      prefer discouraging those gaijins from trying.

      > What you’re describing is actually probably the case to some degree for
      > all language communities in which the language is a strong emblem of
      > identity—and depending on how broad an identity the language is emblematic
      > of, different “foreigner” groups may be excluded to different degrees. E.g.
      > Hindi is emblematic not simply of Hindi-speaking identity, but more broadly
      > North Indian or even just Indian identity. Thus a native speaker of Hindi
      > would find it completely natural to be addressed in Hindi by a speaker of
      > Bengali; they might react with moderate amusement (or hostility, depending
      > on the circumstances) to being addressed in Hindi by a Tamil-speaker; and
      > the greatest amusement/hostility would of course be reserved for English
      > speakers (and European-language speakers in general) trying to speak Hindi.
      I believe it's common enough that field linguists are trained to handle
      such cases when they end up trying to describe the language of a community
      that has strong taboo rules about using their language with foreigners. It
      will sometimes take years before the field linguist has earned enough trust
      to be able to actually start doing their job!

      On 2 February 2014 17:04, Thomas Ruhm <thomas@...> wrote:

      > I read about the case of Dutch too.

      Having learned Dutch in the Netherlands myself I can explain my experience
      with that one. It's true that when they come across someone who sounds
      foreign, they will automatically switch to English (or German in tourist
      areas ;) ). There are a few reasons for that:
      - The Dutch are very good at foreign languages, especially English and
      German. TV series are broadcasted in original language with subtitles
      rather than dubbing (except series for little children), so they are used
      to foreign languages are often very much at ease with them. They are also a
      practical folk who considers that time is money, and trying to make
      yourself understood in Dutch to someone who is obviously not fluent in the
      language is just inefficient. So they will switch to the mode of
      communication considered more efficient.
      - The Dutch have a bit of an inferiority complex about their language: it's
      just a local language spoken only in a small area of the world (and the
      other areas it's spoken it's as a result of colonialism, which opens its
      own can of worms), so many Dutch people have difficulties coming to terms
      with the idea that a foreigner would even want to learn their language. It
      doesn't fit their worldview, so they can't quite grok it and often don't.
      - Maybe related to the previous point, it's considered polite to speak in a
      way that the guest will understand best, so if it means switching to
      English because 1 person in a company of 10 doesn't understand English well
      enough, then so be it. It goes so far that in many companies across the
      Netherlands, the official workfloor language is English (that's the case at
      my company, but I luckily work in a department which is mostly full of
      Dutch speakers, so I speak mostly Dutch there :P).

      This said, it doesn't mean that it's not annoying. It's been quite a
      challenge for me to learn Dutch because of that behaviour, because as soon
      as I was having any kind of difficulty or my pronunciation wasn't perfect
      people just switched to English (if they didn't switch to English
      immediately upon hearing my name!). Even nowadays, despite me being mostly
      fluent in the language, with hardly any accent at all (I sound Belgian to
      most people ;) ), there are still people who will tend to speak to me in
      English, and carry on in English even after pointing out that I speak Dutch
      well enough to follow them flawlessly! Luckily, those people are rare.

      Note that the opposite behaviour can be just as difficult: Greek speakers
      become so excited and happy when they hear a foreigner trying to speak
      Greek that they will start having entire speeches in what I can only
      describe as speed-of-sound Modern Greek. If your comprehension is still
      wonky, you won't be able to make head or tails of it! I've been told by
      Greek people that my pronunciation is simply too good. I sound fluent,
      despite being actually only partially conversational. Really, when learning
      a language you just can never win! :/
      Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets
      President of the Language Creation Society (http://conlang.org/)

      Personal Website: http://christophoronomicon.blogspot.com/
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