Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Enjoying Global Englishes –and other languages- in the UK

I just spent a week in the UK to attend and present at the EARLI SIG Writing conference, in Liverpool. As you might imagine, attending this sort of event among Europeans (the British are still Europeans, for the moment; plus, participants came from all over Europe) entails being in a super-multilingual, multicultural context at various levels: exactly the kind of environment I love!  

The sign outside of Mr. Thomas' Chop House. "Mancunian" = from Manchester. 

At the conference, research was presented in numerous globalEnglishes; that is, varieties of English spoken by people from all over Europe, the UK, and the US. In fact, most –if not all- of the attendees were multilingual and, in many cases, also living multicultural lives. For example, I met a woman from Portugal teaching Portuguese in Mozambique, a young woman from Chile studying in Netherlands, an Italian woman working in Sweden who had previously worked in the US, etc. I also spent some time chatting with a woman from Glasgow, Scotland who grew up in Germany and also speaks Spanish (her husband is from Mexico and they are teaching their children both German and Spanish at home). Wish I would have known about the Spanish sooner, since for me it was really difficult to understand her Glaswegian English!

Local "For Rent" (not bathroom!) signs.

On the topic of not understanding English, the Liverpool dialect is unique and quite a challenge. It's called Scouse (here's another example). I maybe understood 50% of what I heard from native Liverpoolians. In one instance, at the train station, a shop was selling pasties (dare I call them "British empandas"?), and one of the ingredients advertised was swede. I stopped to ask what swede was. The woman working said something like, “ciopamveip adodipvah ik paidnoapite.” Translation: “It’s like a carrot; no, a turnip. Do you know what a turnip is?” OH! A turnip! But wait... this site says swede is not turnip, but rutabaga. 

"No diapers"

To make things more exciting, I spent the whole week with three friends from Italy, so, among us we were speaking mostly Italian. After the conference, we took a free, walking tour of Liverpool in Spanish (easier for the Italians to understand), guided by a guy from Galicia. It was kind of a relief to listen to and speak Spanish at that point!

Whenever I come to Europe I am amazed at the ease of mobility among people, languages, and cultures. All this makes me wonder if and when the US will ever embrace multilingualism as a way of life. I think some areas (e.g., Miami, New York) have done so, but, in general, to quote a colleague I met at the conference, “The US is one of the only countries in the world now where most people are still monolingual”. Perhaps... but how can we change this??? 

Free top ups! 

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