And Still We Manage to Communicate

I use my Merriam-Webster online dictionary every day, and sometimes I find interesting articles or interesting people wiriting them. In this case, both.

In an article called “An Oxford-Educated Southerner in Berlin,”*I was delighted to read about a journalist, Robert Lane Greene, who has lived lots of places—

Johnson City, Tennessee (birthplace)
Little Rock, Arkansas
Omaha, Nebraska
Marietta, Georgia
New Orleans, Louisiana
Hamburg, Germany
Oxford, England
Brooklyn, New York
Berlin, Germany
(and now London, England)

—speaks lots of languages**

fluent:
German
Spanish
French
Portuguese
Danish
conversant:
Russian
Arabic
Italian

and still sounds like the sort of person who doesn’t think he’s too cool for school (or me, with my one language), you know? I love this:

I use y’all freely, and will duel (pistols, dawn) anyone who tells me not to. My accent gets a little southern lilt when I go back to Georgia, where my father’s family all still live.

Those of you who know me well, though, will understand why this delights me so:

Being a rootless cosmopolitan has its upsides (never boring) and its downsides (the mind-numbing stress of moving itself). But I never quite imagined that a major downside would be the inability to speak without self-consciousness. In a given day, I speak baby-talk Danish and English with my 14-month-old, grown-up Danish and English with my wife, English with my 12-year-old, and both German and careful Euro-English with assorted foreigners at work. My old normal English—very fast, slangy, moderately profane, slightly mumbled General American, lightly influenced by decades in the South—is limited to my few intimates in Berlin.

I’m not rootless, but have traveled some and have a few friends whose first language is not my first langage, and others whose English is spoken with an accent definitely not mine. And still we manage to communicate.

*This article is no longer available, so you’ll have to take my word for it about the title and excerpts.
**I got this list from Greene’s personal website, which also no longer exists, though it was there in late September 2016, when I originally published this article on my other website.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s