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An Uncomfortable Language Lesson

By Jamie Isabel Rosado

I walked between the Blue mosque and the Hagia Sophia heading back to where my friends were standing. As I walked past him a man stopped me to ask me in Spanish where I was from. Pleasantly surprised to meet someone so far from home who spoke my language, I continued on with the conversation and asked him where he was from he said Bogota, Columbia.  I stayed exactly where I was and talked with this man for over 15 minutes. The dialogue went along swimmingly till I asked a question though simple enough that was out of his repertoire. The second I  posed it his whole body tensed up. I had asked him what time it was and when did the blue mosque close. The fact that he was unable to respond in turn made me tense up and  ask him if he really was from Columbia. He said no and shuffled away.

    Returning to my friends I began to ponder two things; the first was how did that man learn Spanish plausibly enough so that I a native Spanish speaker was fooled by it, though I know very little about Columbian accents, and secondly why did he choose to speak Spanish to me and know somehow that it would be my weakness. All of the other Turkish men that had tried to start up a conversation with me I was able to avoid by either walking away or pretending as if I didn’t understand them. I know of no conscious way that I tipped people off that I spoke Spanish.

    In George Marcus’ article on multi-sited ethnography he discusses the ever expanding world we live in, one in which language is not constricted to one region or group of people. Although the world-wide proliferation of the English language is somewhat to be expected I was more than slightly surprised to find it happening with Spanish.  Intrigued, I looked up the figures and found out that as of the year 2000 there were 364 million people in the world who spoke Spanish and if you include partial speakers (and my figures do not) the number be seriously higher.        

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