Sunday, August 02, 2009

Can I get a Linguistics credit for this?

When I was a kid, I learned about the language of Yugoslavia: "Serbo-Croat" - noteworthy due to it's use of a Roman alphabet (by Croats) and a Cyrrillic one (by the Serbs). While a few universities outside the area still teach "Serbo-Croat", the locals refer to their mother tongue by a more nationalistic moniker - Bosnian, Serbian or Croatian, depending on locale.

Well, we learned "hello" and "thank you" on the train, because, as the saying goes "everybody there speaks English". We have found that to be almost as true here as anywhere else, but with a few twists. First, it is important to note that everyone also speaks German and Italian - actually, many older folks have a combination of those without English. The older woman who rented us a room a few nights ago gave a "pah!" at English and we began discussions in bad German until she frustratingly asked "Italiano?" and we offered back "Francais" and "Espanol". She loved that and spoke Italian to Lisa's Spanish and was very happy - it was only as effective as the German conversation but made our hostess happier.

The most surprising thing to see is that English ranks no better than third alternative. That is almost unprecedented in our prior experience. Many things appear in a second or third language, but you have to hit 4th or 5th language to get English. The more time we spend here, the better Lisa's Italian and my German become.

We suspect this is an indicator that the strong tourism industry here is extremely regional: Italians and Germans abound. Either group outnumbers all others combined and we feel like we might be the only Americans in the whole country.

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