Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Only 19 different languages?

I have just seen a note saying that the Emergency Services Levy notice is printed in 19 different languages. The person who sent it seemed to think this was something remarkable. Really? It is, apparently, "proof of multi-culturalism". Really?
Being a cynical sort of cat I think it is proof of the state government making sure that people know they have to pay an inflated tax, the money from which is also used for other purposes. Why else would the notice be printed in so many languages?
Other things do not get printed in that many languages. I know. I frequently have to try and explain forms to people who do not read or write English. The forms are often very important  but they come in only one language. I wouldn't expect them to come in more than one language. English is the official language here.
But I can walk outside and hear a neighbour on one side speaking Hungarian and neighbours on the other side speaking a Chinese dialect from Taiwan. The woman further down the road speaks German. Not too far away there is a woman who always greets me in Greek. In the shopping centre I can hear Italian, Arabic dialects, other Chinese dialects, Polish, Latvian and Korean on a regular basis.  Yesterday I was at a scholarship committee meeting where the mother tongue of three people is Swahili and I went into a nursing home as I was going home and was greeted by someone who speaks Thai and then someone who speaks Nepalese. It gets very noisy at times.
I take all this for granted unless someone draws language diversity to my attention. I use multiple languages every day in my working life but I don't speak those languages - although I often wish I did. 
It actually worries me that someone decided that it was necessary to send out that notice in 19 different languages. Do they send out emergency warnings in all those languages? Of course they don't.
At least we have our SBS network which broadcasts in more than 70 languages. I just hope there is never the sort of emergency where they will need to broadcast an emergency warning in all those languages. That would be noisy too.
I am about to prowl off to the supermarket. I have arranged to meet someone there just briefly. He needs me to witness his signature and check his English on a document before he goes to work. We will say very little to one another and what we do say we will say with our hands. The silence of sign language can be lovely at times.

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