I’m back from the USA. I had a fantastic time (can you see me in the photo?).
I won’t talk about the differences between British and American English, as other blogs out there do it much better than I would ever be capable of, particularly Separated by a common language, an old favourite of mine.
What I found more striking, from a language point of view, particularly in San Francisco, was how often I heard people switch languages with amazing ease.
In the two most striking cases, I heard a mother greet her son and his friends in perfect twangy American English, to then use Spanish to ask him to walk the dog before dinner; she then switched back to English to say good-bye to the youngsters and tell them to be good. A couple of days later, I was queuing to buy a burger in Sausalito when a very Californian-looking woman, all perfect teeth and golden tan, asked me whether this was where one could buy the best burgers in Sausalito. I replied that according to my guide book, that was the case. She thanked me with an enthusiastic Thank you very much, you have a great day! and turned to her friend to relay the exciting news in an unidentified language (Russian?).
This led me to wonder about bilingualism in America: a quick search led me to a 2005 article on bilingualism in the USA from the Migration Institute and to the Census Bureau website, which gives comprehensive information on many topics, including language use in the States. It reveals that
In 2000, 18 percent of the total population aged 5 and over, or 47.0 million people, reported they spoke a language other than English at home.
This data isn’t recent, it dates back to 2000, when the last census was done, and it’ll be interesting to see how the various indicators change in the 2010 census.
I’ve nearly fallen asleep three times while writing this and I have six hours to last before I can go to bed at a normal time. Does anyone have any tips on how to get over jetlag?