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Mind Your Language

I am using this blog to further some points about language, etiquette and politeness I've been raising (and been attacked for) online today.

I should clarify that I raised this point via Welsh language, however it applies, and I've experienced it across a variety of languages. I will discuss Welsh in detail later on as that if anything is bound to raise most discussion (or rocks, virtual or otherwise)

I believe that it is rude, either in 'real life' or in the virtual world to respond to, and carry on a conversation in another language to that which the conversation has been in so far. Case in point, a Facebook discussion on the new episode of Sherlock in relation to a friend's status was taking place in English last night. This morning that conversation had been continued but in Welsh. I read that as rude. Myself and the other English speakers involved in that discussion were now excluded from the conversation as it existed. This is the same principle as having a conversation in a group, in English and (we'll continue for arguments sake here) 3 of those participants suddenly beginning to speak in Welsh. The remaining members of that conversation are excluded from continuing a discussion they had previously been participating in.

Now this isn't some kind of dogmatic 'everyone speak English' approach. If we stay in the online world, on Facebook I have friends whose first language is, and who therefore post in a wide variety of languages Welsh, Dutch, Spanish, French, German and Mandarin to name those that spring to mind. If I choose yes I can use translation software to see what they are saying, yes then I can choose to respond, but if I did I would always preface with a 'forgive me for answering in English' type response because I feel rude not being able to respond in the given language of the conversation. Mostly if I status is in a language I don't speak I wouldn't respond however. If we extend the social media beyond Facebook to Twitter Tumblr and other areas that my fannish interests take me, of course there are a wide range of languages and I love that globally we communicate this freely. However again, if I were having a discussion with shall we say online acquaintances (ie people I may not know in the real world) and the language we were talking in was English and suddenly two of the group started talking in Spanish, knowing not everyone in the discussion spoke the language, again this is rude and excluding people. Luckily actually such Fannish groups are largely very self aware in terms of politeness and conventions so its not something I've encountered.

This experience isn't limited to the virtual world, where we can debate how different rules apply online. However it happens in real life also. I cannot count the number of times I have been in a group of people or in a work environment and people have started talking in another language. Mostly again due to geography at present that is Welsh. Again it's rude. If I was talking to someone in French and a friend sat down who I knew didn't speak French, and the other person I was with spoke English also, I would switch back to English to allow everyone in the group to now participate in the conversation. It's a matter of simple politeness.

Talking of French it's interesting that in a year of living in French speaking Quebec I only encountered a similar experience once, with a total stranger. Every other Francophone encounter I has was understanding and accommodating to my relatively poor French. Likewise I have sat with Spanish friends who when slipping into Spanish with one another have apologized and quickly translated to catch me up. This is how you deal with bilingual conversation in an inclusive manner.

I also have infinite patience with those learning English, and therefore struggling to converse in it. I've helped fellow PhD students whose first language isn't English with their work/translation and find it admirable that they can work to such a high level in another language. And in return some politeness within language is fair I believe. In our shared office, we politely made a point that in general conversation English should be spoken as a rule (there were at this point 3 or 4 native tongues) while people understandably want to speak in their most comfortable language, there are also social rules and conventions to be observed, if speaking in front of a room full of people, it's polite that room knows what you're saying. Not least because if you don't you assume the worst-that somehow you're being talked about!

Now I must give some time to Welsh generally, because if I'm going to be attacked for this blog I may as well say some of this now as later! I am born and bred in  Wales, (I actually consider myself British rather than Welsh but that's a technicality for another day) I speak what can only be deemed "basic" Welsh. I have no problem with Welsh, I wish I could speak more of it but I don't. I was a generation that didn't get taught it at school and frankly I suck at languages anyway. I respect the fight for and rights of the Welsh language, but I expect curtosty in return. I do not expect to be told I am 'disrespectful' for not speaking Welsh or even told I 'have no right' to work in a certain place because I am not a Welsh speaker.

The political debates around Welsh language are not mine to have, or if they are they are for another day. It's all about politeness, a little given and take, a little live and let live. Which is all I meant when I pointed out that changing the language of a conversation mid way was rude.


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