The number of ways to acknowledge another human’s presence is infinite. Waves of the hand, nods of the head, or even twitches of the mouth are all methods of salutation; however, the most unique greeting of them all is the lingual one. Hello, ciao, ä½ å¥½ï¼Œhola, ã“ã‚“ã«ã¡ã¯, etc. each have their own distinct inflection of tone, a representation of humanity’s diverse and colorful cultures, and after all, culture is what makes us human. Essentially, language, a part of culture, acts as the wall between us and our primate relatives. More importantly, language is the basis and unifying factor of every culture and adds flavor to them, much like how culture adds flair to the dull monotony of everyday life.
This summer, I traveled to Barcelona, a city in Spain situated on the Mediterranean coast. Even though Spain may be in an economical crisis at the moment, Barcelona was still brimming with cultural creativity and liveliness. Known for its mix of Roman and Medieval architecture, Barcelona also has a tasty cuisine. Besides for the food, the architecture, or even the beautiful beaches, I decided to go to Barcelona for its linguistic environment. It is evident that the national language of Spain is Spanish, but what about all of the different dialects that are associated with a certain language? For example, here, in the United States, the way New Yorkers speak English and the way Texans speak English sounds different even to the untrained ear. But is it the same in Barcelona? In fact, the residents of Barcelona speak an entirely different language in addition to Spanish, much like how the Canadian province Quebec speaks French. Catalan, the language of Catalonia, the region of Spain where Barcelona is situated, is not merely a language, something I soon realized during my stay. Catalan, which might seem somewhat like a mixture of French and Spanish, separates Catalonia from the rest of Spain.
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Strolling down the European streets on a tranquil Sunday morning, I noticed that the streets were nearly empty and few pedestrians littered the sidewalks of the ancient city. Signs in a foreign language jumped out at me, while store clerks and cashiers conversed in a foreign tongue. Although a Spanish student, I was lost in Spain. And later, pattering through the soft, summer sand with the warm Mediterranean sun shining on my back, I heard shouts and hollers in a multitude of different languages, each of which belonging to a different country or region.
I visited the local Starbucks, only a block away from where I stayed. I would make my order in Spanish and the cashier would respond with a casual “gracias” or “cinco euro, por favor”. Places like Starbucks, McDonalds, or even KFC have become international symbols of a fast-spreading “global” culture. Only the words flowing out of customers’ mouths can differentiate between a café in Germany from one in Japan. Only the signs in the narrow European streets will set one city aside from another.
Towards the end of my trip, I came to the realization that even though I was in the city of Barcelona, I was not in Spain, not in the most profound sense. In Barcelona, the Catalan signs, the Catalan flags (a red and yellow striped flag with a lone star), and even the Catalan-speaking people were all brought together to create a different country altogether, a country with its own unique people, traditions, and language. And only language truly defines culture.
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