Sunday, January 22, 2006

THE MULTILINGUAL CHI

The Chi is a multilingual city. It seems as if it always has been, with the French being the first permanent European inhabitants to the area, and the local Potawatomis presumably not speaking much French. The city has seen waves of immigrants since then, with huge numbers of German, Polish, Lithuanian, Greek, Croatian, Yiddish, and other language speakers arriving during the course of the Industrial Revolution.

The biggest ethnic development in Chicago in the last fifty years has surely been the rise in the number of Hispanics in Chicago. As can be seen here, Hispanics in Chicago are very widely distributed. As such, Spanish sort of overlays all multilingual interactions in Chicago. Thus, you will see signs (in their respective languages) that say, we speak Polish, we speak Ukrainian, we speak German, we speak Croatian, we speak any number of other languages. There will always be a note underneath that says Se Habla Espanol. Always.

Because Spanish underlies all of these multilingual interactions, I like to look for what I perceive to be the most unlikely possible combinations. Spanish and Polish is not very unusual. They interact often along Milwaukee Avenue. Spanish and Ukrainian interact often along Chicago Avenue. However, in our neighborhood, along Kedzie Avenue, I now see what I deem the most unlikely combination. Spanish and Arabic. I mean, didn't Spain fight 250 years of wars to never have to see Arabic again? I guess commerce really does trump all else.

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