By Alex P. Vidal/ PNS
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Learning seven simple phrases is not much more difficult than learning to use chopsticks.
This was the gist of former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan’s message when he conceptualized the introduction of seven phrases of Vancouver’s three most important languages — Cantonese, Punjabi and Tagalog—in a forum on “Greeting Fluency” at the Global Civic Society on Hamilton Street last December 9.
Sullivan invited three lecturers to speak on the three languages in a three-hour forum attended by college teachers, businessmen, students, community leaders, among other professionals and sector representatives.
Cantonese, one of the nine major languages spoken in China by people mostly in the southern province of Canton (Guangdong) and in nearby areas, is Vancouver’s second most spoken dialect, according to lecturer David Choi.
Punjabi is the spoken dialect in India and Pakistan, while Tagalog is official language of the Filipinos, now the third largest visible minority in British Columbia with almost 120,000 population.
Sullivan said although they ultimately come from the same source they now belong to completely different language families.
He said greeting fluency can be achieved by learning at least seven simple phrases in another language. By learning even seven short phrases one can experience the sounds and structures that define a whole culture and open doors to a community of neighbours.
“Vancouver has many new citizens who struggle daily in a sea of the strange sounds of English,” said the former mayor who is recipient of the Order of Canada.
He added: “Their mother languages are a deep part of their sense of identity with sounds that are familiar and elicit memories of another home. To have someone address them in their own native language is like the comforting sound of an old friend and can create an immediate bond.”
Sullivan pointed out that over the last few decades, Vancouver’s streets have filled with voices speaking more than 100 languages. “For most of us the sounds seem like impenetrable babble. Although it is unlikely that any of us will become fluent in these languages, this should not deter us from discovering the treasures that they hold nor the richness of the relationships they can lead to. I believe that with a minimal amount of effort most of us can become Greeting Fluent,” he said.
Vancouver has many new citizens who struggle daily in a sea of the strange sounds of English, according to Sullivan, a wheelchair user who is Canada’s Paralympics ambassador.
“Their mother languages are a deep part of their sense of identity with sounds that are familiar and elicit memories of another home. To have someone address them in their own native language is like the comforting sound of an old friend and can create an immediate bond,” he said.
“An old saying declares that if we learn another language we will gain another soul. Every language dissects and analyzes our world in different ways.”
He added that “languages can shape the way we perceive and entire value systems and traces of ancient history are embedded in them.”
“Perhaps the reason most English speakers don’t make an effort to speak another language is because we assume others will treat us the way we treat them,” Sullivan explained.
Thousands of new citizens in the community reportedly “make the herculean effort daily to live their public life in our strange language.”
“The response they get from us is impatience, a critical comment, a passing over. What a difference when an English speaker utters an awkward phrase in one of our many other languages,” the former mayor said.
“The eyes light up, great big smiles, gasps of joy, sometimes applause. A good reason to become Greeting Fluent is to become aware of the struggles of our neighbours and to make a gesture of solidarity to our fellow citizens.”