April 21, 2010 | Spanish

New York City: Language Central

A city of many languages, on the streets and in the theater, too.

One of the great things about this city is that I barely have to go anywhere to hear other languages. I don’t document all my linguistic encounters, because after a while it would just get ridiculous, but on Monday, for example, I spoke Spanish with a technician on a service call to our apartment, I encountered Hebrew at a client’s offices, I heard French in our elevator, and I crossed paths with German speakers on the street on the way to the grocery store. Plus there were, as always, multiple languages in the grocery store. And that’s just a partial list. 

As another example of what surrounds me here: today in the elevator I met a neighbor I had seen but hadn’t spoken with previously who, it turned out, is Italian. Her husband speaks Romanian and Hungarian. And she said she’d introduce me to a Greek woman in the building, which would be fabulous for my Greek segment. That’s four languages (five if you include English) in one elevator ride.

Coming to the Jackson Repertory Theatre in May

Finally, this past weekend I walked out the front door (of our apartment, I mean—not even the building) and met a friend of my neighbor’s whose husband is going to be acting in a play in Jackson Heights, a Queens neighborhood I have written about more than once in this blog.

The play is entitled 167 Tongues, and here’s what the website of the Jackson Repertory Theatre, which is putting on the show, says about it: “167 Tongues explores the emotional geography of Jackson Heights, the most culturally diverse neighborhood in the world. Intermittent street scenes weave together alongside continuous stories in this 37-character play. An Indian sweet shop vendor struggles to keep her store going and her suitors at bay, a Nepali woman and a Mexican man fall in love across a linguistic divide, an Irish ghost befriends a troubled Ecuadorian girl and her Bangladeshi best friend, a Dominican manicurist wonders whether her Jewish-Chinese boyfriend will propose before she is deported by the INS, and a Rwandan night nurse attempts to understand the 167 distinct languages spoken in the local emergency room.”

The show runs May 7 through 28; details are available at Brandt and I will be going, of course.

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