6th Issue, January 2010

What It Takes to Become a Local

Language and culture are two different things, as research in Pula (Croatia), Szeged (Hungary) and Jersey (UK) confirms. Language is usually an important part of the identities of the people in these cities, but it is by no means the only one.  

In Pula (Croatia), the place of birth is vital for someone to qualify as a Pulean. Even if newcomers are well integrated, have been living in the city more than thirty years and master the host societys languages, they are not perceived to be truly Puleani. Local people say that those from outside do not understand the customs and values of the local people and that most often they do not even try to accept the typical life-style. This view seems to be adopted by the newcomers as well: they feel that for the local people they will remain foreigners.


Language skills taken for granted
In Pula, newcomers are expected to adapt to the dominant life-style and to the local variety when communicating with locals. Similarly, people who are going to settle down in Szeged (Hungary) are expected to learn Hungarian, except if they happen to be speakers of English. Whether they happen to arrive as bilinguals or non-speakers of Hungarian, their (eventual) capacity to speak the language is taken for granted and not considered to be an achievement. For the people interviewed in Szeged, speaking the local variety of Hungarian is not seen necessary for belonging to the local community; it is more of a question of living and working there.


Monolingualism: a problem for tourism
The authorities of Szeged want to invest in turning Szeged into a town of cultural tourism and see the university and its research institutes as the citys main assets. However, many inhabitants of Szeged are monolingual and often experience this as a problem in communication with foreigners.


Little Lisbon in Jersey
The situation of the Portuguese in Jersey (UK) is rather different from the situations above in that they have created strong communities and many live and work in the areas around the Catholic church of St. Thomas in St. Helier, an area known as Little Lisbon. In this area, there is often no need to speak English at all. However, more recently arrived Portuguese, university educated professionals, prefer speaking English and do not share many Portuguese sociocultural practices.


The linguistic landscape
An investigation of public signs in the linguistic landscape (roadsigns, signposts, billboards etc.) confirms the points made above: in Szeged, Hungarian is dominant on signs, but English is also used, thereby acknowledging the presence of tourists and the need to communicate with them. In Pula, Croatian is dominant on signs overall, and in Little Lisbon in Jersey, the presence of Portuguese is very strong.


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