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July 11, 2013

The language of our time

(Continued)

You need not know Italian to appreciate a Puccini opera. Nor must you know Greek to dance a Tsamiko. I had five years of French in high school and college. My vocabulary today is practically nil. But hearing it spoken in Paris made it refreshing.

I’ve been to Armenia twice and was introduced to an entirely different dialect, being Western. It took the second trip before I really caught on to some nuances.

Some of the tourists on our bus trip were in limbo. They had no background in Armenian and the tour guide stuck to his native language. The sporadic translations got to be an ordeal.

I’m told there are between 2,500 and 3,000 languages spoken throughout the world, not including that spoken by teenagers. Maybe it’s me, but sometimes I have a difficult time understanding what they say.

Getting back to my dad’s charade in the diner, I did learn a very valuable lesson from all that. No one has a better command of any language than the man who knows just when to talk and when to shut up.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.

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