August 12th, 2008

sadiq bird- sonowakaremichi

Miss (Linguaphile) Manners

I have a question of manners for all you linguaphiles.

Julius and Flavia speak Tagalog and Swahili. Decius only speaks Tagalog. All three know one another, are neither friends or enemies, and know the other's language background. In a situation where all three are close together in clear earshot, but not necessarily conversing- like working in the same room, eating at the same cafeteria table- are Julius and Flavia being rude by starting up a conversation in Swahili?

A) Yes. They are pointedly excluding Decius from the conversation. Whispering is rude for the same reason.

B) No. Decius has no right to demand he be able to understand them, and he shouldn't be eavesdropping anyway. If Julius and Flavia want to discuss snickerdoodle recipes in Tagalog, it's their business.

One other question: in my German class, I remember being taught to ask someone's name with wie heisst du. I didn't think to ask at the time, but is this really polite? Isn't that the informal case? I can't think of many situations (and they all involve beer) where I know you well enough to be informal, but I don't know your name.