Across Continents

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European question

Not just a potential stumbling block for Nick Clegg and David Cameron, but my own curiosity. Was Azerbaijan Europe or Asia? Back in neighbouring Georgia the responses had been mixed. Early days, but here people seem to have less polarised views, suggesting instead that they have much in common with Europe, but with a strong Asian influence. What the question does is expose historically shifting borders, migrating ethnic groups, a never ending state of flux. Georgia had the breakaway region of South Ossetia to contend with, Azerbaijan has Nagorno-Karabach.

Back in the saddle, the linguistic implications of all this is very much a mixed bag. Azeri shares the same origins as Turkish, remaining sufficiently close for them to be mutually intelligible. Or so I’m told. I’ve tried Turkish here. Just get blank looks. But to be fair, it was often the same in Turkey. Russian is widely spoken, to the extent that I find myself widening my albeit limited vocabulary by blending it with Azeri in the same conversation. Seems to work.

My mastery of languages remains a definite case of enthusiasm over ability. And I’ve a long, long way to go to even equal that of Silvana and Johan and their children. I’d met them in the Azerbaijan town of Sheki, enjoying a short break from their home in the country’s Capital Baku. Between them, fluent Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English, Russian and, I’m sure, a pretty good grasp of Azeri.

I take some comfort from the fact that whilst English is not a numerically superior first language, geographically it is widely spread across the world. And the fact that I can readily explain where I come from by mentioning the words ’Manchester United’. Usually elicits an enthusiastic response. I’m guessing this Ronaldo chap is some sort of footballer? My turn to look blank.


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