«This book is about language and the city. Pennycook and Otsuji introduce the notion of ‘metrolingualism’, showing how language and the city are ...»
Others in the warehouse wear the traditional leather market aprons. The two brothers run this movable business with their father and one other brother (and seven other employees of Turkish, Pakistani, Moroccan, Sudanese-Egyptian, Somalian and Filipino backgrounds), a business that comes and goes with the forklifts. As we discuss further in the next chapter, the ‘Lebaneseness’ of this section of the market is also constructed from a sense of Lebanese being the default Arabic community in Sydney, whereas, as we see from the backgrounds of these co-workers, there are in fact far more complex sets of linguistic, regional, religious and migrationary afﬁliations at play across the workforce.
Such interactions capture much of what we wish to get at in this book: They are, ﬁrst of all, an example of what we have elsewhere (Pennycook & Otsuji, 2014a) called metrolingual multitasking, a term we use to capture the ways in which linguistic resources, everyday tasks and social space are intertwined. The seamless management of linguistic resources and interlinked practices are very evident in the previous extract as the two brothers organize their working area (line 1) with instructions to their other workers, work out prices (lines 2 and 3), call suppliers (line 4) and greet other workers (lines 5 and 6). The linguistic resources of this workspace are generally drawn from English and Lebanese Arabic, though the two brothers use a considerable variety of styles and registers (modifying both their English and their Arabic according to different customers and contexts). They employ a particular local variety of ‘market talk’: ‘one ras one blues’ for raspberries and blueberries, and elsewhere ‘caulies’ for cauliﬂower, ‘rocky’ for rockmelon, alongside alternations between mixed terms such as Morning markets and metrolingual multitasking 3 allettuce and khass (using the Arabic article ‘al’ with ‘lettuce’ in the ﬁrst case, and the Arabic word for lettuce in the second). They frequently mix English and Arabic (Sorry. Eh tnanan dollar!), as do other people in the market (Salamu alaykum mate).
For Wood and Landry (2008) ‘the market – both as a concept and a physical location – is central to any understanding of intercultural exchange’ (p. 148). The market place, they go on, ‘for many throughout history – and still today – is the place where, for the ﬁrst time, people physically encounter someone who is visibly distinct from them, who speaks and dresses differently and who offers unusual cultural goods and experiences’ (p. 148). Markets, more than any other city space, perhaps deﬁne human engagement with difference. While language is crucial for Talib and Muhibb in getting their business done, they are not ‘language workers’ in the sense that language is a central tool of their trade (unlike, say, call centre workers, translators, teachers, lawyers). Language is important to them in their constant transactions but so too is the price of parsley. This is a place where stuff gets done, where the quality and price of the onions convinces a buyer; and as we shall discuss later (Chapter 8), the languages of these markets – spoken in interwoven mixes by working people – may indeed have little ‘market value’ in the broader sense. It is also a place where the longstanding relation with the customer matters, where the ability to convince the buyer about the cucumbers, mangoes or zucchini is a skill, and where the interaction between workers and customers, buying, selling, loading a pallet for pickup or delivery, getting more produce brought in on a forklift, happens multimodally.
Our aim in this book is to develop an understanding of the relationship among the use of such diverse linguistic resources (drawn from different languages, varieties and registers), the repertoires of such workers, the activities in which they are engaged, and the larger space in which this occurs. This focus brings together metrolingual practices and the city; it is about getting things done, everyday language use and local language practices in relation to urban space (see Chapter 2). The focus on metrolingualism is part of our attempt to understand linguistic resources in relation to the city, to show how everyday multilingualism operates in markets, cafés, streets, shops and other social city spaces. The term metrolingualism, which will be explored throughout this book, was originally developed by extending the notion of metroethnicity (Maher, 2005) to refer to ‘creative linguistic conditions across space and borders of culture, history and politics, as a way to move beyond current terms such as multilingualism and multiculturalism’ (Otsuji & Pennycook, 2010, p. 244). As we deﬁned the term then, metrolingualism ‘describes the ways in which people of different and mixed backgrounds use, play with and negotiate identities through language’. Rather than assuming connections between language and culture, ethnicity, nationality or geography, metrolingualism ‘seeks to explore how such relations are produced, resisted, deﬁed or rearranged; its focus is not on language systems but on languages as emergent from contexts of interaction’ (p. 246).
Since then, as explained in further detail in Chapter 3, our use of the term has shifted away from a focus on playful or wilful creativity towards an understanding 4 Morning markets and metrolingual multitasking of everyday language use in the city. Like other recent thinking that has sought to challenge the language of bilingualism, code-mixing and code-switching, and instead has focused on the mobility of linguistic resources (Blommaert, 2010), translanguaging (Blackledge & Creese, 2010; Garcia, 2009; Li Wei, 2011), transglossia (Garcia, 2013, 2014; Sultana, Dovchin & Pennycook, 2015) or polylingual languaging (Jørgensen, 2008a; Møller, 2008), we have aimed to open up a way of thinking about multilingualism centred around the everyday use of mobile linguistic resources in relation to urban space (McQuire, 2008). Unlike these approaches, however, with their focus on resources and individual repertoires, metrolingualism makes central the relations between language practices and the city.
This chapter raises a number of the central themes of this book by sketching some of the language practices of the Produce Market complex and looking at the interrelationship between language practices, spatial relations and getting things done. We are not so much interested therefore in a mundane mapping of the languages used, nor the impossible task of grasping the entirety of language practices in the market, but rather are focusing on ‘mobile resources rather than immobile languages’ (Blommaert, 2010, p. 197). We are interested in the dynamic ways in which the layered languages, tasks, practices and spaces combine together to produce spatial repertoires (Chapter 4) and the metrolingua francas (Chapter
8) of such urban markets. That these interactions will involve a diverse array of linguistic and other resources we take as a given, and while we note with a certain delight the possibility of an Australian-Lebanese-Arabic phrase such as ‘Salamu alaykum mate’ as one worker passes a stall in the predawn business of the Market, we do not intend to emphasize the ‘mixing’ or ‘hybridity’ of such language use but rather to take it as the norm (Otsuji & Pennycook, 2014).
Languages of the market: lingo-ing in their own language How, then, might we go about understanding the languages of this market? As already suggested, we are not so much interested in a demolinguistic approach to this – mapping percentages of language backgrounds – but in the daily practices.
Joseph, who runs the two cafés at either end of this vast expanse of fruit and vegetables, is useful on this. The cafés, which open at midnight, provide the expected breakfast foods – burgers, bacon and eggs – but also a mix of other foods. While the café his son runs at the other ‘Lebanese’ end of the warehouse has food such as Lebanese bread with za’atar, Joseph’s café, at the more ‘Chinese’ end has a range of other dishes, such as wonton soup, satay chicken and Mongolian beef hotpot, among Portuguese chicken and bacon and egg rolls. The staff are of various backgrounds: the cooks Chinese, the woman making the coffee Korean, the owner, Joseph, Lebanese. English is a common language of the café, but others, especially Arabic and Cantonese, are also in use.
This market is where Joseph has always worked – selling vegetables, driving a forklift – since he arrived in Sydney 36 years before: ‘Well, put it that way, they picked me up from the airport … drove me to the bottom gate down there, and I’m Morning markets and metrolingual multitasking 5 still stuck over here in this maze, I haven’t got out of that maze yet!’ (Joseph, interview, August, 8, 2012). His 24-year-old son runs the other café. As he explains, his son speaks English to his second generation Lebanese Australian mother but ‘speaks Lebanese, ﬂuent Lebanese with me. Fluent. On the same dinner table, we’ll be together, he turns around, I’m on the left he goes he speaks to me in Lebanese, and he speaks to his mother in English’. We shall return particularly in Chapter 6 to the signiﬁcance of the combination between food, language and eating together (commensality), the intertwining of culinary and linguistic resources. For Joseph it is the dinner table that is a site of sociolinguistic interaction, which he discusses in everyday local language terminology (‘ﬂuent Lebanese’), both a picture of the very ordinariness of mixed language use and also a source of pride.
The overarching common language of this market is, not surprisingly, English (whatever exactly is meant by that label), but what gets used when and with whom also depends on the day of the week, who is buying from whom and where the interaction takes place. ‘But if between a buyer and a seller that is a common language of their background is spoken they do use it, OK, they feel more comfortable they feel more comfortable lingo-ing in their own language’ (Joseph, interview, August, 8, 2012). The two dominant languages of the market are
Lebanese Arabic and Cantonese, though this varies by area:
Door 1, 2, down to door 5 … very very populated area with Lebanese background people. And they use, very often they use broken English and lingo in Lebanese. Past that area there’s no traders of Lebanese people, so we go back to different nationalities. Maltese, Italian, Greeks, we go back and use our common language, our ﬁrst language is English.
(Joseph, interview, August 8, 2012) At weekends it changes too: ‘on a Saturday, it goes back to different languages, more Italians and Greeks and so on.’ Joseph’s account of the language patterns of the market is centred on the traders, a view that differs from the public signage aimed at customers (see Image 1.1) here in English, Vietnamese, Arabic and Chinese. More importantly they show again the everydayness of language ﬂows and terminologies as workers ‘use broken English and lingo in Lebanese’ while different languages come and go with the changing faces of the market.
Those like Joseph who’ve been there a long time also get to know a bit of each others’ languages: ‘There’s always jokes about languages, where we pick all the bad words and naughty words. We throw at each other … but not in a nasty way, just ah, a friendly thing, to say, “yeah I know a little bit about your language and you know a bit about mine”.’ In the two examples below, we see two aspects of this: On the one hand, Talib adjusts his English to accommodate a customer of Maltese background; on the other we see the same customer intervening in Talib and Muhibb’s use of Arabic.
6 Morning markets and metrolingual multitasking Image 1.1 Public sign: produce market.
Morning markets and metrolingual multitasking 7 Excerpt 1.2 (M: Muhibb, T: Talib, CM: Maltese Customer)
1. CM: I am back.
2. T: You are back huh?
3. CM: Lionel talk to you?
4. T: Yeah.
5. CM: He say he want more zu, [Maltese accent]
6. T: Zu::cchi::ni:: [enunciates and prolongs each syllable]
7. CM: Extra extra large … like mine.
8. T: No. Extra large like yours no good. [Customer laughs] That’s small one. [syllable-timed and spoken slowly, mimicking the pronunciation of the customer]
9. CM: How do you know it’s a small one!
10. T: Your extra large and my extra large are two different things, In dealing with a customer of Maltese background in this excerpt, Talib appears to playfully mimic Maltese pronunciation (line 6). He speaks slowly as he enunciates and prolongs the syllables when pronouncing ‘Zucchini’. The customer’s response takes up this humorous exchange in line 7: ‘Extra extra large … like mine’. Talib subsequently appears to imitate, or at least synchronize, the accents as he speaks in English more slowly, with syllable rather than stress timing, and with additional syntactic simpliﬁcations: ‘No. Extra large like yours no good’ in line 8. Metrolingualism, it should be said, is not only about the use of linguistic resources from different languages, but may equally describe those harmonizing (or sometimes parodying) practices of adjustment within codes, as well as certain forms of styling. Indeed, once we start to question the very categories of language that underlie notions such as bi- and multilingualism (Otsuji & Pennycook, 2010; 2014), we need to see how metrolingualism is less dependent on the identiﬁcation of speciﬁcally different codes at use at the same time, and more dependent on the integration of diverse linguistic resources in the city.
In excerpt 1.3, Muhibb and Talib are working out prices and quantities of zucchini for the same customer of Maltese background.
Excerpt 1.3 (M: Muhibb, T: Talib, CM: Maltese Customer) Arabic: italics; English: plain (translation in brackets)
1. M: How many boxes does he want?
2. T: Tamana? (eight?) Siteh? (six?) Arba? (four?) Oh four.
3. M: Yeah no worries!
4. T: Tell him arba wa ashreen (24) I told him. He wants to try and get it for cheaper. Arba wa ashreen. (24) [opening a box of zucchini]
5. T: Hadol misfareen. Misfareen hadol. (These are yellowing. They’ve gone yellow.) 8 Morning markets and metrolingual multitasking
6. CM: Isfar (Yellow) … we understand isfar in Lebanese … isfaree isfaree (Yellow, yellow) yellow.