It is now widely agreed that human beings have moved into a phase of modernity in which they have to tackle the extreme dynamism in modern institutions and provide an explanation for the discontinuities they experience. As a result of migration, human society has undergone a stretching process whereby different social contexts and regions have become networked across the globe, displaying inevitable tension. The following personal story reveals how this kind of dynamism is played out locally:
A few weeks after my arrival in Sydney, I went grocery shopping in an Iranian convenience store. That was my first encounter as a sojourner with an Iranian immigrant in Sydney. A bit grimy and disheveled, the store offered a wide range of products: from nondescript packages and copies of local Persian newspapers to fruit and vegetables. I filled my basket and then had to wait a bit at the counter before it was my turn to pay. Once it was my turn, the following conversation unfolded between myself and the cashier, a woman in her mid-fifties:
Cashier: bebæxʃid ke wait ʃodinā?! I am very sorry! [Sorry I kept you waiting?! I am very sorry!]
VP: mohem nist! be hær hāl āxære hæftæs dige! [Doesn’t matter! It is the weekend!]
Cashier: āre in weekend hā hæmiʃe hæmintorije! emru:zæm hæmkāræm nist, xodæm cashier hæm hæstæm! [Yes weekends are always like this! Today my colleague isn’t here, so I am the cashier too!]
VP: tʃe ghædr ʃod?! [How much is it?!]
Cashier: Seventeen! bagæm bedæm? [Do you also need a bag?]
VP: tʃi?! [Pardon?!]
Cashier: bagæm bedæm? [Do you also need a bag?]
VP: āhān! Næ! Mæmnu:næm! [Got it! No! Thank you!]
Cashier: Welcome! See you!
For those people who have not experienced life in migrant contexts, Persian is still the language of choice between two native speakers of Persian even if the convenience store, where the interaction takes place, is located in Australia. However, this observation fades to insignificance if one looks closely at this typical conversation. As is evident in this exchange, my Persian differs markedly from the cashier’s. Hers is interspersed with English to such a degree that I couldn’t always understand her. A case in point is ‘bagæm bedæm.’ “Bag” is such an unusual loan word in Persian that I needed to ask for clarification.
Arguably, the above conversation links us to different worlds: my exclusive use of Persian links me up to my community back home in Iran while her use of English chains her up to her host community.
The cashier’s speech may also be interpreted as an attempt to forget Persian, her mother tongue; an attempt which is motivated not only by the speaker’s personal preferences but also by the sheer forces in a globalized world; the forces that may cause migrants to pride themselves in going to the length of claiming themselves unable to speak their first language.
Strictly speaking, the cashier’s speech represents a state of liminality between the global and the local and thus questions the homogeneous categories of knowledge and culture. Liminal situations are ambiguous and ambivalent; they slip between the global and the local, between the public and the private, between work and home, and between commerce and culture. And it is the diversity and richness of such practices that need to be explored in studies of language and globalization.