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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Overheard: At the Café, Among Students

Boys. They (we me included) never change. The subtle differences in scope come with age – physical “age” of the person and institutional “age” of the time in which we live. Language is the device for which boys perhaps best can rage against the machine. We hear it in songs, scrawled onto concrete alley walls and bathroom stalls.

As an English teacher to non-native speakers, I stress speech intonation – how what we say can change meaning depending on the stress put on a given word within a sentence. For example, “Michelle is your girlfriend” can mean many things depending on the stress given to any of those four words. To wit, listen to the difference in meaning when strees is changed from “MICHELLE is your girlfriend” and “Michelle IS your girlfriend” and “Michelle is YOUR girlfriend.”

I think of the religious when I think of stress (read that in all ways, if you please, and then come back to language and word stress). “JESUS is coming!” “The second coming is neigh!” “Jesus will come again.”

At the Café U Budovce, where I stopped for a pizza and a glass of wine after learning that two classes had been cancelled (late cancellations = I get paid), I sat at a table looking onto the street, watching the tourists walk by Tyn Church in their tour groups. Most looked hungrily into the café, as it was nearly lunchtime; their tour leaders chattered away, likely to lead them into a ready-made restaurant in which they get a kickback.

Then about 10 teenage boys came into the café. They were well groomed kids, about 16, chattering away and quick to order pizzas and Coca Colas. Czech teens at school lunch. A few spoke English back and forth, though I’m not sure why. They seemed to be trying out expressions, probably learned or heard online – in a chat room or through Skype talks, whatever. Suddenly, amid all the Czech, this volley came across the tables:

“Jesus is coming!”

“Jesus is coming, open your mouth.”


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