“We all smile in the same language,” was the declaration at the bottom of the personalized notepad of the ESL director where I got my first teaching job. It worked for her, but for me it would be a bit too saccharine.
Today during class, in the midst of sniffles and “bless you”‘s, it occurred to me that we all sneeze in the same language. But what we say afterwards suddenly became obsessively interesting to me. The Hispanic students say “salud”, or health. The students from Haiti say “Dieu te benisse”, pronounced something like deeu tay beNEESS, and meaning “God bless you”. They gave the French automatically, but were quite pleased when I asked for the Creole, which is “Bondye beniw” or bless you, pronounced something like bonDIAY buNEW. And in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia,
pronounced something like maasNETtess, and also meaning bless you.