In January, I attended the annual meeting of the Linguistics Society of America (LSA), the largest organization of linguists in the world. The conference was in downtown Pittsburgh, and each morning I drove in and checked my winter coat with the bell hops.
For three days, the bell hop who took my coat and my tip was professional, but not overly expressive. Then, on the fourth day, a linguist who I did not know walked past us and greeted him in the tribal language of India which he learned as a child. The result was one of the biggest smiles I’d seen in a long time. “What did he say?” I asked the bell hop, who answered, as I had already guessed, that the American linguist had spoken to him in his native tongue.
The moral of the story: People’s languages are important to them. Using someone’s language is (usually) a sign of respect, even if it is done symbolically, and it goes a long way to making people feel comfortable.
Here’s another story of the same phenomenon on a larger scale: