The language Nyota learns to speak at her mother's knee is Swahili, right from the day of her birth. She learns Standard at the same time, of course; Nairobi is a huge city with an equally huge population and once out of her home she's surrounded by people speaking a dozen languages at any given moment. Standard is a necessity, the language of school and textbooks and street signs, but Swahili is the first language that says home to her, something more than the necessary transactions of day to day life. It's the language that she learns to sing in, that her mother tells her stories in, that her father tells her he loves her in.
When Nyota is young she thinks about this sometimes, the contrast that a language can make, one thing said twice with two meanings. In her spare time she begins to teach herself others, crudely at first but with such single-minded dedication that she never fails to succeed, eventually, in her goal of wringing meaning out of the syllables. She learns acceptable Zulu and English before her parents sit up and take note of it as more than a passing fancy, has started on French. When they do they find her teachers. Nyota listens to them talk in and about whatever language they speak and though she doesn't yet know more about the concept than the fact it exists, she decides then that she wants to be a linguist.
As time goes on she tries not to play favourites and she never meets a language she doesn't like, but Swahili still says home to her in a way no other language does. When she sends messages home on the Enterprise she always uses it, and any lingering traces of homesickness are made both better and worse; better, because it's like being a child again, and worse, because she isn't one at all. She repeats her name, thinks star like her mother had told her it meant so long ago and finds somewhere to look out at the black. It doesn't look so different out here than it did in the less populated parts of Kenya, Nyota thinks, just... more.
Xenolinguistics is the same; linguistics, but more. Vulcan is one of the first languages from another planet she had learned and by the time she and Spock began to meet as anything but instructor and cadet they could converse in it with the minimum of awkwardness. Which didn't mean that they did so often, because, she supposed, there was no real logical reason to do so when Standard was there and perfectly usable and, it had to be said, something she didn't have so obvious an accent in.
She and Spock never exactly decide on him learning Swahili, it simply happens as Nyota sometimes exclaims in it, when she shows him a phrase here or there, as she quietly recites a story from her childhood late at night. Spock listens like nobody else Nyota has met, with the kind of quiet focus that feels absolute without being intimidating, and so Nyota speaks to him and he learns and then they move onto the complexities of it without particularly needing to ask why.
She tells him nakutakia siku njema before she leaves for the bridge in the morning one day, and feels more at home than she has in months, walking with a spring in her step and an easy smile on her lips. Later that night they lay next to each other and he says ninakupenda. It's the first time Spock has said 'I love you' out loud and she resists the urge to be demonstrative, just murmurs it back and smiles.
Swahili is their language for those things, for their hearts and quiet voices in the dark. Standard is for work, for keeping a straight face when the two of them call each other by ranks and listen to reports about the others' relative safety over comm channels.
Nyota wonders what he wants Vulcan to be for sometimes, but she can wait for that for now.
Chekov enjoys spending time with Scotty. The man is more of a talker than a listener and unless it's about a very specific set of topics Chekov is the opposite, so it works out pretty well; there's apparently no such thing as an awkward silence when it comes to Scotty. Chekov spent a lot of his time at the Academy drowning in awkward silences, and so it makes a nice change. He had thought that the Enterprise might be less startling to him than the Academy had been those first few months, so full of loud young people, different to the village back home in Russia. He missed Вирма plenty still, and he thought he always would. The Enterprise was both full of people and a confined space, which had been worrying when he had first come aboard, that initial hope jarred a little- but so far it was much less of a shock. Possibly he had become more used to the bustle than he thought. Perhaps it was that people did not drag him out to bars, though Scotty had complained at length that he was perfectly capable of managing something like one onboard, much to the Captain's studiously feigned disinterest.
Also, he does not either complain about, laugh at or act aggressively polite about his accent, which makes it all much easier. (He had come to Standard late, and it had not come easily, a fact which seemed to confuse most of his shipmates.)
At some prompting, he teaches Scotty to swear in Russian, so that he can 'sound mysterious, ye ken?', or rather he attempts to and drags up an encouraging smile at the ensuing attempts.
"охуеть," he says as slowly as possible.
"Oh-hewt," Scotty says, and Chekov's smile tries very hard to become a grimace.
"That is... close enough," he manages. Scotty beams wide and throws an arm around Chekov's shoulder. Chekov is too proud of his mother tongue to quite feel that makes up for the mangling, but it comes close, because he enjoys being Scotty's friend very much.
"Now, laddie," Scotty says. "Let's see how you get along with some Gàidhlig, let me return the favour."
He winces at both syllables. Perhaps he should be more generous about Scotty's accent, considering.
Orion was taught at the academy. Gaila knows that it had been a recent addition, that it had, in fact, been a somewhat controversial one. Not many people had taken it, even fewer had seen any real need for it, and there had been a lot of accusations of wasting resources. When she applied for the class she had expected to be turned down for obvious reasons, but apparently class sizes were small enough that they'd fudged the 'little detail' of her being an Orion and let her in for the sake of boosting numbers. Perhaps they'd thought she'd attract a few more people; she'd never asked.
Mostly Gaila slept through it and sometimes mumbled out an answer instinctively. The one thing she recalled clearly was having to simplify everything down for the class assignments- her first paper had been ringed in red because she'd used 'incorrect forms of address' and words that, apparently, she had hallucinated existing her entire life. Gaila had been confused until she actually stayed awake for a lesson and realised that they were teaching the version of Orion that you learned when you were about four years old and still struggling to make half the sounds correctly and dumbed things down appropriately. The teacher was, apparently, learning with the rest of them. Gaila had laughed, aced every paper, and promptly forgotten about them.
Nyota had taken that class though, and Gaila teases her mercilessly about it.
"Teach me better, then," Nyota says one day when she comes down to hang around a little on a quiet shift when she's finished up on the bridge, watching Gaila fiddle with a piece of machinery that just won't do as it damn well should. It's not a demand, that's Nyota's 'I'm asking but I'm trying to do it without sounding like I'm pleading' tone, which she really only seems to take with either Gaila or Jim.
"OK," Gaila says after a moment, rubbing at a spot of oil on her arm absently. "Your quarters, nineteen-hundred?"
It isn't like Gaila is all that fussed about it. It's pretty funny listening to Miss I-knew-ten-languages-by-fifteen completely fail to do more than ask for directions to be honest, more than it is annoying. She's not a very verbal person. Not even a very expressive person really, not prone to talking. It's half of why she gets along with Jim so well, because he's good with that. It's not a matter of pride either, because Gaila has long since rendered herself completely incapable of giving a shit what people think about her or Orion or any of it.
But there are things she misses that Standard doesn't have words for, and Nyota is her friend. It would be nice to talk about those specific homesicknesses with someone who, Gaila knows, feels out of place herself sometimes. And she can't do that in babytalk.
"So," she says that evening, curled up on Nyota's bed like old times. "The way you introduce yourself..."
Jim grows up feeling, in some ways, like he's straddling a line. Really he straddles a lot of lines, mostly ones relating to 'acceptable behaviour', but the only one he particularly cares about is the line that the horizon makes at night, nobody around for miles and ice-cold stars punching through the sky above. He was born up there and raised down here by a mother who divides her time between the two, and he thinks it shows. She splits her time evenly between space and home, except really he thinks it might be the other way around; she comes down for six months of the year and tells him stories about space, about ships, about planets and stars, tells them so well that he swears he was there himself. She recites it all off in clipped Standard except for when she cusses, because Standard's lacking in that area. When he looks back, he thinks about her like that the most, fresh off the shuttle with her hair a mess and bags under her eyes, talking with a kind of intense precision until suddenly she isn't when she really gets into it, unpacking her suitcase around his enquiries.
There's a family resemblance in how they talk that gets him looked at oddly sometimes until he learns how to smooth that over, replacing Standard with the English spoken by pretty much everywhere in what he only calls 'the back end of nowhere' when he's feeling particularly charitable. He knows them both but it still feels like putting on a costume, or maybe just a coat, something to make eyes slide off him. His mother cocks an eyebrow when he starts using it in front of Frank. She never says anything, though, just makes sure he knows enough colourful idioms to last him well into the next lifetime.
Pike finds him in a bar. He's Starfleet, it's all Standard for him; he sounds like Mom for a second. Not George Kirk, not the father he probably likes to fancy himself, but Mom, coming home but not really, stardust in her eyes and in her hair. Pike looks back at him and it's written all over his face that the feeling isn't mutual.
"Why are you talking to me, man?" he drawls in English, but the next day on the shuttle, "I'll do it in three" comes out in standard, and Jim thinks of his mother's eyes and smiles.
Spock admires many things about Nyota, but the first thing that he recalls admiring had been her Vulcan. No human can entirely replicate the sounds necessary, of course, but the only one who had ever come closer than Nyota does had been his mother, and she had been in possession of far greater experience with the language than Nyota had at the time.
He does not immediately notice it, but he does not use Vulcan nearly so often immediately following its destruction. In fact, though he does not think to keep track in detail, Spock does not think he does at all. Of course Standard is the lingua franca both in the Academy and on the Enterprise, but he had used it several times both before and directly after he and Nyota had begun a relationship. The correlation between these two things troubles him, but he is not sure of how to raise the topic without either confusing or concerning her and so thinks on it.
They speak in both Swahili and Standard- he notices that Nyota swaps between them with ease, beginning a sentence in one and ending it in another if she realises that the other is inadequate for her purposes. The second thing he had admired about her: her pragmatism. She favours the former for personal matters and the latter for work. Spock mirrors her and is rewarded with warm smiles.
One night in the dark, laid next to him, she says, "Spock, can I ask you something?"
"Yes," he says, turning to face her. He can see the shape of her and a glint of light off her eyes, but no more, and her voice is difficult to read accurately.
"I don't want to upset you," she says, hesitant. He simply waits, aware she will take it as an invitation. "Do you ever wish you'd stayed behind on New Vulcan?"
The question throws him for a moment. Then he recalls a conversation earlier, wistful, about Nyota's home city. She had compared the lights at night to the stars and he had been unsure of how to respond, though she had laughed at her own romanticism a moment later. "Do you mean to ask if I am... homesick?" The word is not entirely correct, as one cannot truly miss a place that they have never been, but he will make exceptions for Nyota, who is remarkably gifted at cutting through ambiguity.
"Yes," she says, and he thinks for a moment before reaching out to touch her hand.
"Wani ra yana ro aisha," he says quietly, the first time he has done so. "I believe humans have a saying," he adds in Standard after.
"Where the heart is," she says quietly. She leans in to press her face against his neck and he feels her smile curve against it. "Mimi pia."