Monthly Archives: July 2010

Colombian Spanish, U.S. Spanish, and Dora the Explorer Spanish

In Colombia, you can hear Latin America’s clearest, crispest Spanish. As a result, Bogota is home to everything from call centers to telenovela production houses. The original Yo soy Betty, la Fea was shot and produced in Colombia. It was broadcast in most Latin American countries, before new versions were produced all over the world: in the U.S. Ugly Betty; in Vietnam Cô gái xấu xí; in Turkey Sensiz Olmuyor.

Also in this pod, a conversation with philosopher Oscar Guardiola-Rivera about what the spread of Spanish in the United States is doing to the language, and to America. There are now particular identifiable dialects of Spanish specific to certain U.S. regions, and sometimes specific to certain groups: Cuban-American, Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, etc. The language is leaving its mark on the country too. It could be argued, for example, that in Miami, if you don’t speak at least some Spanish you’re at a disadvantage.  Guardiola-Rivera is the author of What if Latin America Ruled The World?

Finally, Dora the Explorer and Kai-Lan: two fictional TV stars who introduce American kids to their first words of Spanish and Chinese. In Dora’s case, she also introduces Spanish speakers to their first English words, which may be why  this doctored online image of Dora garnered so much attention earlier this year.  The intention of the illustrator wasn’t clear. Was she sympathizing with opponents of the spread of Hispanic culture and language via illegal immigration, or was she mocking them? Both sides embraced the image, and poor Dora got it in the neck.  For the record, Dora does plenty of travelling in her cartoon world; she appears to cross many borders, quite unhindered. As for her nationality, she appears to be American — at least that’s how she sounds — of undefined Hispanic heritage.  (This is totally beside the point, but it doesn’t stop many of us from speculating…). One other thing about Dora: We English-speakers know her as a character who introduces kids to Spanish words. Well, the Spanish language version of the show Dora la Exploradora introduces kids to English words.

 


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Spy accents, sign language, and not my bad.

Our top five language stories this month:

5. Making Tamil even more official. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Tamil is an official language. It’s widely spoken there. Indeed it was the very first of India’s languages to be recognized as a classical language. But proponents of the language, and of the Tamil people, don’t think that Tamil gets the respect it deserves. So they have enlisted Tamil politicians to  issue an order requiring that commercial signs prominently display the language. Most signs are in English.  Opponents worry that Tamil Nadu is needlessly cutting itself from the rest of the world, and from possible trade opportunities.

4. The expression that Manute Bol didn’t invent. After Sudanese basketball great Manute Bol died, many eulogies praised him for, among other things, coining the term my bad. Speaking on the Senate floor U.S. Senator Sam Brownback lauded Manute Bol for that (as well as for his basketball skills, and for killing a lion with a spear while working as a cow-herder). The source for the my bad coinage claim was a five-year-old post in the blog Language Log. The belief apparently was that as a non-native English speaker, he thought he was saying my fault. As posters on Language Log have recently pointed out, my bad was almost definitely around before Manute Bol first arrived in the United States in about 1980. So Manute:  sorry. Our bad.

3.  A translator recalls the Nuremberg Trials. Ingeborg Laurensen, 96, recalls her work as one of 24 interpreters at the international military tribunal after World War Two.

2.Those (alleged) Russian spies and their faux Euro/Canadian accents. One of them claimed a she was Belgian; another that she was Canadian; yet another had “the faintest hint” of “an accent”.   OK, so their covers were blown, but it wasn’t because their accents didn’t match (what’s a Belgian accent anyway? ).  Let’s face it, most of us are pretty inept when it comes to pinpointing an accent. In the pod, we get a crash course on the difference between the French spoken in France and the French of Quebec.

1. A sign language that doesn’t have signs for some Islamic words. American Sign Language doesn’t have signs for Mecca, Mohammed and other words common to Muslims. In Toronto, an ASL teacher is working with group of students from a diversity of linguistic backgrounds (Pakistani Sign Language, Arabic Sign Language and Turkish Sign Language)  to try to come up with signs for a few religious words.  In the pod, we also discuss new research into Nicaraguan Sign Language that shows that language may affect how we solve spatial problems.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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Globish, health care, and a Facebook misunderstanding

This week, the case for and against Globish. A group of writers and artists debate the proposition that a simplified version of English is uniquely equipped to take over the world. That argument is made by Robert McCrum in his new book, Globish. (The term globish was popularized by Jean-Paul Nerrière to mean an emerging and simplified form of English used by non-native English speakers). McCrum believes that English is the ultimate open-source language: it welcomes, absorbs and adapts foreign words like no other language. What’s more, its grammar is relatively simple, which makes it more suited to universality than, say, Russian or Arabic. Wait a moment…Russian and Arabic, as complex as they are, are spoken across dozens of borders. In any case, perhaps it’s all that global travel that has turned English into a grammatically simpler language. This point, and many others, come from John McWhorter‘s New Republic critique of Robert McCrum’s assumptions. Read other reviews of Globish here, here , here and here. (I could link on and on; the man clearly has a magnificent publicist).

Also, now that millions more Americans have health insurance, clinics and hospitals are under pressure to make their services more accessible to non-English speakers. The pod has a report from Kansas City.

Then, a quick update on World Cup TV viewing habits in the United States with Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. If you think that only Spanish speakers watched Univision, and only English speakers watched ABC and ESPN, think again.

Finally, a conversation with Gregory Levey, whose book Shut Up, I’m Talking has more Facebook fans than Bill Clinton. Gregory has concluded that these are fans not of his book, but of the expression shut up, I’m talking. He’s trying to figure out how — or even whether — to address these followers. It’s the curse of having come up with a catchy, slightly obnoxious book title. In our interview, I suggest to Gregory that for a future book, he might consider the title I Hate When One String of my Hoodie Becomes Longer Than the Other. That title would come with more than 1.5 million Facebook fans, even before publication.  Our original, 2008 interview with Gregory Levey, about his adventures writing speeches for the Israeli government is in two parts, here and here.

Listen to the podcast  in iTunes or here.

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Turkish, Stalin, and just say non!

The avidly pro-Western Georgian government has just torn down a statue of Joseph Stalin in his hometown of Gori. Many people think of Stalin as Russian, but he was Georgian, much to the embarrassment of many Georgians today. There’s an exception: Georgians who live in Gori adore the former Soviet leader; for them it’s a case of local boy made good bad and all of that. As it happens, I visited Gori in 2005, and filed a story from there on Stalinphilia and the language of denial.

The newest star of Germany’s national soccer team is an ethnic Turk. And the  popularity of Mesut Özil is one of the reasons why Turkish has become just a little more accepted in Germany today. There are other reasons: the emergence of a small middle class, as well as  the rise of writers, filmakers and politicians (our report from Cyrus Farivar includes comments from Cem Özdemir, Germany’s first member of parliament of Turkish descent). Turkish in Germany remains nowhere near as prominent as Spanish is in the United States. It’s the exception rather than the rule to find a German corporation marketing a product to ethnic Turks in Turkish. Earlier this year Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Germany to offer Turkish as a language of instruction in high schools.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by promising more bilingual education. Related articles: a blanket ban on foreign languages at one German school, and the influence of Turkish and Arabic on urban, spoken German.

World Cup notes:  this World Cup is breaking TV viewing records from China to Chile. A story here on U.S. TV ratings, which are especially impressive on the Spanish-language Univision channel. The Argentina-Mexico game was the most-watched  Spanish-language telecast in U.S. history, with nearly 10 million viewers. Combined with English-language coverage, that game attracted nearly 14 million viewers — impressive for a contest that did not feature the United States. In contast, a combined 19  million watched the U.S.-Ghana game.

And there’s a nice video montage from BBC Mundo here of the eleven official languages of South Africa.

Finally,  British politician Chris Bryant has called French a “useless” language to learn. He suggested that children should instead learn Chinese or Arabic. After he made those comments, the BBC hauled him into a studio to defend himself, and to debate the issue with a German diplomat. (Late replacement for a French diplomat? Peut-être.)



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