Monthly Archives: August 2013

Bucharest NOT Budapest: One Romanian Chocolatier Starts a Campaign to Combat the Confusion

Here’s a post from The Big Show’s Nina Porzucki

Think fast, what’s the capital of Romania?

In an extremely informal survey at the Dunkin Donut’s across the street from our newsroom we put the question to Herman Cadena as he stood in line for his coffee.

“Belgrade?” he said.

Cadena isn’t alone. Many people confuse their Eastern European capitals. The most frequent mix-up is between the capital of Hungary, Budapest, and the capital of Romania, Bucharest.

There is a long list of outsiders who have confused the two including Michael Jackson, the lead singers of Iron Maiden and Metallica, even Lenny Kravitz didn’t know.

Last year a group of 400 soccer fans from Spain chartered a flight to the 2012 Europa League Final in Budapest except the actual final was in Bucharest.

“This is a very old problem for Romania this confusion, you know, it’s taken place for a very long time,” says Romanian copywriter Sebastian Olar.

Olar’s client the Romanian candy company ROM was sick of the confusion. The company made it its mission to end the confusion and market its chocolate, which has the name of Romania’s capital stamped into each bar.

The confusion is by no means one-sided. Budapest resident Ben Fischer remembers watching the television one day when big news broke about a Hungarian political scandal.

“There were foreign news agencies reporting on it and quite a few of them in Budapest said, ‘I’m here live in Bucharest,'” said Fisher.

However says Fischer, the annoyance that Hungarians and Romanians feel about the confusion might stem from even deeper historical issues going back to WWI.

“Transylvania was taken away from Hungary and given to Romania, and 100 years later people in Hungary have not giving that back,” said Fischer.

While the borders between the countries have fluxuated, Budapest and Bucharest haven’t changed hands; Hungarian and Romanian, the languages spoken in these cities, come from completely different family trees. So locals know the difference but the rest of us, well…it seems that ROM chocolate has got their work cut out for them.

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What Drones, Bees and Marilyn Monroe Have in Common

Here’s a guest post from Carol Kozma

In the 1930s, Admiral William Standley visited the United Kingdom when the Royal Navy gave him a presentation of the “Queen Bee”. That was a remotely controlled aircraft– a prototype the Royal Navy had developed for the gunnery to use as target practice.

“Admiral Standley was so impressed that when he came back to the United States, he got his men on it, and in homage to the Queen Bee, he chose the name drone.”

Marilyn Monroe as Norma Jean Dougherty (Photo: commons.wikimedia/David Conover

Marilyn Monroe as Norma Jean Dougherty (Photo: commons.wikimedia/David Conover

That’s according to Ben Zimmer, a linguist who writes the language column for the Washington Post, and the executive producer of and the Visual Thesaurus.

He recently discussed the origins of the word “drone” and its new use as transitive verbs.

To hear more about drones, and how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan are all connected, take a listen.

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A Push to Keep the Zapotec Language Alive in Los Angeles

In Los Angeles recently, people from the small town of San Bartolome Zoogocho, located in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, honored their patron saint.  (Photo: Ruxandra Guidi)

In Los Angeles recently, people from the small town of San Bartolome Zoogocho, located in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, honored their patron saint. (Photo: Ruxandra Guidi)

Here’s a guest post from LA-based reporter Ruxandra Guidi

It’s 6 o’clock on a Friday night. About a dozen people gather inside a small office space in Los Angeles; in the MacArthur Park neighborhood, where many immigrants live. Sitting around a circle, they recite words in Dizha’ Xhon, also known as the Zapotec language.

Aaron Huey Sonnenschein, a linguistics professor at California State University, Los Angeles, is leading the group, focusing solely on the sound of Zapotec words. It’s called the “phonics” method of learning. Sonnenschein adds that it is a methodology that linguist Leanne Hinton, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, has innovated. Sonnenschein adds that it’s an approach that works especially well with indigenous languages like Zapotec, which counts on few native speakers. The idea is to avoid the “years it would take to create a full language program and create one as we go along.”

Aside from their Friday night meet-ups, the group in Los Angeles is creating a digital archive on Facebook featuring Zapotec words. It also has photos illustrating their meaning and their translation into English.

The web-based, interactive archive is meant for young, English-speaking Oaxacan Americans like 15-year-old Alison Morales.

“My whole family speaks Zapotec,” says Morales. “My grandma would always say hi to me in Zapotec and I didn’t know what it meant. So I decided to learn a few words here and there.” His mom, Celerina Montes, couldn’t be happier or more proud.

“I’m really proud to be Oaxacan,” Montes says. “Of course, I’m also proud to be Mexican, and to speak Spanish.” But, she adds, that with people who she knows speak Zapotec, she always bids them a good afternoon by saying “patir” rather than “buenos tardes.”

In Los Angeles, Montes constantly runs into people from her Oaxacan village, San Bartolome Zoogocho. So, the class is also a place to see old friends, and to get the latest gossip from back home. But San Bartolome Zoogocho is also shrinking.

There are only about 400 people left there these days. On the other hand, Los Angeles is home to about 1,500 Zoogochenses.

“Most of us live here. We have a ghost town, basically, at home,” says Odilia Romero, director of the LA-based Binational Organization of Indigenous Communities. It’s hosting the Zapotec classes. “If the language was to be rescued, it would be here in LA. But if we don’t do anything about it, by 2050, it’ll be gone,” says Romero.

On a warm Sunday afternoon, Romero and more than 50 other Zoogochenses stand outside a home in South LA, holding red gladiolus flowers. They wait for the brass band to start playing. Then, they march behind a framed 8-by-11 photo of an effigy of their patron saint, San Bartolome. The photo is taken inside a home and placed on an altar, surrounded by incense and more flowers. The display is similar to the type of ritual done back in the Mexican village, with the original effigy.

With flowers in his hand, Ted Lazaro says this little procession is one way of keeping his village’s traditions alive. Speaking Zapotec is another.

“To say that you’re indigenous is a dirty word for many people still. It implies that you have no education,” says Lazaro. “But these days, our kids go to school and learn about many cultures, including their own. So now it’s the kids that talk to their parents and grandparents here, and tell them, “Look, your culture is important.’”

Lazaro is a computer programmer by day. Lately, he’s spent evenings and weekends practicing Zapotec with his children and making traditional masks. On August 24, dancers will wear those masks at a fiesta organized by people in Los Angeles with ties to San Bartolome Zoogocho. It is something they have done in LA for nearly 45 years.

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A Crash Course in Portuguese With Angelique Kidjo and Fado Novato

With the next World Cup and Summer Olympics in Brazil, get ready to hear plenty of Portuguese. Some people are learning it: Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo listens to Portuguese lessons on her iPod. American singer Shay Estes is studying the language so she can sing that mournful Portuguese folk music known as fado. Estes is the singer with Kansas City-based Fado Novato.

My erstwhile soccer-playing pal Eduardo Krauser translated the satirical “Como Foi Criado O Logo Sa Copa?” riff pictured above. His translation goes like this:


Tourist arrives in Brazil
Delays at the Airport
High prices, exploitation, trickery
Prostitution, drug trafficking, robbery.

Pollution, poverty, corruption and lack of investment in education!!! This is soccer country and the sixth largest economy in the world!!!

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