Tag Archives: African languages

No room for African or Indian languages in Disney’s multilingual version of ‘Let It Go’

Images from the Tumblr, “This Could Have Been Frozen”

Images from the Tumblr, “This Could Have Been Frozen”

Disney has released a version of the Oscar-nominated song “Let it Go” from the animated movie Frozen that includes lyrics sung in 25 languages. It sounds global and inclusive, but most of the languages are European.

This is the Epcot World Showcase of songs: a trip around the linguistic world — or at least the one according to Disney.

The song opens with a line in English, followed by French, German and Dutch. That sets the tone.

Seventeen of the languages are European, including some that are not exactly widely spoken — Catalan, for example, and the dialect of Dutch spoken by the Flemish of Belgium. Regular Dutch is also included, as well as Serbian (but not Croatian), Bulgarian and many more.

Danish is represented too — appropriately enough, given that “Frozen” is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.”

From Asia, there’s Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian and Thai. And from the Americas, Latin American Spanish and Canadian French. (Interestingly, there is no Brazilian Portuguese, or for that matter, British English.)

From Africa there’s … nothing. Not one language. The same goes for South Asia. Between them, these two regions acccount for for more than 3,000 of the world’s languages.

I contacted Disney to ask why they ignored such a huge part of the world. But no one returned my calls and emails. (One Disney representative did say to me as she connected me to a colleague’s voicemail, “Thank you, Sir. And you have a magical day.”)

Disney, of course, has long been criticized for its preference for white-skinned heroines. Before the release of “Frozen,” a Tumblr called This Could Have Been Frozen re-imagined Elsa the Snow Queen as black, Tibetan, Mongolan, Iniut and other ethnicities.

Given that dissatisfaction, the release of this song seems like a missed opportunity. It wouldn’t have taken much to have had “Let it Go” recorded in say, Zulu or Yoruba, and included in the multilingual mash-up.

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    A Comeback For Africa’s Homegrown Languages?

    A schoolroom in Rwanda (Photo: Dan Petrescu for EFA FTI/Wikimedia Commons)

    A schoolroom in Rwanda (Photo: Dan Petrescu for EFA FTI/Wikimedia Commons)

    In this week’s podcast, Cartoon Queen Carol Hills and I talk language and Africa. We also consider food idioms, banana skins and robberies gone wrong.

    • Televised debates for Ghana’s upcoming presidential election have all been conducted in English, despite the fact that English is understood by an estimated 20% of Ghanaians. Critics say the debates penalize candidates with poor English, effectively turning them into linguistic beauty contests. Now there are calls for future campaigns to include debates in the Twi language/dialect, which is far more widely spoken than English.
    • Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has co-written a thesaurus for his mother tongue, Nkore-Kiga (also known as Runyankore/Rukiga). Museveni says Ugandans favour English, along with Arabic and Swahili, over their neglected indigenous tongues.
    • Gabon is the latest Francophone country in Africa to consider switching its allegiance to English. If it does, it would follow Rwanda, which in 2009 switched its language of instruction in schools from French to English. The future for French in Africa looks uncertain at best.
    • South Africans are debating what to call President Zuma’s newly refurbished home. The US media would call the multi-acre, multi-building home a ‘compound,’ but that word has unfortunate connotations from the Apartheid period. Calling it ‘Zumaville,’ as it’s popularly known, may imply corruption, so the South African Broadcasting Corporation is directing its reporters and presenters to refer to this place as the president’s ‘residence.’
    • Having the peach, eating cold rice, other food-based idioms from around the world. Some of the best of these can be found in Adam Jacot de Boinod’s wonderful Tingo books.


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