Tag Archives: Ethnicity

Words your grandmother taught you in Chinese, Dutch and Yiddish

Did Barack Obama learn a word or two from his grandmother? Well, maybe not — he didn’t grow up with the gran pictured here (it’s his Kenyan stepmother). But many people did learn their very  first foreign words from their grandmothers. The Big Show’s Marco Werman learned a Dutch curse. Nina Porzucki learned a Yiddish word that speaks to a existential Jewish mindset: dafka. Nina’s grandmother didn’t think she was conveying such a Big Idea. She was just describing the stubborn behavior of her granddaughter.

Marilyn Chin learned insults, puns and tongue twisters, many of which later found their way into her poetry. Chin has published three volumes of poems. Many of her poems are linguistic investigations of her own Chinese-Americanism.  Now she’s published her first novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen. It’s the story of two Chinese-American twins, Moonie and Mei Ling Wong,  and their search for double happiness. Or maybe single happiness. Double Happiness is just the name of their family restaurant (wordplay and irony abounds). Between episodes of Chinese food delivery gone hilariously wrong — thanks to Mei Ling’s souped-up American need for sex and drugs — the twins enter a mythological world of Chinese fable. From profane to sacred, and back to profane again. In the pod, I interview Marilyn Chin, who like the twins in her novel, had an overly protective Old World grandmother raising her. Chin can still recite her grandmother’s curses and sayings, delivered in the Toisan sub-dialect of Cantonese. She also recites a super-punning poem from her 2002 collection, Rhapsody in Plain Yellow.

Listen in iTunes or here.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

podcast #41: speed-dating 37 languages, a woman’s voice during ovulation and a chant from Cameroon

Forget humans. Why not date a language? That’s what Keith Brooks is doing. He’s checking out 37 languages with a view to getting serious with one of them —  after he’s played the field a bit. Also, strange things happen to the pitch of women’s voices during ovulation according to this study, and this one, and this one.  Plus, we chow down sideways with a Yiddish word, and hear the tale of a chant from Cameroon that’s been popularized by Michael Jackson and Rihanna. Listen on iTunes or here.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized