Tag Archives: French

J’ai backé mon car dans la driveway

Chiac is an Acadian French dialect spoken in New Brunswick, Canada. It is grammatically French, but it liberally sprinkles its sentences with English words. Emma Jacobs recently became kind of obsessed with Chiac. She kept returning to New Brunswick to hear more of the dialect. And that’s what we hear: musicians, artists, writers and regular folk who speak Chiac every day. And, of course, the superhero depicted above.


00:30 A spin of the radio dial in Moncton, New Brunswick.

1:00 Canada is chock-full of language policies, at provincial, territory and city level.

2:35 Chiac is not Franglais.

In France, stop signs read "Stop."  In Quebec, they read "Arrêt.” In New Brunswick, both words appear on stop signs.  (Photo: Emma Jacobs)

In France, stop signs read “Stop.” In Quebec, they read “Arrêt.” In New Brunswick, both words appear on stop signs. (Photo: Emma Jacobs)

3:25 “Je prends un large double Americano our sortir.”

5:20 Should a public-service movie about teenage bullying in Moncton include dialogue in Chiac?

6:50 Is Chiac “bad French”?

7:50 The “Stop” sign in New Brunswick.

9:00 Some Acadian history: why Moncton sits on a linguistic border.

10:30 Language rights protests of the 1960s

13:30 Musician Gabriel Malenfant struggled at school to learn academic French.

15:31 Dano LeBlanc and a friend dream up “Acadieman.”

17:00 Singer Caroline Savoie wonders why she was subtitled by French TV.

Caroline Savoie performing in Cap-Pelé, New Brunswick. (Photo: Caroline Savoie)

Caroline Savoie performing in Cap-Pelé, New Brunswick. (Photo: Caroline Savoie)

19:25 How much Chiac is too much Chiac?

19:35 Novelist France Daigle uses formal French in her narration but her character often speak in Chiac.

23:13 Politician Bernard Richard: “We have a saying: ‘We learn French but we catch English.'”

27:25 “Ah papa, j’ai entendue il y a un nouveau jeu qui saute. Puis, il y a pretty awesome.”


00:00 Podington Bear: Dramamine

13:48 Radio Radio: Guess What?

15:03 1755: C.B. Buddie

17:52 Lisa LeBlanc: J’pas un Cowboy

18:48 Lisa Leblanc: Aujourd’hui, ma vie c’est d’la marde

25:16 Radio Radio: Cliché Hot

29:36 Lisa LeBlanc: Kraft Dinner

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The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook . There’s a longer version of this post here. And this is me on Twitter.


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Stand-up comedian Gad Elmaleh leaves fame, fortune and…French behind

Nina P. put together this episode.

In comedy, timing is everything.

And the timing was perfect for Moroccan-French comedian Gad Elmaleh to come by the studio recently to star in our wordy, nerdy podcast, The World in Words.

Oh my Gad! How do you say that in French? | The World on YouTube

Moroccan-French Comedian Gad Elmaleh (Photo: Caroline Lessire)

Moroccan-French Comedian Gad Elmaleh (Photo: Caroline Lessire)

In France, he’s huge, performing in arenas for thousands of fans. Elmaleh describes his style as a combination of physical and observational comedy. He’s often been compared to Jerry Seinfeld. In fact, he played the voice of Seinfeld’s character in “Bee Movie”

But Gad Elmaleh recently left fame, fortune, and French behind to pursue a stand-up career in the US in English for literally a fistful of dollars.

His new show, “Oh My Gad” opens in New York City this January.

It’s the culmination of a dream that he spoke about last year with Seinfeld in the web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

“My dream is to be able one day to go on stage in English in a comedy club here and to do my thing in English.”

Elmaleh was born in Casablanca, Morocco, and grew up speaking a mixture of French, Arabic and Hebrew. He’s done stand-up sets in all three languages. However taking his act on the road to the US and doing a set in English has been hard work, says Elmaleh. He studies the English language and pronunciation for two hours every morning. He has been documenting this English language journey and recently put out the short film: “10 Minutes in America.” In the film, he gets advice from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman.

Sarah Silverman warned him that mere translation wouldn’t work. “You have to start over,” she tells him in the film. “It’s not just translating — you have to craft a joke. You are going to need some years.”

It took getting on stage and bombing for Elmaleh to heed Silverman’s advice.

“In the beginning when I got here in the US I said, ‘You know what? I have a great show. It’s 90 minutes in French that killed every night. I’m going to translate that.”

And that’s what he did. He worked with his English teachers to translate his jokes.

“I immediately realized that that was not at all what I needed to do,” says Elmaleh.

All the jokes that had killed with a French audience didn’t make sense to Americans.

“For example, I had many jokes about when you go to the restaurant the air conditioning is freezing and the first thing they do is bring you a glass with ice water. So French people were laughing a lot and then I did this at a comedy club in English and Americans were like, ‘Yeah, well we do that.’”

His material has since morphed into observations about his move to New York City and observations about American culture and the trials of learning English.

And doing this new material in English has been unexpectedly liberating, he says. He is more free and daring in English than in French.

“It’s stressful, it’s hard but it’s also liberating,” explains Elmaleh. “With English it’s not that I have nothing to lose but I take a little risk — I like it.”


00:00 Gad Elmaleh explains his English dream to Jerry Seinfeld

1:22 Gad receives advice from Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman

3:09 Gad figures out that translating comedy from French to English isn’t as easy as merely translating jokes

4:03 English lessons

5:00 Gad, born in Casablanca, Morocco speaks four languages

6:00 English is exhausting

6:29 The first joke that Gad ever told in English

7:51 Feeling like a different comedian in English versus French

8:56 Gad is “blown out of the water”

9:11 The cliché about Texas is not true (For more about Texas clichés check out the World in Words episode: “Talking Texas in Iran”)

9:31 Nina critiques Gad’s NYC cab driver joke

10:26 PC, PDA…what does it all mean?!

12:50 Gad isn’t as balanced and together as you may think

14:00 Gad jokes about restaurants in America: Are you still working on that?

15:00 Gad’s thoughts on being alone and starting all over again

19:00 Answer to last week’s NEH accent quiz


“Bad Scene” by Podington Bear

“Little French Song” by Carla Bruni

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The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook .

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The grammar of cuisine

Is this food combination ungrammatical? (Photo: Ryan Basilio/Flickr)

Is this food combination ungrammatical? (Photo: Ryan Basilio/Flickr)

Here’s a post from Nina Porzucki.

You are what you eat, or so the saying goes. And much of what we eat — and how we eat it — is influenced by what linguist Dan Jurafsky calls the “grammar” of food.

“The grammar of cuisine is the idea that every culture has a different way of thinking about what makes up a meal,” says Jurafsky, whose new book, The Language of Food, comes out this month.

Part of what makes up a meal are the words that we use to describe it. Take the word entrée, for example. Americans think of an entrée as the main course — the meatloaf or the roast chicken. But the French word actually means “entrance.” On a menu in France, an entrée is more of an appetizer.

But if you think Americans simply messed up the original French, you’re wrong. Americans actually got it right, according to Jurafsky. The original meaning of entrée — as it was used during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance — was much closer to the American meaning. It meant a heavy meat course that was just the first of many meat courses to come.

“So American English kept that sense of a substantial meat course, and [from] France and then England came some sense of this idea of entrance,” Jurafsky says. “So the word really changed in France and England from meaning a heavy meat course to meaning a light appetizer.”

The grammar of food impacts not only the order of the meal, but the types of dishes that are acceptable to eat at different times during the meal.

“We grew up with these rules that say that the salty things happen first and the sweet things happen at the end,” says Jurafsky. “And coffee is a morning thing or maybe a dessert thing, but certainly not a main course thing.”

Of course, the rules are broken all of the time: savory is mixed with sweet, dessert becomes the main course or the meat becomes the dessert. Think bacon ice cream or cappuccino-flavored potato chips. They make an American eater do a double take because they violate the American rules of culinary grammar.

But some things just don’t translate, like one of Jurafsky’s favorite Chinese delicacies: hasma, a Cantonese sweet soup. It’s made of a mix of dates and frog fallopian tubes.

Hasma, a Chinese sweet soup or dessert that combines the dried tissue around the fallopian tubes of some frogs with jujubes (red dates) or other fruit. (Photo: Benjwong via Wikimedia Commons)

Hasma, a Chinese sweet soup or dessert that combines the dried tissue around the fallopian tubes of some frogs with jujubes (red dates) or other fruit. (Photo: Benjwong via Wikimedia Commons)

“Texture is very important in Cantonese foods, so there’s your crunchy things and slimy things,” Jurafsky explains. “There’s a lot of very slimy foods in lots of cultures that don’t work … in the grammar of American food.”

Then there are some food items that seem universal, like tea. Tea was introduced to the world via China. Lots of languages have a word that begins, like the English word, with a “t” sound. But many others, like Arabic or Russian, use words that start with a “ch” sound, like “chai.”

“All the languages that got tea via the south of China from trading with the Fujianese, all of those languages pronounce the word with a ‘t’ because they got it from the English or the Dutch — who got it straight from the Fujianese,” Jurafsky explains.”Everybody else who uses a word like ‘chai,’ they got the word over land from China through Central Asia, where the northern Chinese dialects start with a ‘ch.’”

In his book, Jurafsky also looks at correlations between the description of food and food quality. By analyzing restaurant reviews online, he found that food descriptions often fell into two categories: sex and drugs.

“If someone likes an expensive restaurant they use amazing sensual terms: ‘orgasmic pastry,’ ‘very naughty deep fried pork belly,'” he says. “There’s something about sex and food that’s obviously linked, but it’s interesting that we only talk about that when we’re thinking about our expensive restaurants. Expensive food is a sensory pleasure, just like sex.”

Cheap food is another story: “‘Oh, those wings, they’re addicting.’ ‘The chocolate in their cookies, they must have crack in it.’ It’s as if the food forces us to eat it. It’s not my fault that I ate those wings. The wings forced me to devour them. It lets us distance ourselves from eating these awful foods.”

The meanings of many food-related words have often been lost to history. Like why do we “toast” someone at the dinner table? What does a celebratory act have anything to do with charred bread?

Turns out toast was long ago used as a seasoning agent for wine. We used to put grilled bread in wine with spices to enhance its flavor.

“And people said ‘Oh, the belle of the ball, the lady of the evening, she spices the party like the toast spices the wine,’” Jurafsky says. “So there are these historical explanations for how the word came about. But it’s true that, as a modern eater, you just have to learn the words.”

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Some people have re-imagined English as Anglish, with no words derived from French or Latin

Tom Rowsell examines a replica of an Anglo-Saxon helmet

Tom Rowsell examines a replica of an Anglo-Saxon helmet

Here’s a guest post from Tom Rowsell.

It’s common knowledge that languages are fluid things which merge into one another and evolve to become new languages. But the way they change isn’t necessarily natural or arbitrary. The changes that occur to languages are often the result of wars, genocides, mass migrations, political meddling and religious taboos. The point of any language is to make oneself understood and this fact has meant that geography maintains the distinct character of different languages so that they remain intelligible to those inhabiting a certain area.

Linguistic purism is usually about preserving a language and protecting it from being corrupted by the introduction of foreign words. But Anglish is a bit different from other types of linguistic purism because it isn’t intended to preserve the English language as it is spoken now, nor as it has ever been spoken. Instead Anglish is a form of English stripped clean of the last 1000 years of non-Germanic influence, while also being brought up to date in terms of modern syntax, grammar and spelling.

So words like love, which is derived from the Old English word lufian, remain as they are in Anglish, while words like horticulture, the first part of which is derived from the Latin hortus meaning garden, have to be altered. The Anglish translation of horticulture is wortcraft, which is a compound of wort, meaning plant, and craft, meaning work.

Anglish speakers are a fringe movement of linguistic purists who want to streamline the English language and rid it of words of un-Anglo-Saxon origin. They don’t speak Old English as it was, because they keep the modern versions of words derived from Old English ones, but they replace words derived from French or Latin with what they consider to be the most appropriate Germanic English equivalents.

Anglish speakers haven’t had to invent an entire language as such, because most of the normal English words we use in daily conversation are of Old English origin. But although spoken English is primarily Germanic, the vast majority of words in the English language are of non Germanic origin, and this is where Anglish purists have had to be inventive. The words they have created are quite charming but confusing at times. Fortunately the Anglish Moot have provided an online Anglish Wordbook (wordbook is Anglish for dictionary) to help you learn the lingo.

In many cases you can guess what is meant because Anglish is quite intuitive. “Expand” is replaced by swell while “edit” is replaced by bework. The Anglish movement has roots way back in the late 1800s when Elias Molee advocated an English purged of its Romance components. He made his case in two books; “Pure Saxon English” and “Plea for an American Language, or Germanic-English”. He proposed a language similar to Anglish called Tutonish, which was intended to be a “union tongue” for all the Germanic-language speaking peoples, with a schematised English syntax and a largely German- and Scandinavian-based vocabulary.

In 1989 Poul Anderson wrote a short text about atomic theory in a version of English free from Romance elements. The text entitled “Uncleftish Beholding” is seen as the blueprint for the modern Anglish movement and what it can achieve. These opening paragraphs give you a feel for how Anderson made scientific speech seem more accessible and almost folksy.

    “For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made
    of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began
    to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that
    watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.
    The underlying kinds of stuff are the *firststuffs*, which link
    together in sundry ways to give rise to the rest. Formerly we
    knew of ninety-two firststuffs, from waterstuff, the lightest and
    barest, to ymirstuff, the heaviest. Now we have made more, such
    as aegirstuff and helstuff.”

The compound words like ymirstuff and aegirstuff reference figures from Nordic mythology, like the primordial giant of creation Ymir and the God of the sea Aegir, in order to describe the base elements of the universe in a Germanic context. Anderson also borrowed from German words to create “waterstuff” and “sourstuff”, coming from Wasserstoff (hydrogen) and Sauerstoff (oxygen).

It is unlikely that the Anglish dialect being created by linguistic enthusiasts will ever become widespread, but it is not without value. One thing about Anglish words is that they are more consistent and easier to understand if you have never heard them before. This is a great lesson for journalists, poets and authors struggling with vocabulary. Language is after all, a means of making oneself understood. If we endeavour to express the more complicated concepts of life and science with the most basic Anglo-Saxon language possible, then we may find the language is not only easier to understand but also sounds better.

Tom Rowsell is a professional writer and the director of “From Runes to Ruins”, a documentary film about Anglo-Saxon history. He is currently employed by the translation and interpreting company, EmpowerLingua.


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English rules in America, except in a few French pockets of Maine

Le Rencontre, a French-speaking meetup at the Franco-American Heritage Center, Lewiston, Maine (Annie Murphy)

Le Rencontre, a French-speaking meetup at the Franco-American Heritage Center, Lewiston, Maine (Annie Murphy)

Here’s a guest post from reporter Annie Murphy who divides her time between Peru and Maine.

On a Thursday afternoon at the Franco American Heritage Center in Lewiston, Maine, a few hundred people fill an old church converted into a concert hall.

Musicians play guitar and accordion, and sing French-Canadian songs, while the crowd watches. It’s the last part of a monthly meetup – known as Le Rencontre – where locals gather together, and speak in French.

Most of the crowd grew up in Lewiston, or neighboring Auburn. They have French-speaking families, many of whom migrated from Quebec, and other parts of Canada. And even though, until a few decades ago, French speakers faced a lot of discrimination – including being punished in school for speaking French – the language has managed to hang on.

Louise Bolduc is a regular. She’s sixty-six, with long gray-blond hair, and a spotless white baseball hat that says C’est bon. I ask her if she speaks French a lot.

“Oui, c’est ma première langue,” she says. “That means it’s my first language. When I started school, I didn’t know any English.

The director of the center, Louis Morin, is standing beside her. His parents migrated from Canada shortly before he was born. He and Bolduc continue talking, in French.

“It was the same thing for me,” he says to her. “I didn’t start speaking English until I was six years old. Before, I spoke only French at home.”

Louise Bolduc adds that for her, it’s easy to keep up the language, because her family still speaks it. They’re actually waiting nearby, and she runs off to join her sister and cousins.

Today, Franco-Americans make up 20% of the population in Maine. In Lewiston-Auburn, some officials say it’s closer to 70%. And a lot of them still speak French, as Bowdoin College Professor Chris Potholm found when he was doing a study.

“28% of Franco Americans are fluent in French. Now, when you think about that, that wouldn’t be surprising if you were interviewing recent immigrants. But if you think of the Franco-Americans as being here for 250 years, that’s an astonishingly high number.”

But many Franco-Americans worry that that number is only going to decrease. And some are skeptical about kids picking up French once their families have stopped speaking it at home.

Teacher Jacynthe Jacques leads an after-school French class in Auburn, Maine (Annie Murphy)

Teacher Jacynthe Jacques leads an after-school French class in Auburn, Maine (Annie Murphy)

Teacher Jacynthe Jacques leads an after-school French class in Auburn, MaineAcross the river, in the city of Auburn, one after-school program is trying revive local French. In a space at Sherwood Heights Elementary School, over a dozen students repeat the class rules, in French. One of the teachers behind the program, Doris Bonneau, translates for me.

“Raise your hand to speak, to move from your space. Follow directions. Be polite. The golden rule, is do your best. And the last one was: pay attention!”

Bonneau – who seems both patient and enthusiastic, especially when it comes to French – says that program is part of an effort to bring the language to younger generations. And rather than focusing on so-called “classic” French from France, kids are exposed to all sorts of dialects, particularly local ones that make up the French specific to Maine.

One of Bonneau’s students is 10-year-old Lucas Pushard. He says his grandmother speaks French, and that now, he can actually talk to her a little bit. He also mentions picking up on more French being spoken around town.

“It’s kind of like a secret language,” he says. “You can finally find out what people are saying, you’re finally in on it. It’s kind of cool.”

Another teacher in the program, Jacynthe Jacques, came here from Quebec. She was surprised to meet so many local French speakers. And she also noticed that words and accents from different parts of Canada come together in Maine. For example, she says, some locals have an accent from a smaller region within Quebec, called La Beauce.

“A bench in French is a banc, and a bath is a bain. But if you’re from La BeauceFrench, you can sit on a banc and it’s almost the same pronunciation as a “bath,” says Jacques. “Little things like that.”

What’s also surprised Jacques since moving to Maine is the presence of French speakers from different parts of Africa, specifically in Lewiston-Auburn. She thinks that maybe with the new wave of immigration, French will be able to hang on here.

“I’ve noticed that, through this program, and other venues, there’s a lot of getting together between the French speaking communities in this area. And I think that’s great, because we meet in the language,” she says.

Pierrette Rukundo, born in Rwanda, resident of Maine (courtesy Pierrette Rukundo)

Pierrette Rukundo, born in Rwanda, resident of Maine (courtesy Pierrette Rukundo)

Pierrette Rukundo, born in Rwanda, resident of MaineBack in Lewiston, French speakers from places like Ivory Coast, Chad, and Togo have attended the monthly Le Rencontre meetup. At the one I go to, I talk to 21-year-old Pierrette Rukundo moved from Rwanda about a year ago, with her three brothers and her parents. Rukundo says she’s excited to find this community of French speakers, and that she plans on bringing her parents next time.

“They’ll be so excited. My mom will not stop talking,” says Rukundo. “I think she’ll be talking the whole time, because she’ll be with people speaking in French.”

Recent immigrants, like the Rukundo family, bring even more dialects into the mix of Maine French. They’re also likely to be key to the language staying alive.

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During the Olympics, Canadians are willing to drop their language arguments

Charles Hamelin kisses girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais after winning the gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics (Francesco Cataldo/Flickr)

Charles Hamelin kisses girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais after winning the gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics (Francesco Cataldo/Flickr)

Canada’s Sun News Network has been described as “Fox News North.”

Like Fox, it has its targets. It doesn’t like big government. It doesn’t like Canada’s promotion of the French language. And it really doesn’t like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Almost every Canadian is watching the CBC right now because it has the broadcast rights to the Sochi Olympics. So the people at Sun News decided they would make some news.

Host Brian Lilley brought “linguistics expert” Harley Sims onto his show to talk about how the CBC was pronouncing names — the names of Canadian medal winners: Justine and Chloé Dufour-Lapointe, Charles Hamelin and others.

Lilley and Sims didn’t like the French-sounding way that some CBC announcers were pronouncing these names. They had no objections to French-language TV using native French pronunciation. But on English-language TV, they said, the names should be anglicized. “Clo-AY” should become “CLO-ee,” and “Sharl” should become “Charls.”

“I’ll stick with the way we pronounce names in English,” said Lilley. “I will still say congratulations to Justine [pronounced the English way].”

The CBC’s overly-French pronunciations are “so selective and arbitrary of what’s politically correct and what isn’t,” said Sims.

It was classic Canadian button-pushing, like playing the race card in the US or playing the class card in the UK. In Canada, if you want to start a political fight — or if you just want attention — you play the language card.

Even though very few Canadians were watching, with the Olympics over on the CBC, word got out. By the next day, it was the talk of the talk shows.

The outrage quickly grew. People called Lilley a “redneck,” “mind-bogglingly stupid,” and worse. Much of the anger came from Quebec.

It proved too much for Lilley. He apologized.

This is the stage in the story when Canada’s Sun News stops behaving like America’s Fox News.

In his broadcast apology, Lilley said he worked in a bilingual newsroom, and his wife is from Quebec. He said some of his relatives are native French speakers.

“The focus should be on the [Olympic] athletes,” said Lilley. “It shouldn’t be on dividing Canadians, language by language, and trying to set French against English. It’s not what I intended. It is what happened, and therefore I apologize.”

Moral of the story: don’t play the language card during the Winter Olympics. It’s a time when Canadians of all stripes seem pretty happy about being Canadian.

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    Silicon Valley is full of entrepreneurs — and some of them are native French speakers

    Jean-Louis Gassée, a former colleague of Steve Jobs at Apple. Gassée is now a venture capitalist based in Silicon Valley. (Photo: Alison van Diggelen/Fresh Dialogues)

    Jean-Louis Gassée, a former colleague of Steve Jobs at Apple. Gassée is now a venture capitalist based in Silicon Valley. (Photo: Alison van Diggelen/Fresh Dialogues)

    Here’s a guest post from Silicon Valley-based reporter Alison van Diggelen

    Steve Jobs has inspired many entrepreneurs in the U.S. and around the world. Today, some French tech innovators in Silicon Valley think of Jobs as an honorary Frenchman. The perception is that he was more focused on beauty and elegance, and less on money.

    But although many French admired him, they didn’t copy him. And, at least until recently, they haven’t created the conditions that would allow tech innovators to thrive.

    The French, of course, are known for their style. But some are asking: Why is it so hard to be an entrepreneur in France and much easier for a French entrepreneur to succeed in the United States?

    Here in Silicon Valley, the French are certainly leaving their mark. There’s Pierre Omidyar of eBay fame, semiconductor pioneer Pierre Lamond and serial entrepreneur Philippe Kahn.

    Jean-Louis Gassée is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. In the 1980s, Gassée was the head of Apple in France and worked with Steve Jobs. He believes true innovators are often a bit mad, but in France they need to be even more than that.

    “To be an entrepreneur in France you need an additional dose of madness … the rules are so onerous,” says Gassée.

    He’s talking about heavy government regulation and taxes of up to 75%. These, he says, force French entrepreneurs to be tenacious and to find loopholes. Legal loopholes, of course.

    “In France, breaking the law is a sport, it’s an honor, it’s a badge to find ways to cheat the rules,” says Gassée.

    When he established Apple in France, Gassée had to be creative since the government put up roadblocks to foreign competition. What’s more, Silicon Valley’s extravagant language was abhorrent to French ears.

    “When our dearly departed Steve Jobs came to France to make his usual brand of hyperbolic statements, people were taken aback, resentful,” says Gassée. “People rolled their eyes. They called him fou (mad), méprisant (contemptuous ), houtant (haughty), … arrogante (arrogant). … All this was part of his genius.”

    Today, that genius has made Steve Jobs a hero to many younger French entrepreneurs.

    I went to a gathering of DBF, a networking group for Francophones in Silicon Valley, where I chatted with John Forge, a French entrepreneur.

    “We should make Steve Jobs an honorary Frenchman,” he laughed, praising Jobs’ style and detail-oriented approach.

    “Steve Jobs was very French in his approach. He was seeing technology through the eyes of somebody who studied fonts, characters, writing … on the detail, it had to be perfect.”

    Forge argues that the French obsession with elegance is very “Jobsian.”

    “It has to be beautiful; there’s an entire way of thinking,” says Forge. “Quelque chose qui vous parle … it speaks to you effectively.”

    But Forge says that even among the open-minded French entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, there’s still some insularity.

    “Where the French gather … they call that ‘The Frog Pond.’ There’s a little too much of that … ‘I want every day to have my steak pomme frites’ … to live like the French live,” he explains.

    Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley has dozens of French eateries. I met with Susan Lucas-Conwell at the Douce France Café in Palo Alto. She currently leads SVForum, an education network for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

    The Douce France Café in Palo Alto Lucas-Conwell is married to a Frenchman and says the French view business failure differently than in California. In Silicon Valley, it’s a badge of honor. In France, Lucas-Conwell explains, failure is one of the non-dit, the things that you never talk about.

    The Douce France Café in Palo Alto (Photo: Alison van Diggelen/Fresh Dialogues)

    The Douce France Café in Palo Alto (Photo: Alison van Diggelen/Fresh Dialogues)

    To make matters worse, according to Lucas-Conwell, French government officials are expert at the business put-down.

    “You will hear the administration calling entrepreneurs ‘les patrons voyous.’ Voyou is a thug,” says Lucas-Conwell.

    That’s pretty strong language — another manifestation of the anti-entrepreneurial culture in France. And just think, the word ‘entrepreneur’ is French.

    So while French innovators struggle Sisyphus-like up a steep mountain, the lucky ones can move here to Silicon Valley and feel an optimistic wind at their back.

    “We Silicon Valley people tend to think that we run the world, you understand, and there is some truth in that,” says Jean-Louis Gassée. “Je tweet, tu tweet, nous tweetons, vous tweetez, ils tweetent … It’s an -er verb. Usage trumps rules in any language.”

    “It is a wonderful thing … we are the melting pot’s melting pot,” he adds.

    Sophie Woodville Ducom, another French transplant with the French American Chamber of Commerce, calls Silicon Valley “The Mecca” — a place where entrepreneurs can thrive, even if they first fail. And, if they’re really lucky, they get to push that rock to the top of the mountain and enjoy the glory. That’s the promise of Silicon Valley, anyway.

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    Tintin’s Adventures on “The Black Island” Now in Scots

    "The Black Island" in Scots

    “The Black Island” in Scots

    Belgium’s favorite comic book son, Tintin, gets to speak Scots in a new translation by Susan Rennie. Listen as she speaks some of the dialogue, and explains why this particular Tintin adventure got the Scots treatment.

    Also in the latest World in Words podcast: What do a soccer stadium and giant pandas have to do with a language dispute? In Belgium, everything. The Big Show’s expert on all things Belgian, Clark Boyd, fills us in.


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    The Language of New Orleans in One Word: Gumbo

    New Orleans (Photo: Marco Werman)

    New Orleans (Photo: Marco Werman)

    A post from Big Show host Marco Werman

    You might have heard me mention that I recently spent some time in New Orleans, as a guest of public radio station WWNO. And one of the things that struck me about the “Big Easy” is the language of the place. It’s a reflection of the diversity and wild history of the city.

    Like the advice “LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL” or “laissez les bons temps rouler,” there’s a unique word-for-word english-to-cajun french construction that shouldn’t work but does.

    It’s also interesting how the words that describe New Orleans’ two best known cultural contributions to America – music and food – express multiple layers of meaning in this city.

    Think jazz.

    Think gumbo.

    And whenever new people come to New Orleans, the words and the music and the food evolve. When you listen to trumpeter Kermit Ruffins performing at the Bullet’s Sports Bar in the city’s seventh ward, it’s easy to forget that all this comes out of a few hundreds years of history.

    “You know, it’s like “there’s no place quite like this place, so this must be the place”? There is no place in the United States quite like this place. Southern Louisiana,” says New Orleans food historian Jessica B. Harris. “This is a place that has been French, then Spanish, then French, then American. That’s a lot of stuff going on.”

    Not to mention the native Americans who mixed with African slaves and set down the local creole flavor. Not to mention the entire Caribbean which New Orleans was the center of long before Miami assumed the mantle in the 20th century.

    Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff going on.

    “It is that place where things mix. People often have referred to the culture of New Orleans as a gumbo,” Harris says. Now you may know gumbo as a stew of various meats and some veg served over rice. It’s classic New Orleans. And yet the word gumbo refers to what used to be a key ingredient in the stew.

    “If you go anywhere in the French speaking world today and want okra, you ask for gombo. The word “gombo” comes from the Bantu languages: “ochigombo” and “quibombo” which mean okra. So okra I think is intensely connected to this place,” says Harris.

    And it’s not just because New Orleanians like their okra.

    Okra, the origin of New Orleans gumbo (Photo: Marco Werman)

    Okra, the origin of New Orleans gumbo (Photo: Marco Werman)

    Gumbo reflects the diversity of the city. “It’s a case where these parts make an extraordinary whole without totally melting. You know, if you have a good gumbo, you can still see the okra, you still know that that was Andouille, you’re still aware of the fact that that was duck or chicken or what have you. It’s not just a brown stew. It’s something else.”

    Enriching. Just like gumbo.

    You can’t get away from that metaphor in New Orleans. “We all do things in a different way. But when we come together and put all those ideas together, it’s really enriching,” says Father Anthony Anala, also known as Father Tony. He’s a priest, from Ghana in West Africa who’s been leading the congregation at Our Lady Star of the Sea in New Orleans since 2008.

    I wanted to meet him because having spent some time in Togo, Ghana’s neighbor, I wanted to hear a West African talk about how they saw the connection between New Orleans and their part of the world.

    Now, when Father Tony got to New Orleans five years ago, imagine his surprise! He leaves the home of okra to arrive in the home of gumbo. Not only that, this past April, this Ghanaian priest got about as deep into New Orleans musical culture as you can get. He presided over the funeral of a Mardi Gras Indian, a Black Seminole named Cyril Big Six Chief Ironhorse Green.

    “There was that mood of celebrating the achievements he has had. And so it was more uplifting, upbeat.”

    Marco: “And the whole idea of a funeral being a moment of celebration, that’s something you find at funerals in northern Ghana and Togo. It’s a party time”

    Chief says laughingly, “Exactly. All the families come for one funeral, then they all go to another funeral and you can celebrate funerals for like a month,”

    And of course, wouldn’t you know it, the day I met Father Tony he had had a Ghanaian specialty for lunch: stewed goat. Although he says New Orleans food suits him just fine too. “There’s a bit of spiciness in the food, and the gumbo, it tastes like back home.”

    “People gone be eatin’ gumbo. Now all of a sudden you may discover that there’re some other things goin into that gumbo. But that takes it from the culinary to the social metaphor, because there are other things going into the gumbo that are the city as well., says food historian Jessica Harris.

    And sometimes those “other things” become the standard. That’s what happened with Vietnamese bakery Dong Phuong. Vietnam was hobbling back from war when the Tranh family left and came to New Orleans in 1980. Vietnam and New Orleans in fact share French influence. Madame Huong Tran’s family in Vietnam were bakers and they brought their trade here.

    To accommodate local tastes, the Trans came up with a sandwich roll that worked for both their banh mi Vietnamese Sandwiches and American subs. “You know the French took over Vietnam 100 years. So we take some recipe from French, some American, also from my parents too. Three recipes in one,” so now you get that crunchy baguette outside.”

    The Dong Phuong bakery is now the number one source in all of New Orleans for the bread for the city’s famed Po-Boy: that sub stuffed with fried oysters or shrimp.

    Allen Toussaint (Photo: Marco Werman)

    Allen Toussaint (Photo: Marco Werman)

    This pleases pianist and songwriter Allen Toussaint to no end when he returns home from touring. “Shrimp Po-Boy. Dressed. You have to say dressed!” We’re all “villains in a feeding frenzy. We do that a lot here. But everywhere I go, I’m always glad to get home, but when I leave New Orleans, I never go anywhere else looking for any part of New Orleans. I collect scraps and wishbones and feathers everywhere I go, and then I come home and try and produce a chicken. And it works, and the more extensive travel is, the more I have in my reservoir.”

    Toussaint has a song that’s reflects the Big Easy.

    “A yankee saw a crawfish called it a baby lobster
    We laughed so hard we nearly busted our sides.

    But when he tasted the difference he started raving so much he got a southern welcome arms open wide.

    Imagine boudin cooking.
    Imagine cracklins cracklin.
    Almost enough cayenne to water your eyes.

    But in the midst of all this fine southern cuisine, I’ll take the crawfish everyday, everytime.

    Laissez laissez bons temps rouler.
    Laissez laissez bons temps rouler.
    Laissez laissez bons temps rouler.

    I could eat crawfish everyday.
    I could eat crawfish everyday.”

    President Obama awarded the National Medal of the Arts last week to Allen Toussaint, capping my visit to New Orleans.

    Thanks to Julia Kumari Drapkin and Kathleen Flynn for their help.

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    Elite Italian University Meets Resistance As It Tries To Go All-English

    Politecnico di Milano (Wikimedia Commons)

    Politecnico di Milano (Wikimedia Commons)

    Here’s a guest post from Italy-based contributor to the Big Show Megan Williams…

    Across continental Europe, more college and university classes are being taught in English. In making the switch to English, institutions in non-English-speaking countries believe they are better preparing students for a globalized workforce. They’re also seeking to attract more foreign students.

    But sometimes, there’s fierce opposition to these moves. That was the case when lawmakers in France recently proposed increasing the number of university courses taught in English.

    In Italy, a court has barred the Politecnico di Milano, the MIT of Italy, from switching to English as its sole language of instruction. The university is appealing the decision.

    Already some Politecnico classes are taught in English. Drop in on computer science professor Giuseppe Serazzi’s weekly lecture and you can witness the change. Serazzi starts with a brief introduction in Italian. Then, he switches to English. The plan was for all professors teaching Master-level courses to do that.

    Politecnico rector Giovanni Azzone boldly announced last year that by 2015, all post-graduate courses and some undergrad programs would be offered only in English.

    Azzone said the switch to English is needed to keep attracting top Italian students who want the option of eventually working outside Italy.

    “You need an international environment,” said Azzone. “You must attract international students. English is fundamental. Italian at present is an entry barrier.”

    But it’s a move that met with vociferous opposition from many of the Politecnico’s 1,400 faculty members. They launched a petition calling the switch to English unconstitutional, saying it limited the freedom to teach and study in Italian, and put Italy’s cultural heritage at risk. And now they have found an ally in an Italian regional court.

    Professor Hans de Wit, an expert on the internationalization of higher education at the Cattolica University in Milan, said that argument has been used many times— in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

    De Wit called the Italian court’s decision “a shock.” He thinks what’s really happening is that some older professors understandably fear that a switch to English will sideline them professionally. But according to de Wit, research it’s what students want.

    Politecnico Di Milano may have made a tactical mistake. De Wit said its announced change may have been too dramatic. The universities that have made the switch to English successfully have done so slowly and discreetly, thereby avoiding uncertainty and resistance.

    As part of the plan to switch to English, all professors and support staff not already fluent in English have been taking weekly ESL classes. But some are there against their will, and others say a lesson a week just isn’t enough to be able to work in English.

    Students agree. Computer Science student Javier Hualpa, who’s from Argentina, says it’s ironic he had to pass a stringent English exam to get in, when many of his professors would flunk it. “You have two kinds of teachers here,” says Hualpa. “The ones who have done a PhD outside Italy—they speak clear English; and the Italian ones who learned English locally with an Italian cadence. Even for the International students we say, ‘You don’t speak well.’”

    Despite the problems in switching to English, students like Hualpa and the Politecnico’s rector agree that not switching to English would only limit their future choices.

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