Tag Archives: Languages

The death of Spanish death in one American family

Bradley Campbell goes home to Dallas, Oregon, to find out why his Honduran-born father decided to “kill” Spanish a couple of years before Bradley was born.

PODCAST CONTENTS

00:25 “Does your dad speak another language?”

01:30 US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro’s relationship with the Spanish language.

2:00 Bradley Campbell’s dad “killed” Spanish

3:25 “Rrrrrr”

4:50 The first time Bradley’s dad was called a beaner.

5:30 1923, the year Hortensia Maria was born.

7:20 Dad and Uncle George always spoke English to each other.

8:30 A restaurant stop in Colorado.

10:20 Some background on Bradley’s hometown, Dallas, Oregon.

12:05 Dad doesn’t feel like he’s fluent in Spanish.

13:40 Spanglish rears its head.

14:15 In the US military Dad meets a guy from Mexico.

15:25 Bradley still holds a grudge.

17:00 Spanish springs back to life.

18:02 A phone call to Abuelita.

19:52 Bradley tells Nina and Patrick about his visiting his Dad’s home in Chile.

22:23 The person delivering this week’s credit for the National Endowment for the Humanities is a pretty well-known guy. Recognize the voice? Let us know at Facebook or Twitter.

MUSIC HEARD IN THIS EPISODE

“Dramamine” by Podington Bear

“The Dead of Winter” by Will Bangs

“I’m So Glad That You Exist” by Will Bangs

“Alguien” by Cucu Diamantes

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Who says humor doesn’t translate?


Nina P. put together this episode.

Happy New Year all of you swell World in Words listeners! May your upcoming new year be full of fun — wait, make that multilingual hilarity.

To help kick things off The World in Words leaves you with one of our favorite interviews from the archives with the multilingual comedian, Samir Khullar AKA Sugar Sammy. He grew up in Quebec speaking Punjabi, Hindi, French and English and he now does stand-up in all four languages. Patrick Cox sat down with him back in 2013.

Sugar Sammy

PODCAST CONTENTS

00:37 Listen for the answer to last week’s “name that accent” quiz

1:18 Gad Elmaleh, French stand-up comedian dabbles in English

2:18 The multilingual, multitalented comic, Eddie Izzard

4:14 Meet Samir Khullar AKA Sugar Sammy

5:47 How Sugar Sammy first started his comedy career at school

6:35 Why Sugar Sammy decided to do a bilingual comedy show

7:09 Bridging Anglophone and Francophone culture

9:26 Did Sugar Sammy’s ethnicity make it easier for him to poke fun at both Anglophone and Francophone cultures?

11:00 How does speaking different languages affect the comedy? Does funny translate?

14:00 National Endowment of the Humanities funding credit and the “name that accent” quiz for next week.

MUSIC

“Re Bop” by Marie et les Garçons

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Talking Texas in Persian, Turkish and Norwegian

In the podcast this week, a Persian expression that includes “Texas.” Also, the meaning of haka, beyond New Zealand’s rugby fields.

CONTENTS

00:00 What is not Texas here?

01:00 Helt Texas “(Completely Texas” in Norwegian) explained.

02:02 Ashley Cleek asks her Iranian husband Reza about the Persian expression Inja Texas nist (“It’s not Texas here”).

03:15 “Texas is like the uber United States.”

03:30 Texas acts as a stand-in for an out-of-control place, says Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University.

04:00 Reza’s Lucky Luke theory.

Reza Jamayran poses in front of an image of a childhood hero, Lucky Luke. (Photo: Ashley Cleek)

Reza Jamayran poses in front of an image of a childhood hero, Lucky Luke. (Photo: Ashley Cleek)

05:00 Ashley and Reza finally go to Texas. Reza calls his mom.

06:00 Another great Texas story in a similar vein: Julia Barton on Dallas.

06:40 Rugby and the haka.

8:05 The sound of the haka.

09:50 In Maori culture, “the more ugly you are, the more beautiful you are,” says New Zealander Corey Baker

11:40 A haka that challenges young, struggling Maoris to turn their lives around.

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A history of Hebrew, told one word at a time

Ben and Jerry's ice cream in Israel is labeled "glida," the Aramaic word for frost. In modern Hebrew, it means ice cream. (Photo: Daniel Estrin)

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in Israel is labeled “glida,” the Aramaic word for frost. In modern Hebrew, it means ice cream. (Photo: Daniel Estrin)

Here’s a guest post from Daniel Estrin, who lives in Jerusalem.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the history of words over centuries.

In Israel, linguists are still compiling a similar dictionary for the ancient Hebrew language.

English as we know it has been around about 860 years.

“Without bragging, the history of Hebrew is much older,” said Gabriel Birnbaum, a senior researcher at Israel’s official Academy of the Hebrew Language. About three times older.

Birnbaum’s job is to write the entries for the Hebrew Historical Dictionary. Four days a week, seven hours a day, he sits alone in his small office, surrounded by dusty volumes of ancient Hebrew texts, and types out definitions.

“The ideal is to have all the words with all their history, how they started, when they started to be used, the whole of the treasure of the Hebrew language,” said Birnbaum. “The English have it, the French have it, the Hungarians have it, so we should also have it.”

Hebrew was born around the 12th century BC. It’s the language of the Bible; Jesus knew Hebrew. But a few decades after Jesus’ death, Jews were exiled from the Holy Land, and they adopted different languages.

“Hebrew for 1,700 years wasn’t spoken by anyone,” Birnbaum said. “Some people call it a dead language. But if it was dead, it was a very lively corpse.”

A boy reads the ancient Hebrew text from a Torah scroll at his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall holy site in Jerusalem. (Photo: Daniel Estrin)

A boy reads the ancient Hebrew text from a Torah scroll at his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall holy site in Jerusalem. (Photo: Daniel Estrin)

It really wasn’t dead at all. Jews wrote their literature and liturgy in Hebrew, and recited prayers in Hebrew, as they do to this day. In the late 19th century, waves of Jews moved to the Holy Land, and revived Hebrew as a spoken language.

But how do you order ice cream in an ancient tongue?

“They didn’t have words for office, or eyeglasses, or for matches,” said Birnbaum. “So from where will we take this? Of course we can coin new words. But first we have to use all the words we have in our sources.”

That’s how the mysterious Biblical word chashmal, referring to God appearing with fire and light, became the modern word for electricity. In an ancient Aramaic translation of a Biblical passage, manna from heaven is described as thin as frost, or glida. Today, glida is the frosty stuff you order at the ice cream parlor.

Hebrew is based on “roots,” patterns of letters that are the building blocks of the language. The three-letter combination in the word “write” also appears in the words for “article,” “reporter,” “letter,” “spelling,” “address,” and anything having to do with writing.

More than half of the roots in modern Hebrew come straight from the Bible.

“If I give you a text of Old English, you won’t understand a word. Those words have changed a lot,” Birnbaum said. “Now you take an Israeli child, you give him a text from the Book of Genesis, or a text from the Book of Samuel, he can understand, not to exaggerate, 70 percent of it. He can understand it.”

The Hebrew Language Academy began compiling its historical dictionary in 1959, but only came out with a first edition in 2005. There are many words from the past few thousand years to comb through, not to mention all the new words of the last century.

Linguists at the Hebrew Language Academy are still coining new words for terms that didn’t exist in the Bible or the Middle Ages – and Israelis often email the language academy to request new words.

Staffer Tzipi Senderov said there’s been high demand lately for one particular word.

“People always write the same thing. ‘I need to know the Hebrew term for cupcake,’” Senderov said. “Then we have to say, ‘There is no alternative,’ and people are like, ‘Why, can’t you find an alternative?’”

They did. The Hebrew Language Academy has posted two options online for the public to choose from. So far the more popular choice is ugoneet, which in English translates to “mini-cake.” The other contender is mufeen mekushat, or “decorated muffin.”

Do these alternatives to cupcake sound tasty?

“No, and it wouldn’t catch, whatsoever,” Senderov said. “That’s the problem.”

All the Hebrew Language Academy’s new words will eventually end up in the historical dictionary. But sometimes, its new words just don’t catch on.

At birthday parties across Israel, a cupcake may just stay a cupcake.


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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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    China’s linguistic landscape is changing as rapidly as its cities and lifestyles

    The children of migrant workers are taught Mandarin at a school in Shanghai. Many speak a regional dialect at home, and some don't speak Mandarin at all when they arrive for the first day of class. (Photo/Ruth Morris)

    The children of migrant workers are taught Mandarin at a school in Shanghai. Many speak a regional dialect at home, and some don’t speak Mandarin at all when they arrive for the first day of class. (Photo/Ruth Morris)

    Here’s a guest post from Shanghai-based reporter Ruth Morris…

    As it stands, Mandarin is the language of government, commerce and pop songs in China. But not everyone is excited about learning it.

    While the government insists Mandarin is necessary for social cohesion, some of China’s ethnic minorities have pushed back. Tibetans students, for example, have protested plans to shift nearly all their classes into Mandarin—a policy they say represents a larger campaign by Beijing to dilute Tibetan culture and assert political control.

    There have been protests in Cantonese-speaking parts of China too. People there are worried their native dialect is being forced out of public places and into the home.

    But the general trend points in the opposite direction. Despite protests and lagging investment in rural education, not to mention the prevalence of regional dialects, Mandarin usage is growing at a breakneck pace.

    Just seven years ago, state media reported only about half of China’s population spoke Mandarin, compared with about 70 percent today.

    Government policy lags social desire

    Steve Hansen and Kellen Parker are the founders of Phonemica, an Internet project that invites people to upload stories in dialects derived from old Chinese. They say China’s staggering economic growth is playing a big role in Mandarin’s expansion. Increasingly, Mandarin is the language of survival, and opportunity.

    “I think honestly, in many areas of China, government policy is lagging social desire,” Hansen said.

    China’s unruly linguistic landscape is known for its groupings of wildly different dialects that go back hundreds of years, spread over a vast geography.

    “The reason it’s so diverse it because it’s so huge. I mean, you have hundreds of millions of people,” said Hansen. “Many of these people, for hundreds of years, they grow up in the same valley. They stay in the same valley. And what’s interesting about China is a lot of them, up until now… have not moved around a lot.”

    Menial jobs

    Now that’s all changing, fast. Bullet trains crisscross the country. And migrant workers shuttle between home villages and factory floors hundreds of miles away.

    On a recent morning in Shanghai, 60 kindergartners—the children of migrant workers from all over China–repeated phrases in Mandarin while their teacher rewarded them with stickers.

    School administrator Lai Zherong said many of the school’s students don’t speak Mandarin when they arrive. But they pick it up quickly. Without Mandarin, she said, they risk being slotted into menial jobs when they grow up, on construction sites or factory lines.

    Beijing says about 400 million Chinese cannot speak the national language. But Parker, of Phonemica, says: don’t blink.

    “I think that number is going to be much, much smaller in 20 years,” he said, then added: “I think it’s going to be shockingly smaller in 20 years.”


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    A welcome addition

    If you like the kind of reporting I do in the podcast and in this blog, you’re going to love this: a new digital online magazine devoted to in-depth language reporting. It’s the brainchild of Michael Erard, who’s made several pod appearances.

    I’m in the Kickstarter video, as is my multilingual soccer T-shirt:


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