IN MY OPINION
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Volcanic Eruption 4/2/07
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SPEAKING IN TONGUES
11 April 2007
On the heels of the recent dust-up between Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera (totally forgotten in the wake of the Imus fiasco, about which I have this to say: How many people heard the original broadcast, compared to the bazillions who have heard it over and over and over and over again since Al Sharpton made such an issue out of it? It reminds me of the infamous "wardrobe malfunction," which was probably witnessed by a relatively small number of people compared with those who saw it endlessly in replay, in slow motion, in close up, fuzzed out to protect innocent eyes, etc., on television, in magazines, in the newspaper) ... but I digress...
What I started to say was that on the heels of that O'Reilly-Rivera discussion, which turned a drunk driving accident into an angry tirade about illegal immigration, I found this "language meme" which leads to some observations about national interactions in general.
The questions are pretty straightforward:
1. How many languages do you know how to speak fluently?
One. At least I think I'm pretty fluent in English. However, I have a good ear for languages, so I know a smattering of French and a smattering of Portuguese. I loved studying French in high school and was good enough at it that I decided to become a French major in college. I passed the first class I took, but then I flaked out on college complete in the second quarter, so I never completed the French pronunciation class I was taking. However, that was the only course I passed because my accent was good that I managed to get a "B" even though I only attended about 2 classes.
When we had Brasilians living with us, Portuguese is so similar to French that I developed an ear for it. Eduardo's mother used to write to me in Portuguese and he wouldn't help me with translation unless I'd tried it first by myself. I pretty much was able to read her letters unaided by the time he left our house. And I could usually tell what people were talking about, though I was uncomfortable speaking the language. After 10 years of hosting Brasilians in our house, however, I could speak it haltingly, without the aid of classes.
Ned came home from Brasil fluent in Portuguese, but we both have lost our ability to speak and understand it now, though I almost always know when someone is Brasilian because I recognize some of the words as well as the cadence of the language.
2. Do you think the world is heading toward a single language?
I doubt that we will ever have a single language and I certainly hope not. There is so much culture surrounding a country's language. So much would be lost if we were to lose individual languages.
I do think that there are shifts in language. English seems to be the language of business and more international business is conducted in English at the moment, but I suspect that's based on which country has the money...and it would not surprise me if 20 years from now we are all struggling to learn Cantonese or Mandarin, since we seem to be mortgaging our country to the Chinese.
3. What is your view on immigrants not knowing how to speak the language of the country they go to?
Now here is the question that made me want to do this meme. This country makes me so furious when we talk about the necessity for immigrants to speak English and when we make a big issue about ballots being printed in more than one language. We are so high handed about all those damn foreigners needing to learn the language of the country they are visiting and how dare not know how to speak our language.
My question is: how many people who have traveled abroad know the language of the country in which they are traveling? I think far too many of us are Ugly Americans who expect foreigners to come here speaking perfectly understandable English, but who get angry when they go to an outdoor market in France and can't find anybody to speak English to them.
There are all sorts of reasons why people immigrate to different countries, and there are all sorts of language abilities.
Walt has very little ear for languages and rarely can identify a country from the sound of the conversation. I can tell the difference between Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French whether I understand the words or not, but I know the "sound" of the language. I can even sometimes tell the difference between Portuguese from Portugal, from Rio de Janeiro and from Sao Paulo, all of which have different sounds.
Our Moroccan foreign students drove me nuts because I knew they were speaking French, but I couldn't understand them. It wasn't until years later that I learned that they spoke a combination of French and Moroccan.
So it is easier for some to learn a language than for others, and if you live in a melting pot like this country has been historically, why not make it easier for someone to participate in the decision of the country? It really makes no difference to me whatsoever if voting materials are printed in different languages.
4. What language would you love to learn to speak? Why?
Actually, I would love to learn to speak any language fluently. I don't often have the need any more to speak another language and so the impetus isn't there. It would be nice to be somewhat fluent in Spanish, since that language surrounds me. And even though we don't have Brasilians living with us any longer, it would be wonderful to be fluent in Portuguese...just because I like the language so much.
P.S. I hope everyone had the good luck to catch the
entire statement by C. Vivian Stringer, Rutgers Women's Basketball Coach,
the only person I have heard speak about the Imus incident with class and
with dignity and without needlessly replaying Imus' comments, and who, I
hope, taught us all an important lesson.)
PHOTO OF THE DAY
No...I'm not quite well yet.
This is entry #2568