On the always-entertaining Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, an offhand comment about the seemingly random insertion of extra vowels into the names of Scottish Highland Heroes led to a discussion of Gaelic vocatives (!).
The post also included a tidbit entirely new to me:
"To English speakers the different cases sometimes sound like two different names, so the second form of the name has sometimes surfaced as a name of its own. Hamish, for example, is the English spelling of a Sheumais, the vocative of Seumas. (Which you might be more familiar with if it’s spelled Seamus or Shamus. Seamus is, I think, the Irish spelling, and Shamus the English.)"
I swear, every single time someone suggests to me that romance readers are nitwits I should force them to add this site to their RSS feed.
So this is what certainly appears to be an extremely interesting documentary about two linguistics professors’ search for dying languages throughout the world. I wouldn’t know, because it was supposed to air on PBS last night but WNET here in New York apparently had other ideas. And I can’t find it anywhere on the upcoming schedule.
Suffice it to say, someone’s not getting their pledge money this year.
If you live in Ottawa, Wisconsin, or Mumbai, lucky you! There will soon be screenings near you. See the schedule here. Otherwise, you’ll just have to content yourself with the trailer. LIKE ME.
A group of about 240 Mandarin-speakers are translating The Economist in order to distribute the content in China. A fascinating article about the mechanics of group translation and the challenges of media censorship in the PRC. (Via waxy.org)
“Rourke’s uncanny resemblance to Marlon Brando—both in his Method intensity and the extreme ups-and-downs of his career and personal life—became almost embarrassingly explicit in 1986’s softcore hit 9 1/2 Weeks, which is like Brando’s Last Tango In Paris re-imagined for a much stupider decade.”—The Onion A.V. Club
“We’ll scour the country for the kind of publicity-hungry babe for whom attempting to sing a song, persuading a dog to dance or even going on Big Brother is a bit too much like hard work, but who doesn’t mind red hair or casual racism.”—David Mitchell, on finding a new girlfriend for Prince Harry (from The Observer)
"And we’re starting to think that bacteria are multilingual. So they have a language that’s, say, English; they have their own molecule that they talk to each other with. And another species of bacteria, they’re the French, and they have their own molecule. But then there’s a language, and you can think of it like Esperanto, or the trade language of bacteria. This Esperanto molecule everybody understands, and it makes the bacteria multilingual. One species still can’t understand the private languages of other species. But they can all understand the trade language."
(So, from one perspective, what this means is this: Americans are worse than single-cell organisms when it comes to learning a second language.)
As I’m sure you are aware, one of your flock has strayed. A Miss Paris Hilton, who is, I believe, a resident of Beverley Hills, is in England doing a reality game show for ITV2 called Paris Hilton’s British Best Friend. Fine. I have no problem with that. I don’t have to watch. But now it has come to my attention that she has bought a house in North London a few miles from me, and is out and about ingratiating herself with the Great British public.
Mr President. We are not stupid. This is clearly a retaliatory strike for Posh Spice moving to LA.
(Some background: I finally caved and added the NYT Most-Emailed List to my RSS feed, if only because I’m beginning to accept that “Didja read that editorial/review/retarded trend piece in the New York Times today?” is the bourgeois equivalent of “How ‘bout them Yankees/Steelers/whatever team is relevant to your geographical and socioeconomic condition?”
Given that I have a desperate fear of running out of small talk, I really had no choice.
I’m hoping against hope that I’ll be able to avoid becoming just another Times reblogger, but looking at the last couple of posts I’m not feeling too optimistic.)
I just read that Times editorial on the potential surge in anti-immigration politics, which … well, let me just go to the source. Here’s a delightful quote, courtesy of Marcus Epstein, Executive Director of The American Cause:
"Diversity can be good in moderation - if what is being brought in is desirable. Most Americans don’t mind a little ethnic food, some Asian math whizzes, or a few Mariachi dancers - as long as these trends do not overwhelm the dominant culture."
My initial response to this was “The words of a man who has never been to New York, Miami, or California.” Then I read the source of the quote and discovered: oh, it’s about Miami.
So I reeled back on the reactionary fervor and took a moment to understand exactly what we’re dealing with. The article is ostensibly about a comment made by Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) in which Tancredo compared Miami to a Third World country. I wasn’t able to track down all the source material needed to unpack this statement, but if I’m reading things right, the logic goes something like this:
Our Democratic Ways and the Rule of Law As We Know It are predicated upon certain American cultural institutions. When cultural diversity is championed to the detriment of said institutions, the foundation of Democracy and Law is weakened.
Add water, stir, and voilà: Third World pie!
In response to the furor incited by his statements, Tancredo pulled the usual rhetorical trick (and before you get all sensitive about it, I mean “usual” in the sense that it’s classic debate strategy, not that it’s classic anti-immigration strategy) of claiming that any criticism of his views was tantamount to telling him to shut up. And, of course, as Americans we deserve to be able to weigh in on this issue. (So you shut up.)
But here’s where it gets even trickier: Epstein isn’t content merely to defend Tancredo’s statements as some sort of Speaking-Truth-to-Power thing. No: he decides to go for the brass ring and actually open up this dialogue about diversity.
Which he does with the above quote about moderation.
And by pointing out that a Haitian woman once tried to get a dried human head through customs, and that in 1997 a bunch of dudes shot up a funeral home for sort of Santeria-related reasons.
Then he brings up a bunch of examples that boil down to (no shit) “There’s a lot of Spanish spoken in Miami” and finally actually comes close to making my head explode with this:
"But why are Americans supposed to like this?
"Even the Cuban immigrants, still preponderantly white, law-abiding, Republican-voting, affable people are not desirable if they don’t assimilate. Perhaps a few Little Havanas are manageable in a huge country, just as many Americans may see a few isolated Chinatowns as an exotic novelty. The problem is when the Little Havanas become Big Havanas and the Chinatowns become Chinacities or even Chinastates.”
Americans?? Are you seriously asking whether or not Americans are supposed to be down with diversity? When more than 99% of our population is descended from immigrants? When American Culture - whatever you think that may be - is a Frankensteinian amalgamation of the cultures and traditions of many peoples??
OK. I’m going to breathe and then break this down from the beginning with some semblance of logic. Because a later blog post on that same anti-immigration website characterized the Times response as:
"Ahhhh-ooooo-gahhh! Crimethink Alert! Ahhhh-ooooo-gahhh! When it comes to immigration, only extremists call for moderation!"
So: god forbid I formulate a less-than-articulate response.
Let’s start with the “moderation” remark. First of all, I might suggest that when attempting to discuss cultural diversity, you avoid the term “Asian math-whizzes.” I don’t care if you’re Asian or part-Asian or black or white or every single color of the rainbow. Immediately appealing to a cultural stereotype will undermine your purported support of “moderation.”
I don’t necessarily believe that this suggests that Epstein is a racist. It does, however, suggest that perhaps he hasn’t quite thought through his argument. Because I know that if I were going to claim to be making informed statements about diversity, I would think about the basics - like cultural stereotypes, for one. And ethnic food, maybe.
(You know, I was in North Dakota not too long ago, and did you know that a heck of a lot of food in North Dakota is awfully Scandinavian and German? It’s only natural, of course, because most of the area was settled by Scandinavian and German immigrants. But no one would call the people who live there now “immigrants.” Nor do we call their food “ethnic.”
Nor would we compare their living conditions to the Third World.)
I might also think about things like sample size. I mean, I totally agree: we should probably not start encouraging people to put human heads in their carry-ons. But I’m not sure that one little old Haitian lady is representative of a more generalized danger inherent in foreign customs. Nor do I think it would be fair to say that Serbians present a clear and present danger to our way of life just because Rod Blagojevich is a slimeball. Nor would I suggest that Americans are kick-ass Spanish kings just because Juan Carlos I happens to be a member of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
I would probably also maybe get some better information on the immigrant communities of the past and the present. Because you can also take pretty much every argument in this essay and bring it right back to immigrant communities of yore. Which might possibly contradict anti-immigration conclusions. (People in Miami watch a lot of Univision? No way! People in North Dakota used to read a lot of Norwegian! And what about those French-speaking Mainers? Or those troublesome Pennsylvania Dutch?)
Moreover, larger sample sizes and additional historical examples might provide more specific insights into the socioeconomic forces underlying any problems in Miami.
Like - maybe the independent variable isn’t “foreignness,” but rather something to do with the economy or education or shitty government services.
Also, just throwing this out there: I don’t think that Chinatowns are just far-flung exotic novelties anymore. I mean, I don’t have the numbers in front of me at the moment. But I will say that St. Louis, MO has a largely Chinese neighborhood.
And so I come back to this important point: I’m not saying Epstein is a racist. I’m just saying that his argument lacks convincing evidence or logic. But in the absence of a logically consistent progression of facts (please note that this is different from an absence of facts), it’s easy to draw the conclusion that there is blind prejudice at work here.
I’m not asking Epstein to shut his piehole. I, for one, am all for a discussion about the value of diversity in our country. Because I would love to have an actual debate in which we begin to address that key contradiction in anti-immigration sentiment: namely, that our ancestors were almost all immigrants back in the day, and that our country in its current incarnation simply would not exist without the contributions, both economic and cultural, of those who had the balls to up and move to a new - often entirely unwelcoming - country. I would love to discuss the notion that those who effectively belittle the experience and hardship of our immigrant forefathers are greater patriots than those of us who celebrate that experience.
But a Dada-esque collage of anecdote and occasional statistic does not a discussion make. Which means I can’t really respond with anything much more elaborate than what I’ve written here.