Language

We Don’t Need No Education

When I was in grade school, the principal or some other authority figure would occasionally pepper the morning announcements with a dose of Spanish. He or she might get on the PA to say, “Today is Monday, or lunes,” or inform us that hola means hello.

Well, that kind of commie prank doesn’t fly in Texas, where almost 40 percent of the population is Latino.

Recently, the principal of a middle school in the city of Hempstead told her students that they were forbidden from speaking Spanish anywhere on the school property, even if it was a private conversation.  And yes, she announced this policy via the PA system, just to make sure everybody knew she wasn’t fucking around about it.

Microphone_studio

Clearly, this was an attempt by a government employee to make English the official language at a government-funded institution (which is unconstitutional) and to limit the free speech of US residents (which is way, way unconstitutional). So the school board, in the parlance of the day, responded by declining to renew the principal’s contract.

That means her ass was fired.

Of course, it’s always interesting to note how true patriots are quick to eliminate other people’s rights because that’s, you know, the American way and everything. Such individuals rarely have any knowledge or interest in the US Constitution, which is the document they supposedly revere.

But in case there were any people in Hempstead who supported the principal’s attempt to be a one-woman language police force, they may have been brought up short by the man at the school board meeting who “read a list of American Founding Fathers who spoke multiple languages. They included Benjamin Franklin (French) and Thomas Jefferson (French, Italian, Spanish and Latin).”

So it’s clear that this idea goes against the Founding Fathers themselves. Damn, what’s an English-only aficionado to do? Certainly, they cannot take comfort in the fact that “there’s no evidence that speaking Spanish hampers learning English, and…in most of the rest of the world, it’s common to speak two or more languages.”

In essence, kids in Hempstead can keep jabbering away in English, Spanish, Spanglish, French, Latin, Elvish, or whatever else they want.

Good for them.

 


The End is Here

There’s a new horrifying sign that America is on the decline.

I’m not talking about the chaotic state of our politics, or the struggling economy, or even the fact that half of us refuse to acknowledge basic scientific facts.

I’m referring to the recent implication that white conservative guys can’t casually throw around racial slurs anymore. Truly, it’s a sign of the apocalypse.

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Think Different

According to many sources, Dr. Carlos do Amaral Freire can speak more languages — 115 — than anyone alive. But before you feel too intimidated, keep in mind that the professor is fluent in a mere 30 or so.

One has to wonder how balancing all those verb tenses and irregular conjugations has affected his mind (although as we know, people who speak multiple languages have more agile brains). In fact, there is some evidence that the languages we speak influence the very way we think.

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And I Don’t Mean That in a Bad Way

Apparently, a bunch of sluts were running around my city recently.

I’m talking, of course, about the SlutWalk movement, which began earlier this year when a Toronto cop implied that women who dressed like “sluts” deserved to get raped. Outraged at the cop’s statement, women all over North America hit the streets both to protest the Neanderthal mindset that afflicts so many males, and to repurpose the word “slut.”

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Euphemistically Speaking

When I was in college, my editor at the student newspaper called me with an assignment: I was to cover a speech by a radical professor who, my editor breathlessly said, was brilliant “and so PC!”

I asked what that meant, and she said, with some amazement at my naivety, that it indicated “politically correct.”

I had never heard this term before. Of course, it wasn’t long before those juxtaposed letters entered the language and, in the process, went from leftist praise to conservative insult.

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What the !#$@%*?

It’s difficult to find an American who doesn’t know what “amigo” or “gracias” means. Eventually, those words will be considered part of English, in the same way that nobody thinks “patio,” “rodeo,” or “coyote” are solely Spanish.

However, there is still one area in which American culture hasn’t embraced the allure of Spanish. I’m talking about vulgarity, obscenity, and indecency — basically, the naughty words.

I’m not sure why Spanish curse words haven’t crossed over. It’s not that we don’t like to swear in this country. And the dreaded bleep on television has now become a badge of honor.

Indeed, as the LA Times points out, “Once largely relegated to slips of the tongue during live events, censored cursing has evolved into a pre-planned, or at least largely expected, punch line that’s network-approved and no longer lowbrow.”

But will Spanish words ever be bleeped out? It’s not just an academic question.

It stands to reason that as America grows more multilingual — and it’s doing just that, regardless of your feelings on the matter — we’ll hear more Spanish on the airwaves. And some of that Spanish will be of the naughty variety.

Now, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast indecency, says that it doesn’t matter what language the offending words are in. The FCC is always poised to bring the hammer down on those who sully our culture — well, in theory, anyway.

The truth, according to many annoyed English-language broadcasters, is that the commission frequently gives a pass to Spanish indecency because “the Spanish-speaking staff at the FCC has traditionally been undermanned.”

Yes, there just aren’t enough bilingual bureaucrats available to translate the filth flying around on TV and radio. Until recently, the FCC could get away with this. They assumed all that vulgarity came from Univision shows or radio stations that blared ranchera music — you know, the stuff that mainstream America ignores.

For the most part, the only time one hears Spanish on hit shows is for effect. It pops up when the tough cop or caring doctor is in a rundown barrio, and the natives are running wild. You also might hear it when an extra is portraying a maid or gardener. And for real diversity, they might throw a janitor in there too.

But it’s just a matter of time before a middle-America show features a character who speaks Spanish frequently. Already, we have the first truly bilingual television series.

So what happens when a lovable character on a top show mutters, “pinche”? Will the FCC take initiative and bleep “culero” or just let it go, hoping against hope that millions of viewers don’t know that it means “assfucker”?

Well, there’s only one way to find out. I challenge all those television writers who take pride in their edginess to put up or shut up. Have one of your white, urbane characters learn some Spanish and then casually throw in some obscenities. After all, who is going to complain if Liz Lemon or Sue Sylvester tells someone to go chinga themselves?

Trust me, the FCC won’t even notice.


It’s a Mezcla

One of the best movies of last year was the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit. Among the film’s many charms is the archaic, bizarrely formal speech of the characters. I have no idea if real people of the era said things like, “You give out very little sugar with your pronouncements” and “I do not entertain hypotheticals.” But it’s cool to imagine that they did.

Of course, Americans don’t speak like that anymore. A century later, in fact, we’re considered articulate if we keep it down to three uses of “you know” and a pair of double negatives per conversation.

To read full article at Being Latino, please click here.


Great News for Your Brain

It’s good to be bi.

Wait, let’s try that intro again. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m not sufficiently bilingual to be dazzling all the time and avoid slip-ups, malapropisms, and brain freezes. In fact, if I spoke Spanish better, I would be a lot more confident of fighting off Alzheimer’s as I get older.

At least that’s the conclusion of “neuroscience researchers [who] are increasingly coming to a consensus that bilingualism has many positive consequences for the brain.”

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The Scrabble Dictionary Does Not Accept It

Although I’m a writer, I’m not in the habit of coining new words. I think the half-million English ones that we have are sufficient for most occasions.

However, modern life sometimes introduces a fresh grotesquerie to our society. In such cases, it’s acceptable to mix and match syllables – and even languages – to make the new concept clear.

For example, I’ve noticed that in my neighborhood, there is a small cadre of homeless people. But they are different from the homeless I saw in New York or the Midwest. Those individuals, for reasons I cannot explain, tended to be deranged or blackly comedic, and they instigated confrontations regularly.

These West Coast unfortunates, on the other hand, are more likely to be quiet and to avoid panhandling altogether. In fact, I usually see them engaged in some isolated, odious task to scrap out a living. Most often, they’re digging through trashcans or recycling bins in search of aluminum cans or glass bottles. I then see them pushing grocery carts overflowing with their clanging treasures.

Our neighborhood is hilly, so it’s tough work lugging the carts up steep inclines. These are individuals who labor hard for their pittance.

Recently I passed by a guy who had hit a motherload of empty bottles. Evidently, one of our neighbors is rich and/or had something big to celebrate, because the bin was overflowing with spent champagne bottles and high-end wine vintages. The irony of seeing a man stockpile empty containers of Dom Perignon, in the hopes of scoring a few cents, was inescapable.

Perhaps it is just my neighborhood, but these foragers are overwhelmingly Hispanic. They don’t snag the day jobs like the trabajadores, but like them, they strain mightily for chump change.

To call them homeless or street people is inaccurate, and even a disservice. In honor of their hard-working brethren, I think of them as the aluminumadores.

We’ll see if the word catches on. But to be honest, I hope the term becomes irrelevant long before then.


The Skills to Pay the Bills

My wife has warned me, for my own sanity, to stop torturing myself. But I can’t help it.

Whenever I read a news article about immigration or the dismal economy or some other political topic, I scroll down to the Comments section to see what the theoretical average American thinks about the situation.

This is always a mistake. The ratio of insightful comment to shrill diatribe is about one in ten.

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