From “Adams” to “Adama” – Switching in the “Ethnic” /d/

Found another good linguistic moment from sci-fi, specifically Battlestar Galactica 2.0 prequel Caprica

A little background first – One of the more popular characters in the Battlestar Galactica series is Commander Adama. In the 1970’s original “Adama” was a personal name for the character played by Lorne Greene (apparently they only had single names then). In the 2000’s update, “Adama” was actually a family name, so the new Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) was actually “William Adama.”

In the Caprica prequel, the storyline goes back 58 years (before the Cylons nuked the Colonies), but it still features the Adama family. Except that in the pilot, it wasn’t the “Adama” family, but the “Adams” family. Apparently Commander Adama’s father, Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) had wanted to assimilate into Caprican (i.e. Anglo) culture and had changed his original “Tauron” (i.e. non-Anglo) family name from the original “Adama” to “Adams”. After Joseph’s family suffers a terrible tragedy, he re-evaluates his Tauron heritage and decides to return to using his original family name.

This is cool from a sociolinguistic point of view and you can see a good commentary, but my favorite moment is actually phonetic. We have a great scene where Joseph Adama reveals his true family name to young William…but with a Spanish dental /d/ instead of an English alveolar /d/.

Esai Morales is, of course, a Latino actor (specifically of Puerto Rican heritage) and a Spanish speaker. Now in English, the sound /d/ which is pronounced with the tongue on the ridge behind the teeth – hence phoneticians describe English /d/ as “avleolar d”. Spanish on the other hand, pronounces /d/ with the tongue touching the back of the teeth – hence a “dental /d/”.

When Esai Morales is speaking English, he generally uses an alveolar /d/, but clearly he is bilingual enough to switch into Spanish pronunciation mode when he wants – as he did with “Adama.” When he did that, it definitely emphasized that Adama was NOT a local Caprican name. Well done!

On a final note, Esai Morales commented that the Taurons are any non-Anglo group, not just a “Latino” group. For imstance Joseph Adama’s full Tauron name is Yousef Adama (with a Middle Eastern twist). Morales also points out that not all Taurons have the same skin tone, so we do see some red heads in the scruffy Tauron bar (generic non-English Celtic anyone?).

I’ll be interested to see where this “Tauron” distinction goes, but we can verify a Spanish dental /d/ in the mix…at least in the Adama family.

Postscript: Feb 26

The most extreme change in the pronunciation of “Adama” only happens once, when Joseph first explains it to his son William. Later, it appears that the actor Morales uses a pronunciation more consistent with English. Interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *