The meaning of words can vary from context, and this article about an “Ancient U.S. Weapon” in Syria brought home this point to me.
If you consider that ancient often means “the earliest recorded memory” or sometimes “before our civilization as we know it began”, then definitions can vary across disciplines. In historical linguistics, “ancient” is usually no later than the Roman Empire (at least in my estimation), yet the Academy of Ancient Music is playing pieces by Handel from 1685, which is about the time period when known compositions can be firmly reconstructed. Another semi-amusing case is the PBS program In Search of Ancient Ireland – which apparently ends with the Norman invasion in the 1100s (well into the Middle Ages again). I suspect that any era when Wales, Ireland or Scotland was still under the control of a Celtic language government will be “ancient”.
Still the words “Ancient U.S.” really gave me pause. I know that pre-European history is “Ancient”, although it generally ends between 1492 to 1900 depending on location. But the U.S. itself as “ancient”? That is a new concept for me. Especially since the artifacts were weapons from the 1970s used in the Vietnam War. I actually remember when the troops left Saigon, so definitely in my lifetime.
Reality TV is probably bad for your overall mental health, but it truly is a wonderful source of material for the instructor in sociolinguistics. For example, in the latest spat between Real Housewives of Beverly Hills chicas the very Anglo Brandi and former Miss Puerto Rico Joyce, Brandi has been saying some very non-enlightend things about Latino culture.
A particularly choice example is her complaint about Joyce spwitching to Spanish when she realizes that Jennifer also speaks Spanish.
Jennifer and Joyce start immediately speaking Spanish, and, while I know it’s not an actual secret language, I’m annoyed and almost feel like I want to pee on Jenny to mark my territory. I have no problem being cordial to someone I am not fond of for the sake of the situation.
I think most linguists would agree that Brandi’s comment is a bit extreme. Brandi has been accused of being a racist, but I think the problem is more subtle than that. Brandi is just not used to living in a multilingual context and apparently didn’t do that well in high school Spanish either. If she had taken LING 100, she would know this was perfectly appropriate behavior. f you do bother to watch the video (with Spanish translated), you will see that 1) the conversation is short and 2) it was obviously a “look at what we have in common” conversation.
I will admit that there are times when having two people converse in a language not everyone understands is potentially awkward and can be bad manners. For instances, in the Real Housewives of Miami has featured Spanish conversations whose sole purpose was to insult a non-Spanish speaker. If you do this though, you do have to make sure that the other person is NOT a Spanish speaker or you will be caught.