Monthly Archives: May 2014

Chinese Pidgin English (Video of the Week)

This is the second “Video of the Week”, but this makes up for missing last week. This video recreates a 19th century Chinese Pidgin English dialogue from time when Hong Kong was a British colony. At this time a pidgin developed to allow the Cantonese speaking residents of Hong Kong to communicate with the English speaking British. This video is helpful because it shows the dialogue as a caption (and I admit I need it). There are some amusing phrases such as “numba wun (#1) ledda” for “your best leather”.

This video is from the University of Hong Kong, so the dialogue should be accurate. But if it weren’t, this would now be considered extremely offensive. As it turns out though, Chinese Pidgin English has given English useful phrases such as having a “look-see”, “long time no see” and “chop chop.” I didn’t realize the origin of these phrases until pretty recently.

What also amazes me is that this language has virtually disappeared from the modern U.S. landscape. For the most part Chinese Americans are depicted as being fluent English speakers with native U.S. accents (even on shows like Hawwaii Five-O. That’s a positive development in most ways, but I think Anglos have somewhat forgotten how different things were…which is why Rosie O’Donell got into serious trouble for invoking this pidgin stereotype.

Feminist Code Switching Latina (Video of the Week)

A challenge for teaching code switching (switching languages mid stream) is to find some good examples to demonstrate to students. Code switching in terms of Spanish and English (i.e. “Spanglish”) is often seen as a sign of being sloppy…so not everyone is comfortable using it in public.

But this video shows the artistic expression of code switching for cultural commentary. Here a Latina woman uses both Spanish and English to explain that well…not all Latina women are built along the same anatomical plan as J-Lo.

This video helpfully shows the English and Spanish in the sub titles, so I appreciate the student who found this and added it to my collection.

FYI – If you need a wider variety of samples, I do recommend looking for articles on intrasentential code switching. This field of study has been become more popular is and very important for understanding how multilingual speakers process multiple grammars.

Bensonhurst Spelling Bee (Video of the Week)

One of the joys of YouTube is the wealth of linguistic data a linguist has at her fingertips. A smart linguistic instructor can even ask students to bring data to her, and the following video is a perfect example of that.

The Bensonhurst Spelling Bee comes courtesy of a student research project into Italian in America and is a parody spelling bee held in Bensonhurst (a Brooklyn neighborhood and traditional Italian-American stronghold). This spelling bee asks children to spell authentic Italian-American words like mutzadel and brahjzhoot. Check out how judge Lorraine Bracco helps with etymology and usage!

In addition to being funny, this video highlights the difference between “Italian-American” as spoken by Italian immigrants from southern Italy and educated Standard Italian based on the northern Tuscan dialect. When Mark Consuelos starts to argue that mutzadel is in fact mozzarella, you can see how much wife Kelly Ripa, a native New Jerseyan, fears for his life.

By the way, a less hostile version of this can be seen on the Food Network. Watch some episodes of different shows and compaire how Giada DeLaurentis and Mario Batali says provolone (/ with final /e/) pronounced) vs. the more home grown Rachael Ray who always drops the final vowel (i.e. /pro.vo.lon/). My Italian-American student informant told me that Giada’s authentic standard Italian is considered a great source of amusement in his family.

Mistaking an /r/ for a [d]

Speaking of mutzadel, I was interested to see that the /r/ was spelled as a “d”. That may be because Italian [r] is being mistaken for the English flap ([ɾ] also transcribed as [D]), which is the articulation of English /d/ between vowels. It’s hard for English native speakers to accept that the “d” in a word like Yoda is actual a form of “r”, but sometimes these perception mistakes happen in foreign languages.

And before I hit the Publish button, I did a quick check on Southern Italian to see if there was a change of /r/ to [l]. Neither Sicilian or Calabrese seem to preserve Italian [r].