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Posts Tagged ‘Language’

I have been living in Australia for 10 years now and have had to cop a lot of casual, knee jerk anti Americanism. And, you know what? It’s offensive not to mention hypocritical. Those of you who read this blog pretty much already know that I’m no flag toting patriotic “God Bless America” wanker. I know my country of origin is fucked up for many reasons and rapidly getting even more fucked up. I don’t harbour any illusions that my country is some sort of land of milk and honey that does no wrong. I can complain about America right along with most people and I understand where anti American sentiment can stem from. But there are certain people (a whole lot of you Australians, whether you think so or not) that automatically denigrate America in ways that you would never dare do so to any other country. The reason you wouldn’t dare demonize any other country in that way is because it is offensive, insensitive and racist. So why is it ok to do it to the US? Yes, the US is predominantly white so the racist* argument would be hard to hold up. But that doesn’t change the offensiveness. This sort of thing happens across all sorts of subjects but the one I notice the most is language and accents.

Just now on Twitter, I noticed some people I was following having a conversation about the correct way to spell “premie” (as in, a premature baby). The fact that Americans say “preemie” was mentioned. I jumped in only to say that the reason Americans say that is just an accent thing. We pronounce “premature” “pree-mature” as opposed to the Australian/English habit of pronouncing it “preh-mature.” I also pointed out that “mum” vs “mom” is accent related yet it’s reflected in the spelling so go figure. I then got served with some snotty comment along the lines of “if it’s American then it’s wrong.” I pointed out how offensive that statement was and I got served with yet another snotty dismissal of all things American.

Here’s the thing: Accents are not wrong, they are simply different ways of pronouncing words. Different is not Wrong. Accents fascinate me because they seem so random and weird. I always wonder how one group of people speaking the same language as another group of people came to pronounce things so drastically differently. Even groups who live right next to each other have radically different accents! I find some accents beautiful and some of them make my teeth itch. Honestly, even I find a really strong US accent quite jarring especially after having lived overseas for so long. So, I get that some accents are just not palatable to certain people but they are not Wrong, for crying out loud! Neither are different spellings. They are DIFFERENT and they are all ENGLISH (well, in this context I’m only talking about English). I would have gotten pretty upset (and justifiably so) if any of my teachers had marked me down for spelling “colour” the British way as opposed to the US “color.” The same goes for if my kids happen to spell something the American way.

Language is a funny thing. It’s always changing. The English we speak now is nothing like the English spoken in Shakespeare’s time, for example. These days it seems to change even faster (I’m no linguist, that’s just my personal perception of how quickly words seem to make it into the dictionary). Accents add another layer to this. It’s all pretty fascinating and a good topic of discussion, really. But to say that everything about US English is Wrong and therefore should be ridiculed is ignorant. I wonder what the people who behave like this would do if an American went off about how Australian English is Wrong and deserves ridicule? You can bet they’d get pretty offended and justifiably so.

The language thing isn’t the only time this casual anti Americanism happens around me, to me, or about me. It’s uncomfortable on top of offensive. How should I act? If I stand up for myself and my country, I am seen as an overly patriotic American wanker. Often I have just joined in or let it go for the sake of social harmony. But, that is pretty cowardly on my part and after a while, it gets to me. These things should not be ok**. Part of what’s wrong with America is Americans’ perceived arrogance and ignorance of the world. And you know what? That’s fair enough because, as an American, I know that the American government (and many Americans, collectively) can come off as arrogant and ignorant of the world. It shits me too. But what shits me even more is that the people displaying the casual knee jerk anti Americanism are BEING JUST AS ARROGANT AND IGNORANT OF THE WORLD as the Americans that they complain about! So, get off your high horse, you arrogant fuckwits! Not everything Americans say, do, spell, eat, or think is shit. Quit acting like you’re so much smarter and worldly than an entire country of people just because you happen to live somewhere else. In short, grow up.

*    I almost want to call it a sort of cultural-ism. Does that work? Can I make that a word?

**  I’d just like to note here that I am not entirely humourless. I can take a joke and I do find most America jokes pretty funny. So don’t give me the “Australians take the piss” lecture. I know they do and I love it. What I’m talking about is not your usual light hearted Australian piss taking. Some jokes go beyond that and have too much animosity behind them to be funny.

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Talk To Me!

I am, once again, worried about Cub’s speech … or lack there of. He’s 19 months old and he doesn’t talk much. Well, he does but not much of it is in English. He’s bright, alert and communicates well enough … just not so much in English. He understands us and follows more than just simple instructions (as in, there are often a few steps involved which he seems to hear, understand and obey). He’s good at making himself understood by means other than English words. He’s also a lot more interactive with other children during play … more so than his brother at this age despite Bug being quite the social butterfly. By this I mean, he does less of the typical toddler playing side by side kind of stuff and more actual interactive type games with other kids (usually older than him). He’s also very physical. He climbs everything, breaks into stuff, explores toys (by this I mean he takes them apart to see how they work) and has quite surprising fine motor abilities for his age. To date, his list of words are as follows: “gumpa”(grandpa), “buhbuh” (ball), “chhsss” (cheese), “shhh” (shoes), “yeah,” “roro” (Ergo baby carrier), and a few other isolated moments of imitation. He also shakes his head “no” and uses various other gestures to get his meaning across. Still, though, his favourite “word” is something that sounds a bit like “ooh-ow-wah” and he uses it for just about everything.

Now, my gut says he’s ok, just slower on the uptake than others for this particular skill. He’s more physical than his brother was at this age (and his brother was a bit late to speech, too) so perhaps he’s just more concentrated on that part of development at the expense of speech for now. He’ll find his voice eventually.

But, the external influences are what make me doubt my gut. The other kids speaking more than him, my friend who’s started showing concern for her 20 month old who’s at a similar point … and the other friends who’ve advised her that maybe having a check up is a good thing.

I know he can hear, I’ve had proof of that (he can hear someone mentioning cheese or bath from across the house). I know he seems fine in every other aspect of development that I can think of. It’s just this one little thing that brings out the worry. I wonder what could be done? Will it really help? I mean, when you “intervene” with such a young child, how much of the eventual speech is due to the intervention and how much is due to the inevitable catch up in development … something the child would have done anyway, in his own time? The Geek is happy to wait and let him go at his own pace. I want to be happy with that but I keep hearing that nagging voice in my head telling me that perhaps he needs nudging, perhaps letting him go at his own pace is the wrong choice this time, perhaps I am failing him by not *doing something.*

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I took three semesters of Spanish in high school. Besides that, in the US Spanish is pretty common so most people are aware of how to properly pronounce Spanish words … or at least come close. This is not so in Australia. Spanish does not seem very common and no one knows how to pronounce the Spanish words they read. I realise this. The few times I’ve tried to pronounce things like “pollo” properly while ordering at restaurants, or whatever, I have been looked at like I have two heads and then “corrected.” It’s the same with “bruschetta.” A friend took an Italian class and told me the proper pronunciation of that word. So, I tried to order it at a restaurant, got glared at and then corrected. Sigh. Frustrating, but I can deal with it. I have started just automatically pronouncing things wrong (or the way most Aussies would do) just for simplicity’s sake. Except for when I get corrected! It happened yesterday when we went to San Churros (a chocolate and churros cafe chain here). I ordered a hazlenut hot chocolate that was called “Avellana.” I pronounced it how most Aussies would despite knowing full well the proper pronunciation … and get corrected. Bloody hell, I can’t win!

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