[lg policy] Montreal: No Easy Bilingual Street

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 21 15:15:40 UTC 2011

No Easy Bilingual Street

I leave Montreal and the American Anthropology Association conference
today and look forward to dialogues to continue. 2700 World Languages
and almost all of them are under threat in some part of the world or
another. My paper discussed the “Dorification” of Spanish language
programming–the eagerness for the little non-white Spanish girl from
her ambiguous nation to share her language and culture with us,
effortlessly, lyrically, joyfully. I love Dora! The English media
program and books offer the image of a strong feminist transnational &
Latina character who celebrates solidarity across difference and an
eagerness to get to know other places and beings and conquer “Swiper”
(no swiping!), the lone deterrent. She is a catalyst for an interest
in other languages and cultures and quite a contrast to the culturally
and lingusitically diverse cartoon characters of my youth–Boris and
Natasha, Pepe le Piu, Burgermeister Meisterburger–all these characters
were enemies and/or buffoons. Dora is neither–she along with her
“peers” (Handy Manny, Ni Hao Kai Lan) are hopeful friends who
represent easy palatable difference, just a few words here or there in
another language, fully translated, repeated several times, no
interference in understanding or world view.

The bilingual reality bristles with greater tensions regarding
language rights–the right to be understood, the right to understand,
the right to have access to more than one language and culture or not.
Anthropologists remind me that languages and dialects (and the
speakers who speak them) are under threat around the world–Jamaican
Creole, Haitian Kreyol, Singapore English speakers (e.g. Singlish
speakers), Wampanog and 1000s of indigenous languages that are
endangered or extinct, Montreal French. Rarely are tensions about one
word or a slight difference in pronunciation (see the Singlish youtube
video about cock/coke), more often they are about power, cultural
maintenance and survival, identity, fear and love. In 6 minutes my cab
arrives to take me away from this bilingual city, rich in struggle and
examples of bilingual survival. May the conversations begun continue
until we find ourselves code-switching in hybrid genres, where the
norm is to move through multiple codes and Codes, where we can
remember Dora as a fond but distant memory of a time that was.


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