[lg policy] Linguistic xenophobia

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 17 20:35:29 UTC 2012

2012/1/17 Slavomír Čéplö <bulbulthegreat at gmail.com>:
> Dear Hal,
> excellent points, but if I recall correctly, Indiana's mother is not
> depicted in the feature films. We only got to see her in the
> television series
> (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Young_Indiana_Jones_Chronicles) and
> only in the earlier period when Indiana was about 10. The later,
> 16-year old Indiana, is actually shown speaking languages other than
> English on numerous occasions, including a rather amusing polyglot
> contest with a young sufragette portrayed by Elizabeth Hurley
> (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs1onzpnmms). Along with Indy, his
> father as well as Indy's superior officers are also shown to speak
> several languages.
> I fully agree with your observations, except I'd broaden the scope to
> almost any intellectual activity. In Hollywood movies and TV shows,
> the only valid male attribute is strength which is to be applied
> chiefly in fighting evil (be they a Sith Lord or another football
> team) and saving damsels in distress. The problem is that the 'damsel
> in distress' trope doesn't work as well as it used to and so the
> presence of a female character not hostile to our hero must be
> justified vis-a-vis the plot. Women thus become convenient vessels of
> knowledge used as Ms. Exposition - Denise Richards as a nuclear
> scientist in "The World Is Not Enough" is probably the most notorious
> example, Rachel Weisz in the "The Mummy" is another. Then there's the
> 'Dumb Dad, Clever Mom' trope known to sitcom writers since the
> inception of the genre and mastered by the Simpsons and Tim Allen's
> shows (first "Home Improvement", now "Last Man Standing"). In
> Hollywood's warped view of gender roles, this trope also contributes
> to the notion that intelligence (in whatever shape or form) is a
> non-male thing. And by non-male, I don't just mean female, since it
> includes men not acting a real men, who are in a way even worse than
> women.
> The sci-fi show Stargate SG-1
> (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stargate_SG-1) is a fascinating example
> of this, particularly in this context (I bet there's a nice PhD thesis
> in there). The main cast includes three characters:
> USAF Col. Jack O'Neill - special forces.
> Dr. Daniel Jackson - archeologist and linguist
> USAF Col. Samantha Carter - physicist.
> They start out with the usual roles and dynamics: although Daniel
> Jackson is - thanks in no small part to his skills as a linguist -
> crucial to the Stargate program, he is a constant target of ridicule,
> because he is, ultimately, a nerd and a civilian to boot. Being the
> sissy he is, he doesn't even protest and/or defend himself. It is only
> when he proves himself as a soldier that he becomes accepted and even
> that acceptance is only partial. As time passes, the emphasis is
> shifted from his role as a linguist/translator/historian/Mr.
> Exposition to what has been described as 'the moral conscience' of the
> team. This, however, does not make him any less of a sissy  - he is
> still teased and made fun of well into 5th season and they didn't drop
> the ridiculous glasses until season 8 or so.
> Samantha Carter is a different case altogether. Unlike Daniel, she is
> career military and thus falls into the socially acceptable category
> of a tomboy. Also unlike Daniel, she gets to assert herself and defend
> herself from accusations of not belonging and not being good enough in
> the very first episode and then a little later in the season in an
> episode which very clumsily deals with gender roles and emancipation.
> And finally, Jack O'Neill is a stereotypical jock/jarhead of the
> 'shoot first, ask questions later' type. Due to the nature of many of
> the plots which are resolved by a clever technical trick or a thanks
> to a piece of information provided by some ancient tablet, he is often
> left with nothing to do except deliver quips, thus being relegated to
> the role of the Dumb Dad.
> But as the show progresses, there are subtle, but obvious changes.
> Firstly, the writers address the broader issue directly in one of the
> episodes where Daniel is to be replaced by another, well, nerd.
> O'Neill object giving various reasons, including the replacement's
> general nerdiness implied to mean lack of physical abilities, to which
> Daniel replies citing the replacements impressive sport
> accomplishments. Then we learn that O'Neill is actually an avid
> amateur astronomer and at one point, he is forced to learn Latin
> without the task being portrayed as emasculating.
> So maybe there is hope for Hollywood yet. I mean, c'mon, House speaks
> Spanish, Russian and Mandarin and has been shown to read Portuguese
> and Hindi...
> b.
>> other.)  My evidence for this claim is that while using film and other
>> media in a course
>> on "Language and Popular Culture" it became obvious that when a character needs
>> to speak a language, or even decipher hierglyphics, it's usually a woman who is
>> depicted doing this.  Real men don't speak foreign languages, at least
>> in America.
>> The only exception to this that I saw was in the Indiana Jones films,
>> where occasionally
>> he comes out with a phrase in Mandarin, or Hindi, or whatever.  But
>> even there, in
>> one of the films where decipherment of some new world hieroglyphics is required,
>> his MOTHER does the job.  Also in one of those mummy movies there's a "girl" who
>> does the needful.
>> See also TV:  in NCIS, currently, the Israeli-born Agent Ziva David
>> "speaks 12 languages" including Pashto.
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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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