Sunday, 13 June 2010

Let's Get A Tacko

Recently, in the pub with two Americans (one of whom I’m married to, the other of whom is about to move down to London), a (edit, sorry Albert: I meant to say Catalan) Spanish guy and a Scouser, a heated debate arose about the correct pronunciation of ‘Taco’. The Scouser and I called them Tackoes: Short, broad ‘a’ sound, and ’oes’ to rhyme with ‘hose’ (sorry – I don’t know the phonetic vocab). When the Spanish dude said it, the t was slightly more like a d, the ‘a’ was something between the ‘a’ in ‘pass’ and the ‘au’ in ‘taught’. The ‘o’ was shorter and the ‘s’ was ‘hissier’.
The way the Americans pronounced it was like an approximation of the Catalan pronunciation, but the ‘t’ was English. Thrilling, this, isn’t it?
So one word for a tasty Mexican fast food, pronounced a variety of ways but, apparently, the English way was ‘wrong’. Every time the Scouser or I said Tacko, the Americans would visibly recoil. “No! No! It’s Taacoh!” They yelled. These are people who don’t blink when I say tomahto instead of tomayto, who might giggle a bit when I say “garrij” instead of “g’raaaajzh” for garage, but generally deal with it. Taco? All. Out. War. Interestingly enough, the Catalan guy didn’t seem to care either way.

There is a sort of sociological difference between Brits and Americans when it comes to words that are borrowed from other languages. Brits do their best to make the word their own, removing the word as far as possible from its original pronunciation. Take Government. In French, that’s got to be something like goove-airn-monnn’. In English? Guv’ment. I think this is a combination of island mentality ‘If it’s worth saying, it’s ENGLISH!’ and our classic national self consciousness ‘if i try and recreate the correct pronunciation of this funny foreign word, I’ll only make a fool of myself and possibly sound racist’. When I say taco the way my American friends think I should I am overwhelmed with embarrassment. Where, after all, do I get off pretending to be Mexican? Unlike many Brits, I do say Torteeya and Kaysadeeya instead of rhyming tortilla and quesadilla with gorilla. I used to say it the ‘English’ way, but, after gasps of horror from my American spouse, I re-educated myself. That’s different, though: that’s a spelling difference. Spanish uses ll the way English sometimes uses y, and anyone who can’t be arsed to learn that is treading close to xenophobia.
(On a side note, another time I was talking food with aforementioned Catalan guy and he made a reference to Paella, which he pronounced with an L sound. I was starting to get really confused about the rules until i realised that he probably pronounced it the English way so I’d understand. Mortifying. I apologise for my countryfolk.)

If I were speaking Mexican Spanish, I would do my best to pronounce taco the way Mexicans do. But if I am in an English speaking country, I’ll speak in a slightly neutralised version of my own accent. I’m not going to walk around Scotland saying, “Och aye hen , ah wouldnae say nay ti a wee plate o’ mince and tatties!” Because I’d sound like a twat*. Similarly, I’m not going to come over all Reservoir Dogs when I suggest acquiring a foodstuff more popular in the Americas than in the UK. There is no Taco Bell here, but if there was, it would be pronounced Tacko Bell, I guarantee it.
Americans, on the other hand, celebrate the rich ethnic diversity of their culture by having a fair crack at the original pronunciation of any word that comes their way. Garage is g’raaajzh – not ‘garrij’, Fillet is fil-lay instead of ‘fill-it’, If a sausage tastes German enough, it’s a wurst. Naturally ‘tack’ (drawing pin) is pronounced differently than ‘taco’. One’s a Mexican word, the other isn’t. Of course it sounds dodgy in a Yorkshire accent. (But then, how would a Mexican pronounce ‘Yorkshire Pudding’ or ‘Bakewell Tart?’ Not the same way I would, bet you anything.) America prides itself from being different to the English, and I suppose taking on as many pronunciations from its other linguistic influences as possible is a way of doing that. Also, Tacos are an American rather than European foodstuff. I can see why there’s a sense of ownership over the word, leading to a righteous indignation when us Brits ‘say it wrong’.
(This, though, from a people who pronounce 'Notre' to rhyme with voter and 'Dame' to rhyme with game.)
So Glenn, this post’s for you. Before you permanently leave the blunt vowels of Sheffield for the harsh drawl of London, let’s get a tacko.
WG xx
*Or a ‘twot’ if you’re American

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Linguistic identity.

Something I saw on the internet, (God alone knows where: somewhere Cheezburgerish most likely) sparked a realisation in my mind last night. The English word 'enough' is the same as the German word 'noch' meaning 'still' or 'yet' - which in turn is the same as the word 'jetzt' -which means 'now', which itself must be from the same root as 'new', or 'neue'. The two languages have diverged enough that the words now have different meanings, but they are certainly cousins. This made me ridiculously happy and I posted it on Facebook. Some of my most intelligent fb friends were like 'well duh...'. Nobody else cared. It really is just me.
When I was 13 I thought I must have been reincarnated. I decided that I had been German in a past life, because I couldn't understand why I understood spoken and written German before we'd covered it in class. Our teacher asked us to guess what the word 'bekommen' meant. Obviously we were expected to assume that it meant 'become' - the point being to teach us about German false friends. (Not, as I at first feared, an outmoded 1940s era assumption that "those bloody Krauts" couldn't be trusted, but a warning about German words that sound like an English word but mean something different.) However it did not even cross my mind that "bekommen" might mean "become". It wasn't an English word, it was a German one. It means to acquire, to receive, to get. This was a no-brainer to me, so I called it out, and thus completely sabotaged my poor teacher's point, and showed myself up as a smartarse. To this day I don't know where I picked up the correct translation. It just seemed to already be in there, like some kind of race memory. In my 1990s hippy teenage mind, this was evidence enough of a Teutonic past life giving me an unfair advantage in my GCSEs.
These days, I'm not so sure about that, but I certainly have a very strong emotional response when I notice something germanically interesting about language. I can't exactly call it spiritual but it's not just interest, it's actual incredulous joy.
When I went to Sweden it was like total ear porn. Swedish sounds like Yorkshire when the people speaking are too far away to distinguish actual words. Malmo sounds like Huddersfield. It's because we're all Vikings up here. Who couldn't LOVE that? That I grew up with a Norse accent and never even knew it? AWEsome. Better yet, there are quite a few Scandinavian words that are recognisable to many northerners. Laikin', or Lekkin' - a dialect word for playing which I grew up using, comes direct from a Swedish word for playing: 'leka' - so when I "lekked" out with my mates, I was playing like a Norsegirl. Streets in Sweden are called 'gata': Fargate in Sheffield, Briggate in Leeds and Glumangate in Chesterfield are Viking streets! I mean, Glumangata! How gorgeously Viking is that? I love it.
Now, I know that there are a lot of French/Norman words in English as well. Parliament, government, beef, mutton, pork, crepe suzette, malaise... but for some reason they just don't do it for me. Unless of course there's that link to Germanic languages. The absolute high point of my trip to Sweden - and bear in mind that I performed on a proper big stage with my wife, got to hang out in the green room with Kathryn Williams and met some really awesome swedish feminists at Ladyfest Malmo- the actual high point was in the airport, when I saw the sign for security. There it was, in all its Indoeuropean glory. "Sikkerhed, Sicherheit, Securite, Security". The same actual word, Four languages, thousands of miles, and nothing but a bit of creative spelling dividing them. That noticeboard, to me, was more beautiful and breathtaking than any fjord.
I am not a reincarnated German, but my linguistic heritage is Germanic, Norse, Viking. Maybe that deep, almost spiritual joy is not past life memory, but racial identity. Viking Pride!

Friday, 4 June 2010

I Am Not Alone!

It's not just me! Other people watch Doctor Who, love it and then get into huge involved feminist rants. Well I say 'other people' I actually mean the delightful and talented Emma Davies. Check her out!

Plus she references the Bechdel Test, which makes her undeniably rad.

WG x

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Galifreyan Gender Politics, continued.

Inspired by the incredibly talented Robin Vaughn Williams’ comment on my previous post, pointing out the the Doctor Who companions are often shown as being very brave, resourceful and independent in comparison to their boyfriends. Rose and Amy both follow this model, with Mickey and Rory presenting, at first anyway, as clownish, cowardly but lovable dolts. Both these characters develop, Mickey finding his inner courage after meeting an incredibly driven version of himself from an alternate reality and Rory, well, he undergoes an undeniably permanent change at the end of the latest episode.

However, as RVW pointed out, seen next to the companions, they are, at their respective introductions, poor specimens indeed. Is this a technique by the writers to accentuate the strength, intelligence and courage of the lead female, just as her presence serves to accentuate the brilliance of the Doctor? Well. Perhaps that’s a part of it.

I’m not sure though, that it’s the companions that the boyfriends are there to be compared to. Let’s assume that there is a sexual charge between Companion and Doctor(arguably more the case with Rose and Amy than with Donna – who loved the Doctor totally platonically, or Martha – whose love was unrequited).
OK. So they are alone together in the Tardis in high-stress situation and both are somewhat interested in getting into each other’s pants. A complication is needed, both to prevent or delay the consummation of this sexual tension leading to frenzied ‘will they or won’t they?’ speculation and, crucially, to be a comical rival with the doctor for the lady’s affections. The Human Suitor must be everything the Doctor is not. Unadventurous, cowardly, predictable, but also attractive for his sheer human frailty, which of course is missing in the Doctor.

So has this become entirely a Doctor Who Blog? No, but at the moment it’s the current series that’s got me thinking about language and gender, so here we go.

In my previous post I talked about women being socialised to compete with one another for the attentions of men. Potential sexual partners are talked about in the possessive, (Stand By Your Man) but, to me the power dynamic is very much about survival. As I said, we live in a patriarchal society which encourages women to undermine one another for a better chance of a high place in the oppressor’s esteem.
(I am not saying that all men are oppressors. I am saying that we are conditioned to treat them as such and it takes mindfulness from men women and others not to fall into the oppressive male/female power dynamic that our culture propagates.)
So when there’s one bird and two blokes, why is it any different? Doesn’t that blow holes in my logic? I don't think so.

Look at the relationship between Mickey and the Doctor, and the relationship between Rory and the Doctor. It develops from defiance and mistrust to a sort of mentoring relationship. There’s rivalry, sure, but hatred? Bitching? Backstabbing? Any of the behaviour we associate with two women after the same man?
Because as men, blokes - “bros”, if you like – the Doctor and the Human Suitor are in the SAME TRIBE. Their success or failure in ‘getting the girl’ dictates their status in the pecking order, and once that’s sorted out, they can go back to a relatively peacable, even strenghtened, relationship with one another.
In Cold Blood, Rory, poignantly, says “ I trust the Doctor with my life” shortly before, well, you know. Is that something you can imagine a female character saying about another female character who has snogged her fiancĂ© and is constantly tempting him into a world of adventure and danger with no real place for her in it? There’s no way. But Rory knows his place. He knows that Amy loves him but he also knows just who the Alpha Male is in this set up. Bros before Hos, dude.
Women competing for men are about survival, about cunning, about removing the competition. Look at Helena and Hermia in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the claws, quite literally, out for one another. Look at, well, the women in every soap opera going! There’s no sisterhood there. Men competing for women are, I think, more concerned with what their sexual conquest says about their status. The girl is a trophy, a prize. “Faint heart never won fair maiden” “She is woman and therefore to be won” “Was ever woman in this humour won?” It’s all throughout our culture.

A complication arises when you apply these cultural ‘rules’, which reflect a heterosexual model, to non hetero relationships. You know, the old gay dilemmas. Who pays for dinner/holds the door/wears the trousers/has the babies/does the cooking? With those comfortable, familiar rules stripped away is it any wonder so many same sex couples end up aping the gender roles they have grown up internalising? Wha I have noticed is that in the same sex relationship rivalries I’ve witnessed, the gloves are absolutely off. Once again that oppressed and defensive mindset comes into play and the bitching begins in earnest. However, when the battle is over, that ‘tribe’ thing kicks in. I can’t think of a single gay person in my social circle who does not have an incredibly firm friendship with at least one ex, no matter how messy the break-up was when it happened.

The same-sex love rival is at once hyper-aware of the pecking order and, like many oppressed groups, willing to fight dirty to survive.
Don’t believe me?

Three words

Captain. Jack. Harkness.

WG x