November 27, 2019 § 3 Comments
Thanksgiving Day is here again. Millions of Americans will gather with friends and relatives to celebrate the most American of all holidays, and almost all of them will eat the same thing: turkey.
Turkey has become the symbol of Thanksgiving in the United States, people talk about cooking their turkey dinner, they decorate their homes with dishes, tablecloths, and ornaments portraying turkeys. Even the classical well-wishing greeting during this season is “Happy turkey day”.
Turkeys are relatively new to western civilization. They were domesticated and eaten in the Americas for centuries, but Europeans found them for the first time in the 15th century, after Columbus and other explorers established contact with American civilizations. In fact, North America has some of the most spectacular birds on earth; countries have adopted as their national bird. How is it then that in a continent where the majestic bald eagle symbolizes the United States, and the magnificent quetzal is found on Guatemala’s flag, a not particularly beautiful bird won the heart of a nation and became a Thanksgiving star?
Since Bradford wrote of how the colonists had hunted wild turkeys during the Autumn of 1621, it became the Thanksgiving meal of choice after president Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. It is said that Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as America’s national symbol, and this claim is usually based on a letter he wrote to his daughter Sarah, dated January 26, 1784, in which he panned the eagle and explained the virtues of the gobbler. Although the turkey was defeated by the regal bold eagle, Americans did not stop their love affair with the turkey. Some have said that we eat turkey on Thanksgiving because this meal is a reminder of the four wild turkeys that were served at the first Thanksgiving feast. A more reliable source explains that the first Thanksgiving in 1621, attended by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony contained venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, squash, and waterfowl.
Whether they ate turkey at the first feast or not, the truth is that turkeys are one of the Americas’ most representative species. From the wild turkeys of Canada to the ones of Kentucky, where they even named a whiskey for the bird, to the guajolote of Mexico, as turkeys are known for their Náhuatl name (uexólotl), that is served with mole sauce since pre-Hispanic times as described by Bernal Díaz del Castillo and Bernardino de Sahagun who witnessed first-hand how turkeys were sold at the marketplace (tianguis), to the chompipe tamales, as turkeys are called in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua; to the fricasé de guanajo (guanajo fricassee) as turkeys are called in Cuba, and other dishes cooked with gallopavo, turkey in Argentina, and Piru, as turkeys are known in Brazil. In Mexico female turkeys are referred to as “totol”, from the Nahuatl word “totolin” (hen).
How did this American bird get its most popular names in two European languages: pavo in Spanish, and turkey in English?
The word “pavo” comes from the Latin “pavus”, a bird Europeans found in India and Southeast Asia during the Marco Polo and other explorers’ trips to get species and silk. In English we know this bird as peacock. In Spanish it was called “Pavorreal”. Because 15th century European explorers believed they had reached Asia, not the Americas, when Spanish conquistadors saw wild turkeys, they associated them to “pavus”, or “pavorreal”, thus the name “pavo”.
There are two theories for the derivation of the name “turkey”. According to Columbia University Romance languages professor Mario Pei, when Europeans first encountered turkeys, they incorrectly identified them as guineafowl, a bird already known in Europe, sold by merchants from Turkey via Constantinople. These birds were called “Turkey coqs”; therefore, when they saw American turkeys, they called them “turkey fowl” or “Indian turkeys”. With time, this was shortened to “turkeys”.
The second theory derives from turkeys arriving in England not directly from the Americas, but via merchant ships coming from the Middle East. These merchants were referred to as “Turkey merchants”, and their product was called “Turkey-cocks” or “Turkey-hens”, and soon thereafter: “turkeys”.
In 1550 William Strickland, an English navigator, was granted a coat of arms including a “turkey-cock” in recognition to his travels and being the first to introduce turkeys in England. William Shakespeare uses the term on “Twelfth Night” written in 1601.
Other countries have other names for turkeys: In French they are called “dinde”; in Russian: “indyushka”; in Polish: “indyk”; in Dutch: “Kalkoen” (because of Calcutta); in Cantonese: “foh gai” (fire chicken); in Mandarin: “huo ji” and it is called “Hindi” in Turkey!
Now you know more about the bird that found its way to all dinner tables in America on the fourth Thursday in November. I now invite you to share with us other stories involving turkeys, their name in other languages, and how you prepare it for the big meal. Happy Thanksgiving!
February 12, 2015 § 15 Comments
In a few days Americans will observe Presidents Day, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about those American Presidents, and their spouses, who spoke more than one language. It is common knowledge around the world that many Americans do not speak a foreign language, yet, almost half of the forty four men who have been President of the United States spoke, or at least had some knowledge of a language other than English.
Much of what we know about Presidents’ and First Ladies’ fluency in foreign languages came to us through testimonials and documents, and not all of it is undisputed. There is no doubt that Thomas Jefferson spoke fluent French, but his claim that he could speak Spanish seems unlikely. According to a documented conversation he had with John Quincy Adams, Jefferson said that he had learned Spanish in 19 days while sailing from the United States. He probably understood and read some Spanish (He used to say that he had read Don Quixote in Spanish) but that did not make him fluent.
At the beginning of the United States the White House was occupied by many intelligent men who enjoyed reading and learning. In those days many intellectuals learned to read in foreign languages in order to have access to certain scientific and literary works. This probably was the level of expertise that many of the Presidents had. Thomas Jefferson spoke French, and he could read and perhaps write and speak some Greek, Latin, Italian and Spanish.
President John Adams lived in France and became fluent in French. He could also read and write some Latin. His son, President John Quincy Adams spoke French very well, and had a decent Dutch as he went to school in The Netherlands and his wife spoke it. As an adult he learned some German when he was Ambassador to Prussia, and he also read and wrote some Greek and Latin. President James Madison also wrote and read in Greek and Latin, and his Hebrew was fairly decent.
President James Monroe and his entire family spoke excellent French, and it was common to hear the entire family having their conversations in French. President Van Buren was born in New York, but his first language was Dutch. He learned English later in life as part of his education. He also learned some Latin when he was studying English. Presidents Tyler, Harrison, Polk, Buchanan, Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur knew how to read and write Latin, Greek, or both.
Despite having a “German-like” accent, President Theodore Roosevelt had an almost fluent French (He confessed that verb conjugation and gender were not his strong points) and he spoke some German. President Woodrow Wilson learned German in college but was never fluent. On the other hand, President and Mrs. Hoover were fluent in Mandarin Chinese. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke German and French. He also studied some Latin.
Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton speak some Spanish and German respectively, but neither one of them can be considered as fluent. President George W. Bush speaks some Spanish and because of his years in Texas, next to the Mexican border, he understands even more. As far as President Obama, it has been said that he has a little understanding of Bahasa Indonesia.
There are a few First Ladies who could speak a foreign language. The first one that comes to mind is Elizabeth Monroe, spouse of James Monroe who spoke French with fluency. John Quincy Adams’ wife, Louisa, was the only First Lady born in a foreign country (England). She spoke good Dutch. Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, worked as a teacher of deaf students, and was the first lady who knew American Sign Language).
Herbert Hoover’s wife, Lou Hoover, was the first woman to graduate from Stanford University with a geology degree. She also spoke Mandarin Chinese fluently. Jacqueline Kennedy lived in France and spoke very good French. She also knew some Spanish. Finally, Pat Nixon, President Richard Nixon’s wife, spoke some functional Spanish.
Now you know, or perhaps confirmed or debunked a prior understanding about the foreign languages spoken by America’s First Families. I understand that this post is probably too generous about the proficiency level of some of our Presidents and First Ladies, and when we compare them to the extensive knowledge of foreign languages that other Presidents and Heads of State have, we are probably far from the top of the list; however, some of our First Families were really fluent and we should acknowledge them here. I now invite you to post your comments about the foreign language knowledge of our American Presidents and First Ladies, and I ask you to share the names and languages fluently spoken by Presidents and Heads of State from other countries.
August 19, 2013 § 6 Comments
A few weeks ago I saw a poll by the Gallup polling agency stating that most people from Latin America couldn’t care less whether they get called “Hispanic” or “Latino.” The survey indicated that most of them identify primarily by their country of origin rather than by one of these terms. Of those surveyed, 70 percent answered that it didn’t matter; about 10 percent preferred “Latino” and 19 percent opted for “Hispanic.” Men cared less than woman and young people didn’t pay much attention to these labels. The study went on to conclude that the terms were really interchangeable and therefore politicians and social scientists could select either one of these two terms. The results of the poll, and specially the conclusions, worried me as I know that these two terms don’t mean the same.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives its origin from the Latin hispanicus: From Hispania Iberian Peninsula, Spain, indicates that it was first used in 1584, and defines “Hispanic” as a noun and an adjective of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain or of Spain and Portugal. A second meaning is as a noun or an adjective of or relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the United States “…especially: one of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin.”
The Oxford dictionary gives the same origin, and defines it as an adjective relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, especially those of Central and South America; relating to Spanish-speaking people or their culture, especially in the United States. It also defines it as a noun that indicates a Spanish-speaking person, especially one of Latin American descent living in the U.S.
The Real Academia Española de la Lengua dictionary defines “hispano,” in Spanish, as “español” (Spanish) Adjective relating to something or someone of Hispania, Hispano-American nations, or the population of Hispanic-American origin, living in the United States.
Maria Moliner’s Diccionario de uso del español defines the term “hispano” as an adjective relating to old Hispania or the Spanish cultura, specifically to those Spanish-speakers living in the United States.
Finally, the Urban Dictionary states that Hispanic is an ancient adjective and noun that was mainstreamed as a political label in the United States in the early 1970’s. The purpose for the introduction of such an ancient adjective by the Nixon administration was ostensibly to create a political label solely for the purpose of applying the constitutional anti-discrimination standard of “strict scrutiny” to anyone who was labeled Hispanic. The label had the immediate effect of linking the entire population of the 19 nations that comprise Latin America, as well as, distinguishing the “Hispanic” colonial heritage of Latin American Countries from the “Anglo Saxon” colonial heritage of the United States.
Before the colonization of the Americas, a person had to be solely from Hispania-Spain and Portugal together- in order to be called Hispanic. Today, Hispania has 21 progenies: two in Europe (Spain and Portugal), and nineteen in the Americas (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela)
The dictionary leaves out Equatorial Guinea and continues:
“But there is more to think about: America is a country where one would not consider mislabeling a Scotsman an Irishman, for such would be an insult to the Scotsman, and vice versa; where one would not describe Canadian culture as being the same as Australian culture because such would be an insult to Canadians and vice versa.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary traces its origin to American Spanish, probably short for Latin American (latinoamericano) and gives as the date when it was first used 1946. It defines it as a noun for a native or inhabitant of Latin America, or a person of Latin American origin living in the United States.
The Oxford dictionary gives its origin from Latin American Spanish, and defines it as a noun chiefly North American relating to a Latin American inhabitant of the United States or a person of Latin American or Spanish-speaking descent.
The Real Academia Española de la Lengua dictionary defines “latino,” in Spanish, as an adjective that describes a person from Lazio (Italy) or relating to the Latin language, the cities ruled according to Latin Law, to the Western Church, and to the people from Europe and the Americas who speak a language that comes from Latin.
Maria Moliner’s Diccionario de uso del español defines the term “latino” from the Latin “Latinus” as an adjective and noun applied to the people and things from Lazio, to the people who speak a language that comes from Latin, and to the Western Church.
The Urban Dictionary states that Latino is an ethnicity of people who have origins in one or more of the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
From the definitions above we clearly notice that “Hispanic” and “Latino” are two very different concepts that encompass two different groups of individuals and cultures. You cannot refer to a Brazilian as Hispanic, and you cannot include the original people of the Americas in the Latino concept. Many of them don’t even speak a Romance language. They continue to speak Náhuatl, Quiché, Mixtec, Zapotec, Huichol, and many other languages native to the Americas.
In the United States Latino is often used interchangeably with the word “Hispanic”, although they are not the same. The term “Hispanic” refers to a person from any Spanish-speaking country, whereas “Latino” refers to a person from a country in Latin America. A Latino can be of any race. For example, an Argentine can be Caucasian, and a Dominican can be Black. But they are both Latino.
In the US the word Latino is misused to name only people from Latin America. The Latin America was a term first created to mean “the part of America ruled by Latino countries, Spain and Portugal” in opposition to the Anglo-Saxon America, ruled by the British (now Eastern United States). In this sense, some parts of the United States are part of the Latin America because they were ruled by Spain and France at some point: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and portions of other States. I also wonder why they ignored French-Canada as it is not Anglo-Saxon. They speak French!
Latino is a person who speaks a romance language: French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Aragonese, Aranese, Aromanian, Arpitan, Asturian, Auvergnat, Calo, Catalan, Corsican, Dolomite, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Extremaduran, Fala, Franco-Provençal, Friulan, Galician, Gascon, Istro-Rumanian, Ladino, Languedocien, Leonese, Ligurian, Limousin, Lombard, Megleno-Rumanian, Mirandese, Mozarabic, Neapolitan, Occitan, Piedmontese, Romansh, Sardinian, Shuadit, Sicilian, Venetian, Walloon, and Zarphatic; or those whose cultural heritage comes from any country that speaks any of those languages. Therefore, the term Latino is inappropriate and wrongly misused as it excludes many and includes some it shouldn’t.
The term Hispanic was an attempt to label a racial group created by the U.S. government to put all people who descend from Spanish speaking countries into one meaningless group. Hispanic is NOT a racial group. They can be white, black, Native-American, Asian, or any combination of these peoples. Hispanic countries are just as racially diverse as the United States, thus this term has no real meaning.
Next time you see one of those polls take your time and try to educate all people as to the absurdity of those terms and the way they are mishandled by the establishment. Please share your thoughts with the rest of us.
June 18, 2013 § 13 Comments
Today I decided to write about something we all know and many of us are sick and tired of: The eternal question that we as interpreters are constantly asked by the agency, the client, and the lay person: Is it Spanish or is it Castilian?
If you are a Spanish interpreter, translator, or even a native Speaker you will understand either term as one that is used to refer to the language spoken by the majority of the people who live in Spain, Latin America, Equatorial Guinea, and some parts of North America. Of course, you will have a preference for one or the other depending where you grew up or learned the language, but you will understand (and occasionally use) both terms. The problem is that when we are working as Spanish interpreters, sometimes we are asked by the agency or by the client to “speak Castilian instead of Spanish” or we may even be rejected from an assignment because we are Spanish interpreters and they are looking for a “Castilian interpreter.”
To set the record straight we should tell our inquisitor or prospective client that historically Spanish is a Romance language that comes from Latin, and it is called Spanish as it comes from españón in Old Spanish, which most likely comes from the Vulgar Latin hispaniōne or hispaniolus, because the Romans referred to Spain as Hispania. Then we explain that Castile is a word derived from the Latin castella (castle-land) that comes from the also Latin term castrum (fortress or castle) That it was a border region of Spain next to the Moorish territories. That at the end of the Middle Ages, with the assistance of the Kingdom of Aragon, the Kingdom of Castile expelled these Moorish rulers from the peninsula. In those days, before Spain was a single country, the people from this kingdom were called Castilians and the language they spoke, which evolves from the old Castilian, was known as Castilian. With time, and the expansion of the Spanish crown in the world, including the Americas, the entire region was called Spain in England, Espagne in France, and the non-Portuguese people from the peninsular region and their language became known as Spanish. In the Americas the native speakers picked their favorite term to refer to the same language as well. Some regions, like the Viceroyalty of New Spain (present Mexico and parts of the United States) preferred the term Spanish as they were part of the Spanish monarchy; others, like the Captaincy General de Guatemala (present Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and parts of Mexico) chose Castilian thinking of the original rulers who sponsored the first expeditions and their representatives in the new world, who were from Castile.
In Spain, the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) used the term Castilian in the past, but since 1923 its dictionary has used the term Spanish when referring to the language spoken by more than 300 million people around the world. In fact, its dictionary is called Dictionary of the Spanish Language (diccionario de la lengua española) The language academies from the other Spanish-speaking countries, including the United States, are grouped under the Association of Spanish Language Academies, which participated in the creation of the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas, a dictionary that encompasses mistakes and doubts in Spanish whose production was agreed upon by all 22 national language academies. The dictionary states the following: “…it is preferable to keep the term Castilian to refer to the Romance language born in the Kingdom of Castile during the Middle Ages, or to the dialect of Spanish currently spoken in that region…” (Diccionario panhispánico de dudas. 2005)
Therefore, the official recommendation is to use Spanish over Castilian.
In Spain, the constitution states that “Castilian is the official language of the State…” In reality, multilingual regions tend to refer to the language as Castilian to tell it apart from their own native languages. Monolingual regions tend to use the term Spanish when referring to the language they speak. In Latin America and elsewhere, the constitutions of these countries use the term Castilian: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. These other nations use the term Spanish in their constitution: Costa Rica, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. No term is mentioned in the constitution of: Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Uruguay.
The reality is that it really does not matter which term is used to refer to the third most spoken language in the world, and the second most widely spoken on earth. The important issue we need to understand is that when non-Spanish speakers ask us to interpret Castilian instead of Spanish, they are not talking about the language we speak because they do not know that there is only one Spanish (or Castilian) They are trying to tell us that they want a “universal” more general Spanish (although some of us do not believe there is such a thing and I will address it on another blog entry) They are trying to reach more people and they do not know how. It can also mean that they want the interpreter to stay away from Spanglish (a mix of Spanish and English) and Portuñol (a mix of Portuguese and Spanish) and because of the people they have worked with in the past, they do not know that by hiring a professional capable interpreter they do not need to worry about these issues. So the next time somebody asks you to interpret in Castilian or rejects you from speaking Spanish instead of Castilian, take a deep breath, explain as much, or as little, as you think necessary, and assure the client that you will interpret in Castilian. I ask you to please share your ideas as to what to do to educate the client about this topic while taking the appropriate business measures and steps to keep the client. Please do not write about why it is better to call it Spanish or Castilian.
April 16, 2013 § 7 Comments
Some months ago I interpreted in a high-profile federal criminal trial that involved very complex issues. Because of the difficult terminology, topic, and importance of the assignment, the colleague that worked as my teammate and I did copious research, studied the subject matter, and developed glossaries and a bibliography. It took months of professional preparation and I believe that we did a very good job. As we interpreted for witnesses during their preparation before trial and we bounced concepts and terms back and forth to develop uniformity and correct any mistakes, I grew pretty confident that we were ready for this assignment.
Once the trial started everything went smoothly for us as interpreters. As we were getting the job done as expected and beyond, it was time for the experts to testify. These expert witnesses were coming from another country, which added an extra layer of complexities to their testimony. It was not just a matter of specialized concepts and terminology; it was a matter of adjusting to a different culture and idiosyncrasy that the experts showed during their testimony preparation. We fully understood this added “curve ball.” Experts testify in the way they feel more comfortable with, and the interpreter should not even suggest that they modify that. We just had to be on our toes as experts from other countries, for cultural and language reasons, tend to be more formal and solemn than their American counterparts.
I was feeling pretty confident that all preparations and hard work had me ready for the task, so the day when this expert had to testify finally arrives and the expert takes the stand. After some minutes of smooth sailing, he finally dropped the first “interpretation bomb” as he rendered his testimony ceremoniously using words and terms he had not used before. All our research and study did not cover this unexpected lingo. What did I do from the witness stand at that moment when I heard the first of these words, realized that I had not studied it before, turned back to where my teammate was seating behind me just to see her furiously looking through all the materials we had at our station, and saw the face of the attorneys, judge and jury all waiting to hear my rendition of the answer? First I kept my cool, second, my brain went to work trying to find any coherent contextual meaning to what the witness had just said in Spanish, and third, I opened that “brain vault” where the Latin I studied ages ago had been stored away for decades. All of these brain functions and actions happened within a fraction of a second. All of a sudden, to my absolute surprise, and that of my colleague as well, the correct English version of the term just came out of my mouth! At that time I experienced the same thing that many interpreters and translators have during their careers: a word that I did not know I knew came to the front of my brain and got me off the hook.
These type of testimony continued for days until the expert finished testifying, but from that moment, my teammate and I realized that studying for the assignment is essential, but as important as that part of your preparation may be, you also need to bring other tools to the table: The interpreter needs to be calm, focused on the task, confident that his memory will click at the time it is needed and confident that the other member of the interpretation team will have his back. However, even after all of these elements, the interpreter has to be aware that there are other resources at hand: he can ask the witness for a clarification, or he can just leave the word in the original language (or in Latin if that is the case) As interpreters we just know when it feels right to leave a word in the source language. It is a gut feeling. Keep in mind that if you did not understand a word or a term, even after all the research and preparation you did, it is likely that the judge, jury and attorneys do not know that term either. Finally, remember that the expert is that: an expert. He is used to people asking for clarification and explanations when he testifies. No matter how well-prepared you are the expert will always know more than you. Everybody knows that; the only things you do know that he does not are the two languages and how to interpret from one to the other. Please post your comments and maybe your war stories about those instances when you faced a similar situation in the booth, the courtroom, or the hospital.