This post is the follow up to this one.
If I had more time I would start a new blog. It would be called Osso. Why osso? Because that’s how you used to spell and say bear in spanish. There was a marked difference in the pronunciation between “osso” (bear) and “oso” (I dare). But then those lazy Andalusians – always up to no good – began to drop off the second ‘s’ in words like “classe” and “osso” in the 15th century. Because 90% of Latin American settlers from Spain came from the south, the loss of distinction spread to all of the Spanish speaking world. Not only that, but those Andalusians, they get lazier. Why not do away with S’s all together they ask. In 17th century Southwestern Spain, hasta dos o tres becomes áhta doh o treh, precisely how I speak castellano after 5 shots of tequiila. Those of you who have traveled to the Spanish speaking Caribbean and coastal Central America will recognize the kidnapped ‘S.’ The reason why is that those good-for-nothing, lazy Andalusians continued to immigrate to those regions while the more insular valleys between the Sierra Madre, Andes, and Rio de la Plata maintained a 15th century version of Castilian Spanish that largely persists today. Also, as Poor Little Tumblewood points out, West African phonetics have had a large influence on Caribbean Spanish pronunciation.
The tagline of this blog that I will not start would be, “Buscando historia en la lengua/ Seeking history in speech.” About every week or so I would update it with an interesting tid bit about the shared histories that weave between English and Spanish speech. Because what we speak is where we came from. I would note, for example, that “mayor” comes from Spanish while “alcalde” comes from Arabic. Know what else comes from Arabic? Guadalupe. I would explain why some parts of Latin America use “vos” while others use “tú” and what it all has to do with the English phrase, “your majesty.” I would even explain to my perplexed Mexican friends why so many Chicanos spell it “Xicanos.” If I were to start it.
Our small but growing army of Global Voices volunteer translators is already well in the works. If you’re not sure about translating, but want to see more about what it entails, just let me know and I’ll add you to the google group. One of the main points I tried to make in the introductory email was that translating blog posts from Spanish to English isn’t just about getting gringos to read more about down south. It’s about getting the very best content into a language from which it can then be translated into hundreds more languages. ‘Cause let’s face it, there are hundreds of thousands of bilingual Spanish-English speakers as there are bilingual Chinese-English speakers, but precious few are those who can translate directly between Spanish and Chinese.
This is an unfortunate reality. At the Global Voices Summit, as would be expected, the end of the day brought an onslaught of impassioned monologues and pitches of why X idea will save the world. One of them – well intentioned, friendly, and a little desperate – had been trying to convince us for the last 10 minutes of why we needed to learn Esperanto, an invented language meant to be everyone’s second tongue; allowing international communication without linguistic hegemony. As he kept repeating himself, I couldn’t stop thinking about how right he was and and wrong he was. Esperanto is the ideal solution, one which will never ever come about. English’s world-wide influence – after two centuries of British colonialism and American post-colonialism – is far beyond its tipping point. What is needed now is a movement which separates the language from it’s cultural and nationalistic roots. People need to be reminded that the English language is a daily reality for millions (ie. Singapore and Malaysia) born into historical circumstances, which took place hundreds of years ago that no longer effect their identity construction. At least from my experience in the bustling metropolis, if your typical UC Berkeley Sociology graduate were to travel to Singapore and survey city folk how they feel about the the colonial legacy’s impact on postmodern social interaction, he or she would get one and only one reaction: “what in the fuck are you talking about?” Singaporeans are building giant malls and artificial beaches. They speak English to communicate. Let’s move on.
Medea was the first to volunteer to translate a post from Spanish to English for Global Voices. She did an exceptional job. I was especially entertained by her translation of “blanquitos” as “whiteys.” (Personally, I would have been too tempted to write “little crackers.”)
The irony is that while Medea was hard at work translating Miguel’s post into English, Miguel took the initiative to translate a post I had written about the Bolivian elections into Spanish. Let me bore you for five more minutes to explain why I think both posts are important.
At the summit I tried to emphasize a distinction between journalistic media which tries to represent all sides of an issue with statistics and interviews and a conversational space (like Global Voices) where people can get together to express their points of view. I did mention that there is plenty of overlap between the two spheres: bloggers at times take on the roll of journalists and journalists often take on the roll of subjective commentators. But more often than not, I argued, a distinction can be made and is even healthy to make.
Now, after tracking the coverage on Sunday’s Bolivian election, I’m not so sure I still feel that way. I tried something new on my summary of election coverage – I treated bloggers and reporters both as simple individuals. No distinction was made between Angus MacSwan from Reuters and Eduardo Ávila from Barrio Flores. The surprising realization at the end of the post was that the individuals that identify themselves as bloggers were much more informative and thorough than the professional reporters.
In a way, this makes sense. Bolivia has a lively English-language blogging community that had been waiting anxiously for Sunday’s election for many months now. Even though they all have their day jobs and aren’t paid for their research into Bolivia as reporters are, their focus is much narrower and therefore more competent and nuanced. A reporter like Juan Forero of the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, meanwhile, is constantly traveling all over South America reporting a little on this and a little on that. During a period of so many South American elections, he can’t afford to focus all his attention on just one like Miguel Buitrago and Jim Schultz did. Nor can he document in such detail the difference between Bolivian and U.S. voting procedures like Jonathan Lieberman did.
The point – and what I overlooked at the summit – is that while the blogosphere is mostly conversational, each event and issue will bring out the voices of trained specialists that were previously found by resourceful journalists, but now often have their own weblogs which forego the media middle man.
The post that Medea translated, in contrast, was conversational and just as important. Because it gives a broad sense of how Bolivians from all walks of life, not op-ed writers from Manhattan, feel about Morales’ victory.
When you take into account 1.) the summary I wrote, 2.) the summary Miguel wrote, and 3.) the summary of Latin American online media by Washington Post’s Jefferson Morley, what you get is a democratization of reporting that has never been seen before.