Author Archives: suzannemateus

About suzannemateus

I write about my bilingual life on my blog, Interpretations of a Bilingual Life: http://suzannemateus.com/ I am also a monthly contributor for http://www.spanglishbaby.com/ where I write about my attempt to raise a trilingual baby. I have written (and am interested in continuing to do so) for other blogs focusing on my experiences about nursing my baby and about having an amazing intervention-free and med-free birth.

My Book Review about Translanguaging

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If you are interested in a summary about what Translanguaging is, how it manifests in bilingual speech, and a little about how teachers can empower students through the use of 2 or more languages, click on the link below. http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/IMkqaHYpnNWh4VUmt6HV/full

Language use, accents, and stereotypes.

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In Anjelah Johnson’s “Nail Salon” comedy act, which aired on the Comedy Time network in 2007, there is a deliberate use of marked language or speech markers by a speaker from outside the group in question. In fact, mocking speakers from outside her ethnic and racial group is a common theme in many of her acts. In the act, “Nail Salon” she is, in my opinion, attracting anyone that has ever frequented a nail salon where the majority of the employees were Asian. The sociolinguistic variables this paper will focus on include: the stereotypes towards Asian speech, attitudes towards code switching, and how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways.
Johnson demonstrates a common stereotype towards Asian speech, specifically Vietnamese female manicurist speech. Having grown up in Southern California, where a large Vietnamese community resides, and also where Johnson is from; I could completely relate to her comedy act. According to Ronald Wardhaugh, “To say of a member of such a group that he or she will always exhibit a certain characteristic behavior is to offer a stereotype (p.120).” Johnson reinforces the female Asian manicurist stereotype through her use of speech markers, which include, “…social categories of sex, ethnicity, social class, and situation [which are] clearly marked on the basis of speech (p.121).” Whether or not the video attracts or repels members of targeted group, Vietnamese female manicurists or people of Vietnamese origin, is questionable. According to YouTube’s statistical information about who is viewing this specific video it is evident that the group most attracted to Johnson’s act are women between the ages of 13-54 years old.
By deliberately using the speech of a working class, Vietnamese female, in the particular context of a nail salon and as a speaker from outside the group in question Johnson is sending several messages about attitudes towards Asians in general. In particular, she is sending a message about the way Asian speakers code-switch and the attitudes associated with it when it occurs in a nail salon. Wardhaugh describes code switching as having two distinct purposes: situational and metaphorical. “Situational code-switching occurs when the languages used change according to the situations in which the conversants find themselves; they speak one language in one situation and another in a different one (p.104).”
In the case of the “Nail Salon” comedy act, Johnson exemplifies the use of metaphorical code switching. According to Wardhaugh metaphorical code-switching occurs as, “…a change of topic [which] requires a change in the language used…it has an affective dimension to it: you change the code as you redefine the situation- formal to informal, official to personal, serious to humorous, and politeness to solidarity…to show how speakers employ particular languages to convey information that goes beyond their actual words, especially to define social situations (p.104).” The particular instance where Johnson demonstrates metaphorically code-switching is when she criticizes the manicurists’ work on one of her nails. The manicurist, after some debate as to whether or not Johnson’s nail was actually flawed, decides to fix the nail, and instantly begins to code-switch with another employee. It is implied that Johnson is left wondering what Tammy, the manicurist, could possibly be saying to her fellow employee. In the middle of speaking Vietnamese, almost to cover up what was really being said, Tammy says in her heavily accented English that her fellow manicurist thinks Johnson is pretty. She was, according to Wardhaugh’s definition of metaphorical code switching, using Vietnamese and English “…to convey information that goes beyond her actual words (p.104).” In other words, Johnson does a great job of showing us how quickly the manicurist went from being “all about customer service” to extremely annoyed when Johnson critiques her work and doesn’t, for the first time in the act, give in to the manicurists requests or suggestions. This leads to the final sociolinguistic variable: how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways.
Earlier I mentioned the use of speech markers as a variable. According to Wardhaugh’s description of speech communities it is, “…through speech markers [as] functionally important social categorizations [that can be] discriminated…For humans, speech markers have clear parallels…it is evident that [these] social categories of…sex, ethnicity, social class, and situation can be clearly marked on the basis of speech… (p.121).” In the comedy act, “Nail Salon” the “female Vietnamese manicurist” is obviously from a certain social class: she is an immigrant serving American standard English-speaking individuals.
The last variable, how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways, is in my opinion a mode of survival for the manicurist. At the beginning of the act Johnson mentions how the women at the salon are all about customer service. In fact, Johnson demonstrates how good they are at getting you to purchase more services repeatedly throughout the act. The manicurist has learned how to use language in socially meaningful ways. She is constantly complimenting the customer and acting very interested in her life, which is important because Asians are known to be very modest people who don’t like to bring attentions to themselves or others, but in this act Johnson demonstrates how the Asian manicurist has learned that Americans favor an individualistic perspective and the manicurist taps into that knowledge in order to get Johnson to buy more services. In other words, there is more than one stereotype being displayed.
As a Mexican-American and Native American comedian Anjelah Johnson falls under the category of being a speaker from outside the Vietnamese community. It is interesting to note whether or not the targeted group would actually repel or be attracted to Johnson’s comedy act of “Nail Salon.” After reviewing comments the video received on YouTube I could only identify one that may have been from an Asian person given his/her name, SgtTsuki’s. He/she stated, “Gahh!! It’s so wrong to laugh and feel offended at the same time!!” I am still left wondering if people who belong to the Asian community would feel offended. Maybe some members would, such as those who speak with an Asian accent, but others who are American-born and do not speak with an Asian accent may not.

Written in 2010—in rough draft form, but worth the share.

 

My Disclaimer

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Though my explorations of bicultural/bilingual experiences may allude to, or state quite blatantly, general perceptions about “Latinos” I by no means intend to offend anyone reading my blog. In addition, I consider my comments mere attempts to better understand why we communicate or hold certain ideals about one another. My main objective is to gain a better understanding, both personally and professionally, about my bilingual and bicultural experiences as I mentioned in the category titled, “About my blog”

This disclaimer was originally published in 2007.

*This applies to any other social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) venue I use to express my experiences, perspectives, & observations.

Why My Daughters Doctors Must Speak Spanish!

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The U.S. does not have an official language, yet English certainly plays a vital role! I would be lying if I thought it wasn’t a necessary part of an individuals’ linguistic repertoire in order to succeed in this country. That being said, children at an early age pick up on the high status English carries in their everyday interactions.

My nena, for example, already pegs anyone outside her home as “English-speaking.” I have very few friends and family that, in my nenas eyes, are Spanish speakers or bilingual (even though most of my friends are bilingual) because of the status English plays in her interactions with them. For these simple reasons alone I make it a point to attempt to increase the status of Spanish in our everyday lives.

One very strategic move I have made is to make sure all of her doctor visits are with Spanish-speaking, hence bilingual, practitioners. I am even willing to drive out of my way to make sure she see’s a bilingual doctor. In fact, I prefer for them to be female as well. I guess you can see my motives are two-fold. I want her to have role models she can identify with as she develops her identity as a bilingual Latina.

Recently we took her to her first dental appoint. It was important for me to find a Spanish speaking pediatric dentist because we had been talking about what dentists do entirely in Spanish and I wanted my daughter to make the connections we had talked about at home once she was seated in front of her actual dental practitioner. I called at least four different pediatric dental offices and solicited information from my friends on facebook to find a doctor closer our home.

Just like searching for the ideal bilingual school environment, I learned that there are other aspects of choosing the right doctor for my daughter. These aspects include considering whether or not the staff is kid-friendly and if the office had a ambience that made children feel comfortable. Well, all in all, we were lucky to find Texas Tooth Fairies Pediatric Dentistry. Dr. Singletary, a Venezuela native, and her staff were amazing. Not only did my nena get her teeth cleaned without a problem she actually LOVED the experience, as did I, because it was mostly in Spanish.

What are some strategic moves you have made to increase the status of Spanish in your everyday interactions?

My Toddler’s Bilingual Development

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I have been recording (mostly on Facebook) my daughters’ bilingual development. The following conversation took place when she was 1 year and 11 months old.

Me: Sabrina, ven a comer los frijoles.
Sabrina: No, jole!
Me: Ven aquí.
Sabrina: No ven
Me: Si
Sabrina No, si!

As you can see  her words are “fragmented” and she echoed what I was saying, yet all in Spanish. It has been an amazing journey that not a single person could have described to me prior to deciding to raise my daughter with 2 (at least) languages. I have seen her change from a predominately Spanish speaker at 2 and a 1/2 years old to having a strong command of English within 6 months of being immersed in an English daycare. Today, at 4 years old, it can be difficult to tell which of the 2 languages she speaks “better.” Just the other day the following conversation took place between her and a new friend:

New Friend: Sabrina, por que hablas ingles?
Sabrina: En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!
Me: That’s right, honey. You are bilingual and your friend is becoming bilingual just like you!

In fact, one could argue, based on that single sentence she uttered above, that she has a strong command of both languages because she managed to code-switch while maintaining the grammatical structure of both languages!

When it comes to raising a bilingual child it seems like, as I have said before, there are many trials, joys, and tribulations. Having moved to Ecuador recently we switched to speaking English with Sabrina for the first time in her life! She refused to speak to us in English for about 2 months UNTIL she came home from her first day at a Spanish school. The teachers and classmates were so impressed with her American English that she, what I assume, felt proud. Since that day she speaks mostly in English to us. It was a complete shock to me to see how drastically she switched all due to what her peers thought. Now, as I mentioned, my biggest concern is asking her to switch back to Spanish IF we ever decide to move back to the U.S.

Have your children successfully switched back to the original language you had spoken after moving back to a country of origin?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bilingualism in Ecuador

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Bilingualism is highly valued in Ecuador. There is no doubt about that. That being said, I have been trying to understand how Spanish and English work here.  All of the private schools I have visited promote becoming bilingual. The public schools, from what I have heard, also promote bilingualism, but at a completely different level. Here’s the interesting observation I have made. Rarely, if ever, do I hear locals speaking English. In fact, I sense a level of discomfort interacting in English. It’s as if English is a tool with a certain purpose. The purpose being several ones: travel, business, or to speak with someone from another country.

There is something about Spanish and English that definitely stands out. People here code-switch or it could be a form of language mixing (which I can explain in another post). For example, I was speaking to another parent about sleep training her children when she said, “No fue facil. Tenia los dos mellizas durmiendo en el mismo cuarto o como dicen los gringos, ‘it wasn’t a piece of cake.”

There is English everywhere we go. You will see it as the name of business, like Sweet & Coffee. Though I think it should read: Sweets & Coffee. Which leads me to my next observation. Sometimes the translations are off like a store in the mall advertising: joyas de boda. In English they wrote, marge jewelry. Huge mistake.

All in all, our experience as a bilingual family in Ecuador has been amazing. I look forward to sharing more about those experiences in future posts as well. Our daughter has certainly improved how to associate people with language. She switches between Spanish and English almost flawlessly. I think we are on track in raising a prolific code switcher and someone who is proud to know more than one language. Just the other day she said, “En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!”