Do certain words hold more value than others?

The other evening, while sharing some drinks at the local pub with some friends, we got to talking about food. Big surprise. If you know me, you know that I love food. Not a big cook, but really do enjoy yummy food.

Well I guess the conversation was a little unique because one of our friends there is a private chef. At any rate, we were talking about food and then we got into talking about the names of some food. At any rate, I remembered the first time I went into Central Market about 10 years ago, here in Austin. I started sharing how I was there to buy dinner. I was perusing their delicious cooked meals when the guy behind the counter asked, “What can I get for you tonight?” I had my eye on the “souffle,” but couldn’t make up my mind. So, I went ahead and said, “Umm I’ll have the “so-full.” The guy laughed and said, “Do you mean the “souffle?” I really didn’t care that he laughed. I giggled back and said, “Oh. Is that how you say it? Yes, the “souffle (holding the accent on the “e” a little longer than he did).” At any rate, as I was sharing this story with our friends my significant other says, “Suzanne, you aren’t actually supposed to admit that happened.”

I immediately said, “Really? Why can’t I mispronounce a French word, like souffle, when so many people mispronouce “quesadilla (qweh-sa-dilla)” or “salsa (sahlza).” I could go on and on with the mispronounciations I have heard, really all my life. He got the point.

That’s when it occurred to me. Do certain words hold more value than others? Is it the same as the perception that certain accents hold more value than others? For example, French vs. Mexican. Even local US accents. For instance, West coast vs. middle of America.

¿Quein sabe? No en serio…¿quien sabe? ¿Que opinan?

English sans rules!

What I love about English is that we adapt many words from other languages into our vocabulary. In fact, many times the words remain in tact. Such as the word, “sans” it is purely French, yet we use it in our everyday language.

As I delve into my doctoral studies the more at ease I feel about using “language.” There are so many language varieties to choose from really. Except we don’t usually get to choose them, they’re the ones who make us who we are. They reflect where we have been and where we come from. What’s interesting, and at times, difficult for some to realize or understand, is the more fluent you are in any language variety, the easier it is for you to switch from one to another. Take “borrowing (a.k.a Spanglish)” some would argue that it’s actually quite a skill to be able to “borrow”  and code-switch between Spanish, English, and Spanglish. I found this really hard to believe UNTIL two things happened to me. One: living, seeing, and experiencing Texas and TWO: reading Killer Cronicas: Bilingual Memories by Susana Chavez-Silverman.

How does this all relate to “English sans rules?” Well, its quite simple. For as much criticism as many non-dominant language varieties get from the African-American Vernacular English to Spanglish dialects; we have to remember that English is one particular language that does not have an “academy” to over see its “proper” usage! It is fluid. Thats the beauty of English. For instance, as I mentioned in an earlier post, in English, we tend to hyphenate words in order to describe something, like “passion-driven” writing.

Doesn’t that make you wonder why we don’t have “accent academies?” I mean really, as much as I favor the language academies that maintain languages such as Spanish and French, they do seem a little pretentious. Think about it. If there’s a “proper” way of using language, doesn’t that imply that there is a “proper” way of pronouncing words? Hmm…that would make for an interesting argument. Wouldn’t it?

Flying Stand-by

Have you ever flown “stand-by?” Well neither have I, but I’m trying to plan a trip to Europe this summer with the intentions of flying stand-by and boy is it…hmm whats the right word….phrase maybe….oh! I know like you’re in limbo. There are so many uncertainties, unpredictable events depending on where we land. Did I mention we are willing to take ANY non-stop flight? Well, as I began to try and think about what our 3-week adventure through Europe might look like I started to feel insecure about the trip and really simply not knowing how to negotiate costs. I felt a sort of uneasiness and you know what thats when it hit me! As a “native US bilingual” individual I have felt like I have been flying standby all my life between Spanish and English!!!

I can remember as a child being stunned after watching my abuelita smoke a cigerratte AND in our own house! My parents never allowed anyone to smoke in our house and there she was smoking a cigarette with a beer in the other hand. As I stood there in disbelief the words couldn’t come out of my mouth fast enough. I wasn’t sure how to say “to smoke,” but I worked around it by shouting, “Abuelita, tu smokas!!” Y en ese momento nadie pudo aguantar las carcajadas/And at that moment no one could hold back their laughter. I was utterly embarressed I chose the wrong word….sort of, right.

So, as I was saying all my life I have felt as if I were flying standby between English and Spanish. There were always so many uncertainties like am I making up a word or should I say the adjective first in a sentence and then the noun? There were also so many unpredictable events especially when my parents Spanish-speaking friends would come over. I would always think, “Oh great! Not only am I going to have to kiss their cheek (and ALL of them), but Im also going to have to use Spanish.” Believe it or not it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I felt a little less insecure about using Spanish. As I mentioned earlier, flying standby can be hard to negotiate costs, events, and planning for that matter. This is how I have felt about being bilingual for many, many years. So, how do I feel now? Better. Now I feel like I at least know which country I’m landing in and that Ill be able to get around, but know that every once in a while there may be a word or two I don’t know AND when that does happen Ill resort to the most appropriate language variety for that particular context.

Ciao, Au’revoir, Adios, Good-bye, and Adieus.