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July 23, 2006 1:28 PM   Subscribe

NJ Mayor calls Spanish-language ad "offensive." Linguistics professor Geoffrey Pollum says "Wtf, mate?"
posted by Bizurke (63 comments total)

 
"...belief in the American flag..."

I guess I believe the American flag exists, and damn all those who refute this assertion, damn you damn you all.

Seriously, Spanish is now devisive? Sounds like it's time to dust off the ole high school textbooks. Mayby if we speak in Spanish no one else will know what we are saying, especially those pesky NSA types.
posted by edgeways at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2006


How about this for devisive Spanish?

El mayor es loco!* (*I don't actually know Spanish)

Zing!
posted by rex dart, eskimo spy at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2006


I can't seem to find the "Some Guy" or "Dumbass" tags anywhere.
posted by psmealey at 1:37 PM on July 23, 2006


my dad gets angry when the road signs switch to Spanish and metric nearing Nogales.

I've met way too many people who think English is the USA's official language.
posted by carsonb at 1:38 PM on July 23, 2006


You know what language is really offensive? French. (Pardon my French.)
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:41 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else think it's just mildly ironic that this guy is mayor of Bogota?
posted by matematichica at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2006


Don't knock Bogota - that community helps keep the buggy whip industry in business.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:48 PM on July 23, 2006


Whistling past the Graveyard.
posted by oddman at 1:50 PM on July 23, 2006


Well, thanks goodness I live in South Williamsburg where I absolutely never run across Spanish speakers or Spanish signs at all. Around here it's like there's no such language.

Probably.
posted by Decani at 2:00 PM on July 23, 2006


whackjoblocalmayorfilter.
posted by brain_drain at 2:01 PM on July 23, 2006


You know, this is just following up on the week-long Mallard Fillmore screed (a comic I'd dispise for sheer ugliness and laziness even if I agreed with it's political views) about how horrible it is when businesses expand their customer service to include languages other than English.

It's like, wow, these guys are all "free market" until a business makes a pragmatic decision to expand their market and reduce costs.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:09 PM on July 23, 2006


I find it amusing that so many of the "English only" types are so rabidly anti-French. Amusing because it was the decision to make French "official" which ended the era in which French was the, ahem, lingua franca.

Once it is decided that English is the only acceptable language in the US for government documents, laws, ballots, etc, we must then establish an office that defines what "English" is. And when that happens the era of English as the defacto planetary language will end. You can't make a language the official language of your country without regulating that language, and if you regulate a language it dies.
posted by sotonohito at 2:14 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


Once it is decided that English is the only acceptable language in the US for government documents, laws, ballots, etc, we must then establish an office that defines what "English" is.

Yo, Yo, Yo, beeeotch! Why you gotta be playa' hatin' like that?
posted by Cyrano at 2:36 PM on July 23, 2006


I personally celebrate whenever a language dies, but Spanish is one of maybe two dozen that is not going away.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:39 PM on July 23, 2006


Life is too short to eat at McDonalds, anyway.
posted by mischief at 2:57 PM on July 23, 2006


Once it is decided that English is the only acceptable language in the US for government documents, laws, ballots, etc, we must then establish an office that defines what "English" is. And when that happens the era of English as the defacto planetary language will end. You can't make a language the official language of your country without regulating that language, and if you regulate a language it dies

English isnt only spoken in the US, you know.
posted by the cuban at 2:58 PM on July 23, 2006


Bogota councilman George Shalhoub said ... "If they're going to assimilate they need to utilize the language of the country they're in. That billboard helps no one but McDonald's to sell coffee and hamburgers."

Ya think that was the point of the advertisement, there, George?

I'm all for immigrants like me learning English - if only because it makes our lives easier and allows us to participate in mainstream society - but this particular debate just seems ridiculous and sad.
posted by gemmy at 2:58 PM on July 23, 2006


I just want all y'all to remember that this came from New Jersey. The next time the south bashing starts just remember the Garden State and all that comes from there.
posted by nyxxxx at 3:13 PM on July 23, 2006


That billboard helps no one but McDonald's to sell coffee and hamburgers.

Billboard advertises product in hopes of increasing sales. Film at 11.

Damnit, I will not tolerate corporate propaganda! Unless it's in a language I can understand.

But seriously... the fact that the billboard serves the interests of the McDonald's Corporation is a great reason to tear it down, not to change the language to English.

Personally, I'd love to see someone in Bogota, New Jersey put up a billboard with ad copy in Mandarin.
posted by Clay201 at 3:31 PM on July 23, 2006


I'm confused - this guy is the mayor of Bogota, and he's against Spanish-only advertising? I bet this guy has a friggin' fit walking around Chinatown.

I want to see what happens when Taco Bell follows in their footsteps.
posted by FormlessOne at 3:35 PM on July 23, 2006


Latinos don't eat at Taco Bell.
posted by mischief at 3:39 PM on July 23, 2006


"[Mayor Steve] Lonegan’s remarks must come as quite a surprise to the U.S. Army, which launched a major Spanish-language ad campaign in 2001.

The tagline is “Yo Soy El Army” (I Am The Army).



Here’s the official “Yo Soy El Army” H2 humvee.



You might also be interested in the Spanish-language recruitment sites for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force.

So when does Mayor Lonegan launch his boycott against the U.S. military?"

Oh ... by all means, don't even think of ordering a Philly Cheese Steak at Geno's in Spanish. English only!
posted by ericb at 3:41 PM on July 23, 2006


If Spanish-only ads are offensive, aren't English-only ads (by the same logic) equally offensive? They're just as divisive, excluding the portion of that population that doesn't speak English.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:49 PM on July 23, 2006


The mayor. Of Bogota*. Thinks a Spanish-language ad is offensive.

My irony meter is pegged.

*Este enlace pertenece a la capital de Colombia, no a la aldea en NJ.
posted by graymouser at 4:03 PM on July 23, 2006


I want to see a new ad there that says something like "el mayor, es fucking loco, eh?" Welcome to 21st century America, Mr Mayor.
posted by blacklite at 4:17 PM on July 23, 2006


While we should have an authoritative language for laws, advertisers should be free to advertise in whatever language they want.

That being said, not learning English is a guaranteed barrier to moving up in American society.
posted by oaf at 4:34 PM on July 23, 2006


blacklite: Not just the 21st century. Until the Red Scare hit at the end of WWI, there were hundreds of non-English periodicals published in the United States representing the language of almost every immigrant community. Drive through parts of Chicago and you can still see signage in Polish, Itallian and Russian.

Of course, Lonegan is following in an old American tradition of nativism as well.

oaf: While we should have an authoritative language for laws...

I don't know about that. It's quite possible that the costs of ambiguity and misunderstanding are more than the cost of translating most public documents.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:47 PM on July 23, 2006


Give me a break.

Thanks to a local Spanish language tv station here and a growing Hispanic population here (to include friends of mine) what a golden opportunity for ME to learn Spanish.

One of the most seen ads on that station happen to be for an English instructional course. Plus other ads for courses that teach kids English using Disney characters. I think hispanic people are quite well aware that English is important to learn.
posted by konolia at 5:01 PM on July 23, 2006


It's quite possible that the costs of ambiguity and misunderstanding are more than the cost of translating most public documents.

What about the cost of having two sets of laws?
posted by oaf at 5:03 PM on July 23, 2006


Anybody else think a better billboard for Mickey D's would be Celia Cruz exclaiming, "¡Azucar!"
P.S. Rex y blacklite, I think the word you're looking for is alcalde. Mayor means "major" or "principle."
posted by rob511 at 5:05 PM on July 23, 2006


Oaf: I don't see what your link has to do with laws in multi-lingual nations. I haven't yet studied this, but I have read several multi-lingual contracts and they all state that in the event of possible problems arising from differences in translation that the contract in one language (English in all the contracts I've read) will be the contract used to settle dispute.
posted by sotonohito at 5:21 PM on July 23, 2006


I don't see what your link has to do with laws in multi-lingual nations.

Here's the relevant section:
Canada Post started going after Spring and others like it in 2002. It based its legal argument on a few words in the Canada Post Act. In English, that law states Canada Post has "exclusive privilege" over mail "within Canada." However, the French version of that same law makes no reference to geography.

Canada Post used the French version to make its case.
Basically, they're picking and choosing which law they want to be the "right" one.
posted by oaf at 5:28 PM on July 23, 2006


oaf: What about the cost of having two sets of laws?

Certainly such individual cases would happen. And resolving such ambiguities are why we have a court system. In such a case, you could easily say that the language of the law as initially written and passed takes priority over other translation.

But here is the argument for translations. You have millions of people in the United States who speak English as a second language. These are people who need to know their legal rights in a wide variety of situations including employment, leases, banking, and contacts with police. A well-crafted translation can help to prevent many conflicts from going to court at all. And with electronic publishing and laser printers, printing out a copy of a translation of a document might be easier than having a full-time translator in every branch office.

Somehow, I doubt that AT&T is adding multi-lingual support to their telephone and online billing support systems without an eye to the bottom line of support costs.

Basically, they're picking and choosing which law they want to be the "right" one.

This is going to happen even if you write the law in only one language. Different people and different courts will have different interpretations about what, "Congress shall make no law regarding..." As sotonohito points out, you can easily set a precident saying that in any conflict between translations, one takes precident.

That is not a strong argument against publication of translations however.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:44 PM on July 23, 2006


it was the decision to make French "official" which ended the era in which French was the, ahem, lingua franca.

sotonohito- which decision and when and where to make French official are you referring to? Not the French Academy, surely?

For perspective, my midwest father was told in the 1930s that any hope he might have for a career that went outside America would require his knowing French. Things have changed since then, of course, but we're still talking three hundred years.

Or did you mean something else?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:54 PM on July 23, 2006


While we should have an authoritative language for laws, advertisers should be free to advertise in whatever language they want.

Fuck that. Advertisers should be forced to operate exclusively in Esperanto. Or maybe a random mix of Esperanto and Klingon-spoken-through-helium.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:56 PM on July 23, 2006


My thinking is that he isn't sure -- because he doesn't *speak* Spanish -- that the billboard in question isn't already saying that he's a moron, and that's why he wants it down.
posted by baylink at 6:45 PM on July 23, 2006


Whooo! While we're at it, let's burn Telemundo to the fucking ground, bitches!
posted by fungible at 6:46 PM on July 23, 2006


That is not a strong argument against publication of translations however.

I never made such an argument. I merely said that one language should prevail in cases of conflict—one version of the law should be considered the original, and the others derivative.
posted by oaf at 7:31 PM on July 23, 2006



I'm betting Mayor Lonegan listens to Sean Hannity every day.
posted by wfc123 at 7:34 PM on July 23, 2006


Actually, if you want to get into issues with laws that are equally valid in multiple languages -- with ensuing complications -- look at the EU. There is a big team of official "jurist-linguists" in Brussels whose job is to address these issues; there nevertheless have been (legal) cases in which different language versions of a law mean different things.

< /tangent>
posted by sueinnyc at 7:56 PM on July 23, 2006


The mayor. Of Bogota*. Thinks a Spanish-language ad is offensive.

My irony meter is pegged.

*Este enlace pertenece a la capital de Colombia, no a la aldea en NJ.


Speaking as a former Bergen County resident *shudder*, I can tell you the fine folks of Bogota (pronounced like that baseball player, Abe) love nothing more than when you pronounce it Bogotá.

Also, until now, I totally thought Abe Vigoda was a baseball player. Seriously.
posted by Eideteker at 8:15 PM on July 23, 2006


Idiot.

If there weren't any English signs in Hong Kong, I'd have a Hell of a time getting around.

Sure, I speak some Cantonese, but learning to read Chinese is another trick altogether, especially when one doesn't take classes.

Hey mayor, here's some Columbian Spanish that describes you well: Cara de verga
posted by bwg at 9:32 PM on July 23, 2006


Bogota councilman George Shalhoub said

I wonder if he's related to Tony Shalhoub who plays Monk on TV? They're immigrants too. Was he forced to assimilate as a child and repressed all the trauma?
posted by infini at 9:50 PM on July 23, 2006


sotonohito said: Once it is decided that English is the only acceptable language in the US for government documents, laws, ballots, etc, we must then establish an office that defines what "English" is. And when that happens the era of English as the defacto planetary language will end. You can't make a language the official language of your country without regulating that language, and if you regulate a language it dies.

I cannot believe the utter ignorance exposed by that comment. A whole bunch of states have already made English their only official language, and here is a list of countries that have English as an official language (they specifically mention that in the US and UK it is de facto, not de jure). Of course, all these countries do have a Bureau of How to Spik da English Officially Well, so you may be right.
/sarcasm.
posted by jacalata at 10:12 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


No, but someone has to decide what "in English" means.

Say the legislature in an English-only state wants to regulate the production of chorizo, or andouille, or define what production processes are allowed for bok choy to be classified as organic, or what can legally go into chili con queso, or make it illegal to claim that your product is kosher when has not been enkosherized.

Someone, somewhere, has to decide whether or not "chili con queso" is an English phrase (thereby polluting our native language) or a dirty foreign phrase that's forbidden from entering our sacred English-only lawbooks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:30 AM on July 24, 2006


Someone, somewhere, has to decide whether or not "chili con queso" is an English phrase (thereby polluting our native language) or a dirty foreign phrase that's forbidden from entering our sacred English-only lawbooks.

That's not true at all. There's no reason why an English sentence can't have random foreign words mixed in, as long as the structure and most of the words are English, it's English.
posted by delmoi at 12:51 AM on July 24, 2006


By that logic, sentences like "Whoever mata a otra persona is guilty of a felony in the first degree" would pass muster as English sentences to the goofy bigots who propose these laws.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:20 AM on July 24, 2006


See? And so it begins. Already delmoi someone would have to pass a law defining "English" the way you described it, and then ammend the law to outlaw what ROU_Xenophobe just said. Especially since the laws mandating English don't force people to speak it, just state that laws must be in "English".

Furthermore, you just used the term in its own definition, which isn't really what you'd call acceptable. Try offering a definition which doesn't include the word "English". I'll bet you have to start defining English as a language using words from a specific dictionary and using grammer from a specific grammar text.

Eventually it'll be as bad as the situation in France where for a couple of years they had difficulty with software EULA's because the word "CD-ROM" wasn't French, and so couldn't be used in a legeally binding contract. Eventually the French language police decided on a term that was acceptable so the problem is resolved. But notice that in English, unregulated, unofficial, etc, people just make up new words, or steal words from other languages to suit themselves. It is a living language and that's what makes it so attractive.

Languages like Japanese, French, etc are interesting, but will never be widely used because the language can't be altered without official governmental approval. Sure, *eventually* the language police get around to making *some* of the changes people have been using colloquially official. But it takes time, and in the interveaning period laws and contracts can't keep up with language.
posted by sotonohito at 3:14 AM on July 24, 2006


jacalata: Sorry I forgot about you until I hit post. In reference to your comment I can only say "give it time". Neither Japan, nor France originally started out with language police, but since both had laws mandating an "official language" and requiring that all legal documents be in that language only various disputes over what was really French/Japanese eventually produced the language police we know and love today.

None of the US states with those laws have had them long enough yet for the effects to really kick in.
posted by sotonohito at 3:17 AM on July 24, 2006


You're stupid.
posted by the cuban at 4:06 AM on July 24, 2006


El Alcalde de Bogota esta chiflado, or just loco if you prefer!
posted by Wilder at 4:51 AM on July 24, 2006


Ah, the reason that English is the dominant second language of the world is thanks mainly to the British and that empire of theirs which at its height covered 1/4th of the globe. Now mix that in with post-war cultural and economic dominance of the United States and you have English spreading populary. And the French language did not start going down hill as the lingua franca of the world after they formalized it as the official language of France. That process began many years before that, which the wonderful Wikipedia states as happening in 1992....
posted by Atreides at 4:55 AM on July 24, 2006


Whooo! While we're at it, let's burn Telemundo to the fucking ground, bitches!

Nooo! You can't destroy Telemundo. Where else can I see a story on terminal cancer delivered by a buxom woman in a skin-tight low cut dress?
posted by jonmc at 6:09 AM on July 24, 2006


sotonohito, I completely disagree with pretty much everything you've said, but the most important point I can think of is: why would it affect all the people in the world who use English, if contracts in the US were worded slightly funny? I think you overestimate the possible influence that could have on the worldwide usage.

To look at the example of the french language, the usage of french did not decline because it gained the status of official language (see Atreides comment). The french language declined with the french empire - today it is an official language, de jure or de facto, in a paltry 30 countries, and spoken by only 270 million people. The protectionist attitude adopted by the Academie Francaise (which has existed far longer than any 'official language' idea) has been a reaction to the increasing use of English in place of French, and most certainly not a cause.

I don't quite understand your story of problems with making contracts that included the word CD-ROM: you must be referring to article 5 of the 'law relative to the french language', which says you cannot use a foreign word if a french word for the same meaning exists. However, it specifically allows for contracts to exist 'in breach of the first paragraph', and this could only have been an issue after cédérom made it into the dictionary in 1996. I am confident that it was possible to create a legally binding contract with the word CD-ROM in it at all stages.

The strongest argument against your position, in my opinion, is the fact that English is already an official language in the UN, the EU, the IOC, even FIFA, and many other international bodies. If it were possible for a bureaucracy to kill a language, I am confident that the EU, for one, would have done so.
posted by jacalata at 7:16 AM on July 24, 2006


English all the way, folks. While we're at it, what the hell is all this latin mumbo jumbo doing in our country? "E Pluribus Unum" what? I don't have a bus, so why do we need to talk about buses on US money? I hate when these lawyers talk all this latin mumbo jumbo that a normal white boy can't understand.

Quid pro quo?
Habeas Corpus?
Status Quo?
Pro Bono?
Carpe Diem?

Speak, the mother tongue! If the latins were so great, then why is Rome a bunch of ruins right now?
posted by JJ86 at 7:38 AM on July 24, 2006


The Eye-tailians moved in and the neighborhood went straight to hell.
posted by jonmc at 7:42 AM on July 24, 2006


Languages like Japanese, French, etc are interesting, but will never be widely used because the language can't be altered without official governmental approval.

Japanese has not flourished because a) it is bloody difficult and b) their few attempts at empire have never really taken hold.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:27 AM on July 24, 2006


I guess that means all the pubs with Polish signs in Dublin are offensive too. Must go let them know.
posted by Fence at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2006


As I was reading this thread, They Might Be Giants' Your Racist Friend started playing on my internet radio station.
posted by tippiedog at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2006


I would just like to add that the mayor of Bogota has done the improbable: he's forced me to side with McDonald's.
posted by chrominance at 10:44 AM on July 24, 2006


As far as Japanese goes, I will agree wholeheartedly with the statement that its bloody hard. I'm studying it ATM, so I'm well aware of that....

jacalata: There's a difference between "an official language" and "the official language". Saying "these are the languages into which we will translate stuff" is different from saying "any contract or law that is not in language X is invalid". Lawyers are persnickety, they *will* pick things to pieces, and if they can invalidate a contract for a client because it isn't really in the only permissible language for contracts they will do so. Heck, given the large number of Latin terms in many legal documents they might not count as English anyway....

I'm not suggesting that English speakers outside the US will say "well, now that there's an agency regulating English I'll never speak it again". I'm not suggesting that the people in England, Australia, or anywhere else they speak English as their native language will abandon it. I *am* saying that for people looking to learn second languages English will become less attractive if it is burdened by regulation.

I'm an advocate of the free market in many areas, and language is one of them. Regulation should exist only where necessary, and regulating language is utterly unnecessary as long as we aren't saying "contracts are invalid unless they are in English". As soon as you say that you've got to start regulating the language, and that's not a good thing.

Regulation of English in the USA may not result in the end of English as the default planetary language but it is a step in that direction; especially considering that the empire spreading English at the moment is the USA.

If none of that makes sense just ask yourself one question: "Is it worth adding a language bureaucracy just to make life harder for immigrants?"
posted by sotonohito at 2:20 PM on July 24, 2006


Overall, sotonohito, I think we just anticipate different outcomes for the same scenario. I don't think that 'the official language' would need a language agency, I think that the most severe effect would be an increase in the technicality of law, which would not impact on normal users of the language at all.
posted by jacalata at 8:03 PM on July 24, 2006


Sotonohito, I read some pretty daft things on MEfi, but your's take the biscuit.
posted by the cuban at 4:02 AM on July 25, 2006


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