One of my favorite things about languages is how they influence each other. English speakers talk about fettucine and schadenfreude; the Italians browse the Internet; Spanish speakers watch a baseball player hit a jonrón.
The Open University produced a 10-minute history of the English language. The video (above) is divided into 10 chapters that focus on various aspects of English’s development. Not surprisingly, the evolution of English was greatly influenced by According to the OU, English began with the migration of Germanic peoples into England.
The Anglo-Saxons had coined words for everyday practical things like “house” and “loaf.” Christians offered words from Latin. And the Vikings contributed around 2,000 English words, including the verbs “give” and “take.” After William the Conqueror came around, French became the official language of conducting business, while the common man spoke English.
Shakespeare gets his own chapter in the video, since scholars attribute 2,000 English words to him. He also gave us clichés such as “to eat out of house and home” and “to be hoisted on one’s own petard.”
Other segments touch on science, colonialism, and the King James bible. The final chapter, on global English, remarks on the incredible spread and influence of English despite its challenging phonetic system.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences released its list of foreign language film entries earlier this month, Saudi Arabia was on the list for the first time with “Wadjda.” The film tells the story of Wadjda, a 10-year old girl living a suburb of Riyadh. When her mother forbids her from buying a bicycle, Wadjda decides to raise money to buy it herself.
Saudi Arabia’s entry is notable for another reason. “Wadjda” is the first feature-length film from a female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia. The LA Times reported that when director Haifaa Mansour was shooting street scenes for the film, she worked from the back of a van and watch from a monitor to avoid being seen publicly giving directions to men.
Americans are likely to view “Wadjda” as a political film due to the circumstances of women in Saudi Arabia. However, audiences should remember that the film was made with the approval of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture. It was also the government’s official Oscar submission.
The film has been released in the United States and is earning positive feedback from reviewers. In The Seattle Times, John Hartl writes that the film “spins a tale of girl power” and provides a “look at a society that seems not so different from our own.” Some are calling it a favorite to be officially nominated for the Oscars in January.
Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club played for a packed Lisner Auditorium on George Washington University’s campus on October 8. The legendary ensemble’s lyrics and melodies have a way of transporting listeners to the Caribbean, and it didn’t take long for some to start dancing in the aisles. The video I recorded (above) is of the song “El Carretero,” an example of guajira, a country lament.
The name Buena Vista Social Club comes from a members-only club in Havana, Cuba. The club hosted dances and activities and was a popular spot for local musicians to play in the 1940s. Nearly 40 years after it closed, the club inspired Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder to produce their eponymous studio album.
The album featured traditional Cuban musicians, some of whom had played at the club. The recording garnered international success. German director Wim Wenders created a documentary about the project. The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Last week’s performance at Lisner featured some of the original musicians from the Buena Vista album who still played with the energy of their youth. Vocalist Omara Portuondo brought the verve to another level when she took the stage for classics such as “Dos Gardenias” and “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás.” “Dos Gardenias” is a bolero, or slow, romantic ballad. “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps) is about the response the singer gets after asking her romantic interest if he loves her.
The ensemble’s great success in the United States is a reflection of a wider interest in Cuba. During one of the final numbers, the singers asked the audience to join in on a toast “¡Para Cuba!”, and the response was emphatic. Closed off for so long to Americans, musical acts like Buena Vista Social Club are some of the only clues that we have about the island and its culture.
If you’re feeling a little groggy today, I have just the thing to wake you up and also confuse you a little: a cute & quirky German translation of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. It’s always been a particular summertime-in-the-car favorite of ours, and now it’s infinitely more adorable.
(Is there a foreign language film/song/book/etc you’re crazy about? Send it to us and it could be featured on G-Blogodaria!)