‘Spanglish Is Not Random’

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Spanglish is not random. It is not simply a piecemeal cobbling-together, a collecting of scraps of random vocabulary into a raggedy orphan of a sentence. It has logic and rules, and more interestingly and importantly, it embodies a constantly shifting and intimate morphology of miscegenation. It is the mix of my husband’s innate Mexicanness and my innate Americanness, of my adaptive Mexicanness and his adaptive Americanness, in Spanish and English morphemes that come neatly together and apart like so many Legos into new and ever-changing constructions.

Linguist Richard Skiba breaks down the average usage of Spanglish into percentages: 84 percent of the time, Spanglish speakers employ single word switches; 10 percent of the time, phrase switches; and 6 percent of the time, clause switches. The vast majority of the time, to use Spanglish is to slip in a Spanish word for an English one, or vice versa: Estábamos llendo por el highway cuando de repente vimos un deer. Spanglish also involves affixation and suffixation: applying the morphological characteristics of one language to another. This could mean tacking on Spanish’s beloved diminutives (a little sock becomes sockito), assigning gender (the dog becomes el dogo), or modifying verb endings (takeando un bath; mopeando el piso). Finally, it includes calques (this term itself a French loan word in English, which originally means “trace” or “echo”): direct or literal translations that impose one language’s syntax on the other. For example, one might say te hablo p’atrás—I’ll call you back—as opposed to te devuelvo la llamada, which is the typical phrasing in Spanish. Or perhaps tener un buen tiempo—to have a good time—as opposed to pasarla bien, which is more correct. This is not random; it is not haphazard. Rather, to mold phrases in this way requires a firm grasp on the morphology of two languages, not to mention an instinctive creativity and openness in slipping and sliding between the two.

— Sarah Menkedick, in The Oxford American, in an essay about the origins and use of Spanglish among “middle-class and second-generation Latinos; artists, scholars, and writers; educated Mexican-American immigrants; Mexican immigrants who’ve returned to Mexico from the U.S.; and gringos who’ve somehow wound up straddling the border.”

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Photo: Beatrice Murch

Benjamin C. Bradlee: 1921-2014


Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who led the newspaper for 26 years and oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, died Tuesday at the age of 93.

“There is nothing like daily journalism! Best damn job in the world!” Ben Bradlee said, as he happily slammed a folded newspaper on his desk one morning in 1985 after I wrote a story that had his phone ringing off the hook.

Ben loved to stir things up, loved to get people talking.

— Some tributes: Editor Mary Jordan remembers what it was like to get praise from Bradlee. Former managing editor Leonard Downing reflects on working with Bradlee, and novelist Ward Just describes his relationship with Bradlee.

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Who’s Left After True Crime – Our College Pick


Readers and writers love a good true-crime story. There’s plenty of intrigue and suspense and enough intimate details to give the audience a good shiver. Stories about crime victims, however, are more difficult to report and write. Readers don’t want to pity the victim of a crime as much as cheer her on. The reporter can’t ignore the details of the crime, but can’t weigh a story down with them, either. The journalist must get close to the subject to tell a good, true story while also maintaining professional boundaries and trying to be a human being first and reporter second. It’s a most uncomfortable assignment. During eight months of reporting about the life of a student whose father murdered her mother, Kathryn Varn did a lot of things right. The result is a compelling read about a young woman moving forward and carrying her burden along the way.

Staying Strong

Kathryn Varn | The Alligator | October 17, 2014 | 8.5 minutes (2,126 words)

When Oscar de la Renta Told Hillary Clinton Not to Wear Black

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“What’s Senator Clinton wearing?” the designer wants to know. It’s Inauguration Day and De la Renta is in his studio, too busy tweaking his new collection to attend the festivities. He is squinting at Chrissy Haldis, a tall, willowy, and by all accounts mannequin-mute brunette who has served as his house model for the past two collections. She stands rotating in slow circles, sheathed in rare, velvety Uzbekistani fabric that, when hemmed and cut, will become a long coat retailing in the neighborhood of $10,000. In De la Renta’s adjoining office, the inauguration is being broadcast over the Internet—there is Laura Bush, pert and stately in a pearly De la Renta cashmere dress, though the designer is currently concerned about the clothes another client, Hillary Clinton, has chosen for the event.

“She’s wearing black,” someone points out.

De la Renta frowns. “What?”

“It’s a black jacket, and a—”

He cuts her off. “Oh, I always tell Senator Clinton . . .” He pauses delicately. “Well, I mean, I’m sure she looks beautiful. Hillary is a beautiful woman. But I always tell her not to wear black. She looks tough in black”—he tenses his fists and jaw to illustrate his point—“and she is more than just a tough lady. The problem is that everything else she has, every other piece of clothing that’s not black, is mine, and with Mrs. Bush also wearing something of mine today . . . ”

After a moment, De la Renta simply laughs. The designer, who grew up under a dictatorship, seems to find politics most compelling, not as an engine of policy and social change, but as a theater of bombastic personalities kept in line by social formality.

“I’m a nonpartisan voter,” he says with a smile. “I vote for the man, not the party. I voted for Clinton, but I voted for Bush. I also voted for Reagan.” He pauses. “Black! I cannot believe she’s wearing black!”

— From a 2005 profile of Oscar de la Renta in New York magazine. The iconic fashion designer died yesterday at the age of 82.

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Photo: YouTube / Oscar de la Renta Film, Bill Clinton Presidential Library

When the Poor Pay $1,439.28 for an iPad


At Buddy’s, a used 32-gigabyte, early model iPad costs $1,439.28, paid over 72 weeks. An Acer laptop: $1,943.28, in 72 weekly installments. A Maytag washer and dryer: $1,999 over 100 weeks.

Abbott wanted a love seat-sofa combo, and she knew it might rip her budget. But this, she figured, was the cost of being out of options. “You don’t get something like that just to put more burden on yourself,” Abbott said.

Five years into a national economic recovery that has further strained the poor working class, an entire industry has grown around handing them a lifeline to the material rewards of middle-class life. Retailers in the post-Great Recession years have become even more likely to work with customers who don’t have the money upfront, instead offering a widening spectrum of payment plans that ultimately cost far more and add to the burdens of life on the economy’s fringes.

In the Washington Post, Chico Harlan looks at the proliferation of “rent-to-own” stores, which offer low-income Americans the chance to own items they can’t afford to buy outright, but at a much higher price.

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Photo: Steven Snodgrass

The Intersection Between Religion and Mental Health: A Reading List


This week, I’ve compiled four pieces about the intersection of religion, mental illness, safe spaces and alternative caregiving.

“Humanist Caregiving: Do We Need Chaplains or Counselors?” (Walker Bristol, Patheos, October 2014)

Atheist communities at Yale, Harvard and Tufts have chaplains who believe the work they do transcends religion; they provide a safe space for existential exploration. What does it mean to be a humanist chaplain? How does their work differ from social work or therapy?

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‘They Taught Us How To Party, Marlboro Style’


The animation student felt a thrill as he entered the hotel. It grew when, as soon as he unlocked his luxurious room, he caught sight of a not-entirely-unexpected gift—a hamper of complimentary cigarettes and Zippo lighters. His excitement increased further over the next couple of days, filled with seminars and celebrations, and culminating in a party that he described, years later, as “a slice of real-life American Pie.”

“We started off with the bartending competition, and the alcohol was on the house, so all of us started drinking right then,” he told me. “By the time the party ‘started,’ most of us were either halfway drunk or completely drunk.” That was just the beginning. “They”—his hosts—“were going around with bottles of Chivas Regal, picking people up and literally choking them with alcohol.”

That evening, the Parkland Retreat’s plush banquet hall was the venue for a party themed “Gold, White and Black,” and was full of standees and banners adorned with the familiar logo of Marlboro cigarettes, of which the varieties sold in India include Marlboro Golds, Whites and Blacks. “They taught us how to party,” the student said, “Marlboro style.”

The event was a rite of passage for the student and his fellows, who had signed on to be “Marlboro Gold Connectors.” It was all part of a brand ambassador programme launched in 2009 by Philip Morris India, a wholesale trading company and a subsidiary of the global tobacco firm Philip Morris, which works on “fostering and promoting the sale of Marlboro cigarettes in India.” From 2009 until the programme was officially halted this June, the company hired “influencers” between the ages of roughly 18 and 25 to serve as “connectors” for Marlboro. Simply put, they were paid to promote Marlboro’s Gold and Red cigarettes among their friends and peers.

Nikita Saxena, writing for The Caravan, about how Philip Morris India skirted the country’s restrictions on tobacco advertising by enlisting “brand ambassadors.”

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons