Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pet Peeves - Language and Ethnicity

For a short while, it looked like Rosetta Stone was going to include both halves of the human race in its language program. But they've gone back to men as the only species that needs to learn other languages.

Proud fathers with graduating sons who will become successes. Learn a language to impress hot babes! And then, for a short time, a family, with dog, to show us how the system works. But then back to brave muscled explorers climbing a sheer cliff in a veldt-like landscape. And, most recently, a hypertestosteroned guy dancing on his desk because he beat out the competition to get the assignment in Japan.

I guess I was primed by the historical excerpts in Scientific American: John Glenn and the future of man in space (1962) and another one about men, I think designing ships that will be more successful than the Titanic from 1912.

So why do I care about Rosetta Stone? It looks like a method that could help me learn Estonian. Reviews are mixed on the existing languages, though. And they don't have Estonian. I guess none of the guys that the guy owners of Rosetta Stone know are interested in Estonian babes.

Daniel Little has a nice article on ethnicity today. For me, this is less a pet peeve than a continuing question, although louts like the Rosetta Stone guys can make it into a pet peeve.

I have loved expressions of various kinds of ethnicity since I was a child. My best friend and I would pretend to be Russian or a sort of generic Eastern/Central European that we found in relatives' stories and fairy tales, plus our own imagination. We picked up kitsch in second-hand stores when we could afford it. And I loved encountering the real thing. I bought a number of things in my first enthusiasms, things made for people living in those places. Do they become kitsch when I bring them home?

I've thought about writing more about my adventures in other countries. But it's very, very hard to write things like that through an American viewpoint that don't condescend to the people and their traditions. Some of it seems worth sharing. But I haven't found a way to do it that I'm comfortable with.

And yeah, I hate most travel writing.

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