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Language: Myths and Lies

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Language: Myths and Lies

Andrew Ryan

Someone told me recently that Spaniards pronounce “Ibiza” as “Ibitha” and “Barcelona” as “Barthelona” because a King or a Prince at some point in the country’s history had a lisp, and the people of Spain were told to pronounce it like him so he didn’t feel bad about his speech impediment. I was excited about this tantalizing little nugget, so decided to look into it further. Ego changing language, absolute power etc, ohmahgahd, the intrigue! But my first google search on the topic turned up a myriad of Spanish language experts having a bitch about this belief, as it is in fact an urban myth, one of those fun ones where every reacts as I did, doesn’t bother to check it out, and passes it on to their drinking buddies during conversations at the pub.

I’m here to break the cycle, this language fallacy shall spread no further. IT’S NOT TRUE. There is no record of any King or Prince with a lisp, and the pronunciation of certain letters and words change from area to area. Spanish linguists have refuted the myth over and over, and I’m going to trust them more than a story. And so should you. As with the climate change debate, why wouldn’t anybody trust the opinion of someone who has dedicated their lives to learning all they can about one particular field?

There is another myth I want to help sort out in the mind of
westerners: the idea that Eskimo’s have over 100 words for “snow”. They don’t. Not technically anyway… it’s all about word variants, and it’s pretty a complicated explanation, so if you really want to know the details, check out this little fella:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000405.html But to quickly sum it up, it has to do with the fact that these languages have suffixes (postbases) that can be attached to root words that mean different kinds of snow (apparently roughly around the same amount as English- blizzard, slush, drift, snowflake etc) and there are an unlimited number of words that can be created from this process. I barely understand it. It makes me want to study linguistics. Or never look at an article on linguistics ever again. Language is complicated and weird and amazing.

“420” is a good one. I’ve heard so many stories about the origin of the term relating to getting stoned, so with the help of the Internet, the conclusion is thus: It’s not the penal code section for use of marijuana in California. It’s not a police code for marijuana smoking. It’s not the number of chemical compounds in marijuana. It’s not the date of any famous weed smokers’ birthdays or death days. It’s not the best time of the year to plant marijuana seeds. It’s not the number of the hotel room the Grateful Dead always chose to stay in while they were on tour. It is the time of day, after school, that was the most convenient to meet up and get high with your buddies: 4:20pm. Apparently a group of students in the early 70’s (I assume it’s American) picked it and the idea spread. 4:20 today? 4:20 on Friday. 4:20 on Monday. 420. Stoners the world over have adopted it since then, and it’s slipped into all kinds of pop culture. Any reference to the number in laws etc since the 70’s have come from it’s use in pop culture, not the other way around.

I discovered a myth during my research that was brand new to my eyes: that German was nearly the official language of the United States of America, and that English won by only one vote. LIES. To quote the essay I found on the topic, found here:
http://www.watzmann.net/scg/german-by-one-vote.html
“Americans have never had a legally-established official language. The so-called German vote did not take place in 1776, and it had nothing to do with privileging German over English. The legend that it did, which has gone around since at least the 1850s, was spread initially by propagandists celebrating German contributions to American culture. It has since been taken over by those who claim that the English language in the United States is an endangered species. The story of the German Vote is occasionally trotted out by ELA supporters to demonstrate the power of ethnic groups to subvert national unity and to warn Americans that although the German threat to English has been defused, the Spanish one has not.” Oh, it’s a myth steeped in racism? Who’da thunk it?

What have we learnt? Don’t trust pub talk. Don’t trust paranoid stoners. Don’t trust racist Americans. Don’t trust racists at all. Do your own research. I like research. I like language. The end.