Carrie Gillon: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination!
Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa.
Carrie Gillon: And I’m Carrie Gillon. Today, we have a special crossover episode with the Troublesome Terps. That’s a podcast about interpreting and interpreters and issues around that. There’s two Alexes and a Johnathan. There’s Jonathan Downie from Scotland, so he has a Scottish accent. Then there’s Alexander Drechsel, a German living in Brussels. Right? I got that one, right?
Megan Figueroa: Yes. And that was a beautiful pronunciation.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, I don’t know about that, but it wasn’t the worst. Then Alexander Gansmeier who is in Munich. They are all interpreters. We chat about linguistic discrimination and interpreting.
Megan Figueroa: Again, one of those things where Megan just doesn’t go beyond her own experiences and think about how these things might matter – or at least how they might be related to linguistic discrimination. And, of course, they are because it has to do with language.
Carrie Gillon: Wherever there’s language there’s language ideology.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. It’s, I would say, a really dorky hour and half. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Yes, it is very dorky. Charmingly dorky, I think.
Megan Figueroa: Charming. If we’re talking about give and take, there’s a little more take from them and give from us, right?
Carrie Gillon: I think, yeah, they ask us more questions than we ask them, so it’s a little one-sided, and we apologize. But it’s a fun conversation, so we thought our listeners might wanna listen to it as well. Hope you enjoy!
We’d also like to thank our two newest patrons from last month: Anne A. Cook and Christopher Phipps. Thank you so much for supporting us. Just a reminder, we have bonus episodes every month. If you’re interested in hearing those, just support us at the $5.00 level. Thank you!
Alexander Drechsel: I think I have to explain the backstory a little bit to this crossover episode. When did you start with the idea of Vocal fries? How did the whole thing happen? If you could just tell us that in a nutshell, I think that would be interesting.
Carrie Gillon: Well, I’d been encouraged by my husband-slash-our producer to start a podcast. I just couldn’t think of anything interesting. I was like, “Uh, ask a linguist? You can just send in your questions. I dunno.” And then one day I realized, you know, that TEDx talk that I gave on linguistic discrimination is actually really important. Maybe I should try to broaden the number of people who hear this message that linguistic discrimination is bad. So, then I thought, “Okay, a podcast!” And then I was like, “But I can’t do it by myself. That’s boring.” So, I asked Megan, “Hey, Megan, do you wanna join me?” And she said yes so –
Megan Figueroa: Here we are!
Alexander Gansmeier: The rest is history.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. [Laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, because the problem is, I think, that when you start out making a podcast, I think – at least that was the case for me – you think, “Well, is there going to be enough material to keep me going for a while? We’ll probably run out of topics after Episode 3.” And then when you do it, it’s just, “Oh, we should talk about this. And then talk about that afterwards.” You know.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, there’s so many ideas that people keep coming to us – or that we already have in our head that we haven’t had a chance to get to yet. Yeah, there’re unlimited number of episodes we could have.
Alexander Gansmeier: No, I was just gonna say that you guys definitely have the best podcast title, so I think we really need to take a page out of that book.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, good!
Alexander Gansmeier: I love it.
Alexander Drechsel: Who came up with that? Was that one of you?
Alexander Gansmeier: I’m a sucker for pun-y stuff.
Megan Figueroa: So, the “Vocal Fries” or like the –
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, the “Vocal Fries,” yeah.
Alexander Gansmeier: Both, yeah.
Megan Figueroa: And the titles of the episodes?
Alexander Gansmeier: Yes.
Carrie Gillon: Vocal Fries’ name I came up with. But most of the titles Megan comes up with. She’s a better punner than I am.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, that is true. [Laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: Jonathan, we should have a pun battle in this episode. Jonathan is our resident punster.
Jonathan Downie: I do enjoy a good pun, but I also enjoy behaving myself. Although, it depends. I was in a really, really cheeky mood earlier today, so there may be some sarcasm coming. I’m not sure.
Megan Figueroa: But also, who says that punning is bad behavior?
Carrie Gillon: Lots of people. They hate it.
Alexander Drechsel: What’s up with that? I don’t know. I like a good pun.
Megan Figueroa: Me too!
Jonathan Downie: There was a study recently that the ability to pun on the hoof is associated with very high linguistic intelligence. But I also think the ability to do several puns in a row is correlated with the number of black eyes that you get every month. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: My dad can do it. He is the punster. It’s amazing.
Jonathan Downie: I have a big brother, and when my dad was alive, my big brother, my dad, and I used to pun back-to-back for hours to the point where my mum realized this was not a phase that’s ever going to end.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, no.
Jonathan Downie: I did first suggest, when we were looking at titles, I had a great pun title that they wouldn’t let me – because the podcast title I wanted was “Boys in the Booth.”
Carrie Gillon: Oh! I kinda like it.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah!
Jonathan Downie: See?
Alexander Drechsel: But the question is do you spell it with an S or with a “Zee.” That’s the question.
Jonathan Downie: “Zee”? You’re in Europe, Alex.
Alexander Drechsel: With a “Zed,” sorry. [Laughter]
Jonathan Downie: “S” to the Atlantic. Yeah, with a Zed, of course, just to really wind up the people who can’t deal with bad spelling. If you ever want to pay a fun game, write an email to a translator and deliberately do some spelling errors and drop in some Oxford commas. Doesn’t matter what you write, they will write back for, like, three pages. It’s amazing!
Alexander Gansmeier: Honestly, I actually once had a comma mistake in one of my out of office messages, and I literally had a ten-line email from a colleague of mine. She was like, “I usually don’t do this, but I really couldn’t help myself, blah blah blah blah blah.” Like, oh my god.
Carrie Gillon: Over a comma?
Alexander Gansmeier: Over a comma.
Megan Figueroa: That sounds miserable.
Carrie Gillon: Wow.
Alexander Drechsel: This was actually a pretty good segue because I wanted to talk a little bit about the topic of your podcast, the Vocal Fries, which is specifically about linguistic discrimination and how you shouldn’t be an a-hole.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Alexander Drechsel: What are the topics that you’ve covered so far? Just to give people an idea who may have not listened to one of your episodes yet – which they totally should.
Carrie Gillon: Right. Well, our first episode was about vocal fry which –
Alexander Gansmeier: I love it [vocal fry].
Carrie Gillon: Exactly. That was an example of it right there. And how actually a lot of English speakers use it. Probably everybody does to a certain extent. And it’s not actually all that gendered. Men use it, too. But we just don’t notice it in men.
Megan Figueroa: We did grammar so, you know, all the Oxford commas –
Alexander Gansmeier: I need to relisten to that one, apparently.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah!
Carrie Gillon: We didn’t talk about Oxford commas, I don’t think.
Megan Figueroa: We didn’t, no, but –
Jonathan Downie: It’s interesting because I was just looking through your kind of back catalog, as it were, and it’s really interesting to see some of the topics that actually some of them look like a proxy for class and education. The one that really interests me at the moment is – I don’t know if you’re aware of deaf people and their struggle to get their language use recognized as languages.
Alex Drechsel just did an absolutely genius episode on the story of how British Sign Language became a national language of Scotland. It’s really fascinating. When you get people who are what they call “children of deaf adults” who’ve lived in both cultures and their understanding of, you know, why is it that one culture that I live in is validated and allowed and accepted and the other part isn’t, despite the fact that for me they live alongside each other.
It’s fascinating that I know realize that most of what we take as linguistic issues are actually only important because they’re proxies for something else. They’re proxies for race, or for class, or for gender. And when we realize that’s what we’re talking about, we’re not actually talking about language. Suddenly, the debate becomes a lot clearer.
Carrie Gillon: It’s true. That’s a point we keep trying to bring up that, really, this is all about our prejudices that underlie everything. When you attack the language, you’re actually attacking the person.
Megan Figueroa: Right.
Carrie Gillon: But we don’t think we are, so we think we’re safe doing it, but no, that’s what we’re doing. It’s unfair and actually makes you the a-hole.
Jonathan Downie: I mean, it’s interesting because there are times where I’ve had discussions with people saying, “Well, I would expect such and such from a professional.” It’s like, yes, but maybe their professionalism is showing up in slightly different ways. Or for instance, what I would expect from a professional in community interpreting – the sort of language they use, the way they describe their own role, the way they deal with their clients – is entirely different to what I would expect from Alex and European institutions. And yet, a lot of people say, “You’re an interpreter. You should be like this,” where maybe you shouldn’t.
Carrie Gillon: Right, yeah. We always talk about time and place, too – so the context of use. So, if you’re interpreting one-on-one in a more casual setting, then of course you’re gonna end up using more casual language. But if you’re interpreting at the EU, the people talking are probably not using casual language, so you probably shouldn’t be using casual language in your translations either. To me, it just seems obvious. Where are you? What is the context? Is this more likely to be acceptable or less likely to be acceptable?
Megan Figueroa: This conversation always gets me hyped up because I think about like – here I am, hyped up!
Alexander Drechsel: Feel free! Go ahead.
Megan Figueroa: I barely raised my voice, so this how high it’s gonna get – be how I’m gonna get out of vocal frying a little higher. I totally agree about time and place. I know it’s just kind of a thing we have to do to succeed in this world. But I always go back to the whole thing of – what is the professional setting? Who’s defining what’s “professional?” Why do we have to change the way we speak or the way that we sign in that setting?
Carrie Gillon: Well, you shouldn’t. But, for example, if you’re a translator or an interpreter, there are other people involved.
Megan Figueroa: No, for sure. And then not interpreting – like in school settings, right – I can’t bring the language of my home to school without it being like, “Okay, that’s what you speak at home, but here’s how we need you to speak to succeed” kind of thing. But it’s true that when you’re interpreting, of course, you have to – I’m assuming – change to however the flow – or if it’s casual or not. Which must be hard for ya’ll anyway.
Alexander Drechsel: It can be a challenge, yeah.
Megan Figueroa: I imagine that in professional settings, sometimes there’s funny things that happen that aren’t meant to be funny or all these little things that can happen where you’re like, “How am I supposed to be professional right now?” Or maybe you’re not a child like I am.
Alexander Drechsel: I think a typical example would be when you have to translate or interpret someone or something that you don’t agree with or maybe strongly disagree with. Not to name the elephant in the room but –
Jonathan Downie: His name is Nigel. [Laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: That can be a challenge. As a professional, you of course deal with it, but sometimes that can be something that you have to process afterwards or talk to somebody about. And, yeah, it makes it more difficult, definitely.
Megan Figueroa: I was actually thinking about the elephant in the room, and I didn’t wanna say it. It didn’t know if it we were gonna talk about it later or if we weren’t gonna talk about it.
Alexander Gansmeier: He who shall not be named.
Alexander Drechsel: I was referring to blunt, hurt elephant.
Megan Figueroa: Yes, I imagine that is very hard to interpret. You don’t wanna say that crap that he just said or whatever.
Alexander Drechsel: That’s right.
Carrie Gillon: Also, a lot of it is non-sensical, right. You know what he’s alluding to, but he doesn’t actually come out and say it. There’s a Greek word for this that I can’t remember. I’ve been trying to find it. But anyway.
Alexander Drechsel: Oh, yeah?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. For this process of not saying what you’re actually trying to say but letting the listener fill in the gaps. Anyway, he’s a master at that. But if you’re actually trying to translate what he said, it’s often gobbledygook.
Alexander Drechsel: We actually did a whole episode about that with a friend and a college who regularly does interpretation for the news – for TV. There are strategies to cope with that, but yeah, it’s a completely different challenge from what we usually do. That’s right.
Megan Figueroa: That actually brings up something really important, I think, and really offensive that – I’m the only American here, aren’t I?
Alexander Drechsel: Yes. [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: This is all my fault. So, “the leader of my country,” he sometimes switches into Spanish – or he says words from Spanish, terribly. That seems like an interesting interpreting problem or issue. I don’t know. Because there was the whole thing, and it goes into accent discrimination too, where he was in Puerto Rico, and he was like “pUeRtO riCo.” He was doing this really exaggerated, gross, interpretation of a Spanish accent. What do you do with that?
Carrie Gillon: Do you translate the mocking that’s inherent in his speech?
Alexander Drechsel: Good question. Has anybody ever had that? I haven’t.
Alexander Gansmeier: I haven’t had it in a political context, but like, yeah, I’ve had that sort of thing. I don’t wanna really go into it. But, yeah, where they basically just start mocking other people. And I think – I think – this is just me – I think if you wanna do a good job getting the message across and not just doing the word-by-word thing, you have to also do the mocking. Otherwise, you basically lose the meaning of what they’re trying to do. I think in that context, I would try to kind of aid whatever is going on and try to bring it into German as good as possible.
Alexander Drechsel: Imitate it.
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah.
Jonathan Downie: I was explaining to a friend recently that I draw the line between if a speaker is being accidentally offensive, I will pull them out of the muck. If I know they’re doing it deliberately and they’re actually trying to do whatever, and they know they’re being offensive, and they’re doing it themselves, then, okay, I’ll let them wallow in it. But again, it’s a really difficult choice. Because I had a South African speaker once who has a way of speaking and has a way of structuring his talk. For the US, it was perfect. For South Africa, it was perfect. In the UK, you kind of got away with it because they knew who he was and so they expected that. In France, it just would’ve turned everyone off. As a service to him, I took what he was – I realized very quickly what he was trying to do – “How would a French speaker achieve that same aim? Oh, I think they would do it this way.” That’s a judgement call that you can only see if you were right in hindsight.
Alexander Gansmeier: That’s true.
Alexander Drechsel: Well, that’s one question that’s been on my mind for a few minutes now. Because you said – Megan or Carrie, I’m not quite sure – that when people criticize language or accent or whatever, it’s usually not about the language, it’s about the person. I’m wondering, why do people do this? I mean, is there an answer to this question? I don’t know. Have you come closer to answering that question? Why do people think it’s okay? Is it because we used to do it in, presumably, less politically correct times? Do you have a theory about that?
Megan Figueroa: School.
Carrie Gillon: Well, school helps. School is part of the problem. But I don’t think it’s just school. School makes it worse.
Alexander Drechsel: But what do you mean when you say school’s part of the problem?
Carrie Gillon: School teaches you that there’s one correct way to speak your language. Obviously, that is completely false. Even if we just look at the standard dialects, there are many of them in English. There are many – or a few at least – in French, etc., etc., but we pretend that there’s only one. Even setting that aside, I think people actually like to discriminate. I mean, we’re certainly taught to from young – in many different ways. “This person’s different from us because of X. This person’s different from us because of Y.” Then, well, we’re now becoming more aware that it’s actually not okay to discriminate on the basis of certain things anymore.
Megan Figueroa: Like, immutable things, right. It’s not okay to discriminate against immutable things – things you can’t change. Not cool.
Carrie Gillon: You shouldn’t discriminate against – well, okay, I guess there’s some things you should discriminate against. Like, if you’re a Nazi, I’m gonna discriminate against you. Many political opinions, I think, you shouldn’t be discriminated against just because you have that political opinion. You can disagree. We shouldn’t be cutting people out of our lives just for like – I’m not saying all political opinions – but we have lots of gradations of political opinion, and we should be allowed to have them.
Social identities that are not immutable still should be protected. I think about this in this way because I’ve been working with a refugee program here in Phoenix. That’s one of the things they talk about. You can be a refugee because of something that you can’t change but also because it’s something you could change, but you shouldn’t have to, like a political opinion. Anyway, that’s an aside.
So, why is it still okay for many people? I think it’s because discrimination has been okay for a long, long time. It’s only very recently that we’re starting to realize, hey, maybe it’s not okay. I mean, some people always knew. But socially, it’s been acceptable for a long time. Language stays there, I think – because Megan’s right – that’s the part where the staying power of it is probably coming from schools and other institutions.
Megan Figueroa: Again, I think it’s because it isn’t something that’s – like, I can’t change the color of my skin or where I’m from or whatever, but language seems to be this thing that people could change if they just wanted to. Like, “It’s okay if I discriminate against you based on your language because you could fix that.” You don’t have to be speaking that way.
Alexander Drechsel: “Just speak English.”
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. That’s why I think it’s still sticking around too where people are like, “No, no, no. It’s okay that I’m doing this because they could better themselves in this way. It’s easy.”
Carrie Gillon: Even though it’s not always the case that they can.
Megan Figueroa: Right. Or why the f – oops! You don’t curse.
Alexander Drechsel: We’ll just bleep it out. [Laughter]
Jonathan Downie: We have a bleeper.
Megan Figueroa: Why do we want to? Or why the eff should that person have to?
Alexander Gansmeier: Okay. Let’s just take English. Are we talking about Americans learning English in Boston versus somewhere in Arizona, for example, and they discriminate against each other based on where they’re from and the accents that they have? Or do we talk about –
Megan Figueroa: Yeah!
Alexander Gansmeier: Oh, okay, okay.
Megan Figueroa: It could happen.
Carrie Gillon: Anything at any level.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, anything.
Carrie Gillon: So, people do mock the Boston accent. I don’t think anyone mocks the Arizona accent. It’s too –
Alexander Gansmeier: I know that was a poor example. And I honestly just picked Boston because I’m engaged to a Bostonian, so I’ve heard that at times.
Carrie Gillon: No, but it’s real!
Megan Figueroa: “Wicked,” “wicked” – I can’t do it. “Wicked.” I don’t know.
Alexander Gansmeier: I love hearing it. To be honest, I’ve really taken a liking to it. I love it.
Alexander Drechsel: I love it, too! It’s great.
Jonathan Downie: I grew up about 15 miles from Glasgow. My mom is English, my dad is Scottish. At home I was taught the Queen’s English leaning towards RP. Then I go into a school in an ex-industrial town in the west of Scotland and realized that that kind of English is not going to last very long, or I’m gonna have a bruised face every day. But the first question I got asked in primary school was, “Are you a fenian or a proddy?” – “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?”
I think when we realize that language is about an in-group/out-group identity thing, then we start understanding where a lot of this discrimination comes from because it becomes a marker of are you in my group or are you someone else – are you with us or are you with them?
Alexander Drechsel: Especially at school, you wanna be part of the right group, I guess – at least part of one group. But it’s interesting what you said because usually I think – in my experience, it was the other way around that I grew up in a region that has a rather strong accent which has a bad reputation nationwide, shall we say. In school, we all spoke with an accent, I think, even some of the teachers. Then usually what happened was the higher the grade got – so the longer you were in school – I think the softer the accent became, if I’m making sense. Then eventually when you go to college or university, usually you would just get rid of your accent because there were people from other parts of the country, and you would sort of agree on a kind of “standard” variety. But that was always my impression. That doesn’t seem to be the case necessarily.
Alexander Gansmeier: I totally agree because I actually had that same experience in school. I’m from another part in Germany where they also talk in a very strong accent which is also mocked continuously. We’re actually getting subtitles on German national television, which really pisses me off. But that’s a different story.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, wow.
Alexander Drechsel: Sometimes, yeah. That’s true.
Alexander Gansmeier: Sometimes. But I remember, basically, one of my best friends from high school, he came in from a big – like a proper big city in Germany – back into my high school, and I was a country bumpkin back then. That was way back out there in the countryside. He talked proper High German, and people mocked him continuously. They were like, “Oh, do you think you’re better than us? Why do you talk like that?” And that’s just the way that he was raised. He tried to talk our accent, and it did not work at all –
Alexander Drechsel: He just tried to get it right.
Alexander Gansmeier: – for anyone. But, yeah, he got mocked continuously. Then when I actually went to university into the big city, people were mocking me. Well, they weren’t really mocking me, but I was more like a zoo animal, like an exotic person, like, “Ooo, look at him! He actually talks the local accent. How exciting!” It was really strange. For me, it was the same thing. Eventually, when I decided that I wanted to become an interpreter, I was like, I can’t continue talking like this with people being like, “Oh, that’s so cute!” or like, “Where are you from? That sounds adorable.” [Several groans]
So, I was like, okay, I have to get rid of it. But I realized – and this is again going to the point that you were making, Jonathan, about are you with us or are you with them – it depends on the client that I’m talking to, but you can use those accents to like – and this is gonna sound horrible, but I’m gonna say it anyway because I hope that everyone who’s gonna hear this knows what I mean – but you can emotionally manipulate people by using the accent. You can get into the good graces of a client more quicky when you use the same accent.
Alexander Drechsel: I saw you do that during the weekend!
Alexander Gansmeier: I know!
Alexander Drechsel: That’s so funny.
Alexander Gansmeier: Well, it works!
Alexander Drechsel: It totally worked, yeah.
Alexander Gansmeier: It’s not even just about the manipulation thing, but it’s just kinda like, “I see where you are, and I’m there with you” – kinda like a “We’re in this together” thing.
Jonathan Downie: Is it? I mean, I want to get the official linguist view on this. But is it okay when people start using their accent to gain social capital? I’ll give you an example. I turned up to a job once – my favorite boothmate grew up in Edinburgh and has quite a refined accent. She would kill me for saying that. And I grew up in the west. We were doing a job for the Scottish government on deep sea fishing policy, you know, the really exciting topics that we get.
The guy who was running the event came up to us and went, “You’re both Scottish, aren’t you?” We’re like, “Yes.” He said, “I’m so, so glad to have got someone from the Highlands here today.” You know, it’s a big deal. It’s the Highlands – most professional interpreters wouldn’t have freaked out – or at least I hope they wouldn’t have freaked out – about that, what our possession of – in my boothmate’s case a fairly poor Scottish accent; in my case, a fairly west of Scotland accent – her possession of that accent actually granted us social capital. The client was actually glad that we were there and glad that we didn’t sound Queen’s English. Part of me is like, “Well, if identity and accent are going to be so closely tied together, why not let the people who have that accent actually use that for social capital if they possibly can?”
Carrie Gillon: Absolutely. Your accent is your accent. I think you can use it for social capital anytime you need to.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, it’s survival skills, too. Just like you were saying with kids and in school, they know that they want to fit in, so they’ll start talking like their peers. Well, the same thing with this, I think, like Carrie said, it’s your accent. It gets a little weirder if it’s you trying to put on an accent that’s not yours.
Carrie Gillon: Except for the more standard one because everyone kind of adopts that at some point even if it’s not theirs. But if you’re trying to adopt some other region’s accent, it can get a little tricker. Although, that’s what many actors do. But that does seem different – acting does seem different.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Like, you’re in America, it would not be cool if I tried to put on African American English. That’s not cool.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Alexander Drechsel: But that happens, right? I mean, that’s –
Megan Figueroa: I don’t have it natively, but if – because it’s not necessarily the case that all African Americans have African American English or that all African American English speakers are African American. So, I don’t have it but, yeah, it happens all the time that people that don’t have it natively will use it.
Alexander Drechsel: Megan, if you don’t mind me asking, did you grow up with another language than English as a child or from a family background?
Megan Figueroa: Spanish.
Alexander Drechsel: Spanish.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Alexander Drechsel: And Spanish was your, I guess, first or second language?
Megan Figueroa: No. So, I heard it, but my dad didn’t speak it to me specifically because he was worried about in-group/out-group. He was, in Arizona, whipped for speaking Spanish in school. So, he did not want to teach me Spanish because the whole “Go back to Mexico.” Being a brown man, he did not want me to have any of that. I actually didn’t learn Spanish. I mean, I was around it all the time, so I know a little bit of it from just being around it, but, yeah, I wasn’t taught it because of this whole discrimination against Spanish which is actually a proxy for ethnic discrimination against people that are of Mexican descent in Arizona. It happens and is still happening.
Carrie Gillon: And in other regions, too – but mostly Mexico.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, here, they use “Mexican” as a bad word. They could be Guatemalan immigrants or – and everyone’s just “Mexican.”
Jonathan Downie: I mean, it comes to the same thing. There’s a running joke amongst Scottish people that if someone comes up and says, “I love your English accent,” Scottish people go, “Really?” Like, what?
Alexander Gansmeier: “Thank you, I guess.”
Jonathan Downie: I joke with people that if I’m abroad, a lot of people will say, “I love your British” or “English accent.” If I’m in Scotland, outside of the west everyone will say, “It’s great to meet a Glaswegian.” And if I’m in the west of Scotland, they can pinpoint down to the town, down to the part, where I grew up. It’s funny because you don’t realize how specific an accent can be until you’re in an area – and I’m sure it’s the same in Germany that people will go, “Oh, you’re from Aachen,” or “You’re from wherever.” It’s just because this in-group/out-group thing is so granular and so detailed that I’d imagine in Mexico people go “Oh, you’re from there. You’re from there.”
Megan Figueroa: Oh, yeah.
Jonathan Downie: People don’t realize that we’re discriminating against broad brush strokes when actually accent says far more about us than we could possibly imagine.
Megan Figueroa: The whole in-group tensions, they’re real. In Mexico, too, since my dad grew up on this side of the border in Arizona, his Spanish is “not good enough” in Mexico. There’s this whole – “It’s just quite not good enough. You say words that only Mexican Americans would say. We wouldn’t say that here.”
Alexander Drechsel: It’s kind of neither here nor there, which is doubly frustrating, I guess.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. We actually have an episode on this talking about this whole border identity. It’s very, very difficult. I’m sure it happens all over the world in different ways, the border identity, even if it’s not an actual – although borders, they aren’t real. They’re a social construct. [Laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: That’s a whole side rail.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, yeah, these kind of local borders, right.
Alexander Drechsel: What about you, Carrie? Because you grew up in Canada, right?
Carrie Gillon: Mm-hmm.
Alexander Drechsel: And Canada, of course, is famously bilingual – but not the whole country. What’s the TL;DR of that? Or, I guess, what did it mean to you, more specifically? Did it play any role in your childhood when you grew up?
Carrie Gillon: I’m from British Columbia. That’s probably the least French area of Canada – or at least one of the least French areas. I grew up completely monolingual English. But my parents were very – especially my mother – very pro-French. They really wanted us to be bilingual and proper citizens of Canada. But the French immersion – I lived in this really small town called Prince Rupert, which is really close to the Alaska panhandle. That town that I lived in didn’t have French immersion until I was too old. My brother and sister both got to be put in French immersion, so they were functionally bilingual growing up. But it upsets me to this very day that the only one who ended up being a linguist didn’t get that opportunity.
So, yeah, French has this interesting place in Canada. It kinda depends on where you are – what region you’re in – but there’s a lot of antipathy towards French in many areas. Certainly, in British Columbia I saw a lot of it – English only was “better,” blah blah blah. It’s really upsetting when you actually realize how important language is and how all languages are cool and interesting and can help open doors.
Megan Figueroa: I was so talking to you because I assumed that America had like monopoly on being a-holes to other languages. I was like, “No, only America is terrible.”
Carrie Gillon: Every country has this problem.
Alexander Drechsel: It’s everywhere, yeah.
Carrie Gillon: It shows up differently.
Alexander Drechsel: It’s actually similar in Belgium because Belgium is officially, well, trilingual, actually, if you count German as well. I’ve lived here for about 10 years now, and I find it such a shame that they don’t make more use of this bilinguality or trilingualism that they have in school. It’s just so frustrating, especially if you have a somewhat linguistic or language-related background. I completely relate to what you said, Carrie.
Megan Figueroa: Are ya’ll trilingual? All ya’ll?
Alexander Drechsel: That’s a good question, actually. It’s a very good question. Jonathan?
Jonathan Downie: I speak four languages: English, French, Glaswegian, and Nonsense. I’m very slowly adding German, but German is – is that a proper linguistic term – German is hard.
Alexander Drechsel: I think if you ask a translator or an interpreter how many languages they speak, know, whatever, I think they’ll always sort of squirm because they’re so self-aware about what it takes – or that it’s always a question of definition of what it means to know a language, to speak a language, of course, as you know as well because of your linguistic background. I don’t know if I would call myself even bilingual or trilingual – maybe in the sense that I know several languages kinda well. But I don’t know, Alex, what do you think? It’s kind of difficult to say, right, for us. Because we’re so aware of our limitations compared to native speakers, I think.
Alexander Gansmeier: I mean, I guess we’re kind of fumbling around with English, so that’s kind of – [laughter].
Alexander Drechsel: That was a humble brag, right there.
Alexander Gansmeier: No, I thought what Carrie said was really interesting about the whole French thing. I’m just gonna, once again, just put this out there, we don’t have to discuss it, but I think a lot of it has to do with colonialism, particularly when it comes to English and French because I’ve actually experienced it here in Germany with a bunch of French interpreters when they had to interpret a few delegates from Africa. I’m sure that, you know, their accent’s gonna be difficult, and it’s gonna be different – just like for English when you get some guys from Pakistan or India or from China. They all have different accents and that makes it, of course, very challenging. But they made it into – I dunno if that’s what they intended, but it kind of felt like that African accent was less than. Like, their French is less than ours. And I’m like –
Alexander Drechsel: That’s the same with Canadian French, by the way, unfortunately.
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah, and that’s why I had to think of that when you said that, Carrie. Yeah, I feel like that’s oftentimes the case. Or even for English. Oftentimes, when an Indian person comes over – but English is actually their native language – and then people will be like, “Oh, he speaks that weird Indian English,” and I’m like, “That’s his native tongue. What are you talking about?”
Alexander Drechsel: It’s just the way he speaks, exactly.
Carrie Gillon: There’s so much accent discrimination, again, especially foreign accent discrimination. Apparently, at least in English, the accent that is the most – or the “accents” – that are the most discriminated against are Asian accents, like Indian or Chinese or whatever. It’s totally true. I saw it in Canada. I see it here. It’s – yeah.
Megan Figueroa: We see it played out all the time in student evaluations of Chinese professors or Indian professors.
Alexander Gansmeier: There’s actually a colleague in the UK who once did his master’s thesis – I actually meant to contact him before this episode, but I completely forgot, and I’m just now thinking of it, so it’s too late now, but still – he did his master’s thesis on accents. He actually had some evaluations going, I forgot if it was with actual clients or the other students, about just their impression of other languages’ English accents. It was kind of the usual, French is very attractive and makes everything sound very sensual. Italian accents make everything sound very melodic. And then they actually said, they actually ranked the German accent in the English language as the most trustworthy.
Alexander Drechsel: No way!
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah! The listeners were actually saying, “Well, if this person has a German accent, that makes them very trustworthy.” He broke that down into the images of – [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: Alex is like, “No.”
Alexander Gansmeier: He kind of broke it down in his thesis, if I remember correctly, that the listeners equated the accents in English with the image that the country has. It really makes sense like, “Oh, they’re very precise, they’re very thorough – than the average person.” I thought that was very interesting. I mean, I don’t want to try it. I’ve tried long and hard to not have a German accent too much.
Alexander Drechsel: But it shows, once again, that it’s not really about language, it’s about social status, whatever.
Carrie Gillon: It’s all about our perceptions.
Jonathan Downie: I wanted to throw this one back to our actual trained linguists. There’s a very common thing that interpreters say to clients, and that is “Please do your speech in your native language.”
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, thanks for bringing that up.
Jonathan Downie: On the one hand, that sounds like linguistic discrimination because I have met people who, at least on the face of it, and at least in terms of language skills as they would traditionally be tested, they’re able to do the speech in their native language. But I think because interpreters inherently know that language is not just words, language is the impression that you’re creating, we would rather even say to people who say, “Well, I can do it in English, no problem,” if you do it in your native language and let an interpreter than interpret that, you’ll probably come across better.
And I actually – I’m not gonna tell it just now because I wanted to get your view – but I have at least one story from my own career where I’ve seen a company’s sales drop because their representatives came over from Italy and chose to speak in non-native English. When the next company’s Italian representative spoke in Italian and were interpreted, and everyone loved him. It’s kind of knowing, linguistically speaking, is there an allowance in this whole accent discrimination thing to say, well, knowing that that exists, maybe sometimes you should almost – not quite give in to it – but sometimes accept that that’s part of the social scenario and look at ways of just using your native language rather than doing what we would call “non-native speaker” accent?
Carrie Gillon: I think if you’re in the business world, you know that there’s all this discrimination, maybe you should think about that and consider that and use an interpreter to help you get your message across because otherwise you’ll be judged. I don’t think it’s fair, but lots of things in life aren’t fair, and sometimes, especially in business, you just have to work with reality.
Megan Figueroa: And it seems if you are in a place where you’re given or there’s money for interpreters, I mean, I would take advantage of that. I think it also goes back to the whole trustworthiness thing. I mean, whatever it is in our brain that’s like, okay, I trust this person more because they’re not, quote-unquote, “stumbling” over their speech or having all these pauses. Because you might have those if you’re trying to speak your non-native language. I could see why that sales dropping thing actually happened is you’re seeing these people as less trustworthy or you’re not following their message as much maybe.
Carrie Gillon: Also, there could be a feeling of pandering, like “Oh, you’re just speaking my language to make me feel better.” I don’t know so much about English, that might not exist as much in English, but certainly in other languages I get this impression that if you don’t speak perfectly, people are like, “Oh, you’re just pandering.”
Megan Figueroa: It’s like, we call it “hispandering” here, where politicians try to speak Spanish to the Latinos. And it’s like, um, for one thing Latinos in American don’t all speak Spanish. It’s also assuming that they only speak Spanish, we can’t understand the English, or whatever. It’s like, no, some of us don’t speak Spanish. So, we don’t actually understand what you’re saying now. It’s just hispandering.
Carrie Gillon: Also, in the case of right now, the Dreamers – so the people who basically grew up in the United States but were brought here when they were children quote-unquote “illegally” – there’s this idea that they’re all Latino, and they’re not. Some of them are Korean. Some of them are from other countries. So, if you’re speaking in Spanish to the Dreamers, you’re making an assumption that’s completely unfair.
Megan Figueroa: And some of them only speak English, some of them.
Carrie Gillon: Right, of course.
Alexander Drechsel: That’s the whole point also, no? Yeah.
Jonathan Downie: I think it’s one of these things where I’m never sure – I’ve been asked a couple of times. Guys, have you had this where clients have said, “Should I try a bit of French” or “a bit of German”? I’m never sure what the right answer is because, on the one hand, I’m like, you know, I’m sort of glad when someone starts a meeting in Scotland with Gaelic. Thankfully, my usual boothmate speaks Gaelic, so it’s fine. And I think, well, you know, even though I don’t speak Gaelic, it’s nice to hear that.
I think it’s nice sometimes when British people make an attempt at something that isn’t English. Even just say, “Bon jour,” at the start of the meeting. I’ve had clients say, “How do I say, ‘Welcome to Scotland,’ in French?” And I think, well, it’s probably pandering, but it’s making an effort. It’s gonna sound okay, and it is gonna be okay. I’m never sure – because I’ve heard so much from linguists about cultural and linguistic appropriation – and I’m never sure where that line is.
Carrie Gillon: For me, I think, saying a few words in the language is a nice gesture. It’s when you’re doing it too much. So, I don’t know if you guys saw this, but the Prime Minister of Canada, Trudeau, went to India and then wore nothing but Indian clothes the whole time, which was weird. If it was one event, it would’ve been totally fine. It’s been done before. But it was the entire time and there were multiple different outfits. It was his entire family.
Alexander Gansmeier: Maybe he lost his suitcase. [Laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, right, the Prime Minister of Canada.
Alexander Gansmeier: I’m just trying to make excuses. I think he’s cool.
Jonathan Downie: He flew with United.
Carrie Gillon: There are certain things about him that are cool, and there are certain things about him that are less cool. This was very much for pandering. If he had just worn it for one or two events, it would’ve been nice – a nice gesture. But wearing it all the time becomes pandering. I think there is a line between showing that you care and being like, “Ha, look at how awesome I am!”
Alexander Gansmeier: Very true.
Alexander Drechsel: I have another topic that I really wanted to talk about, but I don’t know if it’s maybe too much. You had an episode about pronouns, which I found extremely interesting, because that’s a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot and that we’ve been discussing as well – well, not on the podcast yet, but unofficially, as it were – which is just – I don’t know what the term is, “gender-balanced” language or –
Carrie Gillon: “Non-binary.”
Alexander Drechsel: Oh, “non-binary”? See, that’s the whole thing. I’m really interested in the topic, but I sometimes feel like it’s a bit of a minefield to get into because –
Carrie Gillon: People don’t all agree.
Alexander Drechsel: That’s right. But what I found so nice about your episode was that the person you had on, I think she was quite open about it –
Carrie Gillon: “They.”
Alexander Drechsel: “They.” Sorry. There you go. They were quite open about it and saying, “Well, you make a mistake, and then you can say, ‘Sorry about that,’ and then you fix it, and you keep going.” I think that’s just a very nice approach to the whole topic because it’s so difficult for people to just make that mental switch.
Carrie Gillon: I do think it can be a little tricky. I mean, I use singular they but, in the past, it was always for – like, even if I knew the person’s gender, it was just more like the gender’s not important, so I’m just gonna use that.
Alexander Drechsel: Exactly, yeah.
Carrie Gillon: But I never had used it for an actual person, like, that was their gender, until Kirby.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, really? That was your first time.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. I don’t know what – I mean, I know some other people who call themselves non-binary, but I’ve never referred to them enough for that to come up. Yeah, it is a bit of a shift.
Alexander Gansmeier: I think in English it’s not as hard as it is in other languages. For example, French I would imagine –
Alexander Drechsel: German, for example.
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah, or in German.
Carrie Gillon: I have no idea what you would do in French.
Alexander Gansmeier: Or in German, trust me.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t know German as well as I know –
Alexander Gansmeier: No, but I think in English, I think the “they” is – I try to use it as much as possible because I just find it more inclusive.
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, me too.
Alexander Gansmeier: So, I don’t think that’s a big issue. But in other languages I can really imagine that creates huge problems. I know that in Germany, a colleague of mine and I, we usually try to sort of gender – even Alex and the bar camp that we organized – we try to gender the emails and try to be inclusive and not just – because in Germany, usually you have the generic masculine version. Even if you talk about men and women, you usually just use the male version and that kind of encompasses everyone. We try to gender it. Then we said, well, that’s actually kind of impractical in a way, so we just kind of flipped it –
Alexander Drechsel: Well, we talked about it for a long time, yeah.
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah, exactly. We talked about it for a very long time how we were gonna do it, and then we eventually just decided that we’re just gonna do the generic feminine term for everyone.
Megan Figueroa: I love that.
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah. That felt better. Especially for interpreting where, like, 75% of the people working in the profession are women anyway, so it felt like it made more sense.
Alexander Drechsel: Has it ever come up in interpreting or with colleagues? Was it ever an issue when you were working in the booth, not knowing what to call a person or how to refer to that person?
Jonathan Downie: French has this wonderful pronoun ‘on’ which is kind of like “we, one,” where in Queen’s English you would use the word, “one.” That can just be thrown in. I mean, it’s not something that’s ever come up for me and, to be honest, I might end up just going with people’s names if I possibly can.
It’s one of these things where whatever your views are on the background to that, there has to be an appreciation that language is always in flux. I think this is, again, comes back to our language discrimination point because I think most – especially most monolinguals – imagine language as a static entity and are surprised when they get words that change meaning. I still know people of a certain age, you know, desperately trying to reclaim the word “gay” to mean “happy.” [Laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: Good luck with that.
Jonathan Downie: But if you want to, in that subgroup – and if your subgroup wants that word to mean that – well, the OED in the UK is actually a descriptive dictionary. It allows you to do that. I think there has to be a realization that, actually, even something like the word “translation” or “interpreting,” they mean different things in different subgroups.
Megan Figueroa: Carrie and I talked to someone from Ghana, and “linguist” in Ghana meant “the spokesperson for the king,” right, “the chief.”
Alexander Drechsel: Oh, interesting.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, even “linguist” means something different.
Jonathan Downie: That’s the thing. I know some traditional linguists are very touchy about translators and interpreters being called “linguists” because most of us, if you ask us what “phonetics” are, we think it’s some weird thing that you do when you’re on your mobile phone. It’s a “phone tick.” [Laughter and groans]
Alexander Gansmeier: Here we go with the puns, yes.
Jonathan Downie: You know, morphology is the study of the little plasticine children’s characters. That only works in the UK.
Megan Figueroa: I was gonna say, I don’t know that one.
Jonathan Downie: When we realize that language is in flux and that language is socially determined and the meaning is not defined, it’s actually negotiated – when we realize that stuff, which I think people who speak more than one language begin to get quite quickly, when language changes, we just kind of allow it to happen. It’s just, language changes. That’s what it does.
Carrie Gillon: There’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s so frustrating to have the same arguments over and over and over again about, say, the word “literally” which has meant “to a large amount” or an intensifier for hundreds of years. Since 1706, at least, it has mean that. If you’re trying to force “literally” to only mean “in a literal sense,” [groans exasperatedly]. You’re hundreds of years too late. Stop it.
Megan Figueroa: I wonder, how do you all interpret that? Do you try to see what they mean – if they mean it like “literally” like – uh, yeah, do you have –
Carrie Gillon: An intensifier.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, as an intensifier versus – yeah.
Alexander Gansmeier: Well, I mean, I obviously depends on the context.
Jonathan Downie: No! Please don’t use that line already. That is a cliché in the industry.
Alexander Gansmeier: No, that’s the easy part. No, but usually it’s actually quite clear – or it should be quite clear – from what the –
Carrie Gillon: It’s always clear.
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah, exactly. Even if you can communicate it word-by-word, you still just do it with inflection or something along those lines. You do get it across. But I just wanted to get back to the gender and language thing because I actually listened to another podcast the other day, and it was the – hang on, just let me look this up real quick – the NPR Lost in Translation one on the power of language to shape how we view the world. There was this Russian linguist on there who was talking about – obviously, I forgot her name, naturally.
Alexander Drechsel: We can look it up. That’s all right.
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah, I will. She was taking about her studies in the US, because she came over as a young child, and she actually invented a fake language where they just assigned genders to certain words and said, “Okay, this is gonna be this, and this is gonna be that.” They asked people to describe the nouns and, depending on whether it was a man or a woman, people contributed these sorts of traits to these made-up words. But it was really interesting because, first, they did it with monolingual people who grew up with a gendered language where the words were the opposite gender. And then they did it for people, for example, like with English where it’s just “the chair” and “the couch” and “the table” and that’s it.
Alexander Drechsel: “The bridge” and stuff like that, yeah.
Alexander Gansmeier: Exactly. I thought that was really interesting. I forgot what her point was about people who already speak a gendered language, like Spanish, Italian, or French. For them it was much easier to understand, but I think English people, if I remember correctly, they were quite struggling with the concept of a “female” chair or a “male” bridge. For them, it was just harder to grasp. I’m probably getting it all mixed up and it’s all wrong.
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, no, because you have those associations, I think, if I remember correctly, if you say “le pont,” which is a “masculine bridge,” you would think of a bridge as strong and stable, whereas when you say it’s “die Brücke,” which is feminine, you would think of an architecturally beautiful bridge and stuff like that.
Alexander Gansmeier: Something along those lines, yeah.
Megan Figueroa: Women are both strong and architecturally beautiful.
Alexander Drechsel: It’s wrong on so many levels, right?
Carrie Gillon: Women can push out babies – at least many of us can. That takes a lot of strength. But anyway.
Jonathan Downie: I came to the conclusion after the birth of our first child that women are tougher than any male marine that you could ever come across. Because marines do sleep deprivation training for about a week at a time. Women with a newborn, it’s about a year.
Alexander Drechsel: Good point.
Carrie Gillon: So, the woman’s name is Lera Boroditsky – I think that’s how you pronounce her name.
Alexander Drechsel: That’s right.
Jonathan Downie: I find it fascinating how when linguists do research on associations, they will often use invented languages. And it’s like, you know, there’s a joke in Speculative Grammarian about the only good grammaticality judgement is my grammaticality judgement. I’m a field researcher, so I am a little bit skeptical of lab research. Not in general but often, I think, lab research finds things which maybe it’s just the result of it being in the lab.
But I do wonder, if you were to get monolingual Germans to draw a bridge and talk about bridges, and French people to do the same, would there actually be that much of a difference? Because I think the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which underlies this “Language determines your world,” a lot of linguists are very, very skeptical-stroke-cynical about it. I think it makes far better headlines than it makes good science.
Carrie Gillon: I totally 100% agree. Now, I haven’t seen this particular research, but I am already skeptical of it. [Laughter] She’s done work on this kind of stuff before. I’ve always found it problematic. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s a bizarre way of looking at the world. And, yeah, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is either obviously true in the sense that the language that you use does have some effect on the way that you think. I mean, I think that has to trivially be true. Or else it’s completely determinative which is, to me, completely improbable. Then you can never learn a new concept. You’re trapped in the language you already have. I just – you can let them kind of give their own word for it.
Jonathan Downie: One of the biggest problems for Sapir-Whorf – my translation theory lecturer was a guy called Ian Mason who did our first six weeks on things that people think about translation and interpreting that are absolutely wrong and why they’re wrong. It was really good because it means that you can have better conversations with people. One of the things he said was research into bilingualism suggests that, if Sapir-Whorf is correct, bilinguals have two brains.
But this is the problem and, again, it comes back to language as discrimination – what we think about language. I think monolingual people especially, and even some bilinguals, want Sapir-Whorf to be true because it then gives some foundation to the fact that if you speak with a German accent, we somehow think you’re more cold, calculating, and logical, whereas my experience has been that the Germans that I’ve met have been some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. But no one associates that with being German.
Megan Figueroa: You’re pandering. [Laughter]
Alexander Gansmeier: I just gonna agree with you, Jonathan, because I actually have met some interpreters here in Germany that have French or Italian in their languages. And when they’re late, they’re like, “Oh, I can’t help it. My language is Italian. I just can’t help being late.” And I’m like, oh my god, like, what are you doing? [Groans]
Megan Figueroa: No.
Carrie Gillon: Oh my god.
Megan Figueroa: Although I might try that.
Carrie Gillon: “My Spanish is interfering.”
Alexander Drechsel: “I’m so sorry.”
Jonathan Downie: One of the biggest shocks that people have is when I – they hear my accent – although I still say I don’t have an accent; it’s everyone else who speaks funny – people hear my accent and automatically want to give me alcohol. When I explain that I’m Scottish and teetotal –
Carrie Gillon: Oh, wow.
Jonathan Downie: I’ve gone to translation conferences with people who know about culture and stuff. I say, “I’m a teetotal Scotsman,” and I had one translator say to me, “Do you exist?”
Alexander Gansmeier: “Does not compute.”
Jonathan Downie: Wow, we’re getting really philosophical here. But this is, even in the heads of people who should know better, there is a theory that I read somewhere that everyone is a little bit racist, they’re just not aware of it yet.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, yeah, 100%.
Jonathan Downie: Although I find that massively offensive, and I did one of the tests, and I actually found out that I was whatever the opposite of that was. I slightly, apparently, according to one of the tests, I slightly anti-white discriminate, which was really bizarre. Although that offends me, I can understand where it comes from. Actually, some of the people who give you the worst stereotypes are interpreters. But as one of my colleagues said, that’s because some stereotypes have some truth in them. It’s kinda like, what do you do with it?
Alexander Drechsel: Well, sometimes the stereotypes also help you navigate a situation, just to get a first impression and feel the temperature of the room. But you still have to be open to be proven wrong, hopefully.
Carrie Gillon: Also, stereotypes help you, I think – if you walk into a room and you’re like, “Okay, there’s a bunch of Americans,” then maybe you know how you’re supposed to talk to them versus you walk into a room and it’s full of English people, and you don’t know how you’re supposed to talk to them.
Megan Figueroa: Ow, Carrie, ow.
Carrie Gillon: I just mean –
Jonathan Downie: Loudly.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. I mean, you don’t say, “How do you do,” to a bunch of a Americans. That sounds so bizarre. That’s what I mean. There’s a stereotype of how Americans talk to each other, and I think that’s mostly-ish – well, regionally true or racially true.
Jonathan Downie: By the same token, I wonder if people start feeling like they have to live up to stereotypes. As an interpreter, one of the stereotypes we have is that American speakers speak in a certain way, you know, brash, out-spoken, very self-confident, quite big on the body language. And the weird thing is, is that if you get a couple of speakers from the same area, you sometimes can see people going, “Well, maybe that’s how I’m supposed to speak.”
I wonder if the stereotype becomes a cultural determiner. I was recently reading an article by an Italian interpreter saying, “You know, I’m an Italian, and I can speak quite well if my hands are tied behind my back, thank you.” And I’m like, well, yeah, but there is something about, again, maybe there’s an in-group thing of we see the discrimination, we don’t like it, we don’t like the stereotypes, but if the person in front of us acts like a stereotypical American, and we’re American, we might try and fit in with that subconsciously because that’s what we’ve seen as the archetype.
Megan Figueroa: I think that definitely goes back to just survival skills. It doesn’t even feel like you’re gonna get hurt or anything physically bad is gonna happen to you, but you’re just like, “I need to fit in with my environment.” I think that’s a pretty human thing to do. But, yeah, there’s this stereotype of “American.” I have it too, but when I think of it, I think of a man, always. It’s always a man. [Laughter] Of course, there are a ton of men in America that are overly confident and stick their chest out when they speak and talk really loudly over you –
Alexander Drechsel: We have them, too.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, I was just gonna say, but that’s men everywhere sometimes – stereotyping here.
Carrie Gillon: But I think American culture wants that. It rewards that kind of behavior, so I do think it is more common in the United States than in other countries that have different values. Because in Canada it’s not as prominent, it’s not as looked well upon, to be too confident.
Jonathan Downie: It’s kind of like the stereotype of Canadians of the they say “sorry” after absolutely everything.
Carrie Gillon: Or if you run into someone else, it’s – no, sorry – if someone runs into you, and you apologize. It’s real.
Alexander Drechsel: But the Brits do that – they do that as well. Maybe not in Glasgow.
Jonathan Downie: They do that in Glasgow. You also have – I mean, Scottish and British coexist in weird ways that I won’t go into. But there is a thing of if you’re in the UK and you hold the door open for someone, and then you realize that they’re sightly too far back, and you have to stand waiting –
Alexander Drechsel: That’s so awkward.
Jonathan Downie: Or the other one is who goes first in a queue. “You first,” “Oh, no, no, you,” “No, no, no, really, you.” I’m sure we’ve actually started wars over who needed to go first in the queue. It gets really bad because nowadays with the whole people rethinking gender roles and whatever, if it’s a man in the UK, you open the door for a woman, you’re like, “Am I going to be thanked or slapped? I’m not entirely sure here.” But you should be doing that for everyone. But, again, it’s this – I don’t know how we got onto that – but again –
Alexander Gansmeier: #Tangent.
Jonathan Downie: But I think language exists as part of social context. As my senior PhD supervisor was always, “You know, there’s no such thing as de-contextualized language.” Again, it’s why I’m so skeptical of a lot of lab work on linguistics and, especially sociolinguistics and meaning, because meaning doesn’t exist unless there’s a context for it to take place in.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, some of the lab work that, at least for first language acquisition, I think has actually been very well done.
Megan Figueroa: I was gonna say, hi, I do lab work in first language acquisition.
Alexander Drechsel: Feel free to jump in here, Megan.
Carrie Gillon: But the really old experiment of the wug test, I think that was really well done. You can do it to any child, and they will give you the exact same results. I think lab work can be good.
Alexander Gansmeier: Can we just, for all the listeners, because obviously we don’t totally know what that is, can we just explain –
Alexander Drechsel: What’s the wug test?
Carrie Gillon: You have a picture of a creature. I don’t even know how to describe it.
Megan Figueroa: It looks bird-like.
Carrie Gillon: It’s kind of bird-like, yeah, a big fat bird – very two dimensional.
Alexander Drechsel: Like in Sesame Street?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa: But two dimensional.
Alexander Drechsel: Two dimensional. Okay.
Alexander Gansmeier: What is happening here?
Carrie Gillon: Like when you look at a shape, you know, like a geometric shape that looks like a bird. Anyway, “This is a wug. Now there are two. There are two___?”
Alexander Gansmeier: Wugs.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, the child fills in “wugs.”
Carrie Gillon: Every single time.
Megan Figueroa: We’re like, “Wow! The child knows how to pluralize, yeah!”
Carrie Gillon: So, lab work can be good.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, replicate, right, just to make sure.
Carrie Gillon: Absolutely.
Megan Figueroa: Some lab researchers are garbage, of course, because there’s garbage human beings everywhere and – [laughter].
Alexander Gansmeier: I am in love with you people. I was oddly impressed by the wugs test.
Carrie Gillon: Isn’t it great? It’s so simple! It’s simple but so perfect.
Alexander Gansmeier: And I got it right, too.
Megan Figueroa: Do it with your kids if you have little tiny ones or any kids around – not “any kinds around” there’s some –
Carrie Gillon: That are learning English. But you could do the same thing in your language, too, right. If there’s a pattern of plural, if there’re different plurals, you can test and see –
Megan Figueroa: And they did it with the past tense. Like, “This is a dax” or whatever. What is it? How do you the past tense?
Carrie Gillon: “We” – hm. How would you do the present tense? “We are daxing.”
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “We are daxing. Yesterday we____?”
Alexander Drechsel: “Daxed.”
Megan Figueroa: “Daxed.”
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, okay. I get the idea.
Megan Figueroa: Kids can do that, too.
Jonathan Downie: I think, I mean, I am slightly critical of lab work, but as a field researcher, if we say everything – even labs are social situations. I’m happy when lab people say, “We set up the situation, and it was a constructed social situation,” then I’m like, yeah, okay. I think I’m coming from a background of a lot of lab work in interpreting has assumed that what interpreters are doing is taking purely, if you like, lexical semantic information in Language A and turning it into lexical semantic information in Language B. There’s no reference to intentions. There’s no reference to purpose. There’s no reference to there’s this entire setting around Language A and Language B.
I think this comes back to almost a point that we made right at the beginning is that language is a proxy for a thousand other things. My moto, which is becoming a bit of a cliché, is when I started out as an interpreter, I thought interpreting was language skills with people attached. I’m now convinced that it’s people skills with language attached. Through those eyes I’m beginning to see that, actually, even some of the things that we look at as terminological decisions are actually social decisions. A classic one – I was interpreting with a group of interpreters at a truck factory. My poor German colleagues had spent I don’t know how long memorizing the German for a dumper truck, which being German, has a few syllables in it. And after four days – [laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: Stereotype!
Carrie Gillon: But an accurate one.
Jonathan Downie: After four days of trampling through mud after these trucks in horrendous conditions, at the end of it, the German delegate said, “Oh, we just say ‘die Dumper.’”
Carrie Gillon: Nice!
Jonathan Downie: I’m like, that so is not a terminological thing. That’s a social thing.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, I think we should do some lab research on this. [Laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: Good point.
Alexander Gansmeier: So, the new topic – and I wonder if this is actually a good segue into code-switching because I don’t think what Jonathan was describing was necessarily code-switching. I think that was a just a weird terminological thing for that particular German delegate.
Alexander Drechsel: But he has a PhD, you know. [Laughter]
Alexander Gansmeier: No, but I did wanna pick your guys’ brains on code-switching because I find the concept fascinating, but I don’t think I know enough about it to actually speak intelligently on it.
Carrie Gillon: I think this is Megan’s area.
Alexander Gansmeier: Over to you.
Alexander Drechsel: No pressure, Megan.
Megan Figueroa: So, what Jonathan was talking about was switching one word, right. That wouldn’t be code-switching. That would be borrowing. Code-switching can be at the dialectal level and at a language level. You can switch between, say, Spanish and English, and you’d be code-switching if the interlocuter that you’re speaking with also speaks both Spanish and English. You wouldn’t be code-switching in Spanish and English to a monolingual English speaker.
People that can code-switch, they have such great metalinguistic abilities. We know that about multilinguals anyway. But ya’ll have really great metalinguistic skills. You know what your partner in speech or in sign need and are doing. Speaking in Spanish and English both at the same time, it could be at the sentence level or at a paragraph level. Those are all different kinds of code-switching.
But you could also code-switch dialectically. Say, you have African American English, and you can also speak Southern English without the specific features of African American English. I don’t really know a situation when – can you think of one, Carrie – where someone might wanna use both of those?
Carrie Gillon: Well, there’s so much – they’re more similar than other two American dialects.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, they’re pretty similar.
Carrie Gillon: I would probably just choose Standard American English and, let’s say, African American. You’ll definitely hear people switch between them.
Megan Figueroa: But when you’re throwing in one word or when –
Alexander Gansmeier: That’s why I wasn’t really sure if that was an appropriate – I was actually thinking about it at the very beginning when we got started with the podcast because one of you was saying that we don’t speak in the professional interpreting situation like we would speak to our friends or someone else. So, that’s sort of a code-switching to like – like you’re putting your professional hat on, and that’s your different –
Megan Figueroa: It’s like a register switch.
Carrie Gillon: Code-switching usually means, like, you’re using two languages in the same sentence rather than switching from one situation to another situation. Although some people use it that way. I think the podcast Code Switch, that’s really how they’re using it.
Megan Figueroa: They do, yeah, like, NPR, yeah.
Carrie Gillon: But linguists, our jargon, we mean it usually within a sentence or maybe from one sentence to another, but you’re still speaking to the same person.
Jonathan Downie: Yeah, I mean, there’s a book that I recently read for Linguist List called Speak English or What and it was looking at interpreting in small claims courts in New York City. He was saying that one of the biggest interpreting challenges and procedural challenges there was that the predominant way of using language wasn’t monolingualism for the non-native English speakers. They were predominantly code-switching.
Now, he says traditional interpreting ethics has no room for that. Traditional court set ups have no room for that. The arbitrators in the situation would say, “Well, if you know the English for this, why do you need an interpreter?” Or the interpreters would then do a rendition with the term still in English that they heard in English.
As an interpreter, code-switching is a bit of a nightmare for me because you have to make very quick decisions. If they’ve said it in English, should I then drop it in French in my version? What do I do with this? Especially reading that book it’s made me realize – he had the phrase “code-switching is always motivated.” When you realize that it’s motivated, you then have to think – I’m a professional public speaker as well – if it’s motivated, what are they doing with this in a kind of Gricean term. What are they doing with this word?
Carrie Gillon: Sometimes I think though it’s just that that’s the word they remember first. Sometimes it’s just an access thing.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, and not to say that they don’t have – Carrie’s right, it’s an access thing. It’s not, like, a lack of knowledge thing. I hate when we, a lot of people will talk about code-switching, and they’re like, “Oh, they code-switch because they don’t have that information in that language.” It might be true, but I don’t want that to be the overriding narrative of why people code-switch. I like the access thing much more. Because a lot of people will frame code-switching as a, what is it –
Carrie Gillon: Like “deficiency”?
Megan Figueroa: Deficiency. Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Usually, I mean, I think it could sometimes be a deficiency. Like the word for “smart phone,” maybe you that’s the only one you know is the English one. Sometimes, it’s just a “The English came to my mind first.” Sometimes, it is motivated like, “I wanna make a point.” That makes it even more complicated because what do you do with that.
Megan Figueroa: Or maybe if you have a partner that you’re speaking with that does have the other language as well, maybe you always say a certain phrase in English because it’s just easier in English than in your native language.
Alexander Drechsel: I think for interpreters, it can sometimes be a life saver if you don’t have the right translation or the right term in your target language, but you have to keep moving. You’ll just throw it in in the source language and be done with it.
Jonathan Downie: Also, we use it in our house. My wife is a fluent German speaker, and I have little bits. Sometimes, I will ask her something in what is basically pidgin German when I don’t want our children to understand what I’m asking. Apparently sometimes I get it grammatically correct and other times she says she has to think really hard to work out where I’ve made the mistake. But it’s this idea of we’ve all come across the access problem. We’ve all come across issues. And it’s working out what is it doing here.
Although I know Grice has been massively criticized in places, I think there’s a lot going for the way that he talks about – I mean, the very title of his book is How to Do Things with Words. There’s something about what he was trying to get us to understand, I think, as linguists and as interpreters. Fundamentally that’s what we’re doing and that’s what the people that we’re working with and studying with are doing all the time. They’re not picking words out of a dictionary. They’re making meaning. That’s so important to understand.
Megan Figueroa: It’s interesting that the book called it “code-switching.” You do think that what they were doing was code-switching? It wasn’t actually, in this case, a deficiency issue?
Jonathan Downie: He was very keen to only give the deficiency issue as much ground as the data suggested it was a deficiency.
Megan Figueroa: That’s good.
Jonathan Downie: His argument was that actually their – from what he could tell on from their ordinary, everyday life – they were living in code-switching and code-mixing. His argument was if this is what they’re doing every day, why would court be any different. And he says there are times when the English term for whatever the – you know, if it was a dispute about housing, the English term “rental agreement” might be more accessible than the Spanish or the Turkish or whatever because that’s on the piece of paper they signed.
Carrie Gillon: Exactly.
Jonathan Downie: But on the other hand, there may be a case where they’re just doing that because of disagreeing with the way the interpreter’s interpreting their case. So, they’ll code-mix to clarify, “No, it’s not a this, it’s a that.”
Megan Figueroa: Do you have to be specifically trained to do court?
Jonathan Downie: Yes. Absolutely. You also have to be insane.
Megan Figueroa: I wonder about – because I’m very interested in how court interpretation happens because it’s so important, especially with all the immigration issues that we have in the United States. There’re people that are from Guatemala that speak Indigenous languages that we don’t have anyone that can interpret for them. It’s a really big issue. I wonder if it’s ever happened to ya’ll where you’re supposed to interpret, but someone uses a language that you don’t know. Does that ever happen? Like, maybe you’re interpreting French and then they bring in another one.
Alexander Gansmeier: That happens. Maybe we could actually put you in touch with Judy Jenner who was on our last episode because she does a lot of court interpreting in Las Vegas for English and Spanish.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, yeah!
Alexander Gansmeier: There we go.
Jonathan Downie: She is amazing. But it’s funny because – and this is another thing that I have read – she wrote a book with her twin sister. When I met them in person, it was really strange because – have you ever felt that someone’s voice when they’re writing sounded different to the voice when they were speaking?
Megan Figueroa: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jonathan Downie: It’s really strange. My internal voice of what the Jenner twins sounded like did not sound the way they actually sound. That’s a whole other topic, sorry. We do have a script and we’re – yeah. I was gonna say because, you know, language policy in official languages, it comes into that a little bit with courts trying to say, “You’re in this country. Speak this language.” I’m fascinated by the Quebec case for one reason. Because when I was living in France and I first heard a Québécois person speaking on TV, I literally asked the guy I was staying with, “Why is that American speaking 100-year-old French?”
Carrie Gillon: That’s a good way of putting it.
Alexander Drechsel: But it’s good that you picked up on that because when I heard Québécois for the first time, I didn’t understand a single word. I technically knew French at that point.
Jonathan Downie: It’s this strange thing because, on the one hand, I can understand why, if you are a minoritized group, why fixing language policy would be really important. Because, I mean, there are still tensions in metropolitan France over we don’t want to lose our distinctiveness as the French-speaking people, and so they have the Académie Française. They say things and everyone ignores them.
Alexander Drechsel: Really?
Jonathan Downie: Of course. We’re not gonna say, “la toile d’araignée mondiale.” No one’s ever gonna say that for “world wide web.” But it’s this thing of almost the, if you like, the colonial language policy only makes real political sense if you’re a minority group because then there is turf that is realistically under threat. I mean, if a UK English academy came out, it would be hilarious because the name for it, “UK English,” is UK English speakers.
Carrie Gillon: It definitely has to do with power. If you have all the power, you don’t need to create a bunch of things to save your language. It’s ridiculous.
Jonathan Downie: But yet, they do.
Carrie Gillon: Well, they try. But there’s nothing quite like the French versions.
Megan Figueroa: I know Spanish is pretty terrible too with their academy.
Jonathan Downie: Is there an “Académie Québécois?” Because I would love there to be an Académie Québécois.
Alexander Gansmeier: “Québécoise.”
Carrie Gillon: I don’t there’s – well, maybe there is. I shouldn’t say this. But there are very strong laws about what you’re allowed to put on your menus or on your signage in Quebec. For example, there was a pet shop in Napierville – I probably am pronouncing that wrong. I apologize.
Alexander Drechsel: We’ll fix it in post.
Carrie Gillon: /napiɛvi/? I don’t know. Anyway, Napierville, Quebec. And the episode was literally called /pæstəgɛɪt/. There’s my Canadian accent.
Megan Figueroa: Uh – oh! “Pasta.” I got you.
Carrie Gillon: There is a French language watchdog agency. I don’t know what it’s called. But there’s a parrot in this pet shop. A parrot. And it refused to speak French.
Alexander Gansmeier: Get out.
Carrie Gillon: That was the first one. Then the second one with Pastagate where an Italian restaurant used the word “pasta” instead of translating it into French. I don’t even know what the word for “pasta” is in French.
Alexander Drechsel: “Pâtes.”
Carrie Gillon: They got mad at that. They’re also trying to stop people from saying, “Bonjour, hi,” in Montreal. You just say, “Bonjour.” It’s just like, well, Montreal is really the only truly bilingual city in Canada, at least of the big ones, and you’re trying to make it only French. So – [groans].
Alexander Drechsel: Didn’t you do an episode about swearing in Québécois as well? Or was that another podcast? Am I getting my podcasts mixed up now?
Carrie Gillon: We did an episode on swearing and we included some stuff on Québécois French because it’s so fun.
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, “tabarnak.”
Megan Figueroa: Tabernacle! [Laughter]
Jonathan Downie: See, I would almost expect that to be Utah swearing.
Megan Figueroa: Except they’re not Catholic. Is that a Catholic thing, “tabernacle”?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, but “tabernacle” is just part of Christianity. In fact, I think it’s even part of Judaism, or it should, because I think it’s in the Old Testament.
Jonathan Downie: Yes, it is.
Carrie Gillon: Okay.
Jonathan Downie: But I think this is the thing of that I’m aware sometimes – I mean, I was telling the guys on a previous episode. There was a very recent job where we had a female Irish trade unionist who was speaking in really street English. It was a really funny thing because French trade unionists, as a rule, tend to act and talk like many philosophers, whereas British trade unionists, as a very general stereotype, tend to pride themselves on being guys who are still on the shop floor. Already when you have these two groups in a room, you have a cultural difference with an issue of political ecosystem. This Irish speaker got up and spoke quite street English.
Alexander Gansmeier: Colloquial.
Jonathan Downie: And said, you know, “The way the British government have dealt with such and such is DIS-GUS-TING.” My boothmate did what I thought was a brilliant translation choice, but a French delegate came up to her afterwards and basically said in French, “We don’t say that word here. We say, “scandaleux,” which is like three shades less than “disgusting,” especially the way that she said it.
It was one of these things is we’re always operating in between worlds, and I sometimes forget how important the “official French” is for French speakers, even those who might take them out of the Académie, there’s still a pride and proper, lovely French that’s not necessarily they’re the same for native English speakers. I was reminding myself sometimes that actually the formulation there is as important as the content of what’s said, even if that means thinking of how this would reformulate into their world.
Carrie Gillon: By the way, I found out what the name of the watchdog is.
Alexander Gansmeier: What is it?
Carrie Gillon: It’s “L’Office québécois de la langue française.”
Alexander Drechsel: Oh, okay. Does it have a nice acronym?
Jonathan Downie: “Office”!
Carrie Gillon: Pardon?
Alexander Drechsel: Does it have a nice acronym?
Carrie Gillon: QLF.
Alexander Gansmeier: That’s not sexy.
Jonathan Downie: They use “office” and not “bureau”? Wow.
Alexander Drechsel: Oh, well.
Megan Figueroa: And they’re going after parrots? That’s their job? Are they proud of that?
Alexander Gansmeier: And pasta. [Laughter]
Jonathan Downie: They can change their name to “Parrots and Pasta.” When you first said “parrot,” I thought you said “pirate,” I thought we were going in a completely different direction.
Alexander Gansmeier: I’m just imagining people walking into the office after listening to the podcast and being like, “Are you proud of yourself?” [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: But, on the other hand, it recently allowed “grilled cheese,” “softball,” and “drag queen” to be acceptable French words in Quebec.
Alexander Drechsel: Oh, really?
Alexander Gansmeier: Really? Well, there you go. The essentials.
Jonathan Downie: “Le drag queen” does sound like you would hear it in Paris.
Alexander Gansmeier: But shouldn’t it be “la”?
Alexander Drechsel: “La drag queen,” yeah.
Jonathan Downie: Uh, no, there’s isn’t – [hesitates].
Alexander Drechsel: And we’ll just – with a cigarette in – [imitates a harsh breathing sound]. Just circling back to the stereotypes.
Alexander Gansmeier: But I think on that note on “la drag queen” or “le drag queen” and –
Alexander Drechsel: “La drag queen.”
Alexander Gansmeier: – which one we say where, I think we should probably start wrapping it up because this kind of encapsulates everything from French in Quebec and the gender and different – I think it’s a good time. I was wondering if you guys wanted to maybe just each of you say one little takeaway that you had. It could be comedic, it could fun, it could be nothing, but just one little thing. Because I thought this was a really interesting episode that was all over the place in the best way possible.
Alexander Drechsel: Exactly.
Jonathan Downie: This is gonna take so much out of that.
Alexander Gansmeier: No, I really mean it.
Carrie Gillon: We’re very messy.
Alexander Drechsel: If I can just go first. I had a great time. This was a really great discussion, and it was a discussion that you would have in the pub, I guess, so certainly –
Megan Figueroa: That’s how we like to think of ourselves.
Alexander Drechsel: Exactly. [Laughter] But what I find so great is that there really seems to be a whole scene of language related podcasts. I mean, some have been around for a long time, like The World in Words, for example, which has been around for a long time. It’s just so great to see that there are so many podcasts looking at language from so many different angles. It’s just so great to see when they come together, like you did this crossover episode with the two ladies from Lingthusiasm, with Gretchen and Lauren, which is also a fantastic podcast, a very recent, in, well, linguistics, I guess. You should definitely check that out. That would be my comment.
Megan Figueroa: I forgot – and I knew once – I forgot how important ya’ll are, interpreters. I think about in America the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and how it made it so that you have a right to an interpreter if you don’t speak English. It’s really important. Did I get that right, Carrie? That’s in that Act, right?
Carrie Gillon: I don’t know. Why are you asking me? [Laughter]
Alexander Drechsel: No, no, I think you’re right, Megan. I think you’re right.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. I was like, “I’m saying something so definitively and with so much confidence like a stupid American.”
Alexander Gansmeier: Everybody would’ve totally owned it.
Alexander Drechsel: You just have to own it.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, shout out to the 1965 Civil Rights Act anyway, but I’m pretty sure that’s what – you have a right to an interpreter if you don’t speak English. It’s really important. And it really means a lot to me that – wow, I almost got kind of sad – like compassionate. Sorry. No, but it’s really important work. I know ya’ll are in America doing it – but people like you in America doing it – and you’re doing good work where you are.
Alexander Drechsel: Great things.
Megan Figueroa: What an important and practical thing you’re doing.
Alexander Drechsel: Thank you. We appreciate it.
Jonathan Downie: Thank you for the pandering. Thank you. [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: It’s “terpandering.”
Alexander Gansmeier: Well, I mean, she is wearing a headphone. I feel like that’s very much pandering to what we do on a daily basis.
Jonathan Downie: Although, it should only be on one ear if you’re an interpreter.
Alexander Drechsel: That’s right. But, Carrie, you were gonna say?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, that reminds me. I meant to say this way earlier in the conversation, but I had to look up what “terp” meant.
Alexander Gansmeier: Oh, sorry about that, yeah. It’s lingo – jargon.
Carrie Gillon: It makes total sense once you know, but yeah.
Alexander Gansmeier: It was just “Troublesome Interpreters” was a mouthful.
Carrie Gillon: It totally works. It’s just something we don’t know.
Megan Figueroa: And ya’ll seem to be into alliteration.
Alexander Drechsel: I guess so.
Megan Figueroa: Like “Boys in the Booth.”
Jonathan Downie: They were gonna release an album of the three of us trying to sing.
Alexander Drechsel: I did not know that.
Alexander Gansmeier: Alex, can we edit this out?
Alexander Drechsel: Yeah, we’ll edit this out.
Jonathan Downie: Christmas next year. I think my takeaway from it is – well, I took two things away from it because I can never do one thing.
Alexander Drechsel: There’s always two things with you.
Jonathan Downie: Yeah, there’s always two. One of the things I took away from it is language is weird. And language is probably weird because people are weird. The second thing I took away from it is the language is far more than words and to realize that every day what we’re doing is we’re creating and recreating language – every single day. When we realize that that’s what’s going on every single day is, essentially, exciting and worrying in the same level. I’m just glad to see so many other people looking at language and going, “This is just strange.” There’s a saying that scientific discoveries don’t start with – look, I’ve discovered that they all start with “oops.” If you don’t look at language and go “oops,” you’re probably not looking hard enough.
Megan Figueroa: And sometimes you have to look at it in the lab – I’m just saying.
Alexander Drechsel: Oh, nice! [Laughter]
Jonathan Downie: I did joke recently that the first rule of Field Linguistics Club is that all interesting languages happen near sunny beaches.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, that’s what I did wrong. I did most of my field work in either North Vancouver, which is just across the water from Vancouver, or else –
Alexander Drechsel: Is it actual fields?
Carrie Gillon: I barely count it. I took the C Bus. Or I was in the Arctic.
Alexander Gansmeier: Wow!
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. I went the wrong direction. I should’ve learned some Spanish and gone down to Mexico or something.
Alexander Gansmeier: We’re gonna redo next time.
Jonathan Downie: I did my field work in the south of England and in Bonn in Germany. Germans still think I’m really weird that I love Bonn. Every German –
Alexander Gansmeier: Did you see my face. I was like, oof! I’m sorry to all my colleagues in Bonn. It’s a beautiful city, and I love all of you. At least it’s not Frankfurt.
Alexander Drechsel: Ooh, yes, the dissing.
Alexander Gansmeier: Mic drop.
Alexander Drechsel: Alex, is that your takeaway?
Jonathan Downie: Who doesn’t like a takeaway Frankfurter?
Alexander Drechsel: Exactly.
Alexander Gansmeier: No, actually my takeaway was for everyone who knows me knows that I’m – or everyone who knows me knows that I’m not a very theoretical person. I’m not really into research or stuff like that. I think my master’s ruined me for life because that was the worst experience I’ve ever had writing that thesis.
Alexander Drechsel: That’s a whole other episode right there.
Alexander Gansmeier: Yeah, I know, right? I’m discussing my PTSD. No, but actually, talking to you guys made me really interested in a few of those more theoretical aspects of linguistics. I know Jonathan is probably, like, jumping up and down here.
Alexander Drechsel: Mission accomplished.
Carrie Gillon: What I took away from this is that – I don’t know. I already knew this. There’re so many things that we can talk about with language, with linguistic discrimination, with how we think about the meaning of a sentence and how to translate that into another language, and how that’s not ever going to be exactly 100% because even though I am a very formal linguist – I am all about the math – I still recognize that obviously there’s much more going on when we use language. I just love it all. I am such a language nerd. Thank you for having us on!
Alexander Gansmeier: Thank you for having us on! [Assorted greetings and laughter]
Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio, theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @VocalFriesPod. You can email us at email@example.com.