Latin American, Germanic American?

Latin American, Germanic American?

There is, of course, such a label as Latin American. This applies mainly to Spanish speakers of the Americas, and is supposed to include Portuguese speakers (although Brazilians consider themselves Brazilians and South Americans, not necessarily Latin Americans or Latinos). The label can but does not usually include speakers of French, also a Latin/Italic/Romance language.* So Latin American really should be Iberian American, but is usually a synonym for Hispanic American…

There are, however, no regional labels such as English/Anglo American and Dutch American, or to combine the two, Germanic American (which would include Danish American as well unless specified as West Germanic) to cover the “English-speaking Americas” or non-Latin American territories. But since English and Dutch are less mutually intelligible than Portuguese and Spanish are (and have different shared histories), Germanic American is not a particularly useful term. (In the United States of American (USA), it applies to the German-speaking peoples of Minnesota.) And it is hard to find a map of “Germanic America”.

So, focusing on English American or Anglo American, why is neither term used to embrace all speakers of English of the Americas? For English-speaking citizens of the Americas (and elsewhere), maybe this is because:

  1. American is narrowed to mean someone from the USA, or “United Statian”;
  2. American being the default word for United Statian, English American would mean a United Statian who speaks English, or more likely a hyphenated United Statian of English origin;
  3. English American might be extended to mean United Statian and Canadian, for some;
  4. There is no unity among English(-speaking) Americans of the Americas.

English speaking Americas

Map of Anglo America

With regard to points 3 and 4, it is clear that English-speaking citizens of the Americas from the Caribbean are (usually) systematically excluded from Anglo America, at least in the last two centuries. Again, another “Why?”

This exclusion appears to be more because of the ethnic composition or balance of the English-official Caribbean, and less because of the sociolinguistic complexities of the English-official Caribbean. In fact, the peoples of the Americas and their histories are remarkably similar, with the very same elements comprising different populations with different ratios of those elements. Maybe this all has to do with what history is taught and how it is taught.

Here we can claim as many languages as we want to, including Creole languages, yet still be native English speakers, whether monolingual, bilingual, varilingual or multilingual. Yes, native – Kachru and company need to do some rethinking, lumping us as they do into so-called “norm-developing” nations (“norm-changing” might be a better label because there have always been norms). This is not to even mention the tomes on the history of English that regularly leave out all English-official Caribbean territories from discussions on English language history. Too many of those tomes make us strictly English Creole-speaking (further lumping us all under Jamaican), denying the complexity of our history and status. David Crystal has a better view of the Englishes of the world.

If I told you I spoke Spanish, would you ask me if I spoke a creole?

To illustrate this typical exclusionary stance, here are some typical comments and/or questions English-speaking Caribbean people are usually faced with when travelling elsewhere in the Americas (see also Hannah Sammy’s blogpost on “Going to the 1st World”). The more quick-witted among us typically respond tongue-in-cheek – real sample answers are provided below.
***

Typical Comment 1:  

You speak English so well!” (tone of surprise)

Assorted Responses:  

  1. “Yes. I learned English coming over on the boat.”
  2. “Thanks. I learned English from the Englishman in the mango tree next to mine.”
  3. “Of course. I learned English in the airport – I’m a genius like that. I do that with all languages.”

***

iloveyouraccent_fullpic_1

Typical Comment 2:  

“You have an accent. I like it!” (tone of admiration)

Response:

“So do you – I like yours too!”

Reaction:

“What?? I don’t have an accent!”

N.B. Euro-West Indians often get, “You speak with a “black” accent.” And for Trinis and others, there are the comparisons with Jamaican accents, British accents (especially Welsh), Indian accents, South African accents…

***

Typical Question:

“What language do you speak?” (tone of curiosity)

Response:

“English.”

Questioner continues:

“No, but what language do you really speak?

Patient response:

“Er, English. What I’m speaking to you now.”

Questioner insists:

“No, but you must have a native language, like, a bush language, or a creole language!”

Issues of Identity

Repeating “English” is often followed by some sort of pitying and condescending look, as if to say, poor soul: s/he doesn’t even know what they speak, their accent is so wrong, and they so desperately “want to be” (yes, got that too) identified with us, the real speakers of English. Of course, when this kind of question is asked by someone from a country in the Americas that was (or had) a former colony of England and/or Britain (whence cometh English), it gets even more annoying. Most of us have an Independence Day, after all, some just earlier than others.

This blogging blagger has even got, “What is your substrate?” – from a sociolinguistics student, of course!

This blogging blagger has also been introduced as: “This is so-and-so. She speaks English, but it’s a different dialect with a different accent.” Er, different from? Ah yes, the majority of “Anglo Americans.” But does ANYONE EVER introduce the Welsh or New Zealanders, for example, like this to others?

People should be able to identify themselves as they wish – why challenge someone’s self-identification without having lived in their space or in their shoes or done any objective, genuine, field research? Plus open ended questions are so much nicer than answers and presumptions and assumptions (“politely”) framed as questions.

Wannabes and Non-Wannabes

In the eyes and ears of many yonder, English must obviously be an impossibly difficult and unattainable language for a Caribbean person to learn. There seem to be strange notions of “purity” when it comes to language, not to mention ethnicity (to avoid saying “race” as there is only one race, after all). A Creole language, on the other hand, must be a ridiculously easy language to learn (being seen as a lazy and laidback mish-mash of foreign things, like its speakers), and so a natural language for most non-Hispanic Caribbean people.

Of course, in the Americas, Creole languages are not unique to the English- and French-official Caribbean – the USA has three Creole languages.

Now, if a Caribbean person speaking English responded, “I speak Spanish,” would s/he be asked if they spoke a creole? No. It would be considered a good answer, with no further probing necessary. So Spanish must either be a very easy language or foreign enough (and clearly at the root of the oddity of a Caribbean English accent).

Nobody would doubt us if we said we spoke Spanish, except, of course, Spanish speakers. The latter know who belongs to the Hispanophone world, comprising 21 countries with over 4oo million people, mostly in the Americas. Anglophones do not appear to know who belongs to their world. (Ok, so knowing all 94 territories where English is official, co-official or national – with over 300 million people – might present a bit of a challenge, with quite a few being relatively small states overshadowed by much larger ones, in territorial size and population.)

Spanish also seems to be the language of those who are non-Afro, non-Indo and non-Euro-West Indian, that is, the language of mixed heritage peoples. On top of being accused, by English speakers, of not being (or of being wannabe) English speakers, “Mixed” West Indians are often assumed, this time by Hispanic Americans and others, to be Hispanic. They are then accused of denying their roots when they don’t speak Spanish (or of being non-wannabes)! This is because to North American and/or Latin American eyes, the Caribbean is obviously some kind of extension of Africa. Pity the poor Sino, Nipo, Arab, Jewish, Euro or Indo-West Indian, who just can’t fit into a stereotypical pre-defined box….

So, it seems that the only native English-speaking Anglo Americans are from North America (which happens to include Mexico, Greenland, Central America and a number of, but not all, Caribbean islands). Forget the West Indies (which happens to include Belize and Guyana, the former kind of fitting into Latin America as well; parts of Honduras and Nicaragua might have ended up in the West Indies too).

This, of course, does not help matters of translation concerning works on the flora, fauna and cuisine, for example, of the tropical part of Brazil. (Perhaps there are too few accessible (print or digital) multilingual dictionaries on these phenomena.) Such works are often translated into North American English, instead of into South American English. The latter comprises English from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago (which was also once Latin American). So-called tropical and Amazonian Portuguese (or French or Spanish) should be translated into tropical and Amazonian English.

By way of example, the translators of one Brazilian bilingual cookbook, in trying to translate the Portuguese word tucupi into Englishgave a long paragraph-length explanation, but no equivalent English word. This is good and helpful, but they appeared not to know the closest English equivalent, namely, cassareep, used extensively in neighbouring Guyana (and known beyond the shores of Guyana). These cassava by-products look very different but can be used for very similar purposes. The intended audience was probably much further north, but knowing the vastness of Anglo America, a space not limited to North America, would surely have helped regionalism, at least.

As to what constitutes English, if pomegranate is an English word, so are pommerac and pommecythere. But that is another story.

Ironically, if there were meetings of English-speaking nations of the Americas, or of “Anglo America”, the greatest number of flags around that table would be Caribbean/Antillean/West Indian. Of the English-speaking nations of the Americas, TWENTY-ONE out of 23 are Caribbean, including 13 sovereign nations and 8 colonies (5 British, two American and 1 Dutch). But our populations are small – only about 6.5 million (10.5 including bilingual Puerto Rico); we don’t shape policy with Big Sticks or the like; we’re just nice, “exotic” tourist spots (and so we probably had to learn English to welcome the tourists while we try to make a living); in short, we are not taken seriously. About anything.

It is also worth noting that the biggest countries of Anglo America are quite Latin (the USA is the world’s fifth largest Spanish-speaking country, and New Mexico and Louisiana are de facto bilingual, and of course, Canada is officially bilingual in English and French).

Peter Roberts’ The Roots of Caribbean Identity: Language, Race and Ecology offers some interesting insights into Caribbean identity. Salikoko Mufwene has a number of interesting articles on English of the Americas.

Stop the discrimination.

*(French/Franco American is not really used in English, but is in French, at least historically. In English, the listener or reader would think of this as meaning someone born in the USA with French ancestry.)

4 thoughts on “Latin American, Germanic American?

  1. The issue is that the portuguese and hispanic america don’t share almost any culture at all, other than a type of TV show that are telenovelas, and also one comedic show called El Chavo, both produced by mexico and kinda beloved by the great majority of brazilians. But besides these two TV shows it is impossible to find any other cultural similarities.
    The similarities just end up being the fact we are in the same language family. Like Suriname with Greenland, with Falklands, etc.

    By the way, “iberian america” would make even less sense…

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