« Four once more: 9 September 2013 | Main | Multilingualism »



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John Cowan

1d) I think the written "San" is meant to be the English reduced form of English "St.", pronounced [sən]. (One of the phonetic characteristics of AmE is that it lacks this reduced form.) I think it's just a coincidence that this is the same, to a Spanish ear, as Spanish "San".

3a) I think that because El Madríd de los Austrias is a Spanish proper name, it is given a Spanish pronunciation here, whereas the other uses of Madrid in 6 and 8 are given an English pronunciation. I admit this theory doesn't account for 9.

6a) What was the fuss about? Cafe con leche is not just any old coffee with milk: it is a 50-50 mixture of espresso and scalded milk, similar to café au lait or caffe latte. Wherever there are hispanophones, there is cafe con leche. It's entirely appropriate to use the phrase in an English context.

Anthony Ashworth

I agree on the "café con leche" controversy: it would have been ridiculous to say "a white coffee".

I would be the last to stand up in Ana Botella's defence, but at least the speech was mostly grammatically correct and inteligible and as such was something I suspect the vast majority of those who have criticised her would be incapable of producing.

Anthony Ashworth

I notice also that towards the end of the speech she pronounces the the final d in "prepared" even though the crib sheet does not instruct her to do so.

This means that either her knowledge of English is better than she is being given credit for or - sadly - the crib sheet is not genuine.

Peter Harvey

Thank you both.

John, you may well be right about the San pronunciation.

I take your point about El Madrid de los Austrias being a proper name, and that might account for the pronunciation. However, it is not a proper name that is well known (unlike el Escorial for example) and it is unlikely that any of her non-Spanish audience would recognise it, especially without the name Habsburg. I think she would have done better to say 'the baroque architecture of the old city', avoiding the problem entirely. In that sense she was badly advised, or maybe she ignored the advice she was given.

The same point applies to the café con leche fiasco. White coffee or coffee with milk is indeed not a precise translation, but the Spanish phrase would not have been understood by most of her audience. Why not just say coffee, or even a relaxing drink? Why name a particular way of serving it? That kind of coffee is drunk in Spain but so are many other kinds. And in addition to that there is the curious rising intonation, clearly intentional as the question marks are there in the crib sheet (including the Spanish ¿ at the beginning).

This is getting away from the phonetics, which was my main focus, and is moving into the question of content, which I was trying to avoid in my post as it leads into the political controversy. The speech has been criticised for being light in content and for presenting a banal, clichéd view of Madrid and of Spain; personally I would agree with that and if I had been advising her I would have tried to persuade her to put more meat in it. However, for a variety of reasons Ana Botella is not popular in much of Spain (and especially in Catalonia, where I live) and I see that much of the criticism directed at her is personal and political, using this speech as a peg on which to hang it. Moreover, the question of poor English among Spanish politicians is a hot topic that causes a sense of national embarrassment and this speech has fanned that fire too. I have my own opinions on Ana Botella and her politics but I wish to keep this blog free of any political discussion.

Anthony, the final d in prepared is certainly very interesting. I have read that she does not speak good English and the nature of this performance would seem to confirm that. I can only suppose that it was a mistake in the crib (or an earlier version) and that her direct preparation included and corrected that point. I can find no suggestion that the crib was not genuine.

To summarise from my language point of view:

* The speech was heavily rehearsed. That is obvious even without seeing the crib.

* The vocabulary and syntax of the transcribed speech are good English apart from a few minor errors. It is not Spanglish.

* The pronunciation of many individual sounds was good, better than many Spanish-speakers can manage, but the intonation was poor, especially in the café con leche sentences.

* It was a mistake to use Spanish proper names when they could easily have been avoided.

* The physical presentation was distracting in its gestures and in her exaggerated facial expressions.

* She should have spoken as she normally does in Spanish and relied on the simultaneous interpreters, which would have provoked no comment at all.

John Cowan

I don't wish to become political either, and I am deliberately remaining ignorant of the political part of the controversy. But I can without working too hard imagine the Mayor of New York giving a welcoming speech in a language other than English (perhaps not the current mayor, though he did speak Mandarin — briefly and not very well — in a 2005 campaign commercial). If so, it would be quite reasonable to mention a neighborhood by name, even one that is not particularly well-known. By the same token, a mayor of an Italian city might say "While you are here, enjoy a plate of vermicelli"; even if you don't know what vermicelli are, part of the point of coming to the city would be to find out! Just smearing it into "our neighborhood" or "our pasta" would lose the useful specificity.

Peter Harvey

The English names of the districts of New York will be well known to the cosmopolitan IOC members but the Spanish names of districts of Madrid are not. I suggested a description, the baroque architecture of the old city, which tells the listeners more than a Spanish name that they probably won't understand. In a similar situation in Barcelona I would advise against the Barri Gòtic and suggest the Gothic quarter or the medieval city as being more appropriate.

As for the coffee, it is not as if café con leche is particularly Spanish, let alone from Madrid specifically. It is drunk at breakfast but during the day most people who want to relax in a bar drink espresso or a cortado (espresso with a little milk). If she wanted to say something that really is typically Spanish she could have said tapas, which do have an international reputation. It may be (and I am guessing) that she likes café con leche herself and is the kind of person who assumes that everyone else shares her own tastes.

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