Saturday, October 26, 2013

Friend Needs Patience, Not Scorn, When She Gets Lost In Translation!

Dear Tazi:

This is probably going to be the stupidest letter you have ever received, but I am going to write it anyway because something tells me that “El Gatito Negro” knows more Spanish than he lets on! Am I right?

I have a friend who is Latina, who grew up in a very poor area of her country, and who came to this country as a teenager (we are now in our twenties). While her English is quite good, she has a bad habit of pronouncing English words with a Spanish pronunciation – “y” sounds like “j” and “v” like “b” and a few other idiosyncrasies that drive me nuts. The worst is how she pronounces the name of the gelatin dessert, Jell-O. She pronounces it “YAY-o”.

“Élla” loves Jell-O (she is particularly fond of lime, which she calls lemon) and when we go out to eat she will always ask if they serve “lemon yay-o” for dessert. I redden and explain that she would like lime Jell-O, then turn to Ella and give her a critical smile. If she stops in to the grocery store where I work she will ask if we have stocked up on “lemon yay-o” for her. I remind her that we always have plenty of lime Jell-O in stock.

Élla has asked me why I make such a big deal out of how she pronounces her favorite treat, which she has called "yay-o" since she was a very young child, and has asked me how I would manage with the Spanish language. I realize that I would probably make a fool out of myself, but that is why I am always correcting Élla – because I am afraid she is making a fool out of herself. Élla tells me that I am being too sensitive. Am I?

Not A Big Fan Of YAY-o

Dear Not A Big Fan Of YAY-o:

Your letter is not the stupidest I have ever received, but is one of the funniest! Is it possible that Élla grew up in the Dominican Republic, near the Haitian border, where everyone loves Jell-O, but would maybe pronounce it differently than Americans pronounce it (because in Spanish "Jell-O" is geletina and a child would not know how to correctly say "Jell-O") and where limes are called límons? This would explain the cultural gap that you and Élla are experiencing.

You are correct in assuming that I, El Gatito Negro, know much more Spanish than I let on; I spent many a night sitting on my Mommie’s Spanish textbooks and absorbing the lessons within. Soy un gatito muy intelligente y muy guapo! But enough about me…let’s talk about you:

...and my personal love of lime Jell-O

I think you owe Élla an apology of your intolerance for her accented English. English is not an easy language to learn, especially as a teenager or an adult, and the varied regional accents make it all the more difficult to know which pronunciation is right and which is wrong. (For example, how do you say the word “aunt”? Is it “ant” like the bug or “ahhnt” like you are from Boston?). Add in the ever-changing American slang with words like “iight”; the fact that many Americans have terrible grammar and poor spelling habits; and that the English language is itself an amalgam of various languages, and I think Élla should be allowed her little idiosyncrasies. Enjoy them – it is what makes Americans so unique in this world!


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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