Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Critiquing Swenglish Critiques

Somehow I stumbled upon this little gem of a clip. Because apparently I am unable to write things now without help of various forms of media. Some people would argue that this adds something to the blog. A je ne sais quoi if you will. Those people are pretentious jerks who just want to show off their four years of high school French. No one likes those people.

No one likes people who try to show off their English skills by disparaging others, all the while butchering the language they purport to know either.

As a general rule, I don’t watch reality shows. They bother me. Because despite their claims of reality, I end up just being disgusted with people and can’t handle them, which actually might be too close to reality for my taste. Not since Joe Millionaire freshman year of college have I watched a reality show. Then Idol 2009 started in Sweden. And I watched one episode. Then a second. Then remembered why I don’t watch reality shows and stopped watching. I’m stubborn.
Yesterday I ended up seeing a clip with the headline “Till och med en sjuåring klarar det.” Even a seven year old can do it. Well, I like to reaffirm that I am better than a seven year old. So I clicked on through. And I learned something yesterday, I am not better than a seven year old. At least not according to the Swedish Idol judge.

I am not better than a seven year old because I am unable to mime perfectly someone singing a song in a different language. Apparently Swedish school children are incredibly advanced and capable of doing such things. Which was news to me because in the past week I have heard two different Swedes attempt to pronounce unique correctly. It came out as eunuch. Unique and eunuch are two very different things. Although, come to think of a eunuch would be very unique to me.

The critique came after one of the contestants, a non-native Swedish speaker, and non-native-English speaker was said to have butchered the pronunciation of the English language. I didn’t see the performance. Remember, I gave up on reality shows nearly eight years ago. Fine.

But it was here mixing of the languages that just somehow put it over the top for me. Because I speak English flawlessly. And despite what 50 Cent might have you believe it is in fact, “the” not “da.” Our demeaning judge seems confused by all this as she peppers her Swenglish with a misplaced “flawless” (“Kan de lära sig det flawless på engelska...”) as well as the classic “da.” While da might work for my homies back in the hood, most native English speakers capable of enunciating know that a more acceptable version is “the.” T-h. Like “Thufferin Thuccotash,” which is almost the same thing.

And there you have it. The low point of Welcome to Sweden. I have just spent several hundred words of your time critiquing a critique of the Swedish version of American Idol.

Welcome to Sweden. May I suggest reading something better? Try 1000 Awesome Things. I’m partial to #638. Or perhaps some economics from a Harvard professor. Or maybe even some quick hits at Letters to Ira Glass.

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  1. I agree, "reality" shows make me throw up. And sometimes, like with this clip, it makes me laugh at the same time which is just gross. So then I stop watching. And brush my teeth. And swear to never watch one of those shows again.

    EXCEPT this one show, which I just gotta tell you about. It's called "Den stora resan" and it aired on SVT a couple of weeks ago but you can still watch it on SVT Play. Check it out! It's actually fun to watch, for all the right reasons, and it may actually teach you something.

  2. Idol är bara roligt i början när det är galna människor utan självinsikt som försöker sjunga.

  3. It's Sufferin' Succotash. Unless you have a lisp like Sylvester. You don't have a lisp, do you?

    The "th" phonogram is a fricative and it does make a couple sounds (depending on if it's voiced & voiceless). "Da" is not one of those sounds...though when black people say it, it sounds more like, "duh" than "da" to me...despite the fact that people write it out as "da." "A" does make the short u vowel sound sometimes, but never when it's the ending syllable like that, I don't think. Usually when it's followed by a "w," for example. Maybe other times, but I have a headache and can't think. "Th" is a tricky one though. For children, anyway. Sometimes they don't put their tongues forward far enough and they end up making an "f" or "v" sound.

    "The" is special because it does have two pronunciations...and the schwa comes into play, too. IT uses the voiced "th" sound. Before consonants the vowel has a schwa sound so "the" sounds like thə (or *thuh* if you don't know how to read the schwa symbol). Before vowel sounds the vowel has an iy sound like thē.

    Sorry for the phonics lesson.

  4. I didn't understand the Swedish in the video, though the sung English was fine, but if the issue is "th" pronunciation, that's a tricky one for a lot of people. My husband, a Swede who's been in the US for 15 years, said he only recently could make the "th" sound without thinking hard about it.

  5. I used to have a Swedish coworker who always called soup "soap". Result: confusion then hilarity.

    Vaguely related to thufferin' thuccotash, yesterday I read that VI Lenin couldn't pronounce his r's - a bit of a problem for the leader of the Wussian Wevolution.

  6. Help me out here....wht's up with her "flawless"?

  7. Ugh.
    Swedish reality shows that are really carbon copies, atleast a half-assed try of a carbon copy of American/English ones. EMBARRASSING.
    Throw in some half-assed english with the swedish, thus having them doing the whole Swenglish things, even more embarrassing.
    Though I have no doubt that I speak about as awesome Swenglish as Victoria Silverstedt right now, having lived in the US for almost 3 years and little contact with other swedes around here.

    My point being.
    Good god. Reality shows are awful, swedish reality shows are awful and embarrassing.

    and yeah, some things in english are quite the tongue twisters for me, but I can't think of anything at the top of my head right now, my husband needs to get back from his business trip and remind me!

  8. "Which was news to me because in the past week I have heard to [sic] different Swedes attempt to pronounce unique correctly."

    You didn't, perhaps, mean 'two' did you? Since your English is flawless, I figured maybe you intended some meaning beyond my comprehension of the language, which, too, is flawless, or close enough for all practical purposes.

    By the way, nice Sylvester J. Pussycat, Sr. slip-in.

  9. @Robban – Im skeptical, but Ive actually heard a couple of other people talk about that show. Maybe Ill give it a look see online.

    @Scriast – agreed.

    @E – Leth not make fun of otherth.

    Good work on the phonics.

    @Antropóloga – it is tricky. Lots of sounds are tricky. And thats why I was so shocked to hear that 7 year olds in Sweden are capable of perfectly mimicking foreign language songs.

    @robert – I think the Wussian Wevolution was easily the funniest thing I saw today.

    @Andreas – well first it was her mixing of the languages that in context just seemed pompous. But now that I think about it, I think she should have been using flawlessly there as an adverb. It describes how the children learn the song. The answer would be flawlessly. I think. Although I hate adverbs.

    @Mamaya – well the Swedes have to take the blame for Reality shows really when they started Robinson. More commonly known to Americans as Survivor.

    @Bazarov – you know, when I wrote this I knew I was going to make some sort of typo which would end up being commented on. I still didn’t care enough to edit my work. Again, really, there are better things to read.

    Its fixed now though.

  10. "Its fixed now though."


  11. your gunna hav youre work cutt out fer ya if ya plan on editing allz my comments.

  12. as long as commas dont count as grammar. I hate commas.

  13. I should mention that it's not really a reality show in the "traditional" sense, it's maybe more like a documentary series.

  14. I thought MTV was the one to take the blame for starting up shitty reality shows with "REAL LIFE... (insert town/city name)"
    Then the danes? for Big Brother.. or was it the brits?
    Then came Robinson and then a tsunami of other reality shows, invading the tv-space.

  15. Oh yeah.
    I have problems pronouncing/differentiating sue/sew/sow/sewing.
    Those get a bit confusing to me.
    Well, I know what they all mean, but pronouncing them in the right situation gets a little difficult at times and I lose myself.
    Good thing my husband is always around to translate me/correct me etc.

  16. What? She has a point. To sing in English you need to have an acceptable accent in English.

    I'll give you some examples since you can't think of any. :)

    Zara Larsson, 10

    Mimmi Sanden, 11

    Both have a better English pronunciations than Reza.

    And last but not least let's not forget Kevin Borg! Winner of Idol 2009 - an immigrant from Malta who had been living in Sweden for one year when he won.

    And this is how he sounded during the "Swedish" theme:

    And whilst Reza speaks English and only has pronunciation issues Kevin spoke little Swedish at this time.

  17. @Robban - then Im sold.

    @Mamaya - I think the Swedes have to take the blame for making it go mainstream.

    @M - she has a point about pronunciation being important. She does not have a point in saying that seven year olds throughout Sweden can do it and so an adult should have no problem. Languages arent that easy.

  18. that last line about spending several hundred words critiquing a critique had me in stitches!

  19. a meta critique if you will. and I really need to get a different hobby.

  20. Speaking of bad pronunciation, my Brazilian friend always pronounces "beach" like 'b*tch.' That's a little jarring, and some of my Asian family members still can't pronounce Ls or Rs =P It's funny :)

  21. @anonymous - oh the beach to bitch is a classic. and hilarious.

  22. I'd lived here for five years before even attempting to watch the Swedish version of Idol (since it's aired live there are no sub-titles to rely on) and found it to be singularly crappy. Really surprised me given the country's abundance of musical talent. I blogged about it here:

  23. yeah its not something that I can stomach Ive decided.

  24. Since we're all being pretentious about the English language I might add that the word very in "Although, come to think of a eunuch would be very unique to me." is incorrectly used since the status opf uniqueness is binary, including no shades of gray. You can't be very unique for the same reasons you can't be very dead.

  25. If we want to be even more pretentious from "...all such words have undergone semantic development and are used in a number of senses, some of which can be compared by words like more, very, most, absolutely, somewhat, and totally and some of which cannot.
    The earliest meanings of unique when it entered English around the beginning of the 17th century were “single, sole” and “having no equal.” By the mid-19th century unique had developed a wider meaning, “not typical, unusual,” and it is in this wider sense that it is compared: The foliage on the late-blooming plants is more unique than that on the earlier varieties. The comparison of so-called absolutes in senses that are not absolute is standard in all varieties of speech and writing."

  26. @Andreas & @Hairy:
    Yes, Hairy, you thought correctly, she should have said 'flawlessly', since she described how the children learn it (= adverb).
    'Flawless' is an adjective, and adjectives qualify nouns and pronouns, while adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, clauses, sentences and other adverbs.
    To her defense though, it is common in (spoken) American English to incorrectly use (woo, I split an infinitive! I'm so badass!) the adjectival form instead of the adverbial form, so it is quite understandable that she made the same mistake.


  27. Yeah, actually in my speech, I almost always use adjectives instead of adverbs.