How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

More on the languages we don't speak - but are presumed to

Photo by Florian SEROUSSI/Flickr (Creative Commons)


A couple of posts this week have explored the awkward moments when people are presumed to speak (or not speak) a certain language because of how they look, whether they be children of immigrants who don't speak their parents' native tongue, light-skinned Latinos mistaken for non-Latino whites, Filipinos mistaken for Latinos or any other linguistic mistaken-identity case.

The most recent post featured two readers' personal anecdotes and drew a couple of additional comments, including this one from Sylvia Cabus:

I’ve been mistaken for many nationalities, even Brazilian-Japanese, but fellow Filipinos don’t believe I’m from the Philippines.

The language problem is complicated as well because I speak Visayan, not Tagalog, and my Moroccan husband (who looks Latino) and I speak French at home.

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When you're expected to speak a language you don't - or vice versa

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A short post yesterday highlighted a recent essay from a writer who is part Filipina and part German-Irish, but is often presumed to be Latina - and therefore, to speak Spanish. Only that she can't.

Spanish makes her nervous "because I can’t speak it, and I look like I should," author Sabina Murray wrote on The Nervous Breakdown website. "If you speak to me in Spanish, it feels like an invitation to something great that, unfortunately, I can’t accept."

As expected, the post resonated with readers who posted comments about their own experiences with the languages people expect them to speak - or not - based on how they look.

The "or not" is a biggie, too. Take it from yours truly, a native Spanish-speaking Latina who is all too often asked "How did you learn to speak Spanish so well?"

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Pik-sa, pisa or pizza?

Photo by Mr. Ducke/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Pizza (or pik-sa, or pisa) con jalapeños, May 2009

A reader responding to a recent collection of awkward language moments experienced by English learners, or people who were raised by them, has shared a good one: "pik-sa," better known as pizza.

Edith Padilla wrote:

I cannot seem to shake my habit of saying “pik-sa” instead of “pit-za.” I don’t make that mistake with the word mozzarella but pizza is a whole different story.

I've heard that one among Latinos, as well as "pisa," like in the leaning tower of Pisa or the Spanish verb "pisar," meaning to step or tread on. I visited my parents last weekend and shared a "pisa" with them for lunch. A Hawaiian pisa with barbecued chicken, which was quite tasty.

Have an ESL moment to share? Feel free to post anecdotes below.

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