July 24, 2006

Mensaje de los alcaldes [sic]

Because Geoff Pullum and Bill Poser were preoccupied with the problem of characterizing Steve Lonegan, the mayor of Bogota, NJ, who has led the recent objections to Spanish-language McDonald's ads, they failed to tell you something important about the Borough of Bogota's web site. I don't mean the weekend truck rental service, though that is way cool. I'm referring to the helpful little BabelFish panel in the lower left corner of every borough web page. This includes the "Mayors Message" [sic], which is therefore available in (a reasonable approximation to) Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, Portuguese, and (last but not least) Spanish. (The order is a bit odd -- at first I thought it was alphabetic, but French and Italian are out of sequence.)

As a result, the Borough's own web site is far more complicit than the contested McDonald's billboard in helping furriners to get by without learning English. The McDonald's billboard only informs linguist miscreants that "Un frente helado se aproxima. Nuevo café helado." When they actually get in line for that café helado, they're going to have to figure out that it's on the menu as "iced coffee". But with one click on the eBogota web site, we learn that "¡Si usted vive en Bogotá, Nuevo-Jersey usted es vivo en una ciudad que sepa que una parte grande del futuro está haciendo vida conveniente y fácil! Somos re-engineering la manera que nuestra ciudad hace negocio, estamos haciendo un esfuerzo de tener Bogotá en línea y abierto para el negocio 24 x 7." You can already "pre-register" your gato or perro -- and apparently soon you'll be able to transact all your business with the borough on line, in convenient Spanish translation!

Anyhow, there's another small linguistic point here. Because Mayor Lonegan left the apostrophe out of his title, the Fish dutifully renders it as "Mensaje de los alcaldes" -- "Message of the mayors". I could care less about apostrophes, myself, but given the importance of setting a good example for immigrants, I'm tempted to turn this one over to Lynne Truss.

[Update -- Steve from Language Hat writes:

Did you notice that the Spanish version of the Bogota website calls it "Bogotá"? That's pretty funny, because the pronunciation of the NJ town is stressed on the penultimate syllable (as a MetaFilter commenter put it, it rhymes with Abe Vigoda). Furthermore, according to Kelsie Harder's Illustrated Dictionary of Place Names, the town name has nothing to do with the Colombian city but is "from the name of a Dutch family of early settlers, Bogert." (Oddly, the extremely detailed historical section of the Bogota website -- http://www.bogota.nj.us/history/default.asp -- doesn't explain this, saying only "It was at this time that 'Bogota' was beginning to be used as the name of our area of Ridgefield rather than 'Winckelman,'" but the Bogert family does feature prominently in the history.)

Curiouser and curiouser. It's typical of those sly and stubborn Dutch immigrants to try to disguise their linguistic atavisms as Spanish! ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 24, 2006 08:04 AM