The Mock Spanglish of @ElBloombito

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If nothing else, Hurricane Irene leaves us with the legacy of a fine fake-Twitter account, @ElBloombito (aka "Miguel Bloombito"), which takes satirical aim at the Spanish-language announcements that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg appended to the end of his many hurricane-related press conferences. Bloomberg has been working on his Spanish public speaking for years (and has even received intensive tutoring sessions), but his very Bloombergian enunciation was too good a target to pass up for Rachel Figueroa-Levin, the creator of the @ElBloombito Twitter account.

Figueroa-Levin, a self-described "Jewyorican," was interviewed by The New York Observer about her creation. Jewyorican is a nice second-order blend, combining Jew and Nuyorican, the latter of which is already a Spanglish blend of New York and Puerto Rican. (The Observer's headline weirdly mangles it into "Jewryican.") Figueroa-Levin's parody of Bloomberg's Spanish struck a chord over the weekend, and the account currently has about 12,000 followers. Here are some of @ElBloombito's pearls of wisdom:

Muchos trees esta falling downo. No stando under los trees. Que splat!

El hurricano esta mucho worse. No vamos en el street. No es cute! Remaindo where tu are locatedo!

Nueva Yorko will get through el hurricano por que nosotros el besto personas de la earthador.

No walko en el outsido! Mucho dangerouso! Muy agua en la calle. El rapido speed winds que knocko you over.

No looto el bodega. Esta es Nuevo Yorko!

Ay Ay Ay todos things are mucho wet!

Los cans del trasho por favor to turn them back overo. Gracias.

Los offices del la cuidad will be opentado mañana. El commuto el mucho tough y mucho slow. Que crowding!

One could call this jocular style "Mock Spanglish" — or perhaps "Mock Mock Spanish," a label I used five years ago for a somewhat similar satirical undertaking. At the time, Mexican-American comic Paul Saucido had recorded a ringtone for a company called Barrio Mobile in which he imitated a Southern-sounding border agent saying, "I repeat-o, put the oranges down and step away from the telephone-o. I'm deporting you back home-o." Because the ringtone was decontextualized from Saucido's standup act, it was initially (mis)interpreted by many observers (including me) as an offensive exercise in "Mock Spanish," to use the terminology of Jane H. Hill, who has analyzed such pop-cultural examples as "No problemo" and "Hasta la vista, baby" from the Terminator movies. When Saucido was revealed to be the creator of the ringtone, it became clear that this was actually a case of Mock Mock Spanish — a parody of "how people try to phonetically speak when they talk down to you," as Saucido put it.

Compared to a disembodied ringtone, a fake Twitter account like @ElBloombito has a better chance of having its satire hit the mark, especially when Figueroa-Levin's identity was quickly unmasked by The Observer and Time's Newsfeed. The target, Bloomberg's earnest attempt at speaking Spanish, was also readily discernible to anyone who had watched the Mayor's press conferences and cringed at the Spanish portions (even if you have to give him points for trying).

And via commenter Rose Fox, here is Bloomberg's good-natured reply to a question about @ElBloombito:

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28 Comments »

  1. Rose Fox said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

    To his credit, Bloomberg responded with good humor when someone asked him about the account at a press conference. He tweeted about it, too. That Twitter link contains the link to the video of his response.

  2. Bobbie said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

    Reminds me of Adam Sandler's "Opera Man" on "Saturday Night Live."

    Here is a clip of his operatic pseudo-Italiano.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKTcloq8-Io

    [(bgz) In the Observer interview, Figueroa-Levin gives that as one of her inspirations: "I was picturing Adam Sandler’s Operaman when I tweeted 'No looto el bodega. Esta es Nuevo Yorko!' I was singing it in my head."]

  3. languageandhumor said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    I think it's more complicated. It's a parody of a bad Spanish speaker doing a particular kind of presentation. In addition to the "no problem-o" is a play on the hyperbolic style of Spanish-language TV variety shows and radio DJs (the latter parodied by comedian Nick Kroll in his "El Chupacabra" character on "Reno 911" and elsewhere).

    Someone struggling to speak Spanish or just lazily adding "-o" isn't likely to follow the sentence "Muchos trees esta falling downo. No stando under los trees" with "Que splat!" or (from the most recent Twitter posts) follow "Cuidado! Stayo away para los downed linos de power" with "Que Electrocuto! El BUZZZ!"

    That extra layer of Spanish that is itself broad keeps the gag from getting boring after ten seconds.

  4. D said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

    I'm also reminded of Bumblebee Man from The Simpsons, a parody of Mexican slapstick comedy, who often speaks mock-Spanish

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMGnWXJZOn0

  5. KeithB said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    Tommy Smothers also does a great mock spanish routine. (I guess, since I don't speak spanish.)

  6. Emilio Quintana said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

    El alcalde habla un excelente español. Entiendo que la cuenta de twitter es una broma, porque realmente su competencia es espléndida.

  7. Charly said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

    I think that this is a good audio illustration of the necessity of keeping your vowels "long" or "pure" in Spanish, whereas in English unstressed vowels often become schwas. "Seh uhcerrcuh uhn urricin" has the consonants of English, but mangled vowels.

  8. Charly said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

    *consonants of Spanish

  9. alfanje said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

    I'm a native Spanish speaker of the European variety, I understood Bloomberg perfectly and I think he did a good thing. Languages are difficult. Nobody should be laughed at for trying. Anyway, I guess ElBloombito is way beyond that. Actually, I think her tweets are quite enjoyable for the bilingual people.

  10. Ellen K. said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

    What I notice in his Spanish is the accent. He speaks it with the same accent he does in English. Which is more or less the same thing Charly said I think.

  11. Steven said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

    As a native English speaker who grew up and later worked in South America, I think the mayor actually does a nice job. He could work on his pronunciation, though.

  12. parse said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

    Is "Nuyorican" Spanglish? It seems to me that when I hear Puerto Ricans in New York speaking English, they call themselves "Puerto Rican" and when they are speaking Spanish they call themselves "puertorriqueño." Is Spanglish by definition a combination of English and Spanish words, or can it also be a neologism created by bilingual speakers from elements which are English?

  13. Chad Nilep said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 12:30 am

    "Nuyorican" is indeed used by New Yorkers with connections to Puerto Rico as a self-description. On the other hand, many Nuyorican object to the term "Spanglish" as a descriptor for linguistic forms associated with the population (including code switching), since it often has derogatory connotations.

  14. Bernhard said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 1:48 am

    I often wonder why the faculty to imitate an accent (≈ speak phonetically correctly) and to speak a language morphologically / syntactically / semantically / idiomatically /… correctly seem to be so independent – and why the latter has so little impact on people's judgement.

    (This case may be a bit different, as anything beyond the phonetics is probably not Bloomberg's anyway.)

  15. m.m. said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 2:55 am

    wow, his spanish is pretty good for an elderly waspy male xD

  16. Lauren said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 8:25 am

    @m.m.: waspy?

  17. Duncan said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 9:04 am

    @Lauren: Waspy: See wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Anglo-Saxon_Protestant

    Quoting wikipedia's intro:

    White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or WASP is an informal term, often derogatory or disparaging, … closed group … high-status Americans usually of British descent with a Protestant background who supposedly wield disproportionate…power. [U]sually used to indicate … disapproval[, p]eople seldom call themselves WASPs, except humorously… [M]ore generally … long established, high status Americans, often of old money, … Protestant of Northwestern European or Northern European descent (not necessarily of British descent), but it excludes Catholics, Jews, Slavs, Blacks, Hispanics, Mediterranean people, Native Americans, and Asians. [M]ost scholars agree that the caste's influence has waned since the end of World War II, with the growing importance of Catholics, Jews, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians.

    Again wikipedia on origin:

    Historically, "Anglo-Saxon" has been used for centuries to refer to the Anglo Saxon language of the inhabitants of England before 1066, and since the 19th century has been in common use to refer to people of English descent. The "W" and "P" were added in the 1950s to form a witty epithet with an undertone of "waspishness" (which means a person who is easily irritated and quick to take offense).

    Thus WASPy…

  18. Gene Callahan said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    "but it excludes Catholics, Jews, Slavs, Blacks, Hispanics, Mediterranean people, Native Americans, and Asians."

    Duncan, I think Lauren's question was not what "WASP" means, but why someone would call Bloomberg, the son of Jewish immigrants, a WASP!

  19. fermata said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 11:07 am

    Still not getting the WASPy comment. Mayor Bloomberg is Jewish. Not exactly a secret there.

  20. Andy Averill said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    Bloomberg says he's been studying for 9 years — I'm guessing he's only used books and tapes. If he'd worked with a tutor, shouldn't his accent and inflections be much better by now? I actually think getting pronunciation right is more important than vocabulary when learning a foreign tongue.

  21. Leo Daedalus said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

    Bernhard, I, too, wonder about the independence of accent and the rest of language in so many bilinguals or would-be bilinguals. There are many who speak what I call "engineer's [language x]," with an amazing command of the minutiae of the language, and zero sense of the sound (or music) of it. (I always think of black and white reproductions of paintings.)

    In my experience in classes or conversation groups, I very often find often people apparently can't actually hear the difference between, say, a given vowel sound in [language x] and the nearest equivalent in their mother tongue, which they substitute for it. (Again, I think of colorblindness.) In fact, that seems to be the overwhelming rule.

    There's a germane gag from the Britcom "Green Wing", in which one character is trying to teach another how to say "funkay", to no avail. What the funk?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJLdvOszjWw

  22. Sili said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    Still not getting the WASPy comment. Mayor Bloomberg is Jewish. Not exactly a secret there.

    Funny. He doesn't look Jewish.

    I guess this is sorta what it must sound like to Anglophones hearing Danes speaking English. The words are sorta okay but the prosody is so utterly Danish.

  23. J Lee said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

    i dont really think he deserves credit for trying when the try does not include looking over prepared remarks for basic agreement errors nor noticing the syllable-timed intonation.

  24. Jim said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

    "I guess this is sorta what it must sound like to Anglophones hearing Danes speaking English. The words are sorta okay but the prosody is so utterly Danish."

    Danes speaking English sound like stroke victims, and it isn't only the prosody. It can be pretty creepy to get on an SAS flight and hear the danish pilot come over the loudspeaker.

  25. Robert Ayers said,

    September 1, 2011 @ 11:30 pm

    I visited the paper by Jane H. Hill that is linked to. Oh my!

    I am reminded of the psychiatrist joke: He shows various inkblots to a patient. The patient's replies are all of a sexual nature. Doctor: "I think you have a problem." "I have a problem? You're the one showing me the dirty pictures!"

    Ms Hill seems to think that most use of Spanish and Spanish-like words and phrases is racist. I wonder if she thinks that tattoo parlors are making an anti-Polynesian statement and hamburger stands are anti-German.

  26. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    September 2, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

    It's clear he's making an effort, and yes, his pronunciation is terrible, but it's true that he's perfectly understandable. I think he should keep doing what he's doing, and other people should keep laughing at him, and he should keep laughing at himself, because learning a foreign language without laughing at yourself is incredibly nervewracking.

    I talk exactly like he talks sometimes when I'm talking to native Spanish speakers and making fun of people from the US. It never fails to get a laugh.

    An English accent in Spanish is less of an impediment to comprehension than a Spanish accent in English, because Spanish has many fewer phonemes, especially vowels, so not much information is lost. If Bloomberg pronounces "limpieza" as Ilɪmpieisə] instead of [limpiesa], the only real damage to the message is the unwanted [i] (or [j] or [ɪ], but I hear it as [i] in this case) intruding in the last syllable. But in English, "bog", "bag", and "bug" are three substantially different words, as are "hit" and "heat".

  27. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    September 2, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

    Oops, I wrote "llɪmpieisə]" instead of "[lɪmpieisə]". Hopefully my own meaning was not lost.

  28. Chad Nilep said,

    September 5, 2011 @ 3:05 am

    @Robert Ayers
    "Ms Hill" is Dr Jane H. Hill, Regents Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics at the University of Arizona and former President of the American Anthropological Association.

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