Tag Archives: language


We were lucky enough to spend our vacation in Corsica this past week, staying at the lovely villa owned by the family of Al’s cousin’s wife, Camille. She’s French and her grandfather bought the property decades ago (before it was cool, in other words). Not a bad investment!

View from villa of town

View of town, from villa

View from balcony, villa

Another view from balcony of villa

The villa is located in Morsiglia, in Cap Corse, the northern tip of Corsica. This part of the island is known for being rugged, with sweeping views, winding roads, steep hills, and rocky beaches.

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Cows on the beach, Barcaggio

Cows on the beach, Barcaggio

Wind farm

Wind farm

Corsica is an interesting place. It’s a territory of France, even though geographically, it’s closer to the Italian mainland. France has been in charge since 1769 (before that, Corsica was briefly independent, and before that, it was ruled by the Genoese). Although everyone speaks French (seeing as Corsica is, technically, part of France), the island also retains Corsu as its native language, although not many people (i.e., perhaps only 10% of Corsicans) speak Corsu natively anymore, and it is a “potentially endangered language,” according to UNESCO. Corsu, as far as we could tell, is basically Italian with lots of u’s and j’s and h’s. According to our Lonely Planet guide, though, you should never even hint that Corsu sounds pretty much exactly like Italian, because the Corsican people will become deeply offended. The Corsican people, according to our Lonely Planet guide, get deeply offended by many things, including foreigners attempting to speak Corsu to them. (By the way, I’d be willing to hazard a guess that the author of the Lonely Planet guide might have tried to speak Corsu to people and received a blank stare back either because he was butchering the language or because not a lot of people actually speak it.) Anyway, almost everyone we encountered on the island seemed quite friendly and not prickly (although we didn’t attempt any Corsu, just to be safe). Most road signs are in French and Corsu, although we did see a few signs with the French spray-painted over and/or crossed out, which I suppose is some sort of Corsu nationalist statement, although I’m not sure.

Signs in Corsu

Signs in Corsu, with smaller French sign

We spent most of our time in Corsica eating, hiking, sleeping, and lazing on the beach. Pretty great. I especially enjoyed local Corsican cured meat (they’re known for their charcuterie, especially coppa) and sheep’s milk cheese. We also sampled some Corsican wine, some of which is quite good, especially the Muscat. I realized later that drinking three glasses of Muscat a night is probably the equivalent of injecting sugar crystals directly into my blood, which explains why my jeans were tight when I got back to London, but dang, it was tasty.

Domaine Pietri vineyards

Domaine Pietri vineyards

As with any vacation, there were a couple of wrinkles in the trip, including the fact that we were redirected to Milan on the way there because our plane had a crack in its windshield (good job, EasyJet) and the fact that I suffered from a mysterious stomach ailment for half of the trip (but once I recovered, things were great). Overall, though, we had a great time and I’m happy we got to see this beautiful little corner of the world. À vedeci, Corsica!

Charlize Theron and Afrikaans

Charlize Theron is probably the most famous Hollywood actress to come out of South Africa.  But has anyone else ever wondered why she doesn’t have a South African accent? I looked into it and found this interview with her online.

Check out her interesting explanation of why she has an American accent when she speaks English:

AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Charlize, have you had to do a lot of work to lose your South African accent? I’m from Pretoria… and uh…


AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Lekker, lekker, baie lekker…

Praat jy nog ‘n bietjie Afrikaans?


Oh you’re English South African, I don’t like you!

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: I only speak Afrikaans when I don’t want my kids to know what I’m talking about.

Exactly, exactly.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Do you slip back into Afrikaans with your mother?

When I go there, I speak a lot; I speak Afrikaans every single day because my mom lives two minutes away from me. I just feel weird speaking English to her, like I’m playing a character or something. But I definitely do when I go back, Yeah, I come back to Los Angeles an people are like ‘Oh, you were just in South Africa’. Definitely. Yes, I get a little bit of that South African thing going (does awful Afrikaans accent) . But you wouldn’t understand that, broer because you speak English South African.

FRANCINE STOCK: Was that something that just happened or was it for career reasons?

The irony is, South Africans will know this, certain parts of the country are predominantly Afrikaans or predominantly English. I grew up in a predominantly Afrikaans environment where nobody spoke English. So you would have English as a second language at school but if you had Spanish, you don’t go home; you don’t practice it, you’re not talking to people. So my English was actually incredibly poor and so in a way I almost learnt English like an American. I spoke very much like a South African and yeah, I couldn’t do both, I admire people who can go back, I mean also I was much younger too, I think if I was older I probably would’ve hung onto one versus the other. I didn’t really have a voice, as in English South African, it was bizarre, and I didn’t feel like I was losing one for the other because I always just spoke Afrikaans. So English was really a second language for me and I learnt it with an American accent, and then people got really upset, ‘You’re not a South African anymore’.

Did you notice the part when Charlize said “you’re English South African, I don’t like you?”  She was joking, of course, but she was referring to the distinction between the two main white ethnic groups in South Africa: English South Africans and Afrikaners.

English South Africans (or Anglo-Africans) are white people of British descent who live in Sub-Saharan Africa (mostly South Africa) and speak English as their native language.

The term “Afrikaners,” however, refers to all white Afrikaans-speaking people. Many of them are descendants of the Dutch settlers who have been in South Africa since the middle of the 17th century (including the Boers).  However, there are also many South Africans whose families immigrated from all over the world (Italy, Ireland, Portugal) who consider themselves Afrikaner because Afrikaans is their native language. Confusing, eh?

Afrikaans is merely one of the eleven official languages of the country. However, it’s still the majority language of several regions of South Africa, and, according to the 2001 census, the “primary language of the coloured and white communities.”  By the way, “coloured” is one of the four official racial groups recognized in South Africa (along with white, black, and Indian/Asian).

And even in Joburg, you do see signage in Afrikaans and hear it spoken on the radio.

No idea what this means.

I still don’t get the linguistic politics in South Africa, so I’ll probably be writing about Afrikaans again when I have more to say.  Until then, I guess I should memorize these handy phrases:

Praat jy Engels?  (Do you speak English?)

My Afrikaans is sleg. (My Afrikaans is bad)

Suid-Afrika is ‘n wonderlike land.  (South Africa is a wonderful country)