Thursday 21 June 2018

My name is potato

Last week it was a shoe and today it’s the humble potato.

The beauty of the Facebook newsfeed is that the stories everyone is talking are delivered straight to your screen, which is why this morning I woke up and quickly learned that a video featuring a young Maltese potato farmer speaking earnestly about his passion for this innocuous vegetable has gone viral.

For those who have not yet seen it, here it is


The humour, of course, lies in his broken English (“I have potato in my blood”) and the inevitable controversy is heating up between those who are in hysterics and those who are cringing with embarrassment because of the “he is representing Malta and what will they think of us” school of thought. Others are defending him and making it about the usual socio-educational snobbery which always raises its head when the issue of language comes up.

Personally, I found him sweetly endearing and I feel almost protective of his gallant efforts to communicate in what is obviously not his first language. My first thought was, why didn’t he just speak in Maltese in the first place, seeing the documentary carried subtitles (which incidentally are also filled with grammatical and spelling mistakes)?  The answer is probably that he felt confident that his English was good enough for the documentary.  Of course, this is not going to stop anyone from laughing at him, in much the same way that the Brits laugh at their own compatriots who massacre the language with their “innit” and Americans from laughing at someone who says “y’all” and speaks with a southern drawl.

Every country has its targets for humour, and much of it is derived from badly pronounced words and painful (to our ears) accents. It is the stuff which comedy skits and parodies are made of.

The difference in Malta, I think, is that we are mortified when foreigners immortalize our broken English by recording it and putting it “out there” where anyone can listen to it. Many people break out into a cold sweat because they do not want that slice of Malta to portray them; they agonise that other nationalities are poking fun of the whole country, lumping us all into the same basket with the blanket assumption that “that is how the Maltese speak”.

We really need to relax about this.

The young potato farmer did his valiant best, and yes that is the way he speaks. However, anyone with ears which are attuned to language will tell you that the range of accents/pronunciation/syntax when Maltese people speak English fluctuates so wildly that to a native English speaker, it is immediately obvious that it is our second language. I suppose this is galling to those who presume that their accent is flawless and that they could “pass for being British” but there you go.

In any case, with the advent of cable TV and American programmes, the British accent has now been watered down so much that most of the younger generation don’t even pronounce their vowels in the same way as their parents do (much to the parents’ horror).  How do you, for example, pronounce the word ‘last’?

As for our potato loving farmer, he has now become famous, and like Chiara’s zarbun everyone is talking about him. And just like the word ‘zarbun’ (shoe) juxtaposed into English lyrics is ridiculously funny, the farmer waxing lyrical about a potato also made me laugh.

It’s only when the ‘humour’ is twisted into cruel, personal jibes about the people themselves that it stops being entertaining.








Powered by