I spy… Black Soup and Pierogi

In The Economist, 26-2nd December, 2016

At a time when immigration is a world crisis, it is interesting to read a retroactive immigration account and analyse its stance.

Summary of article:

The town of Áurea in the northern part of Rio Grande do Sul was founded in 1906 and is dubbed as the “Polish capital of Brazilians”.  90% of its 4,000 are residents from central- European descent. However, ties to the European countries of origin are weakening, and with them so does the use of language, although Polish can still be overheard on the street.

(You can read the entire article here)

The articles raises the issue of identity:

“Despite appearances, Aurea’s inhabitants are as Brazilian as members of other groups that make up the country’s ethnic mishmash.”

Using the simile (as+adjective+as) does not give information about how other ethnic groups are perceived by the dominant ethnic group in Brazil.

Note the borrowing of the word mishmash – this is a Hebrew/Arabic word to mean mix. When seemingly neutral words can be perceived with negative (or positive) associations through frequent occurrences with particular collocations we say that the semantic prosody is negative. This can be verified using a corpus. For this mini analysis I used CQPWeb, Lancaster’s online corpora database. (You can try it yourself, all you have to do is create an account. Note that some institutions will have a broader access than others). I used the British National Corpus (BNC) and looked up mishmash as my node, i.e., my key phrase. Here’s what I got:


The blue word in the center is my node and each line is termed a concordance. I’ve narrowed down the search for the most frequent collocates (words that frequently go together with mishmash) -5 Left, +5R: looking at the context around the node of 5 words in each direction: article a, and of.  What we then see is a general negative use around this phrase:

this mishmash of bogus antiquity

a mishmash of tired cliches

invariant mishmash of self-righteous resentment

The description of the town is also interesting to note, especially the way it is evoked through stereotypes and attempts to authenticate the residents as much as possible:

“It is the Slavic personality that comes through at first. The children tumbling out of school are mostly fair-haired. Wheat and thickets of pine cover the surrounding hills.”

“It hosts an annual czernina festival; last year 1,000 people came to savour the black soup thickened with duck blood.”

Similarly to media reportings on animals (see Pigasso) and colonial natives, immigrants are often portrayed as 2nd grade citizens. In order to make the article worth while to the reader and in line with their expectations of foreign communities, immigrants’ stories often resort to traditional identity acts. A few examples include bullfighting in Spain, ‘fun’ visits to London Dungeon, and… eating blood soup.

Another linguistic element to note here is Slavic personality. Wouldn’t you agree that this is a strange combination? We don’t often see a nationality modifying the noun personality. To corroborate this hunch, I ran a query on CQPWeb’s BNC and could not find any other nationality that collocated with personality.

Additionally, there is a trend throughout the article to interchange central- Europe with Poland. We can demonstrate this through a simply lexical chain analysis, after Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics framework:

(Áurea) Polish capital – Slavic personality – Polishness

(Residents) – central-European – as Brazilian as members of other groups – Poles

While Slavic countries share many traditions and characteristics, their populations are not homogeneous. The negotiation of national and individual identity is an ongoing, complex process that we must not delimit to stereotypes.

The author is willing to remove any content that may infringe on copyrights




3 thoughts on “I spy… Black Soup and Pierogi

      1. Well… there are many options really. First, maybe the negative connotation is not a collocation, or not in +/-5 words distance, or is in a general ‘feel’ of texts, or of co-texts or an intertext. Second, the negative meaning can be inferred from context, or be too new to be reflected in your data as substantial, or be part of a meaning in a specific group or medium. Third, it could be a minority of cases, but still it’s not all about quantity and quantity can be as good to determine it: i.e. true enough for this instance to be a legitimate reading. Fourth, there could be ambiguity or a number of readings, and your reading is as good. There are probably others, but this is all I can think about at this hour.

        Liked by 1 person

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