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  • Folklife Friday: American Jewish Accents, “Despacito,” and More

    Folklife Friday is a weekly digest of arts and culture articles, podcasts, and videos from across the web. Read on for a selection of the week’s best cultural heritage pieces, and don’t forget to check back next Friday for a new set of weekly picks.

    Why Linguists Are Fascinated by the American Jewish Accent
    For writer Dan Nosowitz, pinning down the American Jewish accent is a study in melody, pitch, pause, and intonation. Tracing the history of the accent, chiefly in New York City, Nosowitz explores its trajectory in the hands of everyone from Jerry Lewis to Woody Allen. “The Jewish accent isn’t like other accents, the same way that Jewish Americans aren’t like other ethnic minorities,” he determines. “It’s messy and confusing and pulls elements from all over the world. But it’s pretty great for telling jokes.”

    “Despacito” Deep Dive: More Than Meets the Ear
    “For some people, this is the first time they are hearing a Spanish song,” Petra R. Rivera-Rideau, assistant professor of American studies at Wellesley College, says of the summer hit “Despacito.” But does the song’s popularity owe to the crossover appeal of Puerto Rican music or to artist Justin Bieber’s rendition of the track three months after its original release? It’s a question explored in this NPR interview. “Despacito” is “breaking down some barriers, exposing some people to reggaetón, but at the same time, it is being represented through complicated stereotypes.”

    How Julia Child and Hours of PBS Helped My Mother Adapt to Her New American Life
    “My mother used food television to expand her culinary knowledge of Western ingredients and technique,” Pooja Makhijami writes in this essay. Her mother, who emigrated from India to New Jersey in 1977, also found in cooking shows an introduction to social and cultural life in America. Indeed, the kitchen from Julia Child’s Massachusetts home is on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Among Makhijani’s favorite dishes were her mother’s Indian-influenced French classics: “Indian-spiced ratatouille, heady with fenugreek, fennel, black mustard, nigella and cumin.”

    The King of Ful
    As Zahra Hankir explains in this article, there is more to ful medames or fava bean stew than meets the eye. The Lebanese dish, flavored with garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil and garnished with diced tomatoes and parsley, acts as something of an equalizer in the small, densely populated country, Hankir writes. “In Arabic, the dish is described as ‘the wealthy man’s breakfast, shopkeeper’s lunch, and poor man’s dinner.’” Hankir, whose grandfather ran one of the most popular fulrestaurants in Sidon, Lebanon, explores the dish’s surprising ubiquity. “Wealthy or poor, Palestinian refugee or Lebanese politician, Muslim or Christian, it didn’t matter. All kinds of Sidonians flocked to the ful restaurant first thing in the morning.”

    Jimmy’s Blues
    In this essay, author Clifford Thompson reflects on the rich literary legacy of James Baldwin, “a writer who self-identified as a blues singer.” Revisiting Baldwin’s early life, literary contributions, and struggles to define himself, Thompson celebrates the “sensibility, rhythms, and beat of the blues” alive in Baldwin’s writing, a body of work as hybrid in form as blues music itself. “The man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air,” Baldwin wrote. “What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”

    Special thanks to editor Elisa Hough and to Michael Atwood Mason for their contributions to this week’s digest.

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