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The Irish For: Cartoons, propaganda and the words children learn

How much do TV shows influence children’s pronunciation and phrases?

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

ONE OF THE recent additions to TG4’s children’s programming is Scéalta Masha, an Irish translation of Masha’s Stories which is a spin-off of the popular cartoon Masha and the Bear.

If you are child-free, you may not have heard of this show. It’s arguably Russia’s biggest pop culture export since Tetris – one episode is the fourth most popular YouTube video of all time.

Although the capering of an excitable little girl and the kind, sensible bear who takes care of her seems harmless enough at first glance, this show is actually banned in Ukraine and other former Soviet countries due to concerns that it is Russian propaganda.

Academics across Eastern Europe have argued that the series is a part of Russia’s soft power. Some go as far to suggest that the unstoppable little girl is a Putin stand-in and that her bear protector is a symbol of Russia itself.

He is, after all, wise, resourceful, cultured but unpretentious, friends with the little Chinese panda and the cheerful Indian tiger. 

The cartoon’s influence has been accelerated by the accessibility on Youtube in a wide range of languages, compared to some American cartoons shielding their intellectual property from non-paying eyes.  

Maybe the cartoonists are receiving direct instructions from the Kremlin – maybe they just want to make a popular show.

What we can be sure of is that the moral panic about the amount of time children spend watching TV – and the implicit messages they could be learning from foreign shows with ‘foreign values’ – isn’t going to go away any time soon.

Canadian English 

Of all the G8 nations, Canada must be the one with the softest cultural footstep.

While Russia, the US and France like to use their artistic accomplishments and pop culture successes as evidence of their superiority, a lot of Canadian film, TV and music isn’t even recognised as Canadian when it’s exported.

Certainly there was no moral panic in the 1980s over children watching Fraggle Rock or The Littlest Hobo. Nobody worried that they were going to start talking like people from Toronto, or that they would absorb mind-warping Canadian propaganda.  

This is especially true of Paw Patrol, the Canadian show that’s very popular with the current generation of kids (I will assume they are Generation A until I’m informed otherwise).

Although Adventure Bay doesn’t look like England, Paw Patrol offers as Béarla viewers a choice between a North American English dubbing and a British English dubbing.

This is almost unheard of in other Anglophone countries, to the point that American parents remark on their children getting English accents and picking up phrases from Harry Potter and Peppa Pig.

Parents in the rest of the world fret over their kids developing an American twang and using the wrong words for things – the horror. 

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The ‘Peppa Pig effect’ of American children saying some words with an English accent is mostly anecdotal and unlikely to last until adulthood.

However, it has been credited with the rise in popularity of saying Mummy over other maternal monikers such as Mom or Mam.

This opens an old wound in Ireland as the way you refer to your mother is often seen as a measure of one’s notions. Especially in Dublin, saying Mummy marks one as an Anglophile but saying Mom is a clear indication of mid-Atlantic affectations. 

Such attitudes betray a very M50-centric attitude, however. As everyone from the West of Ireland knows, the Irish word Mam is often pronounced Mom (or ‘a wom’ if you’re addressing her directly).

Don’t just take my word for it – I have the audio pronunciation feature on the dictionary website to back me up. 

Sometimes the scary foreign influence is actually coming from inside your own house.

About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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