Media Cloud Hopping at Midnight

by Muira McCammon

It is 12:20am-EST on a school night, October 5th to be precise. I log into the Internet Monitor's Dashboard, load eight "News Topics" widgets: one each for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), France, Canada, Madagascar, Cameroon, Cote D'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Suddenly, I see eight word clouds before me. Each is bursting with French. As I begin to peruse each country's news feed, my tongue starts to tingle, to dance with excitement. As I hop from cloud to cloud, I recognize many adjectives, nouns, and verbs.

The DRC has these words: problèmes [problems], jeudi [thursday], syrie [Syria], avocats [lawyers], beaucoup [a lot], crise [crisis], assad [as in, Bashar Hafez al-Assad, the current President of Syria]. France has a hodgepodge too: syrie [Syria], internationale [international], pape [pope], crise [crisis], venir [to come], aider [to help], victoire [victory]. I move over to Canada and then Cameroon.

The beauty of the "News Topics" widgets is that you can immediately get a sense, topically, of what's happening in Country X's news cycle. You don't have to cull through tens of thousands of online sources. Media Cloud does that for you and then carefully constructs a word cloud based on the subjects that appear in online media in a given language in a given country over the past week.

If you're an American studying French, it can be remarkably tricky to comprehend the differences between Cameroonian and Nigerien news or to pick up contemporary French slang that is particular to a certain Francophone region. Case in point: me. Even though I've traversed Morocco, Switzerland, Canada, and France, my French is a work in progress. Before college, most of my French teachers teachers were either born or educated in France, and as a result, if we ever perused French reading materials in class, they were Parisian.

I'm enthralled by these eight French word clouds, in large part because I know that each country has terms, phrases, slang that I've never heard of before.

If I scan the Cameroonian widget, I see "fecafoot" and "afrobasket." Not knowing these terms, I'm curious. I Google them and discover that FECAFOOT is an abbreviation for "la Fédération camerounaise de football." "AfroBasket" ends up being a men's basketball continental championship of Africa. As I hop over to Burkina Faso's news cloud, I see that it has a visibly more political set of words: désarmement [disarmament], démocratie [democracy], soldats [soldiers].

Then, I see a word I've never seen before: putchiste. I search online for the term, go to my favorite French-English online dictionary. No luck. No putchiste. Then, I stumble across Wikidictionary and see that a putchist is "one who participates in a putsch." Once I click putsch, I see that the word is synonymous with "coup." I begin to wonder why the word "coup" might be associated with Burkina Faso. I go back to Google and soon see, thanks to the BBC that Burkina Faso General Gilbert Diendere is in the news; he's expected to face a trial before a military tribunal soon for his role in the country's September coup.

Even though all the countries I've selected have French as an official language, other languages slip into each widget. I pause for a minute while reading Madagascar's word cloud and realize that I have no idea what "fomba" could possibly mean. Again, I turn to Google and after some prodding, learn that it's a Malagasy term meaning "culture." My goal with these widgets was originally to check in and see what was happening in certain countries' news cycles. Now, I begin to see that the Media Cloud "News Topics" widget can be a language learning tool too. With it, you can traverse far beyond American English-language news. You can hop one Media Cloud after another, learn term after term, and above all, get a sample of what's on any country's mind.