Multilingual Superbowl Ad Displays Linguistic Diversity — and Native Heritage

Earlier this week, I wrote about the much-talked-about television advertisement from Coca-Cola that aired during the Super Bowl, featuring “America the Beautiful” in many languages.

The ad stirred America’s melting pot in more ways than one. Many of the reactions were negative, but many were also positive. To follow up, a company spokesperson from Coca-Cola reached out with the company’s official statement:

For centuries America has opened its arms to people of many countries who have helped to build this great nation. “It’s Beautiful” provides a snapshot of the real lives of Americans representing diverse ethnicities, religions, races and families, all found in the United States. All those featured in the ad are Americans and “America The Beautiful” was sung by bilingual American young women. We believe “It’s Beautiful” is a great example of the magic that makes our country so special, and a powerful message that spreads optimism, promotes inclusion and celebrates humanity – values that are core to Coca-Cola.

Celebrating diversity. Who could argue with that?

However, a second look at the ad reveals that there is something even more important about it than just the reflection of America’s linguistic diversity on the surface.

Coca-Cola featured the Native American language Keres in the ad, a fact that probably went unnoticed by all but around 11,000 people in the American Southwest who actually speak this ancestral language.

The song lyrics did not even exist in Keres prior to the Coca-Cola project — they had to be translated, which was no small task. As Christy, the Keres singer in the ad explains, “Translating the words to ‘America the Beautiful’ was difficult because Keres is not a written language, so we had to go back to our elders to help translate.”

Giving credit where credit is due, Coca-Cola did not choose to feature just the languages of America’s many citizens who were originally born elsewhere, but included one language that was spoken here long before English ever arrived. Thanks to the ad, the beautiful sounds of Keres were heard by the 111.5 million viewers who tuned in for the Superbowl.

Attention for Native American languages, like Keres, by major brands such as Coca-Cola is a more common occurrence these days. Microsoft has localized Windows into Cherokee and Google has supported various projects for languages with very small populations of speakers. George Lucas and his film company even recently subtitled Star Wars movie in Navajo. When they do so respectfully — involving the communities in the decisions about their language and how it will be used — companies reap many benefits while making a contribution to society at large.

America is diverse, not just geographically, but culturally and linguistically as well. Let’s hope that the trend of shining a light on less common and endangered languages, especially ones that help us appreciate this country’s native heritage, continues.

*Also seen on Huffington Post, here.