Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat and Dora the Explorer Teach the Value of Non-English Language


  • Aubrey Keller


Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat premiered in 2001, featuring both Mandarin
Chinese and English. A year prior, Dora the Explorer introduced a group of
linguistically diverse characters in a multilingual English-Spanish program.
Over twenty years later, American children continue to develop relationships
with non-English languages in multilingual communities. Since the languages
besides English that many speak face the threats of attrition and stigma,
children’s television shows that highlight the value of non-English languages
are timely and applicable.
I respond to this current need by engaging in rhetorical analysis of language
use in the first episode of Sagwa and of Dora as well as promotional material
for each series. This analysis focuses on two features of language use that I call
form and delivery, with form referring to whether the language is written or
spoken, and delivery referring to which characters are using which language. I
find that while Sagwa highlights how those with written Mandarin proficiency
can preserve cultural values and enact community impact, Dora frames
spoken Spanish fluency and multilinguality as applicable assets to everyday
social situations and problem-solving. Although pointing to different benefits,
both cartoons express to their child audiences that non-English languages are