Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

Archive for the category “Life”

The Messi Dollar

So now they are calling it the “Messi Dollar,” as it quickly approaches the magic number 10.  I am referring to the new high of the blue dollar in Argentina.  Since I first blogged about this back in August, the blue dollar (aka black market dollar) has risen from $6.37 AR pesos to $9.3 AR pesos per $1USD.  That is as of today, April 29, 2013, where the official rate is $5.19 AR pesos to $1USD, changing from $4.65 AR back in August.   Today the gap between the official exchange and the blue dollar exchange is above 80%.  It appears that the arbolitos, those who are buying and selling dollars on the streets in high tourist areas, have already reached 10.  Reaching $8 AR pesos to $1USD was a milestone in itself, but that is old news and was $2 USD ago!

The “Messi Dollar” refers to the jersey number of Lionel Messi for those of you who live under a rock.  He is an Argentine football player (attention Americans: soccer player) who plays as a forward for the Argentina national team and for FC Barcelona in the Spanish league.  He is perhaps the greatest football (soccer) player in the world and now has even currency named after him!

When I first read “Messi Dollar” today, the thought crossed my mind that it could even be true.  A new bill, with a living person on it?  Only in Argentina.  The country has a long history of high inflation.  In my short three years, I have been surprised several times by new money.   I always knew and used the $2 AR peso bill for example, and then one day the $2 AR peso coin came along that not even the buses accepted at first.  It took a little while for them to catch up to the new coin.

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Then just a few months ago, I received change with coins that I had never seen before.  The cashier even told me “Son de verdad” (They are real) as I looked at them in doubt.  Later that day I attempted to use them, but the cashier at the next shop didn´t recognize them and was reluctant to accept at all.  After showing her manager, they accepted the coins, but not on the basis of them being legitimate, instead because the manager told me he liked them.  I later learned that these were coins used in 2006 and were later lifted from the market.  Few people recognized them in fact, but the few that did told me that they were collector´s items.

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Then there was the Evita $100 peso bill, which came into circulation in 2012 as a form of tribute for the 60th anniversary of Evita´s death.  Argentine President Cristina Kirchner later declared that the bill would replace the former bill definitively, and production reached great numbers…as did the cost of production.  On top of that, alerts went out about the large suspected number of false bills circulating.   Last month production of the Evita bill was stopped all together.  According to Clarin, an Argentine newspaper, the Argentine government is currently only printing $5 AR and $10 AR peso bills.  Just last week I finally found an Evita bill, which is far too pretty to spend.

Evita bill

In my third week, a kind taxi driver informed me of the false bills circulating, and he even showed me how to identify them.  This was an occasion in Argentina where luck struck; he shared his knowledge instead of giving me false change.  The concept of false bills isn´t an easy one to understand, nor accept when it happens to you.  I remember more than one story of exchange students crying as a result of their bills not being accepted.  Argentines, however, will tell you they are unfortunately accustomed to all of this.  A Buenos Aires museum I have yet to visit is the Museo de la deuda externa Argentina (The Argentine Museum of External Debt), which includes a history of the country´s peso, through the years of inflation.

As the blog beyondbrics states, “It is no longer a question of whether it will continue to rise – that’s a given…(and) Still, the government is in no mind to devalue – yet. Watch for that Messi dollar soon.”

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The new Pope loves God, football, and maybe potatoes

Yesterday was a big day for the Catholic Church and for Catholics around the world, especially those in Latin America as the new Pope was revealed for the world to see.  Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio made history as the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit, and the first to use the name Francis.  The name Francis is in honor of St. Francis of Assisi who is known among Catholics for his work with the poor.

Pope Francis himself is 76 and has served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998.  He represents a highly conservative perspective, examples being his clashing with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.  Of the word’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Latin America is home to 480 million.  This new Pope brings together the first world and the developing worlds.  Also being of the Jesuit order, it represents a new chapter for the Catholic Church.

The news certainly represents a new chapter for Latin America and Argentina specifically.  Not long after the news was released I heard bells ringing from nearby churches, horns honking on the streets and of course the social networks were flooded with opinions.  Argentina is a predominantly Catholic country but like many countries, there are many people who are disenchanted with the ways of the church.  For this and other reasons, news from Porteños (the people of Buenos Aires) was mixed.  Many celebrated with other believers and others were embarrassed for the country.  One friend of mine said, “Yo hoy quisiera ser uruguaya!”  (Today I wanted to be Uruguayan.)

Regardless of religious beliefs, one cause for strong criticism is the now-Pope’s alleged role in Argentina’s last military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 where an estimated 30,000 people were killed and disappeared. The Argentine Church and Bergoglio, due to his position in the local Jesuit Order at the time, have been accused of ignoring the victims despite their relatives first-hand accounts of kidnappings, torture, and deaths.  Here are some comments regarding yesterday’s news, from Argentinians and other Latin Americans, with corresponding picture that are making their rounds in social network land.

  • “Ahora van a ser mas agrandados aún!” (Now they’re going to be even more full of themselves.) (Chilean)
  • Brace yourselves, now Argentines will feel more Godlike than ever!! (Ecuadorian)
  • Según recientes estadísticas ahora de cada 10 argentinos, 11 se sienten superiores a los otros 10. (According to recent stats, now of every 10 Argentines, 11 is going to feel superior to the other 10.) (Colombian)

Pope and Asado

  • Hay un viejo chiste que describe la fama de arrogantes que los argentinos tenemos entre latinoamericanos y españoles: “Dios es argentino”. Hoy ese chiste adquirió un nuevo significado… (There is an old joke that describes the infamous arrogance that Argentinians have with other Latin Americans and Spaniards. “God is Argentinian.”  Today this joke has new meaning.) (Argentinian)

Dios en Argentino

  • Dios es Argentino y ahora el Papa también!!!jaja (God is Argentinian and now the Pope too – haha.) (Argentinian)
  • “El Dios del fútbol es argentino y ahora, también el Papa es argentino”. (The God of football is Argentinian and now also the Pope is Argentinian.) (Maradona)

Maradona approves

  • Que el Papa sea Argentino confirma que Dios es Maradona. (Now that the Pope is Argentinian, it confirms that Maradona is God.)(Argentinian)

maradona number

  • La verdad me da mucha bronca que una persona que fue cómplice de la dictadura ahora sea Papa; de todas formas, no tiene nada de raro, esa institución nunca tuvo nada que ver ni con la religiosidad ni dios sino todo lo contrario. (The truth is it really pisses me off that a person that was an accomplice of the dictator now is Pope; anyway it’s not strange, this institution never had anything to do with religion nor with God, but only the opposite.) (Argentinian)
  • Bergoglio sigue siendo investigado por la participación de la Iglesia en delitos de lesa humanidad. Ni olvido, ni perdón. (Bergoglio continues being investigated for the (Catholic) church’s participation in crimes against humanity. Neither do I forget nor forgive.) (Argentinian)

Pope with Dictator

  • Que Dios bendiga e ilumine al nuevo Papa. Primer Papa latinoaméricano! (May God bless and enlighten the new Pope.  The first Latin American Pope!!) (Colombian)

Papa-Bahia-Bengala-Orissa-India_IECIMA20130314_0065_13

With such big news and many jokes to be made relating this to Argentine culture, the photos and jokes won’t stop.  Here’s a few for you, and if they don’t make sense, google Argentina and you’ll find out why.

Pope Francis with San Lorenzo pennant

Messi and Maradona and Sisteen chapel

Pope and Messi

parilla built in

The new communion - fernet

And then there was a very unfortunate typo, or was it photoshopped?

PS – You don’t need to speak Spanish to see the typo.

Ereccion

And like Spanglish Exchange Buenos Aires picture, I can’t bare to not include the following picture for your reference.  The Spanish word for potato “Papa” is also the same word for Pope. The difference is in the article. (Potato = la papa, Pope = el Papa).

Potatoe and pope

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2013/03/130314_cultura_chistes_papa_aa.shtml

How your language impacts your money saving habits

Of course someone who grew up speaking a different language would think differently and make different decisions than you, wouldn’t they?  I’m convinced it’s true, although whether or not it’s solely because of language is questionable.  This question has been and continues to be debated by (real, as in professional) linguists, and every now and again examples pop up to prove that it’s true.  Watch this video for  a recent example.

In the video you either chose to watch or chose to watch later (as it’s really interesting), Behavioral Economist Keith Chen suggests that the language you speak impacts the way you think about the future, and specifically about your money-saving habits.  How is it that countries with similar economies can still have radically different savings patterns? And could language–something different between countries–possibly make a difference?

Map of money

English is what Kevin called a “futured language,” meaning that it has a future tense and speaks about the future in a different way than the past and present.  It separates the future in other words and makes it a separate entity.  English in fact is the only Germanic language that speaks about the future this way.  Believe it or not, other languages such as German and Chinese don’t differentiate time like English does.   German often uses the present tense in place of the future tense, and Chinese allows someone to say (in translation):

  • Yesterday it rained.
  • Now it rained.
  • Tomorrow it rained.

These are called “futureless languages.”  The theory was that if a language speaks as if the present and the future are so different and so far away from each other time-wise, then it would make it harder to save money; whereas if the present and the future are viewed in nearly the same way, then it makes saving more likely.

After analysis and a lot of cross-tabs, the data showed that this theory was in fact true!  The best savers are more closely related to futureless languages.  Statistical analysis showed in Kevin’s research that “futureless language speakers are 30% more likely to save in a year,” and “retirees from futureless languages are going to have 25% more” money saved for retirement,  if income is held constant.

What a contradiction this is!  Countries with future languages such as the United States that are almost-obsessed with the concept of saving money for the future are actually saving less than countries that don’t even think about the future in their words (and maybe therefore in their thoughts.)

This was on an individual level, so what about on a country basis?  Comparing China, Estonia and Germany to India, Greece and the UK, one major difference is savings rates.  Germans save 10 percentage points more than the British (as a fraction of GDP), and Estonians and Chinese are saving 20 percentage points more than Greeks and Indians!  And as we know, who’s doing better than most countries today in the difficult economic climate?  The strongest economy in Europe is Germany, and worldwide we know that China is doing pretty well.

And that ladies and gentleman is what I call pure discovery!

For more examples on how language impacts our behavior, go to the article that corresponds to the video.

More from Kevin’s blog.

 

Texting isn’t the death of written language but its evolution

I remember when text messaging first became popular, when you had to hit a number on the keypad three times to reach the desired letter.  I prided myself on how fast I could do it, and even wondered on more than one occasion if I should enter a texting competition.  This was the beginning of a new era.

The quantity of text messages that teenagers sent a month and even a day was alarming!  Driving while texting was becoming a big problem, and many experts said it was worse than driving drunk.  And of course there were new terms or lingo that made communication even faster, such as “LOL” (laugh out loud) or my personal favorite “LMK” (let me know).    Texting was changing many things, including how often people talked to each other on the phone and the importance of spelling and writing.

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This was “then” but new phenomenas are happening “now” – all the time in fact.  I often see people celebrating on Facebook that they just learned how to do a keyboard shortcut for an icon/image.  A now old example is the ❤ for a heart, and one that I discovered tonight  is **== for the American flag, although one person called it a duck! (LOL)

As chat and text ‘lingo’ began (and continue) to increase in use, opinions and attitudes naturally emerged (emerge).  Many viewed (and view) this as a negative change, one that has dumbed-down society to yet another level, which they won’t be able to spell once they get there.  John McWhorter, however, an American linguist and political commentator, gives us a different perspective.  It is one based on evolution rather than death.

Watch John here.

In summary: John tells us that of the approximate 6,000 languages in the world, only around one hundred have a written language.  Written language is in fact relatively new, compared to speech.  Although we do not typically talk in the same way we write, there are examples of people speaking like they write.  For example, imagine a poor speech giver that is glued to the pages in front of him, rather than relying on his own knowledge of the subject.  There is now a form of writing like our speech, and that ladies and gentleman is the modern text message, or text.

John calls the texting of today “fingered speech.”  He credits this phenomena to modern devices like tablets and smart phones that are now allowing us to write faster than we speak.  Evidently text lingo like “LOL” and “TTYL” have grammatical use as well; they are considered particles, which are words or a parts of a word that have grammatical purpos but often have little or no meaning.  John also gives an example of how word meaning has changed (or evolved as I like to think), because of the communication medium.  The example given was the word “hey,” which is a way of getting someone’s attention in oral speech, however in texting when one can’t benefit from body language, “hey” is used as a way to change the subject.

Text lingo is just one way that communication has been influenced.  Other examples are the many shortcuts that exist, making communication faster than ever, bc (because) that is what the world is about now isn’t it – the speed in delivering information?  Here are some examples of modern text shortcuts in English. (Warning: not recommended for English student use in work emails.)

  • Thx (Thanks)
  • 2night (Tonight)
  • xoxo (Kisses and Hugs, known as Hugs and Kisses in speech)
  • Luv ya-ttyl (I love you-talk to you later)
  • IDK bc I lft.  (I don’t know because I left.)

The video and blog post pertain to English, but of course other languages are influenced by the same phenomena.   Here are a few examples of common Spanish-modifications due to texting:

  • salud2 (Saludos) – Greetings / farewell
  • porfi/porfa (Por favor) – Please
  • tb (también) – Also
  • pera (Espera) – Wait a second
  • TQM/TKM – (Te quiero mucho) – I love you very much
  • grax x too (Gracias por todo.) – Thanks for everything

There are even rules on how to form text lingo in Spanish!  For more info on Spanish text shortcuts, see the links below.  Happy texting!

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http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations.asp

http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php

http://www.disabled-world.com/communication/text-shortcuts.php

Love without translation, literally

Classes with students today were very entertaining.  Some truly enjoy Valentine’s Day and others think it’s an excuse to buy, or consume.  Personally my favorite quote of the day was the following:

  • “I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, because I think it’s a bullshit fest.”

Call it a bullshit fest, a day of romance or a Hallmark Holiday; everyone has an opinion.  For those of you are down on your luck, read this from the Thought Catalogue some perspective: 35 Things Worse than Being Single on Valentine’s Day.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll agree that getting kicked in the face by a goat (19) is worse.

  • How do you tell a significant other you love them in English? –>  “I love you.”
  • How do you tell a family member? –> Certainly “I love you.”
  • How do you tell a friend? –> “I love you.” (Maybe I love ya or Love ya)

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But what’s the difference many Spanish speaking friends have asked me?  How do you express the different kind of love, as in romantic love?  The answer is that you know by context or the tone of voice, or maybe if someone says they are “in love with you,” which is more similar to the second Spanish option that is to come.

Spanish has a few ways to express this you see: “Te quiero” (to family, significant others, or friends) and then “Te amo” (which is only for a lover.)  So with having different words, it’s more clear than in English.  I agree.  Some even argue that we overuse “I love you” in English.  Puede ser (maybe).  In the end it all translates, however, to “I love you.”

In some other languages there are ways of expressing love that do not translate at all into English, and if they did it would be by many words or a phrase, rather than in one word.  The Huffington Post put together a fascinating list just in time for Valentine’s Day!

  1. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego) — It describes a look shared when two people are both waiting for the other to make the next move. As long as no one caves in, it can be an endless source of sexual tension.  (Potential English equivalent: sexual tension rising.)  And, can someone please tell me how you’d pronounce this?)
  2. Retrouvailles (French) — Literally translated as “rediscovery,” is the happiness a couple experiences of meeting again, after a long separation. Long-distance relationships really could not survive without this and when or if too much time passes, this could mean regret. (Potential English equivalent: reigniting the flame, or on the contrary, letting the flame go out.)
  3. Koi No Yokan (Japanese) — Not exactly the same as love at first sight (amor a primera vista), koi no yokan is the feeling you get when you meet someone where you feel that love could be possible, in time. (Potential English equivalent: Feeling a spark.)
  4. Onsra (Boro language of India) — There are several ways to love in Boro, and onsra is the bittersweet term for “to love for the last time.” (Potential English equivalent: Last love.)
  5. Ya’aburnee (Arabic) — The literal translation is “you bury me,” which basically is saying that you can’t imagine life without them.  (Potential English equivalent: I’d die without you./I cant’ live without you.)

And that’s all folks.  Happy Valentine’s Day!/Feliz Día de San Valentín!

Other Valentine’s related posts:

History of Valentine’s Day

Sometimes no words are best

Paperman short film

Watch Paperman  here.

What a beautiful story; one that touched my heart.

Paperman – Full Animated Short Film
Introducing a groundbreaking technique that seamlessly merges computer-generated and hand-drawn animation techniques, first-time director John Kahrs takes the art of animation in a bold new direction with the Oscar®-winning short, “Paperman.” Using a minimalist black-and-white style, the short follows the story of a lonely young man in mid-century New York City, whose destiny takes an unexpected turn after a chance meeting with a beautiful woman on his morning commute. Convinced the girl of his dreams is gone forever, he gets a second chance when he spots her in a skyscraper window across the avenue from his office. With only his heart, imagination and a stack of papers to get her attention, his efforts are no match for what the fates have in store for him. Created by a small, innovative team working at Walt Disney Animation Studios, “Paperman” pushes the animation medium in an exciting new direction.

*Paperman won Best Animated Short Film at the 2013 Oscars.

 

From cigarettes to hurricanes, words from the Mayas

The Mayas are one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known.  Spanning more than 3,000 years in Central America, archaeologists have now determined that the earliest Maya communities were established on the Pacific coast of Mexico around 1,800 BC.

Although the Mayas are known for many things, including a sophisticated agricultural systems that sustained crops, mathematics—including the concept of zero, extremely accurate astronomical observations, and the infamous calendar which ends this year, it is the Mayan writing system that some say is their greatest achievement.

The Mayan writing system resembles the Ancient Egyptian writing system with hieroglyphs, and it is the only known written language in the pre-Columbian Americas that corresponded directly with the spoken language of the people.  Between the five Central American countries where the Mayas predominantly lived and live (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize) there were close to 30 languages spoken; these languages were spoken up to the arrival of the Europeans.  Although many of the languages began to disappear with the decline of the civilization, neither did all the languages nor the people fully disappear, unlike some other ancient civilizations.

Today, there are approximately 6 million indigenous Mayas still speaking one of the Mayan languages. In Guatemala for example, there are 21 known Mayan languages, while there are eight others in Mexico.  Modern Mayan languages come from a 5000-year old language called Proto-Mayan, which the chart below shows as the starting point.  Here are some rough stats on the Mayan languages that still live:

  • Yucatec Maya: 740,000 people in Mexico and 5,000 in Belize
  • K’iche’: About 2.3 million people in Guatemala
  • Q’eqchi: 400,000 speakers in Guatemala, 12,000 speakers in El Salvador, and 9,000 speakers in Belize
  • Mocho’: Only spoken by about 170 people in Mexico while the
  • Lakantun: Only around 1,000 speakers in Mexico
  • The Chicomuceltec language is already extinct.

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The Mayas impacted the world in great ways, and continue to, even today.  Remnants of the great civilization are still seen beyond the borders of Central America and beyond the calendar notification that the world awaits, because there are remnants of the Mayas in modern day languages… even English!

A “loan word” (préstamo in Spanish) is a word that is borrowed (taken really) from one language and incorporated into another language.  Sometimes loanwords carry the same meaning, like salsa or plaza in English, ‘borrowed’ from Spanish.  Other times their meaning changes slightly in the new language, such as macho or burrito—which literally mean male and little donkey in Spanish.  Other loanwords adopt new spellings but carry the same meaning, such as chocolate and coyote, which are both Aztec words from the language Nahuatl (originally spelled xocolatl and koyotl).

Some examples of loanwords from Mayan languages in modern Spanish include cigarro (from the Mayan word siyar) and the name of the country Belize from the Mayan word baliz for muddy waters.  Look here for Spanish words of Mayan origin listed in RAE’s dictionary.

Influence of the Mayas is also seen in English believe it or not, with words such as shark from the Yucatec word xoc/xook for “fish”; cigarette, which was already referenced above with the Spanish equivalent cigarro; cocoa for the Mayan word kakaw, and hurricane (which we hope doesn’t mysteriously appear tomorrow, on 12/21/2012.)  The word hurricane comes from the root of the Classic Maya deity Jun Raqan associated with storms and wind.  The word is said to have entered English indirectly, through Spanish and/or Carib.

So perhaps you reject any prophecy or opinion about December 21, 2012 and think that nothing will happen, or perhaps you hoarded food and water in preparation.  Whatever you believe about tomorrow, the Mayas are ever present; they left a permanent mark on the world for their great wisdom and knowledge.  Many of their descendants still live today and speak their words, like many of us–we just don’t know it.

One thing about tomorrow is most definitely true:

Mayan calendar - edited

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other sources used:

English/Mayan dictionary: http://www.mostlymaya.com/EnglishMayan.html

http://www.omniglot.com/writing/mayan.htm

http://www.languagecourse.net/mayan-language-resources.php

http://www.crystalinks.com/mayanlanguages.html

http://email.eva.mpg.de/~wichmann/Qeqchi.pdf

http://www.belize.com/maya-or-mayan

http://artelogical.com/tag/maya-calendar/

In the ‘Brain Rooms’ of Men and Women

We’ve all heard of the book “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus,” and I’ll admit that I even read it many years ago.  Raise your hand now if you did too.  But hey, I don’t remember much of what the book said.  I’ve instead lived it like all of you!  One thing that this book clearly achieved was coining a common phrase to describe something that we all know as fact: men and women are different.

The obvious, we are different genders, but we make decisions differently, we communicate differently and we simply think differently.   Here are a few facts that I learned from an entertainment website and blog that I’m beginning to love: Unusual Facts.  I’ve shortened the list, so refer to Unusual Facts for the full story and the original sources.  Meg’s disclaimer: There are always exceptions, so dont take this too personally!

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1. MULTI-TASKING
Women – Multiple process
Womens’ brains are designed to concentrate on multiple tasks at a time.  For example, women can watch TV, talk on the phone and cook all at the same time.

Men –  Single Process
Mens’ brains are designed to concentrate on only one task at a time.  Men cannot watch TV and talk on the phone at the same time.  They either watch TV, talk on the phone or cook… (usually) separately.  I see the pros and cons related to multi-tasking and driving, particularly related to stereotypes about female drivers.

2. LANGUAGE
Women can easily learn many languages, but can’t find solutions to problems, where men can’t easily learn languages but can easily solve problems.  This is why in average a 3 year old girl has three times higher vocabulary than a 3 year old boy!

3. LYING
When men lie to women face to face, they often times get caught.  Womens’ brains observe facial expressions 70% of the time, body language 20% of the time and words coming from the mouth only 10% of the time.  Mens’ brains do not operate the same, so it’s technically easier for women to lie to a man face to face.

4. PROBLEMS SOLVING
If a man has a lot of problems, his brain clearly classifies the problems and puts them in individual “brain rooms” and then finds the solution one by one.  Women on the other hand do not classify their problems in the same way and instead want “someone to hear them out.”

5. UNHAPPINESS
If women are unhappy with their relationships, they can’t concentrate on their work. If men are unhappy with their work, they can’t concentrate on their relationships.

6. SPEECH
Women use indirect language in speech, but men use direct language.

7. HANDLING EMOTION
Women talk a lot without thinking. Men act a lot without thinking.

And that’s where they say “That’s all Folks!”

To be or not to be… Tolerant

Tolerance.  It’s a noun and a politically-charged word, which naturally some preach and others detest.  It and its adjective form, tolerant, have been used in a social context for years and continue to be used, just for different reasons.  I read it in fact today in the comments of an article, “I think you need to start becoming more tolerant of others.”

Spanish is very precise with its verbs and has two verbs for the single verb ‘to be’ in English, ser and estar.  In general ser is the choice to talk about personality traits and things that are more permanent, like nationality or telling time, where estar is the choice for things that are temporal, like feelings or location.  This topic proves to be difficult for English speakers who are used to yet one verb.  In order to differentiate between a permanent trait and a temporal state, we English speakers have to use more words… more grammar, such as adverbs:

  • The water is cold.  (It’s still unclear whether the water is permanently cold or just temporarily cold.)
  • The water is always cold.  (Adding the adverb ‘always’ shows that cold is the water’s permanent state.)

In Spanish, the meaning of a sentence changes based on the verb choice, and not by adding extra words:

  • Ella es feliz.  (She is a happy person.) (Ser)
  • Ella está feliz.  (She is happy, in the moment for some reason.) (Estar)

It struck me recently when I was reminded that the adjective “tolerant” in Spanish goes not with estar, a temporal state verb, but with ser, the permanent state verb.  Through the grammar lens, I say it’s a great message: tolerance isn’t a temporary state that comes and goes, it’s something that we must ‘be’ in the diverse world we live in.

I think so at least.

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And PS – this was about the word ‘tolerant’ and not the verb ‘to tolerate.’  That is another subject for another day.

The Voice of the People

It’s that time of year again, election time.  With living and teaching in another country, naturally I’ve talked a lot about the upcoming US election and just how the system works.   Like many Americans I’ve had to do my own homework on the infamous Electoral College.  It’s not so straight forward, and it’s certainly different than the Argentine way.   Here in Argentina I’ve looked for the Republican and Democrat equivalents and realized there aren’t any.   Despite there being some similarities in terms of how the government is structured, this is just one of the many differences.  For one voting in Argentina is mandatory.  The legal voting age was just lowered last week to 16 years old from 18; days before election all campaigning is prohibited, and the president is elected by winning the majority of the vote, the popular vote.

Surprisingly enough the President in the United States can be elected President without winning the popular vote.  How the President does win is by the ‘electoral vote’ in the Electoral College, which is the sum of Senators and Representatives (538 votes).  In the US government, each state has members of the House of Representatives based on the population of the state, and two Senators, regardless of the size of the state.  This is where the 538 number comes from, and in order to be elected, a candidate must have a majority of the electoral votes.  Since 1964, this number has been 270.

Evidently the Electoral College was not the Founding Fathers first choice, nor their only idea for how to elect a new president.  As the US Constitution was being drafted, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention considered five ways in choosing a President:

  1. By debate and vote in the U.S. Congress
  2. By the popular vote of the people
  3. By vote of the State legislatures
  4. By vote of the State governors
  5. By electors – the Electoral College system

Unable to agree on how to elect electors, the delegates eventually settled on the idea of leaving it up to each state.  The electors of the Electoral College are real people who are generally nominated or chosen by votes in their corresponding state.  They can be state elected officials, party leaders or people with some personal or political affiliation to the presidential candidates.  So when an American votes, they are voting for their state elector who then votes on behalf of the people in their state for the president.  In most cases the electors vote based on the majority vote in their state, but this is the law only in 27 states, including Washington D.C. as a state.  The other 24 states have no law requiring their electors to vote based on the majority vote and can instead choose the candidate of their choice.  For a breakdown of state law, go here.

This seems odd to me, although history has shown that generally the Electoral College has been true to public opinion.  In 2000, however, the famous election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was only the fourth time in the history of the country where the president was not elected based on the popular vote.  This time represented a great crisis in the country and regardless of opinions why, few will disagree that the country has only become more polarized ever since.  The popular vote didn’t matter in this case, so why would your vote matter today many wonder.  Historically only around 50%  of the population votes anyway (58% voted in the 2008 presidential election).  See the history here.

The validity of the Electoral College has been debated for years, and was close to being reversed in 1970, although obviously the bill for change wasn’t ultimately approved.  Today it comes down to a math game, and a president can be elected by not getting a single person’s vote in 39 states or Washington D.C., unless they win the popular vote in just 11 of these 12 states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.  These are the most populated states in other words, with the most electoral votes.  This doesn’t even consider the now key-phrase in any election “Swing State.”

The Founding Fathers originally felt that this system would better represent the full population, as the states’ representatives would vote on behalf of their people.  Many things have changed since this time, however.  The two party dominant system was not in place then as it is today. Communications and news no longer take weeks to deliver and due to the media, the world has access to every word spoken by the candidates.  To the Founding Fathers, a tweet was just the name for the sound a bird made.

Each election the debate returns whether or not the Electoral College in fact represents the true public opinion.  Those who oppose the method have many criticisms, most of all being that a president can be elected without winning the popular vote.  Although this has happened in history, proponents of the method will say that it has happened few times and that the Electoral College is a weighed voting system that is designed to give more power to the states with more votes, although it allows small states to swing an election; thus the system considers and better represents smaller rural areas, and wouldn’t allow larger metropolitan or highly populated areas to dominate an election alone.

Unfortunately the country is very polarized today and only gets worse during election time.  Later this week some people will rejoice and others will be tremendously disappointed.  Politics aside, I truly hope the voice of the peopleis heard rather than it being a game of mathematics.

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http://edition.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/special/president/electoral.college/more.html

http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-the-united-states-electoral-college-a-fair-way-to-conduct-the-presidential-election

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepoliticalsystem/a/electcollege.htm

http://uselectionatlas.org/INFORMATION/INFORMATION/electcollege_procon.php

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepoliticalsystem/a/electcollege_3.htm

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html

http://people.howstuffworks.com/question4722.htm

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482440539/

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