Language Lens

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

Archive for the tag “Spanish”

Spell “sardoodledom” please!

Spanish, like many of the other Romance languages, has a transparent spelling system, which means once you know how to say the basic letters, you can pronounce nearly anything.  It means that the letters will (almost) always be pronounced the same way.  If only English were this way!  Instead, it has strange letters popping up, like the “h” in spaghetti or the “b” in doubt, and don’t even get me started on the vowels!  Technology is making spelling less and less important to people as well, therefore “a lost art” if you will.   According to Mencap, a third of British adults struggle with spelling due to over-reliance on spell checks and technology, and for people over 18, one out of every five has difficulty spelling tricky words.

Should we all return to the spelling bee days?  Until learning that English has an “opaque”spelling system, also known as deep orthography, I assumed all elementary students participated in spelling bees, some spelling “e-s-c-u-e-l-a” while others spelled “s-c-h-o-o-l.”  But no!  English students need spelling bees because of the spelling issues, difficulties, and rarities.  As English speakers, we must study the spelling because we can’t guess based on solely how the word sounds!  This is why many consider English pronunciation difficult, as one doesn’t know how to say the word by reading it alone.  And it’s also why those regular verbs in the past can get so confused…

So, next time you want to ask your Catalan or Colombian friend about those dreaded spelling competitions, think twice!  They didn’t do it!  But you could ask a French, Arabic or Hebrew speaker perhaps…as their spelling system is like English–opaque and unclear! The question remains if videos like this appear in those languages and cultures!   Spell “sardoodledom” please!

Advertisements

To be in the black vs. to be in the red, that is the question

To be in the black vs. to be in the red, that is the question.   These phrases are common in Business English, and despite black usually having a negative connotation, it is positive in this example.  “To be in the black” means for a company to be making profit, to have money in its account in other words, where “to be in the red” means the contrary–to have a negative balance in its account and owe the bank.  Both terms can apply to a person, a company or an account.

  • XYZ company is finally in the black and seems to be recovering financially!
  • ABC company on the other hand is in the red and continues to lose clients, unfortunately.

These terms come from the days of manual accounting, where a ledger was used to manually keep track of funds.  A positive flow of money was reported in black ink, and an expense was reported in red ink.  The way I wrote that makes it sound like a historic practice which it isn’t, but let’s face it, technology has replaced and changed many practices including how balance sheets and income statements are done.  Just remember this: a company wants to be “in the black“, as they want to be making money!

This is the case for English, but be careful as the phrases do no translate directly into Spanish!  “Estar en negro” or “trabajar en negro” means to work illegally, and translates instead to “working under the table in English,” which means avoiding taxes and earning in cash for example.  It doesn’t refer to a foreigner working in a country illegally.  “Estar en blanco” (literally, to be in the white) means to be working legally, to be paying taxes on wages and reporting income.

under-the-table

  • Estoy trabajando en negro por ahora.  I am working under the table for the moment.
  • No extraño mi trabajo en blanco, porque gano mejor en negro.  I don’t miss my registered/legal job, because I’m earning better under the table.

A little Business English for you folks, and my favorite Rolling Stones song with a fitting title: Paint it Black, but don’t be fooled by the name.  The lyrics are clearly about someone who is likely “in the red” instead.

Saudade

In Portuguese, the word “saudade” is when you miss someone or something constantly, and not just in the moment.  It´s possible to summarize the feeling in just one word: saudade.   “Estou sentindo saudade de voce.”

saudades de vc

Part of the fun when learning another language is discovering terms and words that don´t exist in your first language.  I can only speak for comparing Spanish and English, however, words like “friolenta/o” (adjective) and “pochoclera” (noun) are a few of my favorites.

  • Friolenta (Argentina) Friolera (Spain): When someone is sensitive to cold and gets cold easily. “Soy friolenta.
  • Pochoclera: Coming from “pochoclo” (popcorn), this is a light-hearted, fun movie that is suitable for eating popcorn. “Quiero mirar una pochoclera.”

As the previous post gave an example of aboriginal girls always knowing which direction was which, it came back to their language which doesn´t use words like left or right and uses compass points instead.  Germans have an expression for being alone in the woods “Waldeinsamkeit” simply because they have forests and have lived the experience; the term wouldn´t serve a culture who only knows the tropical rain forest.  Our words are all subject to the culture from which we grew up, somehow.  From a recent article in 9GAG, entitled “Untranslatable Words, shows a lot about different cultures,” eleven examples were given, each with a hint of culture associated with the term.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Saudade1

Saudade11Saudade10 Saudade9 Saudade8 Saudade7 Saudade6 Saudade5 Saudade4 Saudade3 Saudade2

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.

Image

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!

Image

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

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

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

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.

Image

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

Is Spanish Sexist?

Not long after you start learning Spanish do you learn that a huge difference with English is that Spanish has genders, as is the case with other Romance languages such as French.  All words are either masculine or feminine in other words.  For example “el hombre” (man) is obviously masculine and “la mujer” (woman) is feminine, but other words such as “map” (el mapa) are masculine and “rain” (la lluvia) are feminine, words that have no explicit gender reference.

Point 2: The masculine gender dominates the language.  For example, if you have “brothers” and “sisters” together, instead of being forced to use both words as you would in English (unless you say siblings), in Spanish you say but one word to mean both—“hermanos.”  ”Hermanos” could also mean more than one brother, however, so despite being confusing at times the masculine dominance is clear.

Point 3: A common stereotype in Latin countries, some more than others, is that ‘machismo’ is ever present among the men, and some say among women too.  Machismo is synonymous with excessive masculinity, both apparent in attitudes and actions.  For a more academic analysis of machismo, go here… Now. 🙂

A BBC article entitled  ¿Es sexista el idioma español?  (Is the Spanish language sexist?) threw out the question if language is a reflection of the culture or vice versa?   One journalist and magazine director, June Fernández from Píkara Magazine, was quoted at saying that the masculine factor in the language is both a bias and a view of reality for how women are treated.  It seems that Fernández supports the theory that language is a reflection of culture.

Gender is a language trait that politicians take full advantage of in Spanish.  Cristina Kirschner, the current Argentine president, directs both “Argentinos” and “Argentinas” in her speeches, instead of the standard Spanish way which would be “Argentinos.”  Another example is the Venezuelan constitution which includes a long list of positions, including “presidente” (male president) and “presidenta” (female president), ministros y ministras (male and female government ministers), y viceministros y viceministras (you have the idea by this point.)

I see aspects of machismo in the culture, and even in my own culture I saw it.  It is close to what some North Americans would call being a “chauvinist.”  It also struck me when several Latin men told me that they considered women to be the actual machistas in society, as women either demand (or allow) men to treat them a certain way and as mothers, “they taught us to be this way,” one said.

So, gender dominance exists on both a grammatical and a societal level.  The sexism debate isn’t a new one, but what never gets old are the examples of it in language and culture.  One that stood out to me is the translation for handcuffs—a symbol of dominance in itself—“las esposas”, which means “wives” in English.

Need I say more? (Hehehe)

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482103958/

The Thrill of the Hunt

Here’s a little bit of linguistics for you, and don’t get lost in the details.  Just follow along…

phoneme is a unit in the sound system of a language (like a letter but the sound that the symbol gives, not the symbol itself), and these units are pronounced a number of ways depending on the allophone, which are the different ways a phoneme is pronounced.

/Phonemes are written like this between slashes./

[Allophones are written like this between brackets.]

In English a few examples are as follows: /p/ = [p,b] and /t/ [t,d].  A common example in Spanish is the /s/ (fricativa alveolar sorda, for those who care) which has two allophones [s,z].  Something curious about Spanish has just to do with this!

In most Spanish dialects, the the verb to marrycasar, is pronounced the exact same as the verb to hunt, cazar.  A yahoo forum said the following when asked what the difference was between these two verbs:

  • Que primero te caza la vieja y luego te tienes que casar.  (First the old lady hunts you and then you have to marry her.)

He sounds pretty cynical doesn’t he?  Another skeptic would say the following:

  • Cazar: Es cuando matan a los animales. (When they kill animals.)
  • Casar: Es cuando los animales se matan solos.  (When the animals kill each other alone.)
  • *See blog where this quote came from here.

However you see hunting or marriage, it’s pretty comical that they are pronounced the same.  Some say it’s the thrill of the hunt – the hunt leading to marriage, where others see it al revés.

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482103522/

Journey of Discovery

I’ve always loved learning and always loved discovering new things.  Although learning from blogs or starting a blog didn’t grab me for many years.  But that was then and this is now.  I’m starting this blog as a way to continue my discovery of language and linguistics—two things that surround all of us everyday, and something that I believe strikes an interest in all of us to some degree.

My name is Meg, and I’m an everyday girl really, a student for life (in and out of the classroom.)  From Denver, Colorado, I recently finished my master’s in Spanish linguistics and am currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I have the privilege of living in a new culture and learning about a language that isn’t my own everyday, but curiously what has happened during my time in Argentina (which will be two years this year), is that I have learned more about my own language and my own culture.  When you teach your own language (and answer crazy questions regularly that you’ve never thought about) and when you get some distance from the land you always knew, undoubtedly you gain a different perspective.

So since this is my first post—the inauguration of my blog, if you will—I thought I’d give some history and explain where my inspiration comes from.

  •  To have another language is to possess a second soul. ~ Charlemagne

I still remember the day I chose to study Spanish at my freshman high school orientation, more than 15 years ago.  I didn’t know anything about the language and had no idea what an influence it would have on my life, but I remember the confidence I had to choose my own way instead of following what most of my friends were doing at the time, studying German.  You see like in most high schools in the United States, few languages were offered, and Chinese certainly wasn’t an option or a consideration.  Spanish seemed like a practical choice, but from the start it was so much more than that.

So high school came and went, as did ar, er and ir verbs.  I endured and enjoyed college only to travel as much as I could afterwards.  I lived in Chile for a short time and experienced first-hand just how different Spanish is around the world.  I continued to take lessons, buy books and explore this passion I had but didn’t know what to do with—the Spanish language.  Eventually it took me to studying linguistics at a master’s level from the University of Colorado Denver and then to Argentina to finish coursework at the University of Buenos Aires; and Buenos Aires, where the humidity can kill, is where I find myself today.

You see I have evolved in this process, like how language evolves, and I’ve discovered along the way language and linguistic insights that continue to amaze me, but more so, I’ve discovered and continue to discover new parts of myself.  I believe the discovery of anything that we find a passion will only bring us closer to ourselves, or perhaps it is that ‘second soul’ that Charlemagne referenced.

The one thing we all have in common is language, no matter the color of our skin or country of origin.  I know this blog will develop with time, and hopefully gain some readers in the meantime!  Until then, my aim is to share about the wonder of language that surrounds us everyday, everywhere, and to continually write about my journey of discovery, both personally and linguistically.

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482104174/

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: