30 April 2016

NJ: A Lack of Onslaught

I moved to New Jersey last July. I was hoping for an onslaught of linguistic curiosities to throw me for a whirl and provide fodder for the blog, but to my surprise, the only linguistic oddity (read: annoyance) that hit me over the head was the incessant use of the phrase “you’re all set?” or “I’m all set.” People use this to mean: “Have you had a chance to review the menu, or do you need more time?” “Do you need gas in your car?” “How’s the project coming?” or “There’s nothing else you can help me with, thank you.” “I’m not interested in seconds; I’ve had enough, thank you.” “I’m ready to go now, please.”

I've not realized that not only is it the pan-answer, it's also the giveaway clue.  This is how you can tell the internet startup you're supporting was founded by a Yankee.  The checkout screen looks like this:

16 September 2014

False Cognates and False Friends

There´s a guy in Michael´s Spanish classes who is entirely too enthusiastic about participating in class.  I´m hesitant to say he´s enthusiastic about learning Spanish--because maybe he´d be smarter about his choices??

He seems to blurt out everything that comes into his head, no matter how incredibly wrong and illogical it may be.  I absolutely love hearing stories about him.

They use different scenarios in their textbooks to learn grammar and vocabulary.  For example, in one unit they´re doing charity work in a South American country, and, having used all their tools and construction vocabulary, they´re finished building a house.  Then, they go to a furniture store to furnish the house.

The sentence is: No se adonde empezar.  Adonde esta el mostrador de servicio?
He translates: I don´t know where to begin.  Where is THE SERVICE MONSTER?

I die when I hear this story.
Mostrador de servicio means service counter.

A new favorite hit from this kid:

The sentence is:  Quiero una boda pequeña.  Que solo estemos nosotros dos, y dos testigos.
He translates:  I want a small wedding.  Just us two, AND TWO TESTICLES.

I can´t even.

I can´t.

Testigos means witnesses.  I´m sure it has the same root at testify!  Idiot.

I mean, come on.  Sure, those words *might* sound alike (they don´t really), but wouldn´t your head do a double check??  A small wedding, just us two and two ___.  Even without a word of reference to fill in the blank, wouldn´t your mind automatically hope for "witnesses" or "guests" or something wedding-related?!

I´d say he´s fallen into the trap of false cognates, or "falsos amigos" as the Spanish teacher calls it--but it turns out false cognates and false friends are two different things.

  • Plain-old cognates are words that come from the same root--that is, they´re etymologically related.  
  • False cognates are when words sound similar but actually have different roots, and end up having similar meanings.  I didn´t know this!  For example, in French, butterfly is papillon and in Nahuatl papalotl.*  Or in Chuvash nĕrtte meaning "awkward, inept" and English nerdy.  Wiki has a wonderful list of examples here.
  • False friends are when words sound similar, used to have the same root a long time ago, but have since diverged in meaning.  The most common example we hear is embarazado and embarrassed.  Embarazado in Spanish actually means "pregnant"--but it comes from the same etymological root as embarrassed!**  Another example I stumbled upon in my life is the English word preservative and the French and German préservatif and Präservativ, respectively.  In English preservative is something that preserves, in French and German these words mean birth control or condom!  They´re etymologically related--they´re false friends!***
There are tons of examples of false friends, but this is one of my favorites:
The sign (in Dutch) really says,
"Mommy, (I want) that one, that one, that one. Please."

So it turns out this idiot guy in class is neither a victim of false cognates nor of false friends.  Mostrador and monster have never been etymologically related, nor do they have similar meanings.  Same goes for testigos and testicles.  He´s just an idiot.

*I had written about Spanish words of Nahuatl origin before but I had missed this one, it seems! I just realized papalotl is where the Spanish word for kite comes from, papalote.  So if that´s a Nahuatl word, WHAT did the Spaniards call kites before they came to the new world?
Turns out there were no toy kites before 1660, really.  I guess they didn´t have kites before they came to the Americas.  What a sad world.

**From OED and the Spanish Royal Academy:
Embarrass.  1670s, "perplex, throw into doubt," from French embarrasser (16c.), literally "to block," from Italian imbarrazzo, from imbarrare "to bar," from assimilated form of in- "into, upon" + Vulgar Latin *barra "bar".  Meaning "to hamper, hinder" is from 1680s. Meaning "make (someone) feel awkward" first recorded 1828. Original sense preserved in embarras de richesse (1751), from French (1726): the condition of having more wealth than one knows what to do with.
The French word was derived from the Spanish embarazar, whose first recorded usage was in 1460 in Cancionero de Stúñiga (Songbook of Stúñiga) by Álvaro de Luna. The Spanish word likely comes from the Portuguese embaraçar, which probably is a combination of the prefix em- (from Latin in- for "in-") with baraça "a noose", or "rope", which makes sense with the synonym encinta ("on noose, on rope" because of the old usage of women to wear a strap of cloth on their dresses when pregnant). The Royal Spanish Academy theorizes that embaraçar originated from Celtic because its root palabra existed before the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula.

***From the OED:
preservative comes from late 14c., from Old French preservatif and directly from Medieval Latin praeservativus, from stem of praeservare (see preserve (v.)). The noun is from early 15c., "a preservative medication;" sense of "chemical added to foods to keep them from rotting" is from 1875.

09 September 2014

A tribute to Andw

In honor of having passed my five year blogging anniversary, I want to pay a small tribute to one of my dearest friends and most avid linguistic contributors.  Andw´s written some really great comments on my posts--my favorites are about loveme, the Oxford comma, diminuitive forms, preposition use, the past tense, and being descriptivist.

Even though he might not blog for himself, his Facebook is full of gems.  I went back through the last five years of his posts, and have compiled my favorites of his linguistics gems for myself.

In no particular order.

Love you Andw.

03 September 2014

Brazilian Portuguese and Translating

Dr. Hall is the sweetest.  At the end of his raucous laughter-inducing response to yesterday´s post, he wrote:

As always, thank you, Chela, for sharing your verbal musings about verbal matters.  Are you taking any more language/linguistics courses these days?

Well, it´s probably no surprise to you that the answer is yes.  I have two projects to report!

1.  I´m learning Portuguese--specifically, the Brazilian kind.  

You avid readers might recall (from this post here) that I´ve tried once before to study a language in a non-traditional setting.  It didn´t work.  The problem then was that the teacher was my mom (I didn´t tell you that back then because I wanted you to take me seriously).  Now don´t get me wrong--she used to be an Italian teacher officially--her skills were not the problem.  The problem was that my mom and I love spending time together, and when we´d get together with the intention of having Italian lesson time, we invariably got sidetracked and ended up doing something else entirely.  I take full responsibility.  We weren´t disciplined about it.

Well, that was five years ago and neither my brain nor my heart can turn off this passion for languages, and I was aching for something new.  I recently went to China to visit Khya (he lives in Shanghai) and I was completely impressed by his massive Mandarin and Shanghainese skills.*  I know he studied Chinese in college, but I also know that was a slow-moving process.  When he learned he was probably moving to China just over three years ago, he started doing the Mandarin Rosetta Stone.  He was completely dedicated and would sit at his desk for at least an hour each night repeating and repeating the lessons.  Well, I know three years have passed, but I would think for the average person it´d take more time than that to be as good as he is at Chinese.  Let me tell you, he´s good.

And so while there I was inspired to pick up a Rosetta Stone course.  I seriously considered starting Mandarin--but who are we kidding?  By the time I´m ready to use it conversationally, Khya probably will have moved somewhere else.  I´m trying to stay ahead of the curve, here.  Word on the street is that he might move to Brazil.  I´d definitely visit him there.  Portuguese it is.

This also makes me more marketable in my job search.  I saw this job listing here and thought, "yeah!  This is the perfect job for me--and I´m the perfect candidate for this job!"--except for the Portuguese part.  I mean, I´ve accidentally read Portuguese countless times.  Being fluent in Spanish and French allows me to read Portuguese, no problem.  But, man!  Whenever I hear it spoken, I don´t understand a thing!  I applied for the job anyway.  Haven´t heard back.

So Michael got me the Rosetta Stone for Brazilian Portuguese, and I´m trying my best at working on it regularly.  It´s been a week or so, and most days I´ve gotten my full hour in.  But let me tell you, learning a language this way is WEIRD.  

Before this, I´ve only ever learned languages in the traditional classroom setting.  I started learning French in second grade, and speaking Spanish at home made that one a breeze.  I started learning German at LSMSA, and the teacher there had a methodology pretty opposite to Rosetta Stone.  We learned German grammar to it´s fullest and most complex extent in two years, but along the way forgot about vocabulary and oral practice** almost completely.  And so when I went to college intending to double major in German, I took the placement test and only tested out of the first semester of the first level.  I was really mad about this!  But I knew they were right in placing me there.  I only knew the most basic vocabulary.  But Dr. Olsen had drilled charts upon charts of grammar into our heads.  I knew it backward and forward.  Now don´t get me wrong--I loved it at the time.  I´m a mathematical, analytical person at heart, and this approach was just fine by me.  Anyway.  No use in crying over spilt milk.  I continued studying both French and German throughout college, and studied abroad a few times, in France and Germany respectively--at language academies***--which were wonderful.  I now consider myself fluent in French and highly proficient in German.

But Rosetta Stone has no charts.  No grammar.  No rules.  No tests.  I guess most people would like that, but it stresses me out.  It´s unbelievably repetitive.  This annoys me.  I just want to say, "yes, yes, I know all this, we´ve done it a thousand times, skip this, let´s learn something new!"  But I can´t.  Due to the "no charts and no tests" approach, I guess they´re hoping it´ll all just stick due to the "brute force of repetition" approach.  I guess it´s working.  I know a lot of basic words and phrases already.  And in my mind I´m making conjugation charts.

2.  My second announcement is that in January I´m starting this translation certification program at Loyola (provided I pass the interview and placement test in December--I´ll let you know).  It´s called a Certificate in Translation and Interpreting.  I could choose the Legal track or the Healthcare track, or both and well--yeah, I´m doing both.  It´ll only be three semesters.  I´ve told myself this´ll be useful in the job hunt, too.  The truth is, I´ve always considered translating one of my dream jobs.  More specifically, I´ve dreamed of translating novels, poetry, plays--but I guess starting in the healthcare or legal industries won´t hurt.  Plus, good ol´ Verizon is footing the bill so... yeah.  I´m obviously really happy about this.  

More updates to come!

*Andw can relate a story from when he went to visit Khya last year and they met some guys who were surprised to see a white guy speaking Mandarin.  Then Khya switched to their native Japanese, then the local dialect, Shanghainese--all with ease.  They were understandably astounded.

**For listening practice, we mainly just watched movies in German.  The selection was excellent, but my favorite was watching Mozart´s The Magic Flute.  Dr. Olsen teaches German and Russian, but his degrees are in Fine Art, and I love that he found reason for us to watch an opera in German class.  Well, the singing was in German, so of course this would help in our pursuit of German fluency...

***In France I went to L´Institut de Touraine; in Germany I attended the Sprachinstitut Tübingen.  Both were quite excellent.

02 September 2014

I just want to shout, "WHO?!"

I know I´ve touched before on words that aren´t words becoming words.  This post here was over four years ago!  I was young and foolish then.  "If it acts like a word we might as well let it be one," I said.  I guess I´ve become more of a prescriptivist in my old age.  I´m aware of this now because Michael asks me about once a week if I consider myself more of a prescriptivist or descriptivist.  I always tend toward prescriptivist but, I of course know that language isn´t unchanging or frozen.  I just like rules, and grammar, and knowing how to speak correctly.  I know that modern English isn´t what it was 500 years ago and language is always evolving, but come on!  We can´t lean too far descriptivist, either.  We can´t just take a jumble of sounds and say, this is what this means now.  And quite frankly, sometimes I really just say "huh?"--I sincerely didn´t understand what that jumble of sounds that you just made was supposed to mean and I refuse to start using said jumble in the way that you say, on a stupid whim!  "Turn down for what" doesn´t mean anything.  It makes no sense!  It´s not even a clever reference to anything.  I´m not doing it.*

I know I lean prescriptivist now because when people speak or write incorrectly IT MAKES ME ANGRY.  I understand the difference between stylistic choices and just plain wrong.  I do.  "Supposably" is never a stylistic choice.  Capitalizing the first letter of random words in a sentence "for emphasis" is not stylistic.  It´s not fancy.  It´s just plain wrong.

When I was younger, I liked cultural and geographical linguistic anomalies--I liked how they marked a person to be from a certain place--how they implied a history and a culture.  I still do.  I used to really, really wish I had a typical New Orleans accent.  I wish my accent gave me away as a New Orleanian.  I wish it were so plainly stamped on my forehead.  I love this city and with pride would wear that stamp.  But I don´t have it.  I try to use some New Orleanian phrases sometimes, but I do so very intentionally--despite it sounding wrong in my head.  "I´ll go by her house tonight."  "Yeah, you right."  These have a history.  They´re cultural--stylistic, even.  It´s different.

I remember moving to Natchitoches when I was 15, and never having heard anyone ever before use "could" so liberally as they did.  "I might could do that."  "She might could´ve come."  "I used to could play the piano."  I hated it.  Hated it hated it.  It was like nails on chalkboard for me to hear "could" thrown about this way, and yet I was forced to hear it daily.  But you know, they wore me down, in time, all those country-talking kids.  When I would go home to New Orleans my friends started to say I sounded country, and I kind of liked sounding different, and I started using "could" in the way I had hated.  I thought it was funny.  Like my own personal secret joke.

Fortunately, it´s fallen out of my vernacular, but when I hear someone else say it (which is rare in New Orleans), I smile fondly at the memory of my time in small-town Louisiana.

I live in New Orleans again, but this time as a conscientious adult.  I pick and choose very carefully the local-speak I let into my diction.  I´m in an environment that is flooded with incorrect English, I try to just let the mistakes wash over me and I try to let it go--but I have to tell you.  My latest pet peeve that I cannot let go is "they have" or "they got" instead of "there is" or "there are."  For example, instead of "There are a lot of cars on the highway today," I too often hear "They got a lot of cars on the highway today."  I just want to shout WHO?!  WHO has a lot of cars on the highway today?!  All day long I shout in my head WHO?! and the only reason I don´t correct people is--not because I think that´s a jerk thing to do--oh no--it´s because I don´t even think they know they´re making this mistake.  They wouldn´t understand my question.  It wouldn´t be a simple fix.  It would take time and explanation, but I´m on the edge.  I´m on the verge of verbalizing my internal WHO a thousand times a day.  I feel it coming.  They´re not going to win me over on this one.  I hate it.

*I tried to understand it.  I really did.  I even listened to this song in its entirety in hopes that hearing more lyrics would clarify the meaning.  THERE ARE NO OTHER LYRICS.  It just says "turn down for what" over and over again.  I´m not doing it.

25 May 2014

Let It Go Translations

(This post is only tangentially linguistically themed.)

So, I´ve been a big fan of Idina Menzel and her voice for a long time--since I discovered her, and RENT--probably around the year 2000.  

To me, she´s always been a big star, being discovered in RENT and then being part of the smash Broadway hit Wicked, I thought for sure she was a household name.  Turns out, boy was I wrong.  Among musical theatre fans, sure, they all know her--but around the average Joe Blow, not at all. Not until the Disney movie Frozen, anyway!

It seems she doesn´t even think of herself as a big star, even now.  This is crazy to me because as far as Broadway goes, I think there´s very little room for her to get bigger in fame than she already is/was before Frozen.  I follow her on social media, and she seems to be the average cute girl next door--with a job that she loves and precious kids and she´s going through a divorce, it´s really sad, and OHMYGAHD she was invited to sing at the Oscars and she was freaking out!  Continuously posting about how nervous1 she was about this!  I couldn´t believe it!  Her job—which she is arguably one of the best in the world at—is performing perfectly live on stage in front of audiences night after night.  How could she possibly be nervous about the Oscars?!  She does this all the time, without the help of autotune or time zone corrections *cough* *Mariah Carey* *cough*

Well, the infamous Adele Dazeem thing happened, and I think she sang well, but it wasn´t her best performance.  We´re all friends here, we can admit it.  It was just okay.  You could tell she was a nervous wreck, poor baby!  I do really love her performance with Jimmy Fallon and his gang--her voice is so beautiful and in this one, she´s clearly having fun--and I feel like this is what she sounds like when she´s just singing around the house, playing with her kids.  If she were just singing around the house, and I were there, I´d be like, "damn, girl.  You sing real good… wow, yeah."

Now, I know this Let It Go song from Frozen has been covered and parodied 10,000 times.2  And there are countless things on the internet about how kids around the world won´t stop singing this song, thereby driving their parents mad.  If you´re one of those parents, well, then, I guess you should have stopped reading this post by now.  I´m not one of those parents and I´m not sick of this song yet.  I still love it.  I think the writers intentionally made it sound like Stephen Schwartz because they realized Wicked-style-music sounds really lovely in Idina´s tone and register.

Here she is singing Defying Gravity from Wicked and her voice is so beauuuuuutiful.

Tonight I was catching up on The Voice with my mom and this contestant girl sang Let It Go, and didn´t do a very good job.3  It´s understandable!  It´s a hard song to sing!  I started Googling around and stumbled upon this video Disney put together of all the languages this movie has been translated into. 

I, of course, really love it.

I´ve since read that this movie was translated into 41 different languages and unlike Avril Lavigne (read my rant about her here), obviously Disney has the money to actually translate this thing properly.  It´s a huge task, but of course Disney has every reason to want their blockbuster to be perfect all around the world.  Well, I´ve decided I want to work for their team.  This article4 in the LA Times says that back in the day, high budget translation wasn´t that big of a deal—for instance, Lion King was only translated into 15 languages, and Tarzan only 5, and all the songs recorded by Phil Collins himself!  I´ll have to look into these for a later post, of course.  

Here´s what I know.  There´s this man named Rick Dempsey whose title is “Senior Vice President of Creative for Disney Character Voices International.”  It´s basically his job to “internationalize” Disney movies.  He has 76 people around the world in 19 offices who oversee movies in 55 languages, according to this article.5  Yes, I want him to hire me.  They translated Frozen into 41 languages (even though the video above only shows 25 of them—I know you were counting).

One of my few dream jobs (along with being a singer for Cirque du Soleil) is to be a full time translator, but I´d like to translate novels.  I´ve never been good at rhyming or making songs in English—I´m sure I´d be no good at it in any other language, either.  I´ve done a bit of poetry translation, and man, it´s mentally exhausting.  The translation can really make or break a work´s success.  I´ve seen good translations of musicals in Mexico, but I´ve also seen it go badly. 

As an aside: There´s this musical I saw in Vegas along time ago called Notre Dame de Paris.  Well, it was lovely.  It was translated all over the world, and seriously, according to the Guinness Book of World records, had the most successful first year of any musical ever (it debuted in 1998).  Despite this, in the US the critics destroyed it in the press, mostly due to its poor translation from the original French—and soon thereafter it went under.  It was translated for Canada, Belgium, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Japan, China, South Korea, Haiti, Taiwan, Singapore and Lebanon.  Some popular songs from the show, have also been translated into Belarusian, Catalan, Czech, German, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Dutch and English.  But the English translation was so bad that it only played in the US for less than two years.  Andw has a DVD of the stage production in the original French and, oh how we treasure it.  I still enjoy watching it, and the soundtrack is one of my favorites.

Khya and I used to translate pop songs from English into other languages in high school for fun, but we… took a lot of artistic liberties.  That is, we didn´t do a very good job, but it was fun.  Andw and I have talked about creating a new translation for Notre Dame for years, but haven´t gotten around to it.  Maybe one day we´ll do it.

Anyway.  I can hardly imagine how hard it is to translate a text such as an animated movie and convert its idioms to a local understanding, keeping the essence of the story the same, and making songs still rhyme, too, and have the lips match up!  The actors’ and animations’ lip movements, body language and what’s on screen at the time all kind of have to match.  I know this is done all the time, but that doesn´t make the task any less difficult.  Sounds like the most exciting of challenges.

But hold on, Disney even went so far as to find singers whose voices sounded like Idina´s.  Part of Dempsey’s job is to find a singer with similar qualities to the actor’s voice in each country.

Watching the multilingual version of ‘Let it Go’, you can see how fantastically both the voices and the words have been matched up with the original animation, and how the singers have been picked to match the character and to sound as similar as possible to the English voice.  They did a good job!

I was a little surprised to find out what the 41 languages are, that Disney considers to be key.  Among them, 3 versions for China: Cantonese, and two different Mandarin versions (Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China).  The Mandarin dubs for Taiwan and Mainland China are translated and dubbed by separate teams; they have different voice actors, different accents and different dialogue. Even the lyrics for the songs are different, as you can see in this post.  Disney takes a similar approach with French and French Canadian, and Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.  There are 3 Spanish versions,too One is for Latin America, and Spanish speaking Americans, another for Spain, and a third for South America.  Ha!

In an NPR interview6, Dempsey was asked if some languages were harder to translate to than others.  He responded, “You know, certainly your territories where they have dubbed for many years are going to be easier - like, in France. But we have some new languages; like, Vietnamese is a fairly new language for us to dub in. We did Malay Bahasa, and that's a new language for us. So there's always going to be challenges when you're opening up a new market and dubbing there for the first or second time.”

That´s how you know they had a big budget, hahaha.  Growing up watching cartoons dubbed in Spanish all the time, I´ve seen some really shoddy translation jobs, and some very obviously not Mexican, even if the cartoon was being sold in Mexico.

Lastly, I came across this list—someone else´s opinion of the top 10 best non-English versions of Let It Go.  Yep, I´m still not tired of it.

2 This is one of my personal favorites http://youtu.be/2bVAoVlFYf0  

04 May 2014

Making Plurals with -i

Michael poingnantly corrects anyone he ever hears say the word "syllabi."  We were talking on the phone (I got a fancy new bluetooth radio in my car for Christmas--thanks honey!) as I was driving home and he told me the story of how he had corrected a classmate that day.  Outraged, he says to me, "It´s ´syllabuses.´  Why would anyone say ´syllabi´?"  I sheepishly told him maybe they say it because that´s what everyone else says.  "Like who?" he asks.  Everyone I´ve ever heard, I guess.

The rule is simple enough.  Words of Greek origin are made plural with -es and words of Latin origin are made plural with -i.  For example, octopuses, cacti.  But is ´syllabus´ Greek or Latin?!

And so while I´m driving I look it up in the Online Etymology Dictonary.  I found the story so funny, I´ve decided to share it here.  The confusion is all based on a mistake!

syllabus (n.) 
1650s, "table of contents of a series of lectures, etc.," from Late Latin syllabus "list," ultimately a misreading of Greek sittybos "parchment label, table of contents," of unknown origin. The misprint appeared in a 15c. edition of Cicero's "Ad Atticum" (see OED). Had it been a real word, the proper plural would be syllabi.

But it wasn´t a real word, so the proper plural* is, in fact, syllabuses!

*Well, that depends on if you´re a descriptivist or prescriptivist.  Language is evolving and in time, the common vernacular becomes what is correct blah blah blah.

Verbs Not Necessary

I don´t know if this is a New Orleans thing, or a general people thing, but I had never really heard people speak sentences without verbs until I moved back to New Orleans after college.  Maybe only then did I start dealing with the general public, instead of with generally educated people.  I don´t know.  I blogged about this before, here.  Back then, I was dumbfounded when my coworker had texted me, "We on are way."  I´ll never forget that moment.

I now hear people speak without verbs almost daily.  I still cringe.  It´s beyond bizzare, to me.  Yesterday, driving home, I was at a red light.  There was a gas station across the way with one of those electronic advert boards.  It was scrolling through promotions, and I happened to notice:


My mouth was agape too long for me to get my phone and take a picture before the light turned green.

05 February 2014

A better past?

I´m surprised I´ve never blogged about this before.  I feel like we talk about it a lot.  You know, I compare Spanish and French to each other linguistically all the time to try to ascertain patterns.  I remember learning in French about the two future tenses: je vais aller and je irai.  Right?  Now, we don´t have this in English, (it´s kind of like I´m going to go vs. I shall go with the latter being all in one word) but those same two forms do exist in Spanish.  Yo voy a ir and yo iré

Okay, I know the verb "to go" is probably irregularly conjugated in every language, but that´s not the point here.  The point is in both Spanish and French we have I + helping verb + infinitive (the composite form) vs. I + simple future conjugation of the verb (the simple form).  In both Spanish and French, people who speak colloquially use the composite.  The simple conjugation sounds more formal in both settings.*  To the best of my knowledge these two have the same connotation and are interchangeable.

Now, what about the past tense?  This happens, too.  Spanish has yo he ido vs. yo fui.  In English we do have this.  It´s I have gone vs. I went.  Are these different?  I think, technically, yes.  They imply different things.  I have gone, to me, means I have gone possibly many times in the past.  I went means I went and it´s over now.  Now what´s funny to me about this is that in Mexico, they say yo fui to mean I went but in Spain, this simple past is nonexistant.  I mean, it used to exist, but it´s antiquated and unused now.  I´ve thought about this so much.  Is Spain-Spanish evolving (degrading?) faster than Mexican-Spanish? Can this be? The only thing I can think of is that since they´ve been speaking Spanish in Spain much longer than they have been in Mexico**, I guess it got started on its decaying process much sooner than Mexico did.  I mean, it´s an interesting question of—okay, when the Spanish settlers conquered Mexico and bestowed their language on the natives there and left, presumably the two speaking bodies had very little contact with each other henceforth and began to evolve separately from each other… but then! with the dawn of quick mass communication, maybe they started looking to each other for reference.  I know Mexicans think of Spain-Spanish as… more correct… kind of the way Americans think of British-English as more formal or correct.  Spain has their Royal Linguistic Academy, Mexico just follows suit.  I don´t know.  It´s a stretch.  Maybe in a hundred years or so Mexico will think of the simple past as obsolete, too.  Who knows.  Maybe the answer is in France!  French used to have a simple past and a composite past but the simple past is now obsolete and only the composite remains… like in Spain!  It might be interesting to see if French colonies still use the simple past as Mexico does.

Here´s what got this conversation started again.  Here´s what´s upsetting to me.  Michael is taking a Spanish 202 class right now.  His teacher is the head of the Foreign Language Department, I think,*** and she is a native Cuban-Spanish speaker.  She insists that yo fui and yo he ido are exactly the same in connotation, but that the composite past is somehow better, more correct.  Which is bullshit.  
They mean different things.  

Here´s an example of a question on his most recent test (translated into English)****.
The instructions say, choose the most appropriate response.  
In the Emergency Room, the nurse speaks with a patient who arrives with a stomachache.
A. What have you eaten today?  
B. What did you eat today?

WTF.  The correct answer is A, according to her.  Michael knew this because he had been paying attention to her preferences in class, not because it makes any logical sense.  Her weak-ass argument is that even though they have the same exact connotation, What have you eaten today is just more correct.  It´s bullshit.  They do imply slightly different things.  The first one implies what have you eaten so far today, whereas the second implies today is over.  What did you eat?  But to honestly ask, which of these is a more appropriate response to “my stomach hurts” is a bullshit question.  I´d say the only way to know which answer is more correct is to know which time of day the question was asked—I clearly don´t have enough information.  

This class is dumb and I want to argue with her but don´t know how.

*You know I never really took Spanish classes, so I´m just going on experience, here.
**Spanish was introduced to the Americas in the 16th century.  The first written standard of Spanish was written in Spain in the 13th century.
***So I think there´s really no one above her to whom it would be appropriate to complain about this.
****In Spanish, the test read as follows:
Escoge la respuesta más apropiada.  
En la sala de emergencia, el enfermero habla con un paciente que llega con dolo de estomago.  
A. ¿Que ha comido hoy?  
B. ¿Que comió hoy?

02 October 2013

Andrew in Chinese

My dear friend Khya moved to Shanghai a year or two back and recently, my other dear friend Andrew went to visit him.
Upon his return Andrew posted this on his fbook and I loved it:

Lots of people in Shanghai take on a western name for ease of communication with us linguistically unskilled outsiders. I met, among more pedestrian names, a Banana and a New Star. And I unexpectedly was given a Chinese way to write my name that is way better than the trisyllabic default used in translating the Bible. ALex Zhang blessed me with "Ānzhū," a friendly bisyllable meaning "peaceful pig."

And in a comment later:
Incidentally, Tyler's has switched around between meaning "Thai happy," "too happy," and "too spicy."

Michael and I are planning a trip to visit Khya in May and I absolutely cannot wait.  I´ve never travelled to Asia before and to see a tiny bit of it with a friend, and my dear husband will be a dream come true.  It will only be my second time visiting a country whose native language I do not speak.  I went to Prague in 2008, and was hoping it would be like the rest of the Europe I had seen--where everyone speaks English, if only a little bit.  Yeah, no.  It wasn´t.  No one spoke any English at all.  In fact, I was lucky most of them spoke some passable German and I was able to fumble around that way.  Anyway, I´m sure China with no Chinese would be completely different from the China I´ll get to see with Khya to guide us.  I mean, I have no reservations about visiting the rest of Asia with no knowledge of the languages and getting by with guidebook in hand like any other tourist, but I´m just so happy about going to visit Khya there.