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?