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Day 13 – Sometimes, The Spanish Are Right (On Language)

October 23, 2010

Location: Classroom in Cusco, Peru

Date: Saturday, October 23, 2010

One more day of intense Spanish classes. My brain is mush. Despite my gooey state, I have the following lingual observations (I can’t help it, I’m a lawyer; words are my trade; the nuances of language fascinate me):

· Spanish often says things more beautifully than English. For example, to say that someone is right you’d translate that to “tener razon” which literally translates into “to have a reason.” That means when you say to someone in Spanish, “You are right,” you’re actually saying, “You have a reason.” Somehow, that sounds more right; or in Spanish, perhaps I’d say, “That sounds more reasonable.”

Whatever. I’ll say this (in English): “Spanish, you got it right.”

· In Spanish, things rarely just “are.” They’re usually an actor of some kind. For example, in English you would say, “Today it is cold.” In other words, you’re not implying that something is making it cold; the cold just “is.” End of story. In Spanish, you can use the verb hacer which means “to make” or “to do.” So you can say, “Hace frio,” which means something closer to, “It’s made cold.” In other words, the cold doesn’t just magically exist; something had to make it that way (God? El Niño? Weather leprechauns?). I’m sure this is significant; I just have no idea why.

· There’s a lot of Spanish in Tagalog, one of the official languages of the Philippines (the other: English). For example, in Tagalog we use the word mashiado to mean “too” as in “too hot” or “too big” (e.g. “Ako hay mashiadong guapo y malaki.”). In Spanish, the word is demasiado; in other words, just add “de.” I find this remarkable for two reasons.

One: there’s a lot of frickin’ Spanish in Tagalog, which means both that I’m picking up Spanish quicker than I have a right to and that my Spanish accent isn’t half bad.

Two: Filipinos don’t speak Spanish. This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you look at all the other former Spanish colonies. Most (all?) of them, besides the Philippines, speak Spanish even the hill tribes in the depths of the jungle. And not just bits and pieces of Spanish, but full on Español. Not Filipinos, though. Apparently, we are a stubborn, unruly people. Sure, that empire thing works elsewhere and we’ll smile to your face while we incorporate some of your words into our native tongue, but we’ll be damned if you foist your whole language on us. Four hundred and fifty years of ruling the islands and the Spanish couldn’t even make the Filipinos keep the “de” in demasiado. The Philippines may not be perfect, but apparently it was always going to be imperfect on its own terms. I think I just summarized about 40% of Filipino history.

And that’s that. No pics today. Just a working vacation day.

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