Saturday 9 February 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Moderato)

Son: La maestra se dio a nosotros una tarea difícil (The teacher gave 'herself' a difficult homework to us)

Me: Don't say 'se', just say 'nos dio' and drop the 'nosotros'.

Reflexive verbs are a delicate subject for Spanish speakers, so I can only imagine what a nightmare they are for learners of Cervantes' language. There are countless situations where we say: 'Díceselo' (tell him/her) rather than 'Dícelo'. My favourite one is 'Me comí toda la comida' (I ate all my food) where the reflexive pronoun overwrites the transitive character of the verb 'to eat' in Spanish.

This bad use of grammar, of which I am also a culprit, can only be attributed to an oral language that more and more relies on shortcuts, speed and abbreviations. In the case of the Spanish language, the only analogy I can find is the use of the famous 'Partikeln' in German.

Partikeln are words that do not have a proper function in the same way as a verb or adjective, yet render the speech richer and give the text a more nuanced make-up. You can find anything between five and fourteen Partikeln in a given sentence in German and this is devastating for those of us who have found ourselves dealing with the Teutonic language as we blindly believe that there must be a hidden meaning in these words, otherwise why would anyone go to the trouble of lining them up in a sentence?

In English, although the situation is not as dire as in the two aforementioned languages, there are complications with the use of 'self'. These arise from a desire to sound at times a bit more cultured and learned than usual and the consequences are risible as in 'Myself and two others friends went to the cinema last night. From my grammar lessons in Uni I always thought that the correct way was 'Two friends and I...'.

It is amazing that Son and Daughter have not encountered as many difficulties dealing with the terrifying subjunctive mood as with reflexive verbs. This would probably go some way to explain why Wife and I have such a terrible time reminding Son to wash himself in the mornings...
Copyright 2008

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