Thursday 10 December 2009
Living in a Bilingual World (The One About the Linguistic Ruse)
- ¡Quiero que mi hermana salga de mi cuarto ahora mismo! I want my sister to leave my room right now!
I was more surprised by Son's correct use of the subjunctive mood of the verb 'salir' (to leave) than by the actual message he was conveying. After all, even though he and Daughter get on very well, they have been known to have the odd squabble now and then. But what was happening now and has been, in fact, occurring in the last couple of years is worth seeing as an exercise in parental control... by the children.
Whereas both Daughter and Son's Spanish accents are as neutral as they can be due to the lack of surrounding Hispanic speech patterns, that has never affected their fluency. Grammar is still wanting sometimes but overall their linguistic skills are excellent. A plus, or drawback - whichever way you choose to see it - is that they are not exposed to insults in my mother tongue. And I mean the benign ones, the equivalent to 'Damn!' in English. This brings a mix of comfort and displeasure at the same time as, on the one hand I will be very unlikely to ever become the object of their adolescent linguistic wrath (I will leave that to Wife), but on the other hand I will probably miss a '¡Coño!' or '¡Carajo!' said with vim (by the way there's a bar called 'Carajo' in Vitoria, in the Basque Country, needless to say it cracked me up the first time I heard of it). I know that those parents who already have problems with their teenage children will tell me that I will come to rue that fantasy but when you live in a foreign land even the sound of a 'palabra fea' ('ugly word', as my late Gran used to called them) in your native tongue coming out of your children's mouths is enough to make your day.
There are promising signs on the horizon, though, that this situation will change soon. As I explained at the beginning of this post I have noticed a tendency in the last two years, especially in Son, to tailor his Spanish in a way that it will attract my attention. His arguments with his sister still take place in English, but when I step in to calm down the storm, and demand both versions of the story, his replies are grammatically correct and semantically sound. This has led to his younger sibling raising her game and now Daughter has the most amazing rows with me using language that I'm sure she has been discovering on her own (visions of her with a torch on in her bedrooom at 2am raiding her English-Spanish dictionary for 'unusual' terms she could bring up in an altercation with me look very plausible).
When we go to Cuba or Spain both Son and Daughter speak in English to each other. But the other day I was downstairs sorting out the clothes to iron when I heard Son utter a word in Spanish to his sister. I stopped what I was doing and yes, they were having a conversation, if somewhat basic (something to do with school) in Spanish. And would you believe it? Neither a squabble, nor an 'ugly word' in sight. Marvellous.
Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music', to be published on Sunday 13th December at 10am (GMT)