- Were you at the theatre last night?
- No, I was in the theatre.
- But I asked you to meet me at the theatre, not inside it.
- I'm sorry, darling, I didn't realise that you meant outside the theatre.
- Of course, you didn't sweetheart, you never notice anything...
- What do you mean...?
- That you're always oblivious to the world around you. I could have said I would meet you on the theatre and you wouldn't have dared to look up to see if I was lying on the roof.
- That's quite unfair, dear. Especially when...
Oh, and people still wonder why the divorce rate is going up worldwide. As long as we have this confusion over the use of a preposition that indicates inclusion, people will be often floored as to when to meet someone at the cinema or in the cinema. When to put food on the table or on the boot of the car. Unless you want to leave a trail of rice and peas all over the M5 on your way to Devon.
There are two eternal problems I've had with the English language for as long as I can remember. One is pronunciation. The fact that a word can change the manner in which you utter it just by modifying or adding one or more letters is still mystifying to me (for instance, famous and infamous). The other one is prepositions and specifically 'in'. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to change posts on (or is that 'in'?) this blog because I think I've used 'in' wrongly.
It all comes from the fact that in Spanish we only have one preposition to deal with the 'at the theatre', 'on the table' and ' in the car' scenarios. We just say 'en'. It follows then that when a Spanish speaker learns another language, like for instance German, he or she is never sure whether to use 'auf', 'bei' or 'in' and will wind up using the incorrect preposition. For example, if you are 'an dem Tisch/am Tisch' people will interact with you at a dinner party. Nevertheless, if you insist on being 'auf dem Tisch', people will leave you alone and your only company will be the house children. You'll be behaving like them, because you will be sitting on the table, instead of at the table, which is what 'am Tisch' translates as. I'm sure Franz Ferdinand's (the archduke, not the band) life would have been spared had the perpetrators been taught the correct use of the phrase 'beim Erzherzog zu sein'. That didn't mean to put a bullet between his eyes, Michael (sorry, that was a reference to the band). The fact that in the Teutonic lexicon one has the dativ and akkusativ cases makes things worse. So it's time to turn our backs away from the Germanic languages and head for the safety of romance langua...
Why are you laughing? Just because I was about to say that romance languages such as French, Portuguese and Italian were safer in terms of prepos... Why are you still scoffing at me? What's that you're saying? That... it's the same? No, it isn't. For instance, in French...
Actually, you're right. Spanish-speakers are not better off when they switch to one of our sister languages. Oh, dear, where's that coalition spirit? We need a bit of Cleggza-Camza factor now. If you were to use the Spanish 'en' in French all the time to signify inclusion you would be making gargantuan errors. Because, say, that you were in Switzerland, you would be speaking en français, sitting dans le théâtre and finding out what's au programme.
So, my dear readers and fellow bloggers, it's time to retire to the safety of my own language. How would that opening passage read in Spanish, then?
- ¿Tú estabas en el teatro ayer por la noche? Were you at the theatre last night?
- Sí, yo estaba en el teatro. Yes, I was in the theatre.
- ¿Pero dónde estabas? Yo estaba afuera del teatro. But where were you ? I was outside the theatre.
- Lo siento querida, no me di cuenta que querias decir afuera. I'm sorry, darling, I didn't realise that you meant outside the theatre.
- Por supuesto, corazón. Nunca te das cuenta de nada. Of course, you didn't sweetheart, you never notice anything...
- ¿Que tú quieres decir? What do you mean...?
- Que te pasan carretas y carretones y no te das cuenta. Yo podria haberte dicho que me iba a encontrar contigo encima del teatro y no hubieras ni siquiera mirado para arriba para ver si estaba en el techo. That you're always oblivious to the world around you. I could have said I would meet you on the theatre and you wouldn't have dared to look up to see if I was lying on the roof.
- Eso no es justo, sobre todo cuando... That's quite unfair, dear. Especially when...
You probably noticed it yourselves. Hispanic asssistance notwithstanding, that passage is still confusing and as far from being resolved as the England football team are from winning even a five-a-side Sunday league impromptu tournament. No, Spanish can do nothing for that couple. They don't need a linguist but a Relate counsellor.
Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music', to be published on Sunday 4th July at 10am (GMT)