Posted on | February 21, 2012 | 15 Comments
Hey! I’ve been terrible about posting lately! I miss you guys, but I’ve been SO busy with a heavy work load plus the kids out of school, I’ve barely had time to think. Hope you enjoy this funny guest post!
After 15 years as an expat American living in Peru, I have learned that the time-space continuum can be stretched by language into a whole new dimension.
At first, it was jarring. Early on in the Andes, I discovered that if the diminutive was uttered, I was being presented with irony.
As time has gone by, I’ve learned to embrace this world view, live a more laid back lifestyle and to take life as it comes.
There is one exception though; One common twist of language that still drives me nuts.
In Spanish, how would one say, “I dropped the dish and it broke”?
Se me cayó el plato de mis manos y se rompió.
However, the literal translation of that statement back into English would be:
“The dish fell from my hands and broke itself.”
What happened to the “I” in that statement? It wasn’t me who dropped the dish, so much as the dish leaping out of my hands and breaking itself.
It is as a parent that I have grappled with this the hardest, not only on a grammatical level, but also on a cognitive one.
How do you convey a sense of personal accountability when faced with a language that imbues inanimate objects with inherent willfulness?
Truth be told, I have been known in my household to go off the deep end with my kids when childish disaster strikes and no one is willing to claim responsibility.
“Who broke the lamp!” I ask.
The answer comes almost in unison: “Not me…” “It wasn’t me…” “No fuí yo, daddy…”
“So no one did this?” I ask with incredulity. “The lamp just broke itself?”
“Si, daddy… se rompió!”
I recently a gained some insight, though, when I heard the following segment by Mike Vuolo on NPR (url: http://www.onthemedia.org/
Turns out Spanish is not the only culprit. We once had a grammatical equivalent in English:
“MIKE VUOLO: That’s right. Whatever you’re doing is in progress, so to speak. Now, up until around the mid-1800s or so there was another construction that was similar to the progressive, but it was in a kind of passive voice. So you might say, the house is building, meaning the house is in some unfinished state of builded-ness. The refreshments were preparing. This was called the passival.
BOB GARFIELD: It imputes onto inanimate objects a kind of action.
MIKE VUOLO: Exactly.
BOB GARFIELD: It’s weird.
MIKE VUOLO: Yeah, weird, though you’ve probably come across the passival without even realizing it. In fact, Jane Austin used it quite a bit. In her very first novel, Northanger Abbey, she writes, “The clock struck ten while the trunks were carrying down.” In Little Dorrit Charles Dickens writes, “The street lamps were lighting.”
So, dishes flew out of our hands and broke themselves in archaic English. That’s some comfort.
♬ ♫ ♩Seven plates a-fly’n, six lamps a-breaking, five golden rings… ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬
Rick is the owner and manager of Fertur Peru Travel – Over the last 17 years, Fertur Peru Travel has built a reputation for unsurpassed personal attention, so that visitors can go home counting Peru as the greatest and most memorable travel experience possible. If you plan on traveling in Peru, check out some of the amazing tours they offer.
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