“Odd” Linguistic Components in Spanish

For E.N.

Can you suggest a specific instance in where the languages that you speak handle a linguistic component differently and it has always seemed odd to you. (Maybe when you get tired or if you haven’t spoken the language in quite some time it becomes apparent to you. Maybe a visiting friend always has difficulty with this linguistic component in English as a result).

I am not a Spanish expert. But here are some things I thought were interesting when I was studying the language.

  1. In Spanish, there are two words for forpor and para. So, you need to know which one to use, when.

    Similarly, in Spanish the words pero and sino which are distinct, whereas in English we use only the one word but.

    I forgot a really big one. In Spanish, there are two distinct words ser and estar, whereas in English there is only one in translation: to be.
  2. In Spanish, there is a familiar form for singular you (), and a formal form (usted). We don’t have this in English. It’s my understanding that in Spain, there’s also a familiar form for plural you (vosotros), but I wasn’t taught this so I don’t know much about it. People in Latin America don’t use vosotros.

    I think I read somewhere that English USED TO have a distinction between formal and informal versions of you: the words were thee and thou. Some papers I’ve seen on JSTOR call these the Quaker Thee and Thou. But I don’t know which was formal and which was informal. You’ll have to do some research!

    For whatever reason, these two words dropped out of usage, and now we just have a generic you. But Spanish still maintains and usted, and in Spain they even have that vosotros word.

  3. In Spanish, there’s a distinction between masculine and feminine nouns. Usually, a noun ending in o is masculine while a noun ending in a is feminine. There are some exceptions, e.g. día (day) is masculine. I have heard that some nouns can be either masculine or feminine, e.g. mar (sea).
  4. In some parts of Spain, soft c is pronounced th like a lisp, e.g. cielo (which means sky or heaven) will sound like thielo. But in Latin America, it’s pronounced like an s, like you might expect. I heard somewhere that this may be because some king had a lisp, and so everybody copied it (either to appear to be royal, too, or, more likely, to make the king less self-conscious); this is apparently only myth, though. In Spanish, the word for pronouncing soft c like th is cecear.
  5. I’ve heard that in Spanish, there is much more use of the subjunctive tense compared to English, and that the use of this tense in English is dying out. This might be a disputed conjecture, though.
  6. In Spanish class, we learned to start questions with an upside-down question mark, e.g.

    ¿Cómo se llama usted?

    and exclamations with an upside-down exclamation point,

    ¡Ay, caramba!

    There’s some logic to this. It alerts the reader that a question (or exclamation) is coming up, so you know ahead of time how you are to inflect the tone. In English, you don’t know it’s a question until you get to the end of the sentence.

    This practice may be dying out though. I think in modern times, the upside down characters have been disappearing.

Published in: on 28 March 2009 at 7:39 am  Comments (2)  
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The Oxford Comma

For B.L.

Yeah, that last comma before the “and” is called the Oxford Comma. You can read more about it in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a very entertaining book which I recommend.

I was taught to use the Oxford Comma in grade school, but I’ve noticed that many people don’t use it. If I recall correctly from Eats, Shoots & Leaves, it is a stylistic matter, and not everybody agrees. But to my eyes, it just looks awful if I see it missing.

She showed me a sample online where it stated that ambiguities occur when enumerating if a comma were not in place:

…the car dealer said the seat covers were available in yellow, red,white, black and tan, and other special colors..

(one may mistake black and tan as two-tone without the comma before “and”). My view: The sentence construction was flawed to begin with. One never uses two “ands” in a sentence. A better version:

..the car dealer said the seat covers were available in yellow, red, white, black, tan and other special colors.

D’accord? …or is my English “archaic”…or so she says?

I wouldn’t say you’re English is archaic; this is a matter of style. But I do subscribe to the Oxford Comma. Yet I also agree, the sentence inherently had some ambiguity that could be resolved with better wording, as you’ve shown. Here’s another way to avoid the two “ands”:

..the car dealer said the seat covers were available in yellow, red, white, black, and tan, as well as other special colors.

Other posts on WordPress on the Oxford Comma: Mr. Comma, and the Oxford Comma.

You might find these interesting.

Here’s a case where an extra comma cost millions of dollars.

Let us not forget the Apostrophe Wars; whole cities just don’t like them.

How To Use The Apostrophe Correctly.

The Apostrophe Protection Society of New Zealand.

Apostrophe Catastrophe (blog).

Not to mention the Semicolon Wars.

Addendum (02/14/09): join the Semicolon Appreciation Society. And this shows some humor: 10% of the proceeds of this semicolon T-shirt goes to support the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.


For Di and Bud.

Looks like the fear of long words is sesquipedalophobia, sometimes extended to hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia for humorous effect.

Check out the translations on this web page; included are the Braille, Morse Code, sign language, and Pig Latin spellings.

I’m unable to find anything online for “tritrimethylbenzocarbothalene”! I tried several variations on the spelling, but didn’t get anything close enough to be considered a match.

Fear of the number 13 is Triskaidekaphobia. The Wikipedia entry says that the Makati City Hall (Makati is the commercial district in Manila) had “33” as the 13th floor instead of “13”.

Published in: on 28 December 2008 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Orangutan’s Spontaneous Whistling

… Opens New Chapter In Study Of Evolution Of Speech

Bonnie the orangutan lives in Smithsonian National Zoological Park, here in DC.

Planet of the Apes (1968); Dr. Dolittle (1967)

Uktabi Orangutan; Arcum’s Whistle

Whistle While You Work
from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

Published in: on 13 December 2008 at 3:04 pm  Comments (3)  
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Starts With ‘M’, Means Reticent or Reluctant to Speak

For E.N.
I went through all the ‘M’ words in my pocket dictionary (Oxford American Dictionary, 1980): Maladroit? Maladjusted? Maladapted? Mansuetude? Marginal? Meager? Mealymouthed? Meek? Melancholic? Misanthropic? Modest? Moping? Mousy? Mute?

Roget’s Thesaurus yielded only one ‘M’ word: modest.

Addendum (12/14/08): Perhaps the word didn’t begin with the letter ‘M’, but rather began with a syllable that sounds like ehm or ehn. Again using my copy of the pocket Oxford American Dictionary: Embarrassed? Embattled? Empty? Enigmatic? Impassive? Impersonal? Imperturbable? Inanimate? Inarticulate? Inaudible? Incommunicado? Indifferent? Indurate? Inert? Inhibited? Inner-directed? Inscrutable? Insecure? Insulated? Intimidated? Introspective? Introverted? Inwardly?

Published in: on 11 December 2008 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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