Platicando sobre pronombres en el parque

[Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. ¡Scroll down for English translation!]

Al comienzo del mes tuve el gran placer de visitar a mi hija en California. Durante la visita jugué con mi nietecito Óscar, preparé y congelé comida como una cocinera maníaca, y, claro, hablé español. No con mi hija, quien por lástima escogió estudiar francés hace años, sino con varias abuelas, madres y niñeras que conocí en el parque adonde llevaba a Óscar todos los días. (También hablé un poco de alemán pero muy mal.)

Muchas de mis nuevas conocidas eran salvadoreñas y tuve varias conversaciones interesantes con ellas sobre el voseo en El Salvador. Una niñera me explicó con muchos detalles con quiénes se usan vos, y usted, las situaciones y las implicaciones sociológicas.

Después pensé en lo improbable que sería tener una tal conversación sobre el inglés. No solo de mi parte (la verdad es que no me interesa mucho mi propio idioma), sino porque creo que a los hispanohablantes les importa más su idioma que a los angloparlantes. El vocabulario inglés (“coke” versus “soda” versus “pop”) sí discutiríamos, pero ¿la gramática? ¿LOS PRONOMBRES? ¡Ni posibilidad!

Pero en español, sí. El idioma es una parte fundamental de la identidad hispana y apasiona a la gente normal, no solo a los lingüistas. Esto les da un elemento de emoción a mis investigaciones sobre el español y a mi enseñanza que les faltaría en inglés.

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At the beginning of the month I had the great pleasure of visiting my daughter in California. During the visit I played with my little grandson Oscar, I prepared and froze food like a mad chef, and, of course, I spoke Spanish. Not with my daughter, who unfortunately chose to study French years ago, but with various grandmothers, mothers, and babysitters whom I met in the park where I took Oscar every day. (I also spoke a little German, but very badly.)

Many of my new acquaintances were from El Salvador and I had various interesting conversations with them about voseo (the informal word for “you”) in their country. One babysitter explained to me with great detail when it is appropriate to use vos, and usted, and their various sociological implications.

Afterwards, I thought of how unlikely it would be to have a similar conversation about English. Not just because of my own inclinations (I’m not that into my own language), but because I believe that Spanish speakers care more about their language than English speakers do. One might talk about English vocabulary (e.g. “coke” vs. “Soda” vs. “pop”), but — grammar? PRONOUNS? No way!

But in Spanish, yes. Language is a fundamental part of Hispanic identity that sparks passion in normal people, not just linguists. This imparts an element of emotion to my research and my teaching that would be lacking in English.

5 thoughts on “Platicando sobre pronombres en el parque

  1. Cindy

    I’m so glad I found your blog! I’m a linguist as well, hoping to at some point be able to live in Latin America or another part of the world again! I look forward to following your updates!

    Reply
    1. jhochberg Post author

      Thank you, Cindy, for reading — and writing! Let me know if there are any specific topics you’d like me to cover. Besos, Judy

      Reply
  2. Tracy López / Latinaish.com

    Wow, that’s an interesting realization – that English speakers don’t feel the same passion on interest in their language as Spanish speakers. Do you think your average British person discusses the English language more than your average U.S. citizen though? For some reason I feel like that would be possible.

    That’s great that you had the opportunity to chat with so many Salvadorans while on your trip to visit your daughter and grandson. (Love the name Oscar!) … It took me a long time to figure out “vos” since in school the teacher focused so much on “usted vs. tú” and told us “Vos isn’t used that much.” … Of course I would have to go and marry a Salvadoran where “vos” is used constantly!

    I found it interesting that my suegra would mostly use “vos” with my husband (her son), but with me she was more careful. Hearing “vos” from her to address me was very rare – only when she felt very happy and relaxed around me. Other times she would use “tú” but the majority of the time it was the formal “usted” – even though she lived with us for more than 10 years.

    At first I thought it was because she was giving me respect, because that’s what we learned in the classroom – (that you use “usted” to convey respect) — and so I didn’t understand why she continued to use it even after I told her she could use “tú.” … After being immersed in the culture long enough though, I realized she was using “usted” not because she respected me, but because she didn’t feel close to me in that way. “Usted” maintains a sort of emotional distance… Quite the opposite of respect, I felt like she used it almost as an insult, to show that she didn’t like me.

    Spanish is fascinating for sure!

    Reply
  3. jhochberg Post author

    Tracy,

    Brown and Gilman’s classic (1960) study of pronouns is titled “The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity .” It sounds like your suegra is pulling both on you, with an emphasis on the “solidarity” — effectively, using “usted” to freeze you out of the intimate family circle. This is a great example of how, as I tell my students, Spanish didn’t make up these peculiarities just to torture language students — they have great expressive capabilities.

    I have no idea of the American vs. British interest in language, but I really do feel that Americans are only interested in (i) vocabulary (see pop/soda/etc. example in my original post, and (ii) prescriptive grammar — what is “good English.” The latter especially is marginal territory for anyone really interested in language.

    Reply
  4. Julvenzor

    Hola nuevamente, Judy:

    Agradezco que se haya tomado la molestia de responder a mis cuatro mensajes anteriores, y, en definitiva, su enorme interés. :)

    Aunque yo elegí el camino de las ciencias (estoy estudiando biología), quizás me percaté demasiado tarde de que mi “talento” estaba en las letras. Me llena de orgullo indirecto que a otros les guste mi idioma tanto como a mí. Asimismo, le digo que también valore las cualidades del suyo. A mi juicio: vocabulario, alta capacidad fusionativa nominal y amplio espectro de preposiciones/conjunciones.

    En relación directa al artículo, yo no opino de la misma forma, en el sentido de que a los hispanohablantes les importe más su idioma. Quizás suceda así en EEUU debido al fenómeno de cohesión social cuando estas gentes se ven en un entorno desconocido y con una barrera lingüística de por medio. En cambio, en España y Latinoamérica (en general) puede observarse en foros y demás el escaso conocimiento gramatical.

    Como se diría por aquí: “en todas partes se cuecen habas…”

    Un saludo cordial.

    Reply

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