This morning I had an unexpected cross-linguistic learning experience.
When not obsessing about Spanish, one of my other passions is learning and chanting weekly portions of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) for a local Jewish prayer group. My Hebrew is nowhere near as good as my Spanish; I read Biblical Hebrew with language skills acquired in a one-year college course on Modern Hebrew in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, for my own pride and interest I always strive to understand the vocabulary and grammar of every portion I read.
This morning, as I was studying a passage from the book of Exodus for later this month, I was struck by a sentence that began
Vayomer Moshe v’Aharon… ‘Said Moses and Aaron…’
Verb-first word order was common in Biblical Hebrew, but I was surprised to see the singular verb vayomer accompanying the plural subject Moshe v’Aharon. The Spanish equivalent would be *Les dijo Moisés y Aaron (instead of dijeron).
To better understand this phenomenon I asked about the sentence on www.reddit.com/r/Hebrew, including the comparison with Spanish. A participant soon informed me that singular verbs with plural subjects are common in verb-first Biblical Hebrew sentences, and that in Standard Arabic (also a Semitic language) this is not just common, but actually mandatory. This “redditor” pointed out, somewhat snarkily, that “well Hebrew is not Spanish.”
As I thought about this response it occurred to me that Hebrew and Spanish aren’t as different in this regard as I had assumed. There are two common cases in which Spanish uses a singular verb with a plural subject. Can you think of what they are?
The first case involves the first gustar ‘to please,’ which Spanish uses (in a ‘backwards’ fashion) to mean ‘to like.’ If you like two or more activities, such as singing and dancing, you express this with singular gusta instead of plural gustan, which is used if you like two or more things:
Me gusta bailar y cantar.
Me gustan Star Wars, Harry Potter, y La casa de papel.
The second case is the existential hay, which means either singular ‘there is’ or plural ‘there are’ (depending on context), and its equivalents in other tenses. Some examples:
Hay una prueba mañana. ‘There is a quiz tomorrow.’
Hay muchas pruebas en esta clase. ‘There are many quizzes in this class.’
Hubo un terremoto. ‘There was an earthquake.’
Había tres estudiantes en la clase. ‘There were 3 students in the class.’
Habrá un baile en el zócalo. ‘There will be a dance in the square.’
Habrá nuevas elecciones en 2022. ‘There will be new elections in 2022.’
The literal bottom line, then, is that principled exceptions to verb agreement are another coincidental similarity between Spanish and Hebrew.
This post is about the eleventh and most recent book in Jordi Sierra i Fabra’s “Inspector Mascarell” series, Algunos días de noviembre, which I finished reading last night. I called this post “An imperfect novel” for two reasons. First, the book contains a fascinating use of the Spanish imperfect tense, which I’ll get to later. But also the novel itself, while enjoyable, struck me as imperfect because it added little to Sierra i Fabra’s serial depiction of life under a dictatorship.
The plots of the previous novels in this series have blurred together for me, but my impression is that they have all related to broad political themes. This is most obvious in the first novels, which take place just before and after Francisco Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. Out of the later novels I remember one that involved an attempt to assassinate Franco, one that featured Civil War graves (or was it missing soldiers?), one about Communists, and so on.
In contrast, the plot of Algunos días de noviembre concerns a theatrical agent who receives threatening letters, and a murder that then ensues in his circle. I kept waiting for something to happen that would tie in this plot with Sierra i Fabra’s major themes. The mystery itself was enjoyable, and I ended up pushing on to the last chapter to find out what happened, but it never made sense that Mascarell, and not some other detective, would be pursuing this investigation.
Beyond this (for me) major problem, Algunos días has all the familiar and pleasurable plot elements of a Mascarell novel, which to this habitual reader feel as comfortable as slipping on a favorite pair of shoes: Mascarell’s traversal of Barcelona, his family (no spoilers!), his dislike of chatty cab drivers, his skill in interviewing suspects and other persons of interest, and his dogged pursual of the truth at any cost. You do learn something about the theatrical and cinematic scene in Barcelona in the early 1950s, thanks to Sierra i Fabra’s research in newspaper archives as described in an afterword.
One of these days I am going to reread these books while consulting a map of Barcelona. The novels have a strong sense of place but I am mostly reading them ‘blind’ beyond major landmarks such as Diagonal, a major street in the city, and the Tibidabo hill.
The Spanish in Algunos días also strikes familiar notes. I’ve previously written about Sierra i Fabra’s ample leísmo and his use of both the -ra and -se imperfect subjunctives, sometimes juxtaposed in a single sentence. The book includes two or three instances each of the verb restar and the noun horma, both old favorites of mine. Beyond these details, I got a kick out of following the often elliptical Spanish in the book’s many casual conversations between Mascarell and his partner David Fortuny, such as the following:
Mascarell: Venga, vamos. Fortuny: Pero déjeme a mí, ¿eh? Mascarell: Toda suya.
Mascarell: ¿El arma? Fortuny: Ni rastro.
Fortuny: Caray, usted impresiona, ¿eh? Sin decir que es policía, la gente se lo suelta todo. Mascarell: Quien tuvo, retuvo.
Fortuny: Una chapuza. Mascarell: Más bien sí. Fortuny: Pero contando con lo aislado que está esto y que nadie sabe mucho de Romagosa… Mascarell: Lo lógico es imaginar que nadie daría con el cadáver en días, semanas, incluso meses. Fortuny: Mascarell, ¿por qué habla en plural? “Lo mataron”, “lo arrastraron”, “le quitaron”… Mascarell: Deformación profesional. No me haga caso.
Reading exchanges like these is like watching a Spanish movie, but without the challenge of understanding rapid speech!
For me, however, the most intriguing bit of Spanish in the novel was the following sentence, which means ‘Concepción Busquets hired them to solve the case and died a few hours later,’ and appears just after Mascarell and Fortuny learn about Busquets’s murder.
Concepción Busquets les encargaba resolver el caso y moría a las pocas horas.
It struck me as bizarre that the verbs encargaba and moría are in the imperfect past tense, which Spanish normally uses to describe ongoing events or to provide background information. Moría, for example, would usually be translated as ‘was dying’ or, in another context, ‘used to die.’ I would expect this sentence to be written instead in the preterite past tense, which is normally used for sequences of events, i.e.
Concepción Busquets les encargó resolver el caso y murió a las pocas horas.
Concepción Busquets les había encargado resolver el caso y murió a las pocas horas.
thus combining the pluperfect había encargado ‘had hired’ with murió ‘died’.
I consulted a variety of sources to solve this riddle, and was amazed to find out how many tertiary uses the imperfect has. The Real Academia Española’s authoritative Nueva gramática de la lengua española describes several less-common uses of the imperfect, none of which accounts for the Concepción Busquets example:
the imperfecto onírico o de figuración, which describe dreams (I knew about this, but it doesn’t apply here);
the imperfecto de cortesía, which describes present actions politely (doesn’t apply here);
the imperfecto citativo, which tactfully distances the speaker from a presumed fact he or she mentions (doesn’t apply here);
the imperfecto prospectivo, which talks about things that were going to happen (doesn’t apply here);
the imperfecto de hechos frustrados, like the former use but applied to events that didn’t actually happen (doesn’t apply here);
instead of the conditional in the “then” part of an “if…then” sentence (doesn’t apply here).
The Gramática‘s example of the imperfecto de interpretación narrativa, which describes an action that follows another, is eerily similar to the example at hand: Apretujó mi mano con su mano sudorosa y a los dos días moría ‘She grasped my hand with her sweaty hand and died two days later.’ However, this explanation would leave encargaba unaccounted for.
I had better luck with Ronald Batchelor and Christopher Pountain’s Using Spanish, which points out that “the imperfect is often used in journalistic [officialese] in place of the Preterite.” This could apply in the case at hand, since Mascarell is stepping back and summing up the state of the case. However, my favorite interpretation comes from a native speaker on reddit.com/r/Spanish who thought the imperfect in this context expressed irony. That’s a perfect fit, but I wish I could cite a published work rather than a miscellaneous redditor.
So, all in all, a difficult sentence. I welcome additional theories.
As a final note, Sierra i Fabra’s afterword includes his chronology in writing this 313-page book. He outlined it in five days and wrote it in eighteen. ¡Caramba!
As I mentioned in my previous post, recently I have been immersed in correcting the proofs of my new book and creating an index for it. A few days ago I finished proofreading and emailed back the corrected proofs. The index is basically done but I want to hold onto it a little longer just in case I think of some improvements.
It occurred to me that some aspects of the proofreading process might be interesting to my readers. Those of you who have published a book yourself may find some points in common. Otherwise, you might be surprised at how many different types of problems can crop up along the road to publication. Leaving aside gory details having to do entirely with formatting, such as subsections accidentally being promoted to sections and vice versa, I made a total of 166 corrections to the proofs.
Proofreading is the fifth stage in book production. In my particular case,
I submitted my original manuscript in Microsoft Word, with one file per chapter.
The publisher’s copy editing team edited each file, making comments using Word’s tracking functionality.
I reviewed the edits; my job was to accept, reject, or comment on each one.
Taking into account this review, the publisher produced a typeset version of the entire book in a single PDF file.
I read the proofs and entered my comments in the PDF, using Adobe’s commenting functionality. (I also made a complete printout to work from, but found that the online version was easier to study closely. However, I used it when creating the index.)
I will supply said index.
The publisher will correct the proofs based on step #5 and add the index.
Of my 166 corrections, only four of were “do or die.” That is, I can’t imagine the book being published with these errors uncorrected. The first two were essentially “slips of the tongue” on my part — one in English and one in Spanish — that led to nonsensical text. I’m horrified that I made these goofs in the first place, and surprised that they made it as far as the proofs. (As my late sister used to say, “There’s a reason why they included the word mistake in the dictionary.”) The third was a doozy of a typesetting error, and the fourth was a genuine content error. Chances are nobody but me would ever had noticed it, but I had to make it right as a matter of academic integrity.
“Most Latin Americans use the two singular pronouns tú and usted and the plural pronoun vosotros.”
I meant ustedes, not vosotros.
La “a personal”, una estructura que evita mencionar la persona que causó un accidente, también afecta el pensamiento.
I meant “se accidental,” not “a personal.”
“Real Academia feminine”
The copy editor changed my original Española to Español, which I requested they change back to the feminine form Española. Guess I shouldn’t have used the word “feminine.”
“Of the sixty-three other languages Dahl surveyed, only Kikuyu, a Bantu language of Africa with seven major TMA categories, surpassed Spanish.”
Having reread my original source, I now see that Catalan also has more major past tenses than Spanish, as shown below, though Spanish is still an outlier. Fortunately I was able to fix this easily, by adding the 2 words “Catalan and.”
A few dozen corrections had to do with typesetting conventions for talking about language. These corrections fixed errors that for the most part, were not present in my original manuscript, but were introduced during copy editing and typesetting.
Italics were a real nuisance. In linguistics, as in normal typesetting, we use italics to indicate words that are being talked about rather than being used for their own meaning, whether in another language, as in “My favorite Spanish word is disfrutar” (which happens to be true), or in the text’s own language, as in “My favorite English word is salmon” (I just made that up). If a block of text is itself in italics, a word referred to should be in plain roman, as in “The many descendants of Latin ille.” I corrected 29 cases of italics that should have been roman or vice versa, mostly in the book’s headings and subheadings.
It’s a linguistic convention to indicate suffixes with a hyphen (e.g. -zco verbs) and likewise to enclose meanings between single quotes (e.g. Latin ille ‘that’), not double quotes. After step #3 above (copy editing) I caught many missing hyphens, and instances of double quotes instead of singles, but a handful remained. In general these errors were not present in the manuscript, but were introduced during copy editing or typesetting.
I made a few dozen corrections to the Spanish in the book. These fell into five categories:
The Oxford comma, as in the second comma in I like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Spanish doesn’t use the Oxford comma, but I’m addicted to it, so this is a hard error for me to avoid. I removed several such commas in step #3 but found twenty (!!) more to remove in the proofs. I hope this has cured me from making the same mistake in the future.
Accent marks. I’m glad to say I did a decent job catching my own accent mark mistakes earlier in the publishing process, but I found two more in the proofs: the missing accents on rincón and one instance of yeísmo. All the other occurrences of yeísmo or yeísta in the book had their proper accents, so I don’t know how I missed this one.
Punctuation. For some strange reason, punctuation such as commas and periods precedes quotation marks in English, as in “I love you,” he said. Spanish is more sensible, putting such punctuation after the speech being quoted, as in “Te amo”, me dijo. I found and corrected one or two instances of English-style punctuation in the page proofs. (My fault.)
Hyphenation. Routledge hyphenated the book as part of the typesetting process. Since Spanish syllabification is one topic I explored in the book, I was amused to find four Spanish words that were incorrectly hyphenated. Obviously Routledge’s software wasn’t programmed for Spanish syllables. The problematic hyphenations were:
pensam-iento (the syllables are pen.sa.mien.to)
pert-enecer (the syllables are per.te.ne.cer)
ust-edes (the syllables are us.te.des)
nu-era (the syllables are nue.ra)
Other mistakes. My Spanish will never be perfect! I caught some missing prepositions, as in el uso DE los signos invertidos and diferenciaban ENTRE sujetos, and a couple of gender errors.
My English is better than my Spanish, but that didn’t stop me from making some mistakes in my own language, such as dropping the the in during the activity, or forgetting the closing comma in an appositive clause (“The teacher first identifies an interesting text, such as a recent article in the Catalan edition of El País (cat.elpais.com) [missing comma here] and reads the first few paragraphs”). Some errors were introduced during typesetting, such as dropping anotherthe in the book’s introduction (“for (the) Chapter 4 in-class activity”). I hope I found (and fixed) all of these.
I tried to clear up inconsistencies, from the spelling of descendants to the capitalization of WebQuest to the uniform use of English terms for places (Cadiz, not Cádiz; Basque Country, not País Vasco) and languages (Mozarabic, not mozárabe).
Finally, I made about two dozen “corrections” that were really improvements, both in punctuation and in wording.
I am working ferociously to finish correcting the page proofs for my new book, and to create an index (a painful task that I actually relish), so this is just a short post to say “hello” and share an interesting article I just read in the Washington Post about the word Latinx.
Latinx is an example of gender-neutral Spanish, one of several attempts to reduce or eliminate the use of -o and -os for masculine words and -a and -as for feminine word. In standard Spanish latino (note the lower-case l) is simultaneously masculine and neutral, so it can be used to identify either a Latino male or a Latino of unknown gender, as in La empresa espera contratar un latino para ese puesto ‘The company hopes to hire a Latino for that position.’ Likewise latinos refers to either a group of Latino males or a group of Latinos of mixed gender, male and female.
As in English, where the normative use of he has ceded ground to they, in today’s Spanish many speakers (and writers) try to avoid using gender-specific endings. In Spanish-speaking countries one often sees the @ character (called arroba in Spanish) used as a neuter vowel, as in this ‘Welcome refugees’ sign I saw in Valladolid a few years ago:
The x is also used as an alternative to the @; that’s the source of Latinx, which in my experience is found more often in the United States than in Spain, at least (I can’t generalize to other Spanish-speaking countries).
Anyway, the Washington Post just ran an op-ed, by their reporter José A. Del Real, asserting that “‘Latinx’ hasn’t even caught on among Latinos. It never will.” The article is behind a firewall, so here’s the key claim in case you can’t access the article:
“The label has not won wide adoption among the 61 million people of Latin American descent living in the United States. Only about 1 in 4 Latinos in the United States are familiar with the term, according to an August Pew Research Center survey. Just 3 percent identify themselves that way. Even politically liberal Latinos aligned with the broad cultural goals of the left are often reluctant to use it.”
The anti-Latinx reasons cited in the op-ed are its awkward pronunciation (especially in the plural), the preference among LGBTQ Latinos for Latine, and resistance to stamping a broad community with a single ethnic label. (The latter makesthe term Hispano equally problematic.) The op-ed reports that “people of Latin American ancestry in the United States often prefer to describe themselves by referencing their specific countries of heritage, according to a 2019 Pew survey.”
As I described in my previous post, each chapter in my forthcoming book is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. The presentations display explanations and descriptions, diagrams, word lists, sample data from research studies, maps, quotations, images, and links to other images as well as articles and videos. Some slides provide instructions and supporting materials for in-class activities and take-home projects. The PowerPoints are in Spanish except for an occasional English translation.
The five PowerPoints contain more than three hundred slides in total. You can follow this link to download a PDF file that reproduces my fifty or so favorites, two per page. Besides its title, each slide is identified by its chapter and slide number. Please notice and respect the copyright notice on each page.
Narrowing down further, I created a SlideShare presentation from my “Top 10” of these slides, which you can click through below. It includes examples from all five chapters, thus representing my five “essential questions” for the Spanish language classroom.
Here’s why these slides made my Top 10:
Slide 1.21, because the Real Academia Española’s 1763 spelling guide shows both the invention of the inverted ¿ and ¡ marks (blue highlighting) and why the Academia thought they were needed (yellow highlighting). How often does one get to observe the invention of a new language feature? It’s reminiscent of Scott Fahlman’s invention of the first emoticon in 1982. As noted in the slide, the RAE actually invented the inverted marks in 1754.
Slide 2.29, because this is one of my favorite metaphors for the difference between pretérito and imperfecto.
Slide 2.43, because it illustrates the value of the often-mystifying “personal a.”
Slide 3.58, because it demonstrates the variety of languages that Spanish has borrowed words from. The PowerPoint version of this slide (not the SlideShare version), is animated so that students don’t see the “answers” (the language each word came from) until the profe clicks on the slide. There is also a more challenging alternative version that lacks the list of candidate languages.
Slide 3.78, because it shows that a little bit of language history goes a long way toward explaining irregular verbs in modern Spanish. A teacher can display this slide in class while saying something like “La forma irregular conozco viene del verbo latino original, cognoscere”, with an emphasis on the sc.
Slide 4.41, because the average Spanish student has no idea how many Latin Americans still speak indigenous languages. The contrast with the situation in the United States is startling.
Slide 4.53, because I was so happy to find a single illustration that covered so many sociolinguistic bases.
Slide 5.9 out of sheer vanity. This slide illustrates one child’s early semantic extensions of some early words: he extended manzana from apples to other fruits, guaguau from dogs to other animals, and agua from water to various objects connected with it. I was tickled pink that I came up with the idea of using colored ovals to neatly distinguish these three groups of words.
Slide5.23, because our students will be happy to learn that kids learning Spanish as a first language make the same mistakes that they do!
Slide 5.31, because these data on adult native speaker speech errors are not well known, yet provide a fascinating insight into the psychology of language. The thought clouds show what the speakers intended to say. The PowerPoint version of the slide is animated; students have a chance to deduce these meanings for themselves before teachers click on the slide to reveal them.
My second book, Bringing Linguistics into the Spanish Language Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide, is progressing toward its March 30, 2021 publication date. Although the book hasn’t yet shown up on Amazon it is already available for pre-sale at a 30% discount on Routledge’s website. There you can also see the Table of Contents, which is essentially a list of the linguistic topics the book covers.
To be perfectly honest, I originally conceived of this project as a way to promote my first book, my beloved ¿Por qué?. This is akin to having a second baby just so your first-born has someone to play with. (See also the plot of My Sister’s Keeper.) But like any good writer, or mother, I fell in love with the project for its own sake:
as a way to share important information about Spanish with my fellow teachers;
for the creativity required to design the in-class activities and take-home projects that accompany each linguistic topic;
for the challenge of creating more than 300 PowerPoint slides that teachers can use along with the book;
as a way to promulgate the five “essential questions” for foreign language instruction I wrote about here;
for the additional insights I gained into Spanish linguistics as I worked on the book.
I submitted my manuscript to Routledge at the end of July. At the end of September I resubmitted it after making some changes in response to a peer reviewer’s feedback. This step was very helpful, which is the whole point of academic peer review. For example, the reviewer pointed out that my section on the history of Spanish pretty much stopped with the conquest of the Americas (whoops), found some Spanish mistakes (¡Ay!), and suggested that I tackle the topic of preterite versus imperfect.
Routledge then turned the manuscript over to codemantra, a book production company based in southern India. (My contact there is a Tamil speaker.) They copy-edited the manuscript and sent it back to me for my own review, which I completed the day after Thanksgiving. I discovered some additional Spanish mistakes, such as a missing accent on marítimo, the invented word *colonista for colonizador, and closing punctuation placed inside quotes as we do in English, e.g. *La “a personal,” for La “a personal”, Between errors like these, and the English typographical errors the copy editor had turned up, I am forcibly reminded of one of my late sister’s favorite sayings, “There’s a reason why they put the word mistake in the dictionary.”
While all this was going on I was working with my Routledge editor on the book’s cover design. You can see the results in this blog’s right-hand sidebar, or click here. I found the speech bubble portion of the cover on the Getty Images website and thought it nicely evoked a classroom environment, The text I chose for the bubbles represents the range of topics and techniques in the book. I am a little worried about the legibility of the word rights in the rightmost bubble, but we weren’t allowed to monkey with Getty’s bubble colors.
Codemantra expects to send me the page proofs in mid-December. I will then have two weeks to create an index, a process I enjoyed when publishing ¿Por qué? There are professional services that will make an index for you but I can’t imagine anyone else understanding the book well enough to do an adequate job. That will be my last input before the book comes out in March.
Between each of these steps I have been working on a new research project regarding Spanish etymologies, which I hope to share with you soon, and also worrying about how to teach my first all-remote Spanish class starting in February. I have also purchased Instagram for Dummies and plan to put it to good use. So, lots to keep me busy!
Last September the NECTFL Review published my article Essential Questions for Linguistic Literacy in the World Language Classroom. I wrote this article as a warm-up before tackling my next book project, Bringing Linguistics into the Spanish Language Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide, now in press with Routledge. The article was an opportunity to think through the general issues the book would cover before applying them to Spanish. Parts of it found their way into the book’s introduction (with the Review editor’s blessing, for which ¡muchas gracias!).
The article proposes five linguistics-based essential questions for world languages, shown at the top of this post. They loosely correspond to the fields of descriptive, theoretical, historical, socio-, and psycholinguistics, respectively. They meet the seven criteria for essential questions put forth by mavens Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins: they are (i) open-ended, (ii) thought-provoking, and intellectually engaging; they (ii) involve higher-order thinking, (iv) point toward important, transferable ideas that may transcend disciplinary boundaries, (v) raise additional questions, (vi) require support and justification, and (vii) recur over time.
The article gives examples of linguistic insights corresponding to each of these questions from a variety of world languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, and Spanish. Some examples are the German letter ß (Question 1), grammatical gender (Question 2), the Indo-European origins of French, German, and Spanish (Question 3), tonal variation in different varieties of Chinese (Question 4), and children’s verb conjugation errors (Question 5).
In the article (and my book) I argue that bringing linguistic insights into the foreign language classroom “add[s] intellectual interest by connecting Spanish to other languages, to general linguistic principles, and to other fields such as history, geography, sociology, and psychology.” This approach can also help students understand seemingly arbitrary aspects of the target language, such as irregular verbs that have simple historical explanations, and encourage students to accept differences between the target language and their first language.
The article describes how teachers can present linguistic insights in the classroom, for purposes of enrichment or explanation, lead related in-class activities, and assign take-home projects that further reinforce and/or explore these topics. As an example of an in-class activity, French students can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of gender-neutral adaptations to French grammar. As an example of a take-home project, Arabic students can ask a pen-pal about their experience communicating with speakers of other varieties of the language.
The downside of this approach, as one of the article’s peer reviewers pointed out, is that it does not contribute directly to proficiency in the target language. My response to this objection is that language is part of culture, and learning about the target language is just as valid as learning about other aspects of culture, such as food and music. To put it another way, If a Spanish class has time to debate their favorite tapa (I just made that up), they can debate whether Spanish writers should continue to use the language’s unique ¿ and ¡ marks. If the class has time to dance a tango, they have time to learn about dialectal aspects of Argentinian Spanish, from its distinctive treatment of yeísmo to voseo.
Compared to other cultural topics, linguistic topics have the obvious advantage of being directly related to the object of study in the world language classroom: the target language itself.
Publishing this article was personally meaningful to me in three ways. First, I hadn’t published a refereed journal article in two decades. For a PhD type like me, that was a long drought — though I did publish a significant and well-reviewed book in the meantime, while focusing primarily on my teaching. The NECTFL Review is “only” an online journal but its refereeing process was rigorous and greatly improved the article. Second, it was a real kick to identify and explain aspects of five unrelated languages that illustrated the essential questions. This was catnip for me as a linguist.
Third, and most importantly, the article (and my forthcoming book) satisfied an itch that has been bothering me since I took teacher training classes at Pace University in the aughts. When we learned about essential questions as a key ingredient in curriculum design, I was disappointed that there did not seem to be an adequate set of questions for world languages. It struck me as axiomatic that these should come from the field of linguistics. It feels great to have finally scratched that itch.
This third reason underlies the title of this post. The article is a manifesto, expressing novel ideas about world language pedagogy that I have been pondering for several years. But it is not only brief, but also modest. It does not insist that world language teachers adopt this approach, but rather introduces it and points out its advantages. In fact, the article (like the book) explicitly suggests different degrees to which teachers might choose to adopt this approach. This could be as minimal as offering linguistic explanations from time to time, to clarify specific topics and/or to add enrichment, or as maximal as maintaining the essential questions as a conceptual framework that the class returns to throughout a year or semester. Hence: a “mini-festo.”
At times like these, with death tolls continuing to mount in New York, where I live, and in Madrid, which I have visited so many times for learning and pleasure, it is reassuring to know that the Real Academic Española is on top of the situation — from a linguistic perspective, at least.
In a recent series of tweets, the RAE weighed in on both the gender and the proper capitalization of Covid-19.Covid-19 falls into the category of nouns that lack obvious gender because they don’t end in -o or -a. One frequent treatment of such nouns is for them to adopt the gender of their broader category. For example, I was always taught that catedral is feminine because it is a kind of church (la iglesia). Likewise, capital is masculine in the sense of money (el dinero) but feminine in the sense of city (la ciudad).
This practice can even make -a nouns masculine. This can be seen in words for masculine players of feminine instruments (el corneta ‘bugler’), masculine users of feminine tools (el espada ‘swordsman’), varieties of wine and liquor named after feminine regions of origen (el champaña, el rioja), since el vino and el licor are both masculine, and el caza ‘fighter plane,’ a type of avión (masculine).
According to this practice, the gender of Covid-19 depends on whether it is a virus or an illness, because elvirus is masculine and la enfermedad is feminine. The RAE recommends the masculine gender, in keeping with other virus names such as el zika and el ébola (note that both end in -a), but says that feminine gender is also acceptable when focusing on the illness rather than the virus itself.
Moreover, the RAE’s tweets recommend the use of all-caps when writing the name of the virus (COVID-19), since it is “a recently created acronym,” but envisions switching to lower-case covid-19 if the disease becomes “a common disease name.” In other words, for the time being the appropriate treatment is all-caps with masculine gender, but time may lead to a switch to lower-case letters and feminine gender.
Now, if the RAE could only do something about the shortage of papel higiénico we would all be sitting pretty.
Today, still focused on gender, I reread Christopher Pountain‘s 2006 article “Gender and Spanish agentive suffixes: Where the motivated meets the arbitrary,” published in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies: Hispanic Studies and Researches on Spain, Portugal and Latin America (81:19-42). As its title implies, the article focuses mostly on the suffixes -dor and -dora. Pountain makes the case that when applied to non-animate objects, masculine -dor usually denotes an “implement or material, sometimes even a machine,” while feminine -dora “appears only to denote a machine.” One example pair is asador, meaning ‘spit’ or ‘roaster’ versus asadora ‘electric griddle.’ Pountain also points out the large number of cases where a non-animate feminine, such as pisadora ‘grape press,’ contrasts with an animate masculine: here, pisador ‘grape treader.’
This major point aside, I was delighted to see that Pountain begins his article with the topic of the ‘feminine fruit, masculine tree’ word pairs that I discussed in my previous post. He mentioned two examples that were lacking in that post (but which I’ve now added): lúcuma/o ‘eggfruit (tree)’ and frambuesa/o ‘raspberry (cane).’ These examples are particularly significant because lúcuma and frambuesa are both borrowings, the former from Quechua and the latter from French. The fact that they were sucked into this pattern demonstrates its vigor.
“Eggfruit” is a new fruit for me. I am definitely going to try it the next time I travel to the Andes.
By OtterAM – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42752568
Having recuperated from three weeks’ intensive travel in Spain, and a long weekend with the grandbabes, I’m back to working full time on my new book. It’s coming along nicely, albeit slowly.
As part of a book section on gender I had a close look at the question of the gender of words for fruit and trees. Many readers are undoubtedly aware of the frequent gender pattern of “feminine fruit, masculine tree” exemplified by manzana ‘apple’ and manzano ‘apple tree’. I did a somewhat exhaustive survey of fruit and tree vocabulary to see how regular this pattern is. Linguee was my best friend in this quest.
It turns out that for feminine fruit names, the pattern holds strong. As you can see in the table below, most feminine fruits do have a corresponding masculine tree name, though a few have less frequent alternatives as well (shown in italics). The one major exception is morera ‘mulberry’, whose tree is the same word, morera. Spanish obviously needs a morero tree.
árbol de ____
árbol de manzanas
Not all fruits are feminine, however, and the treatment of masculine fruits is much more varied. The tree of the higo is actually the feminine higuera, thus a major counterexample to the regular pattern shown above. Other fruits rely on the -ero suffix for their tree name, a sometimes ungainly solution (albaricoquero, anyone?). Some fruits have no dedicated tree name, and rely on the periphrastic árbol de construction (also listed as a backup for higuera, melocotonero, and albaricoquero). The treatment of aguacate ‘avocado’ varies depending on where you look. According to WordReference and the Real Academiaaguacate, like morera, does double duty as a tree and a fruit, with the “tree” meaning primary. WordReference also lists aguacatero as an alternative for ‘avocado tree’, but the Real Academia defines it merely as ‘pertaining to the avocado’ — nothing arboreal there. In the meantime, Linguee defines aguacate as a fruit, not a tree, and gives aguacatero as its only translation for ‘avocado tree.’
árbol de higo
árbol de durazno
árbol de albaricoque
árbol de membrillo
árbol de mango
If I were the goddess of Spanish I would clean up this situation by changing the gender of some of the masculine fruits so they could have nice masculine tree names. Perhaps the next generation of Spanish speakers will get this job done.