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The Devil is in the Minimal Pairs

Communicating in any foreign language can be an arduous task, especially when the language you are trying to speak contains phonemes 1 that are absent in your L1 2. This is the case and struggle of Spanish speakers when they learn English, and my dad is no exception…

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These amusing happenstances occur because the devil is in the minimal pairs: two words that have a very similar pronunciation, but differ from one another by one phoneme in the same position in each word:Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

Whereas Spanish has one phoneme for <i>, English has a long /iː/ and short /ɪ/ one. No wonder Spanish speakers are confused when they start learning English. This madness would the phonetic equivalent of going to bed with two feet and waking up with four. One needs some practice to figure out how to navigate the world with additional extremities – or extra phonemes one had never had before.

To make matters worse, you will stumble upon words that contain the same graphic vowels, yet each one is pronounced differently:Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

But don’t fear, dear language learner! All it takes is a bit of practice, and you can train your ear to the different phonemes of the English language with online resources like this super cool interactive phonemic chart. If you are unsure how one word sounds, look up the pronunciation in dictionaries that include the IPA transcription and sound clips, like WordReference.

In conclusion, I think English learners should get more credit for their Herculean efforts.Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

In fact, anyone who stumbles upon words like these ↑ and doesn’t give up, deserves a standing ovation.

Mediterranean Hospitality

Warmth, friendliness and exquisite cuisine. If this is what comes to mind whenever you think of Mediterranean countries, you are not wrong. Southern folks certainly have their amicable ways going for them, and they also pride themselves on their local produce and delicious homemade meals. Whether you are visiting your relatives or meeting some friends in the warm South, you’ll realize soon enough that Mediterranean hospitality is no joke.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, culture comics, Mediterranean, hospitality, living abroad comics

I have always wondered what would happen if you were to respond: “Yes, please!”. Would they then shovel a double portion onto your plate? Would they be pleased or taken aback by such a gluttonous response?

In addition, if you happen to be in a small city where everyone knows everyone, neighbors and acquaintances will promptly invite you in for a chat if they see you wandering around. Offering a bite to your visitors is not a choice, it’s a a well-rooted lifestyle. And by bite I mean an enticing feast with enough food to sink Noah’s Ark.

But hey, Mediterraneans certainly enjoy providing their guests with delicious meals as much as I enjoy devouring them. So, who am I to turn down their hearty generosity?

*Burps*

 

If you liked this strip, check out Home Sweet Yummy Home.

Are you a foodie who holds Mediterranean cuisine in high esteem? Read the article Exotic Kackendorf Food and other Culinary Violations.

Tú, usted, vosotros

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Tú, usted, vosotros, vos. You, you, you, you. No wonder native English speakers attempting to speak Spanish may want to flip tables. When it comes to delving into a foreign language, the toughest bits to grasp are the ones that your L1 3 conceptualizes in a different manner. In this case, the English pronoun <you> correlates with several variables in Spanish 2. That’s quite the challenge for a native English speaker to comprehend, let alone use correctly in speech. So, when do you use which one? Let the Linguiputians 3 explain:

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Are you talking to your friend or acquaintance? Use . Are there more than one? Use vosotros. Are you addressing your boss, an elderly person, a big fish, or an aristocrat with a monocle wearing a wig? Use the formal and reverential usted 4.

If you are unsure about whether to use tú and usted, pay attention to the people around you and how they address each other. When in doubt, just use usted at all times unless you are talking to a child. Better to be safe than sorry, amirite?

You might be thinking: hold on, if tú has the plural vosotros, what happens if you talk to more than one monocle-enthusiast, wig-wearing aristocrat? I’m glad you asked.

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

In this case, we ought to use ustedes, the plural form of usted. In addition, if you address multiple female friends or acquaintances, pick vosotras – as opposed to the plural masculine pronoun vosotros.Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

“Waaaah! The Linguiputians are making my head hurt!” – I know, too much information. Let’s recap before we move on to the fun part:

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Whereas English is quite happy with its functional and simplistic <you>, Spanish seems to be a master hoarder of personal pronouns. But how did we get here? Well, it all goes back to the original language.

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Latin had two personal pronouns for the second person: <tu> and <vos> 5. The pronoun <tu> worked in the same manner as the modern-day Spanish tú 6, and <vos> had two usages: plural 7 and reverential 8 – pretty much like the current French <vous>. Quaint, uh?

The Castilian folks inherited these two pronouns from Latin, and used them happily throughout the Middle Ages. However, a few things happened to vos. First, having only one word for both “y’all” and “Your Highness” was somewhat ambiguous, so they came up with vosotros (vos + otros) 9 in the 13th century. So, at this point we had:

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Additionally, vos – originally reserved to monarchs and nobles – became an ubiquitous trend. Everyone was tweeting about it: #LinguisticChange, #ImVosToo. Everyone wanted to be a vos. It became so overused among peasants and their family members that, in the 17th century, the pronoun had lost its deferential usage. It was basically a “you” to address your king, lord, trusted blacksmith, spouse, fellow farmer, dad, sister, uncle, lover, cattle and stray dog 10.

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Monarchs and overlords weren’t pleased. They needed to flaunt their power and wanted a linguistic device that separated themselves from their subordinates. That’s when the plebs came up with deferential formulae such as “vuestra reverencia” 11, “vuestra señoría” 12 or “vuestra merced” 13 in order to keep their masters happy.

As it always goes, artifacts we manipulate the most, wear out faster 14. These formulae were not an exception. Their phonetic surface morphed after years of prolonged, recurrent usage. It went down more or less like this:

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Whereas most of these formulae were rendered obsolete, “vuestra merced” turned into usted, the reverential pronoun that made its way to present-day Spanish 15. That’s how Peninsular Spanish ended up with tú, vosotros and usted, and the pronoun family lived happily every after.

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Oh, right. Not only did vos lose its deferential value, but it also became quite derogatory in its final stages, and left to address folks of inferior status. Vos wasn’t cool anymore 16. By the 18th century, it had vanished into thin air.

Expat Gone Foreign, tú vosotros usted vos, Spanish, español, language comics, historic linguistics, Latin, español

Sorry, my bad. Vos was no longer around in the Iberian Peninsula because it had become a globetrotter of sorts. It joined the Spaniards who crossed the Atlantic during the 15th and 16th centuries. But vos didn’t travel around the vast continent all at once, nor did it stick everywhere it went. Some regions embraced it, some leaned towards tú, and some kept both.

And that’s why vos is nowadays alive and kicking in no less than seventeen Latin American countries. Vos is predominant in some regions (e.g. Argentina, Nicaragua), absent in others (e.g. Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico), and some have a the three-tiered system – vos-tú-usted – that reflects the degrees of respect and familiarity (e.g. Honduras, Chile) 17.

And that’s also why – in my opinion – Spanish is one of the richest, most vibrant and fascinating languages on this rich, vibrant and linguistically fascinating planet of ours.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Linguiputians, Vos, tú, usted, vosotros, Spanish pronouns, pronombres personales español

¿Español o castellano?

Dear native Spanish speaker: if I were to ask you what your mother tongue is, would you say it’s español or castellano? Think about it for a sec. Ready? Great. If your answer is castellano, I strongly encourage you to keep reading. Unless you have a time machine and you just warped from the Middle Ages, you speak español, amigo.

If you are not a hispanohablante 18, you might be wondering what the whole fuss is all about. You see, in the Spanish-speaking community, both terms – español and castellano – are used to refer to the beautiful Spanish language. The only problem is that one of them is mistakenly overused. Here’s a visual aid to illustrate where español and castellano are spoken nowadays as official languages:

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Let’s get into the time machine, shall we? Dialing back to the 9th century. Destination: Condado de Castilla, northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Bleepity bloopity boop!

Castellano was one of the many Romance descendants of Latin, and it was spoken by the small population who lived in the County of Castile. This county would later on turn into a kingdom – el Reino de Castilla – by taking vast amounts of territory and annexing other kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula. As the Kingdom of Castile expanded, so did the language of its Castilian folks.

Languages evolve throughout the years, and it’s hard to pin down the exact moment in which castellano diverged enough from Latin to be considered a language of its own. What started as the castellano of Castile in the 9th century had turned into the castellano of Spain by the 16th. Erudite King Alfonso X as well as the Golden Age litterateurs hoisted Spanish as the language of the Empire, a language that was gradually called español over castellano. By the 18th century, the first designation had taken over the latter.

So, why does a large number of hispanohablantes refer to their language as castellano? Habit, pride, politics… take your pick. The term is nowadays widely used in bilingual regions of Spain as well as some Spanish speaking-countries in Latin America 2. It has become so commonplace, that even the RAE decided to give up and include it is as a synonym for español 3. The DPD also weighs in.

Whereas the international community refers to the Spanish language as español across the board, native speakers of this language seem to disagree with the terminology. The way I see it, calling it castellano is anachronic and as preposterous as saying that Angela Merkel speaks Althochdeutsch. Still skeptical? Allow me to show you one last piece of evidence to dissuade you from labeling your language as castellano:

Facsimile of Cantar de mio Cid.
Here’s a transcription of the first eight verses:

A uos lama por sennor, e tienes por uuestro vasallo:
Mucho preçia la ondra Çid quel auedes dado.
Pocos dias ha, rey, que vna lid a arrancado,
A aquel rey de Marruecos Yuçeff por nombrado:
Con çinquenta mill arrancolos del campo:
Las ganançias que fizo mucho son sobeianas:
Ricos son venidos todos los sos vassallos:
E enbia uos dozientos cauallos, e besa uos las manos.

Do you speak THAT? I don’t think so. Let’s get into the time capsule and come back to the present, shall we?