Tag Archives: language

The Academy of (Her Majesty’s) English?

As a former English teacher and holder of a graduate degree in the same in addition to my undergrad degree in British and American literature, I have a thing or two to say about language. My training alone would allow me to comment extensively on the sentence I just wrote. I try to keep it under control, though. I refuse to let any widespread publications at work go by without at least getting a chance to proofread them, a task which I will gladly do even though it’s definitely not in my job description. I don’t correct my mother unless she asks me to. I don’t even hold hard and fast to a lot of what people think are still rules but aren’t or the strictest rules for spoken language.

I will, however, refuse to use “male” and “female” as nouns (a female what? water buffalo?) or allow “they” to be used in place of a single person of unknown gender (“he” is only sexist if you choose to see it that way). Some things about language just ought to be sacred.

I’m not quite sure how to take this (now old; this one’s from my drafts folder) news of a possible Academy of English, though. If you didn’t know, many other countries whose languages are used around the world (Spain, France, and Italy in particular) have government agencies that are in charge of regulating the language. I loved using the online Diccionario de la Real Academía Española (DRAE) when I was studying Spanish; it was nice to have a definitive answer about how to write. A group called the Queen’s English Society petitioned last year to establish a similar agency for the UK. One could argue that many people already speak English (aside from the UK, U.S., and Australia, it’s an official language of South Africa), but just think of how many countries use Spanish! I think the real problem is that the U.S. already rebelled against England being in charge of it as a territory, so there’s little chance that it’s going to let a foreign language body have control, either.

That said, it would be nice to settle the “they” thing once and for all.

Yo aprendí español

I speak Spanish. Not well, but passably enough that I can communicate with native speakers who also know English. I’m sure I sound like a third-grader, but I can stumble along.

According to this NYT article, the new fad among the competitive preschool set is to start their little ones learning Chinese. It makes sense in terms of business competition, as the author notes, but in terms of politics and diplomacy, I still think Arabic is a more useful language to have in your back pocket.

When I was choosing a language to study, I was in middle school in Germany, where my options were Spanish or German. (We just didn’t have a French teacher, I think.) I chose Spanish because I knew it would be useful, and that was ten years before I even thought about moving to Texas. My middle school friends still speak German; I still speak Spanish. Although I don’t think President Calderón has any particular qualms with the U.S. at the moment, something tells me that I made the wiser choice. It’s nice to know that people with more clout agree.

Chavez Says: No More Spanglish

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela would like a little more pureza in his people’s españolh. He is urging the country’s citizens to stop using English words for popular contemporary terms, favoring their Spanish counterparts instead.

He’s got a point. After I finished the intermediate-level Spanish I needed to graduate with my English degree, I declared my minor and moved on to more advanced classes. The first of these, SPAN 207: Reading and Writing in Spanish, was taught completely in Spanish. English was discouraged to the point that, when our teacher asked what a word meant, she wanted a definition in Spanish, not the English translation.

However, since we weren’t quite proficient yet, we would often still sprinkle our Spanish sentences with English words. It’s much harder to build up your fluency when you have to stop and puzzle over a word in the middle of a sentence. If you just drop in the English word, you can get on with the rest of your phrase. I noticed, though, that the English words in a Spanish sentence always sounded rough and inelegant in comparison.

So I see what Chavez wants. It would be ludicrous to have my Venezuelan boss call a meeting instead of a reunión, or to input my password instead of my contrasena on HarryLatino.com. (For the record, I rarely use that site, I’m not registered, and they’re mostly hunkered down after the release of Harry Potter y las reliquas de la muerte a few days ago.) There’s enough debate over Spanglish already. I love being able to read and write in both languages, but I hate getting them mixed up.

I’ll blog about something American again soon.

[Note added 5/10/12: The original article was posted at Yahoo! News. I had to use Yahoo! search to find the article on Fox News. I think that’s ironic.]

Curiosidades/Curiosities

Today’s linguistic curiosities come to you via Wikipedia. I’ve only recently started reading Wikipedia articles in Spanish. It’s so encouraging that I can understand them. They help a lot when I’m studying for my Spanish history class, because my professor lectures in Spanish, and I’ll have to write exams on them in Spanish. Researching in English wouldn’t make sense; I don’t even take notes in English for that class.

Las palabras más largas del idioma español son [The longest words in the Spanish language are:] Hipopotomonstrosesquipedaliofóbicos, esternocleidooccipitomastoideo, anticonstitucionalmente, electroencefalografista y otorrinolaringológicamente.

via Idioma español

I love that section because the words are so neat. The first is some kind of animal with six legs (I think). The second sounds like a body part. The thrid is “unconstitutional.” The fourth is “electroencephalographist,” a.k.a. someone who runs EEGs. The last sounds like an adverb for things related to speech (ENT, possibly).

All of this is making Firefox’s built-in spell check go crazy.

An amusing example of the significance of stress and intonation in Spanish is the riddle como como como como como como, to be punctuated and accented so that it makes sense. The answer is: ¿Cómo “cómo como”? ¡Como como como! (“What do you mean / ‘how / do I eat’? / I eat / the way / I eat!”).

from the English version of the same article: Spanish language

And finally, a similar linguistic riddle in English:

“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” is a grammatically correct sentence used as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated constructs.

If you consider “buffalo” a verb, it works. Very cool…for us language nerds.

Cardinal Arinze: “Stop Ad-Libbing the Mass!”

Last week, ZENIT published the text of an address that Cardinal Francis Arinze gave on language in the liturgy. I delayed reading it because I’ve been going through my Google Reader at work, but I wanted to take my time with the speech and blog about it, so I had to be at home. I love Cardinal Arinze, as I’ve mentioned before, so I was excited to read his thoughts on a subject dear to my heart.

The speech is published in the three parts. The first (linked above) is an introduction that lays out the basis for the various rites in the Church. I had no idea there were so many Eastern rites! The second elaborates on the desire of the people for authentic worship. The cardinal says:

It is not true that the lay faithful do not want to sing the Gregorian Chant. What they are asking for are priests and monks and nuns who will share this treasure with them…. Monasteries are visited by people who want to sing Lauds and especially Vespers…. It is remarkable that young people welcome the Mass celebrated sometimes in Latin.

Our CSC Latin Mass was fabulous. I love to chant. I speak Spanish, so I can follow along with the Latin easier than if I spoke only English, but I still don’t understand every word. I still get lost even when we have Mass in Spanish. There’s something beautiful about Latin, though. It fits so well with traditional melodies. The psalms of the LOTH truly sound like prayers when they are sung. By chanting the Salve Regina, we are adoring the Blessed Virgin. Even when we chant Vespers at the CSC and giggle because we’re so inexperienced, the fact that we’re chanting lifts our hearts to God.

The crowning section of the cardinal’s speech is the third section. He finally builds up to his point: authentic translation is difficult, but it is key to celebrating the liturgy in all its splendor. I’ve been talking this week with Margaret, one of the older Catholic ladies who works with me in Honors. She thinks traditional prayers like the Our Father (“who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name”) should be simplified for children so they can understand. I heartily disagree. We should definitely explain words like “apostolic,” “art,” and “hallowed,” but we shouldn’t say anything differently during the course of Holy Mass. We need to stay as close to the original language as possible. If not, we’ll wind up with atrocities like the NAB’s “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack” (Psalm 23).

Translations should, therefore, be faithful to the original Latin text. They should not be free compositions. [They] should reflect that reverence, gratitude and adoration before God’s transcendent majesty and man’s hunger for God which are very clear in the Latin texts…. [Liturgical vernacular] should not hesitate to use some words not generally in use in everyday conversation, or words that are associated with Catholic faith and worship.

Fr. Kyle has gone on the Catholic Terps Habitat for Humanity trip, so we were scheduled to have a substitute priest for 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday. When he hadn’t shown up by 10:15, Jess gave me a ride to St. Mark for 10:30 Mass there. It was quite nice, but I was distressed by the priest’s insistence on improvising parts of the Mass; for example, finishing the Gospel reading, then saying, “And for our salvation, this is the Gospel of the Lord.” I used to be guilty of a similar abuse when I read the psalm while lectoring, but I stopped. You read the words on the page; nothing more.

[N]o individual, even a priest or deacon, has authority to change the approved wording in the sacred liturgy. This is also common sense. But sometimes we notice that common sense is not very common.

There’s a significant difference between “Tonight I can write the saddest lines” and “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche” (Neruda, translated into English). It is not a crime to seek to understand something written in another language. To change the inherent and sacred meaning of the Divine Liturgy–this is the crime. Preach it, Cardinal:

Indeed, we can say that the most important thing in divine worship is not that we understand every word or concept. No. The most important consideration is that we stand in reverence and awe before God, that we adore, praise and thank him. The sacred, the things of God, are best approached with sandals off [Exodus 3:5].

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