Part 19: How Do You Spell Asparagus?

Pete in Aljucen

Brainy linguistic types would no doubt call it second language interference. I just call it, “been here too long syndrome.” I have lived in various parts of Spain for a total of around ten years and have noticed of late that my English is not what it was. In fact my wife and I have taken to speaking some sort of bastardised half-language, neither English nor Spanish and probably too lazy to be called Spanglish. The only comfort is knowing that we are not alone. In a place like Extremadura it is probably still a bit previous to refer to any sort of ex-pat community. Those who have moved here have done so because this is definitely not Little Britain. Seeing neighbours and friends who share the same native language might well involve a two-hundred mile round trip. Nonetheless on the odd occasion that there are more than a few of us sharing a glass or two of tinto, it is noticeable that nearly everybody speaks the same patois.

Anybody who has studied Spanish at university will tell you that certain Spanish words seem to lodge themselves in the brain and refuse to budge. Bicho, tortilla, chorizo, siesta and alegría, could, at a pinch, all be translated into English. But (loosely speaking), bugs, omelettes, spicy sausage, nap and happiness somehow just don’t seem to cut the mustard. Cachondeo or messing about (some people might use a stronger verb at times) is another word that foreigners simply fall in love with.

But perhaps the most peculiar habit of all is the involuntary, word-for-word translation into English of certain common Spanish phrases. For example “It costs me a lot of work to understand him.” (Me cuesta mucho trabajo entenderle) Which is a fine example of what my old French teacher used to call “Translationese.” The words themselves may be English, but the phrase isn`t.

And there are certain areas which seem to force incomers to use Spanish words even when there are a whole slew of perfectly good English words at their disposal. The world of architecture and housing is the prime example of this. Our house has wonderful vaulted ceilings. However whenever we refer to them, regardless of the nationality of the person to whom we are talking, we invariably call them bóvedas. The patio could just as well be the back yard and the doblao, (where we seldom venture as it is too scary) could simply be upstairs.

It´s the same with food, paella, gazpacho and tortilla could all be translated, but their English renderings immediately lose all the magic.

This tide of linguistic pollution flows in the opposite direction, too. Spanish TV reviewers talk about the share, football commentators use the verb chutar, which is obviously a corruption of the verb to shoot. Technophiles no longer see the need to translate neologisms and talk happily of their Blackberries, and Blue Tooth. Spanish teenagers pepper their speech, with cool, heavy, pretty and freaky. Espiderman is the star of a popular series of films that could just as easily feature el hombre araña. Here in Extremadura where the use of consonants is strictly rationed, even the old time fisherman get in on the act referring to the imported American black bass as “blabla”.

Writing too is affected. I was on the verge of writing afected there, because the truth is that affect, effect and offer all look correct with just one “f”. A Spanish student of mine recently asked the function of the second “f” in such words, and I was at a loss to explain. As for asparagus, I have to look it up in a dictionary prior to writing the word. It´s a good job that I never really cared for asparagus in the first place.

Articles in the series:

Introduction to Pete's Tale

Part 1:  Village Life

Part 2:  Bichos

Part 3:  A Two-Bar Town

Part 4:  Fruit and Veg

Part 5:  Summer

Part 6:  Politics

Part 7:  Noise

Part 8:  Our natural park

Part 9:  New Year's Eve

Part 10:  Timetables

Part 11:  The Land Where the Pig is King

Part 12:  How Not to Buy a House

Part 13:  That First Winter

Part 14:  The Extremeño Spring

Part 15:  To be a Pilgrim

Part 16:  A Change is Coming

Part 17:  Wine Talk

Part 18:  Free For All

Part 19:  How Do You Spell Asparagus?

Part 20:  Designer Peas


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