Sunday, September 5, 2010

Spanish and directionality

Alvaro just tapped my shoe and said, "Cuanto calzas?", a mysterious utterance since I know cuanto as "how much?" and I don't know the verb calzar at all. After some negotiating, I realized he was asking my shoe size--calzado is "shoe" in Chile, and the verb calzar apparently means something like "to shoe." He is surprised that it sounds strange to me, and all I could say was that in English, we don't have a verb just to say what size shoe you wear.

I've been thinking about Spanish's different sense of direction. I've written before about the ubiquitous reflexive form ("is used," "is eaten"), which we would translate as the passive voice, but which in Spanish doesn't have the passive voice's, um, passivity. Another good example is the verb faltar, which means (among many things) "to lack," but it's often more like "to be that which is lacked." At the beginning of class, if there I people missing my inclination is to say "Faltamos alguien?": "Are we missing anybody?". However, if we're missing three people, the students say "Faltan tres": "Three are missing." If you can imagine a quality of "missingness," in Spanish it's laid on the thing that's missing.

Similarly, there's a convenience/liquor store in Vina called El Pollo Nuevo [The New Chicken] Premiado. Premiar is "to award," so premiado, the past participle, is "awarded-to." We do happen to have the English "prizewinning" to cover this, but the past participle is more natural in Spanish, and that's how we get my favorite Spanish coinage. Terremoteado: "earthquaked".

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