Friday, May 1, 2009

HOW DARE YOU TALK TO ME LIKE THAT?!

I got the title of this post from an old song by Basia. She once told me during an interview that she got it from the title of a magazine article she once read on bad grammar. She also said that as a native Polish speaker who had learned English -- and learned it quite well, I must add -- as a second language, she could not understand how some English speakers could massacre such a beautiful language. Me neither, Basia, but even more troubling is that you haven't released an album of new music in 15 years, despite telling me that you'd never again let more than two go by between CDs.

As usual, I'm digressing. Back on topic: Although I've spent much of my professional life making a living as an editor, I personally never have been one for correcting people's syntax, pronunciation and word use during normal conversations -- which is not to say that I don't occasionally and privately chuckle at emails, text messages and Facebook posts, for all the bitchiest reasons. It just seems rude and self-aggrandizing, as if you are trying too hard to stake your superiority.

These thoughts ran through my head last night as I was having a conversation in Spanish on MSN Messenger with Santiago, a total stranger. Of course, he asked all the routine questions, and I responded in all my routine ways. But as the clock passed midnight and exhaustion set in, complete sentences were no longer easily within my grasp. You want to know how long I have lived in BA? "2.5 años," I wrote, yawning.

"Se dice 'dos años y medio' en Argentina," he responded. He must have sensed my mild annoyance over the Internet airwaves because he immediately asked if it's okay if he corrects me and then went on to praise my otherwise flawless Spanish (yeah, right).

Actually, it wasn't okay. We were not in Spanish class; we were having an MSN conversation. I know how to say, "I've lived in Buenos Aires for two and a half years," in Spanish, but it was midnight, and I was tired, so I simply took a liberty with the language that was far more minor than the ones taken by most of the native Spanish speakers with whom I have MSN conversations. I didn't have the energy to explain all of this, so I told him I already know how to say, "two and a half years," in Spanish and did the online equivalent of pretending not to hear the rest.

Of course, Spanish is not the most flexible language; syntax and pronunciation are pretty much set in stone, as any native English speaker in BA who has gotten into a taxi and asked to be driven to "El Salvador y Malabia" well knows. (It's Elsalva-DOR, not El SAL-va-dor.) That might be one of the reasons why songs translated from English into Spanish lose some of their lyrical punch. After all, Bob Dylan ain't afraid to sing, "It ain't me, babe." En español, yo soy o no yo soy. Period.

Thankfully, the great Latin writers saw things differently. "Me duele la mujer en todo el cuerpo," Jorge Luis Borges wrote in one of his great works. I know, I know. One says, "Me duele todo el cuerpo por la mujer" -- or something more to that effect. But por Dios, who cares? Considering that 99.9% of people in the U.S. mangle the English language, I'd say grammar by mob rule is not necessarily the way to go. When it comes to a beautiful women making me to hurt all over, I'd rather express my pain and devastation Borges's way.
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