A friend on a Facebook group (Denise Hughes-Weston) wrote this earlier today
Musing over languages, as I do 😉 , and prompted by a post from Lynn Cobb .,,, I notice that the English say: My name is ……. The Spanish say: Me llamo …….. (I call myself), the French say: je m’appelle …….. (I call myself) and the Catalans and Valencians say something much more logical which is em diuen …….. (I am called …..).
I replied as follows
I find it fascinating too. I find Spanish to be less egocentric generally. Also we don’t ‘own’ our body parts, especially when they hurt us! In Spanish it’s ‘Me duele la cabeza’, which is really saying that the head is causing me pain – in English it’s either ‘MY head hurts’ or I HAVE a headache. Self centred or what?
‘Can I have ….’? In Spanish ¿Me pones…..? or ¿Me das…..? which is can YOU give me
Oooh I could go on……
And that set me musing….
The English language does seem to be egocentric, & the latin languages less so. I used to speak reasonably good French, I studied Latin at school, & obviously speak Spanish… & yes, it does seem to me that in the latin languages, to a great extent the verbs act ON the person, rather than the person actually DOING the verb. Things very often happen TO the person, rather than the person actually doing it…
I often joke during my classes that ‘people have no control in Spanish’. This is when I am explaining that everything in Spanish has a gender – it’s either masculine or femenine – & in a sentence, eveything referring to the noun/thing, is controlled by that. I’ve written about this before. The gender of the noun/thing controls which ‘the’ you use, it controls the adjective/describing word, it controls the possessive word, & when you take the noun out of the sentence, it controls the pronoun you use to replace it!
The only part of the Spanish language which doesn’t care about gender is the verb / doing word!
Let’s take I like paella. In Spanish that’s Me gusta la paella. I don’t figure in that at all, because what is being said is ‘the paella pleases me’ … so the paella is doing the action/verb & is way more important than I am!
Even when someone is doing something, in Spanish we don’t need to use a seperate word for I, you, etc., because it’s all there in the one word. I live – vivo, you live – vives, we live – vivimos. In Spanish we don’t have to keep pointing out who is doing what – the words yo, tú, él/ella, nosotros, vosotros & ellos/ ellas (me, you, he/she, we, you-all & they) exist – but they aren’t needed most of the time. Also, habitually when speaking in Spanish, the person doing the verb is said after the verb, so ‘Marta sings’ becomes ‘Canta Marta’. The singing now seems to be more important than Marta.
Suppose I brush my daughter’s hair. Cepillo el pelo de mi hija. The first difference is that there are no apostrophes in Spanish, so I can’t use one to show that the hair ‘belongs’ to my daugher . it’s just ‘the hair of my daughter’. She doesn’t seem to ‘own’ it – it’s just part of her!
Look what happens when I want to say ‘I brush it for her’. In English I still come first. In Spanish that’s Se lo cepillo (for her it I brush) . So although I’m still doing the brushing.. I now seem less important!
There are times though, when the person is important – reflexive verbs. Then you’re doing something to yourself! But that means that you can’t ever blame someone for getting you drunk…. the verb is ’emborracharse’ to become drunk ….. or to get yourself drunk!
The following give a bit more information about gender, pronouns & reflexives
A version of this appears in issue 191 of Jávea Grapevine (June 2017)