This is a guide for my family and friends about my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, Africa. I teach English as foreign language to high school students in Boa Vista, Cape Verde. Also as a disclaimer, the comments expressed here are solely of the author and do not represent the United States Peace Corps, the American Government, or any other governing body.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I am currently reading Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. I have hardly read anything by him, possibly a short story when I was in high school, but none of his novels. I must say that I really do enjoy this book. I was never interested I guess because I always assumed I wouldn’t like him. But honestly, this guy’s not bad. Don’t worry this is not a book review, nor do I pretend to posses an expertise on most things literary. But there is one thing in this novel that sticks out to me: the language. Hemingway’s dialogue is that of transliterated Spanish. Meaning, if you were watching this novel as a movie, the characters would be speaking Spanish. But what Hemingway does is not translate the novel into understandable and everyday speaking English, but transliterates it from the Spanish dialogue as if you were the interpreter of the Spanish-language movie translating the dialogue word for word in your head. One of my favorite and more often used phrases is: “I obscenity in the milk of thy …” Now I was never 100% fluent in Spanish, nor did I learn nor speak it in the 1930s or 40s. But I assume that this is a slang phrase for something that could have been understandably translated into English. Something along the lines of “screw you” (wouldn’t that be an interesting phrase transliterated into another language). We instead are left here with an amusing transliteration that pretty much gets its intended meaning across.

Now, it is the use of the word ‘thy’ that truly interests me. His dialogue in transliterated English uses the subject pronouns ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ for the familiar tu form in Spanish. I remember back to my high school Spanish days when were taught all the verb conjugations, including of course the tu form. I don’t recall, however, it ever being translated as ‘thee.’ This form of communication in English is all but dead, but is it possible that transliterated, it still exists in other languages (I really wouldn’t know for sure I am also no linguist)? But it made me think about the languages here. When the TEFL volunteers were going through our language training back in July and August, we were told that the tu form in Portuguese is nearly irrelevant for us to learn. No one here uses it and in Brazil it is practically obsolete. The reason for its lack of use here in this country, I was told at the time, is familiar speaking is dominated by the language of the people, so-to-speak: Kriolu. Whenever one speaks Portuguese, it is automatically assumed you are in a formal setting and therefore there is no need to learn the informal form, you use the formal ‘you’ form of você. ‘Well, good,’ everyone thought, ‘one less conjugation for me to learn.’ Imagine my surprise, then, when I entered the classroom and the students are speaking to me in informal Portuguese. Hm. Not dead.

But it becomes a hazy line when you are trying to teach your students the translations for even simple phrases like, “Do you like to dance?” You ask them to translate and you will get two different responses: “Tu gostas dançar” or “Você gosta dançar” which isn’t really a problem until you see the confused look on some students faces, they can’t understand how two of their conjugations mean the same thing in English. It then is out of my area of TEFL expertise. Although I don’t think it would go over well if I told them that “Tu gostas dançar” literally means ‘thou likest the dance?’ But I smiled inside a little when the thought occurred to me that other languages are still using this type of communication. Because it sounds so funny to me. Maybe that’s why the Cape Verdeans were smart and just threw out this manner of speaking for a much simpler less grammatically structured blend of Portuguese and Creole. I’m sure this translation is not what they are hearing themselves when they speak in the informal form, but it just amused me that English has done away with this segregation of address, while most other languages still continue to safeguard the line that separates formality from familiarity.


Blogger uncleBill said...

I have read more "required" books since I left school. I'm sure had I read them when they were required I would not have enjoyed them as much. So you are not alone.I certainly enjoy your writing and look forward to each of your postings. Please keep it up. You are getting and giving a unique perspective of life to those of us in the mundane world you miss so much.

05 March, 2007 06:51

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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09 September, 2007 20:09


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