For almost three weeks, I've spoken more Spanish than English. I'm learning bad words and slang, but I'm also adding words like "poetic voice" and "Nerudian" to my vocabulary. Every language filters and shapes the world in a different way, and I'm beginning to realize how differences in grammar and syntax affect the way I think about certain things, depending on what language I'm thinking in. The awareness always happens right around the moment of the "switch" in my brain. Like when I'm reading poetry in Spanish, and I've totally just read three lines without my dictionary and I'm feeling pretty cool until I hit a speedbump word like "amargura...;" my thoughts switch over into English while I look it up in googletranslate ("amargura" means "bitterness" or "sorrow," and I suppose it's a good sign that I'm not walking around Valpo talking about sorrow so often that I know the word in Spanish. Thank you, depressed 19-year-old Pablo Neruda, for that addition to my vocabulary).
Those are the moments when I realize how Spanish arranges thoughts in a different way than English. I've always been grammatically aware that nouns come before adjectives in Spanish. Instead of "the green house" it's "the house green." I think this really simple grammatical fact gives Spanish the quality of unfolding, or blossoming, especially in poetry. The stanza with the word "amargura" actually shows this perfectly: "Y si por la amargura más bruta del destino, / animal viejo y ciego, no sabes el camino, / ya que tengo dos ojos te lo puedo enseñar." Which, reeeeally roughly, means, "And if, by the coarsest bitterness of fate, old and blind animal, you don't know the way, I have two eyes and can teach you." Okay. I'm dorking out major here and boring everyone but, I think this is really cool. The way it kind of burgeons and blooms in Spanish is totally beautiful. When I read "bitterness most coarse" and "animal old and blind," I realize that my expectations shift, so I'm waiting for the noun to lead the sentence rather than the adjectives. I apologize to you all. I promise to write about something really fun next time, like balloons.
But come on! Language is completely fascinating! It's central in my idea of what it means to be a human, and I will totally argue that point. Maybe that's why people start asking me super easy questions (like "So, do you have brothers and sisters?" when I know that everyone at the table is talking about the education strike), or speak really slowly after I make a stupid grammatical mistake (like "when I was a little girl I will live in California"). If you can't convey your intelligence through language, people don't know you're intelligent.
Soooo I heard the next post is going to be about balloons.