Monday, November 7, 2011

Swear Words

Back at it after being unable to write for awhile...had an interesting conversation with a friend this past weekend on a subject that E and I have been discussing lately.  In my education in the spanish language I've memorized many things.  Grammar and vocabulary aside there's been so many lessons rooted in mexican culture, body language and slang words.  I learned the framework and the grammar rules in high school spanish and a lot of if came back (and there's a lot I'm still waiting to "click").  But I really feel like I didn't start learning the language until I became immersed in it.  So many little quirks are not teach-able in a classroom. 

Things like introductions and greetings are so straightforward when read in a textbook, but become muddled with situation details when experienced in real life.  How to address different people in the world when meeting for the first time, the second time, etc.  How to greet someone in a loud bar vs. at a business meeting.  And I don't mean the mere "tu vs. ud" stuff - how shake hands, where to look, phrases to use.  I tried to learn these rules when I came and then realized that beyond the rules, every person is different.  For more examples - how to excuse oneself from a conversation, how to make offers to people or invite them to a place or do to something, how to talk on the telephone (yes even that feels different).  I was blindsided by these things when I arrived and am still learning the technicalities each and every day. 

Additionally there are so many language and cultural nuances that I'm convinced cannot be taught at all.  One must just feel them.  E has told me before that when he watches american movies or tv and a character says a swear word, that he doesn't feel anything.  The word is just a sound to him, it doesn't carry any weight.  This was so interesting a concept to me.  I thought about when I use strong words in spanish and how I feel the same way.  E and I have had to ask each other to rank the "weight" of a bad word, e.g. "How bad is this bad word? Is it worse than <insert other bad word here>? Would I say it to my mother?"  Somehow our mothers have become the barometer for common conversation acceptability. When I hear swear words in english, I feel something because I've grown up knowing the weight of those words.  In spanish, I sometimes wonder if I speak too strongly.  E has told me the basics of swear words and their usage, but it takes reading the situation to know what kind of language is acceptable.  And it appears there are unlimited "kinds" of spanish - as there are of english as well.  Difference being that because english is my native language, it's more inside me than spanish.  I can call on it without thinking, read between the lines of dialogue someone else is telling me to infer meaning or dishonesty or easily relate the words to other conversations or ideas I've had.  Some days it feels like this ability is out of my grasp and lightyears away from my understanding of spanish. 

Just thinking about this while writing has stirred up so many other "language barrier" stories that E and I have shared.  Perhaps future posts...Until then some pics from our dive trip last week - no language needed underwater!

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