Archive for the ‘LoMas Lessons’ Category

La Banda Chilanguense - El habla de México Part 2 of 3

Pura palabra... pura palabra... nos divertimos a puras cosas de puro hablar

Merely words... merely words... we have fun just by talking

caption 18, La Banda Chilanguese:  El habla de México - Part 2 of 3



Have you checked out the construction workers from Mexico City that we are callingLa Banda Chilanguese? These guys really do have a lot of fun just chewing the fat!



One of the ways they and other Mexicans spice up their conversation is through the use of refranes. A refrán is a popular saying or expression.



We see an example when aluminum worker Antonio says:



Voy a ir a darle porque es mole de olla

I’m going to get down to it, because it’s “mole de olla”

caption 29, La Banda Chilanguese: El habla de México - Part 1 of 3



This is from the refrán “A darle que es mole de olla”  which means “Get down to it [the task] because it’s hard and arduous.” Why this analogy to mole de olla? Because preparing mole de olla (literally “mole in a pot,” a type of beef stew) is hard work and time-consuming. (For those of you far from the gastronomic border, we are talking about “mo-lay,” a genre of Mexican sauces—not the funny-looking mammal known in Spanish as  topo).



The Mexican Institute of Sound also makes use of a popular saying:



Si te cae el saco, póntelo pa´ bailar

If the jacket suits you, wear it to dance

caption 5, Mexican Institute of Sound: Alocatel



This is a play on another popular refrán, Si te queda el saco, póntelo which literally means “if the jacket suits you, wear it.” In English we have a similar expression which expresses the same thing, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” It means, “if you are worried that we are talking about you, it is because you think it applies to you, so accept it and don’t complain.” 



Here are two more refranes that you might hear when visiting Mexico:



Entre menos burros, más olotes

The fewer the donkeys, the more cobs of corn 



When would you say this? When some members of a party have to leave... the consolation is that there is more food and drink left for those who stay. 



But what if more guests arrive than expected, and rations run low?



A falta de pan, tortillas

When there’s no bread, tortillas will do



This expression is used to express that we must make do with what we have.



Aside: It’s interesting to note that the well-known English expression “the more, the merrier,” as it was first recorded in 1520, contained a corollary that echoes the same sentiment as “entre menos burros...” The complete expression was this: "The more, the merrier; the fewer, the better fare" (meaning "with fewer there would be more to eat").

Biografía - Natalia Oreiro Part 8 of 12

Our four new video clips deliver more than fifteen minutes of spoken Spanish -- subtitled and translated -- to your computer. To learn all you can from the rapid-fire banter, check out Yabla's "slow play" feature. (To activate, simply click SLOW on the Yabla Player). By taking the pace down a notch, you might notice some nuances that could otherwise elude you.

One subtlety we noted in the eighth installment of our chat with actress Natalia Oreiro was that she and her father use the phrase "de repente" in different ways. First, let's listen to Natalia describe seeing herself on TV in her first starring role:

Y de repente aparezco yo...
"And suddenly I appear..."
[Caption 43, Natalia Oreiro > 8]

The word "repente" on its own means "fit" or "burst." But in everyday spoken Spanish, it's often heard in the idiom "de repente" which primarily means "all of a sudden" or "suddenly." That's how Natalia uses it here, when she was surprised to see her own image on the TV screen.

But just a few lines later, we hear from Natalia's dad. He's obviously not a professional actor and he, well, hesitates on camera more than his daughter, explaining:

...pierdo la continuidad de... de... de... de repente de escucharla
"...I lose the habit of... of... of... maybe of listening to her"
[Caption 52, Natalia Oreiro > 8]

In the Oreiro family's native Uruguay (as well as in Venezuela), de repente can also mean "maybe," according to the Diccionario de la lengua española from the Real Academia Española. Another translation of de repente (although it doesn't fit here) is "spontaneously," i.e., without premeditation. Who would have guessed?

Cuando lo vi con esa mujer me dio un repente de furia.
"When I saw him with that woman, I went into a fit of rage."

Cienfue - Medio Alcohólico Melancólico

Se me ha olvidado quién soy yo
I have forgotten who I am
Caption 2: Cienfue - Medio Alcohólico Melancólico

As English speakers, we might be wondering why “I have forgotten,” in the caption above, isn’t using the first person (yo or "I") conjugation of haber, as in [yo] he olvidado... 

In fact, Cienfue could have sung precisely that, which would be the most “English-like” way of expressing his thought:

[yo] he olvidado quién soy yo
I have forgotten who I am

Another alternative would be the pronominal (think “reflexive”) form, olvidarse:

[yo] me he olvidado de quién soy yo
I have forgotten who I am

Note that the pronominal option requires a “de” after olvidado. The reason for this is that olvidarse, like most pronominal verbs, does not take a direct object, while olvidar is “transitive”—meaning it does (and must) take a direct object. Native speakers often just “know” this instinctively.

Cienfue doesn’t opt for either of these, rather going with what, to English speakers, will be the most “foreign” (though commonplace in Spanish) construction, olvidársele. Olvidársele is what is known as the "impersonal" (or “terciopersonal,” third person) construction of olvidarse. 

In contrast to what we are accustomed to in English, the subject of the sentence is the thing forgotten, while the person doing the forgetting is expressed as an indirect object (signified by the le appended to olvidarse). Something "gets forgotten" (passive voice) "by someone."

So, when Cienfue sings,

Se me ha olvidado quién soy yo

the subject of the sentence is “quién soy yo” (who I am) and the indirect object is “me” (me).

Cienfue is most literally saying:
“ ‘Who I am’ has been forgotten by me”

Most Spanish speakers, even if pressed, will find precious little (if any) difference in meaning amongst the three possible constructions. There are definitely regional as well as personal preferences.

It can also be argued that there are nuanced differences in emphasis. For example, the “impersonal” form places the least “blame” on the person doing the forgetting. This type of verb construction has even been called sin culpa (without blame), and it’s not the first time we’ve encountered it

in our discussions.

What if you want to simply say “I forgot.”? (e.g. in response to Por qué no fuiste a trabajar? Why didn’t you go to work?)

Olvidé. INCORRECT (requires a direct object.)
Lo olvidé. (I forgot.) (direct object pronoun lo refers to “work”)
Me olvidé. (I forgot)
Se me olvidó. (I forgot.)

Let’s cap this off with a few more examples of each possible olvidar constructions: transitive (the most “English-like”, and perhaps least common), pronominal (looks like “reflexive”) and impersonal:

You forget that I am the boss?
¿Olvidas que yo soy el jefe?
¿Te olvidas de que yo soy el jefe?
¿Se te olvida que yo soy el jefe?

Maria forgot to pick up her cat.
Maria olvidó recoger su gato.
Maria se olvidó de recoger su gato.
A Maria se le olvidó recoger su gato.

Jorge forgot his money.
Jorge olvidó el dinero.
Jorge se olvidó del dinero.

[In some cases, like this one, the pronominal form alters the meaning slightly. “Jorge forgot about the money,” or even “Jorge kissed the money goodbye.”]

A Jorge se le olvidó el dinero.

Now is a good time to catch up on (or review) these related lessons:

Accidental Grammar
Caer Bien: To Like It
Gustar: To Like, to Please, to Taste
“Le” in Verbs Like Gusta


Playa Adícora - Francisco Part 4 of 4

On the Venezuelan shore, Francisco expresses his deep appreciation for the wild, natural beauty of his surroundings. In front of the camera, Francisco hesitates a few times, but it's not from lack of conviction. He's simply buying time to find the right word. For example:

Los arrecifes... la... la... el fondo marino en... en sí que es demasiado increíble.
"The reefs... the... the... the ocean floor in... in itself is too incredible."
[Caption 4, Adícora > Francisco > 4]

One might take pause upon hearing en sí because those two words separately can mean "in" and "yes." But with an accent over the i is not just an affirmation; it's also a reflexive personal pronoun (short for sí mismo / sí misma) meaning himself, herself, itself, oneself, yourself (as in the formal usted), yourselves (ustedes) or themselves -- depending on the context.

Lo leyó para sí misma.
"She read it to herself." [not out loud]

Cada uno debe hacerlo por sí mismo.
"Each person has to do it himself or herself."

Solía pensar por mismo; no era influenciado por los tan llamados expertos.

"He used to think for himself; he wasn't influenced by the so-called experts."

¡Venga y compruébelo por sí mismo!
"Come and check it out for yourself!"

Let's look back at our original example and home in on the idiom en sí, which means the same thing as en sí mismo (English translations: "in itself" or "in and of itself" or simply "itself").

El trabajo en sí no era interesante, pero le daba la posibilidad de viajar.
"The job itself wasn't interesting, but it gave him the opportunity to travel."

Amor es bueno en sí naturalmente,
"Love in itself is naturally good,"
[from Juan Boscán's Sonnet, sixteenth century poetry]

You will also find it interesting to note that volver en sí, which we might be tempted to translate as "to come back to one's self," is an expression that means "to regain consciousness / to come to." It can also mean "to come around," as in "to realize the truth."

Si no vuelve en sí pronto, debemos llevarlo a un hospital.
"If he doesn't come to soon, we must take him to a hospital."

Por suerte volvió en sí y se dió cuenta que era una locura.
"Luckily he came around and realized it was a crazy idea."

This lesson has valor en sí misma, if you ask us!

You can further explore reflexive pronouns with our friends over at Spanish Online.

Muñeca Brava - 44 El encuentro Part 2 of 10
Yago - 2 El puma Part 7 of 9

We really hope that you never find yourself hanging upside down in a hunter's trap in the middle of the jungle. However, since a problem might aways be a la vuelta de la esquina (around the corner), words such as iayuda!, ¡auxilio! and ¡socorro! (all of them equivalent to “help!”) merit inclusion in every Spanish learner’s basic kit. With the appropriate intonation and volume, these words can make the difference for you in a difficult situation just like they did for Morena:

¡Socorro! ¡Socorro! ¡Sáquenme!
Help! Help! Get me out!
Caption 13, Yago: El puma - Part 7 of 9 

By the way, note that the word Socorro is also used as a female name in Spanish:

¿Usted por qué me dijo que Socorro estaba embarazada? -Porque está embarazada.
Why did you tell me that Socorro was pregnant? -Because she is pregnant.
Caption 54, Muñeca Brava: El encuentro - Part 2 of 3

So, if you decide to use socorro to ask for help, just be sure to use the proper intonation… You don’t want people to believe that you are simply looking for your dear friend, Socorro.

El Ausente - Acto 1 Part 1 of 8

Mexicans are a friendly and warm people, and, in the first episode of the movie El Ausente, we find some friendly expressions that you may like to learn.  For example, note that famous actor Luis Aguilar says to his ahijado (godson), ¿Qué hubo, mijo? Throughout the Spanish speaking world, mijo is a common contraction of mi hijo (my son), which is not only used by parents but also by older people to address younger people in a friendly way.   And what about “¿Qué hubo?,” which is usually said in such a contracted manner that it is sometimes written “¿Q’hubo?” Though it literally translates to “What was there?” — what it really means is “What’s up?,” “What’s happening?,” “What’s shaking?,” etc. etc. (The expression can be heard in many other Latin American countries as well, Colombia in particular.)   In the next line of dialogue we find another popular form of friendly address, compadre:   ¿Qué hubo, compadre? -¿Cómo está, compadre? What's up, my friend? -How are you, my friend? Caption 11, El Ausente Acto 1: Part 1/8   The word compadre means co-parent or godparent. Your compadre or comadre is the person who is the godfather/godmother of one of your children and consequently a very close friend. By extension, Mexicans (as well as other Latin Americans and some Spaniards, particularly in the south of Spain) also use the expression as a synonym of amigo (friend). In the movie, the two characters literally are compadres (father and godfather), and respectfully address each other as such.    The same character also uses the word mano, a contraction of hermano (“brother”) that, just as in English, can be used to address our best amigos.   ¡Claro, mano! No más acuérdate, nada de ejercicio. Sure, bro! Just remember, no exercise.  Caption 26, El Ausente Acto 1: Part 1/8   There is yet another typical friendly expression that appears in the movie. Expect to hear it wherever Spanish is spoken:   Bien hecho, doctor. Está usted en su casa. Well done, Doctor. Please feel at home. Caption 11, El Ausente Acto 1: Part 1/8   You could also find this expression in the form of mi casa es tu casa (“my house is your house”) or bienvenido a tu casa (“welcome to your house”). LoMásTv subscribers: note that you have heard talk of this from our "Chilango" friends.    Bueno, compadres, let's take a hint from our Mexican friends and make every conversation a friendly one!   Further Study:   The short form of compadre is compa, which translates to something like "buddy" or "pal" (or, in Spain, stands in for compañero, and is a friendly way to address a co-worker). LoMásTv subscribers can hear it in these videos: http://lomastv.com/videos.php?query=compa   Afraid someone might ask you to be a padrino (godparent)? Click here for a lowdown on what the tradition of compadrazgo (godparenthood) could mean for you!  

El Aula Azul - Actividades Diarias

We all have routines and actions that we "usually" carry out. We met a young lady at the El Aula Azul Language School in San Sebastian, Spain, who typically does the same things every day.


Yo normalmente me levanto a las siete de la mañana. I normally wake up at seven in the morning. caption 1: El Aula Azul - Actividades Diarias


Silvia "normally" gets up at seven, expressed in Spanish much the same as we would in English. 
However, where we English speakers tend to use the adverb "usually," Spanish speakers opt for the present tense of soler—a verb that means "to be accustomed to."

  Silvia tells us:
Suelo ducharme con agua caliente. I usually take a hot shower. caption 2: El Aula Azul - Actividades Diarias


She "is accustomed to" showering with hot water; it is what she usually does.
Después, suelo lavarme los dientes en el baño, y después desayuno. After that, I usually brush my teeth in the bathroom, and then have breakfast.
Caption 3: El Aula Azul - Actividades Diarias


Then, she usually brushes her teeth in the bathroom, it's what she is accustomed to doing. Notice that in Spanish people "wash" (lavarse) their teeth. It's possible to use cepillarse (to brush), which is closer to the English, but lavarse is the more common way to express this activity.

This is also a good time to remind ourselves that Spanish tends not to use possessive pronouns when talking about body parts. Notice that Silvia says that she brushes "los dientes," not "mis dientes." We discussed this before in the lesson "Ojo - Keep an eye on this lesson."

Speaking of past lessons, we also took a look at soler before, but focusing on the imperfect tense, solía—which indicates that someone "was accustomed to" doing something, typically expressed in English as "used to.

Fiesta en Miami - Antonio

LoMásTv viewer Donnie (dryanespanol) wrote and asked:

In "Fiesta en Miami," - Antonio pronounces the "h" when he says "hace." I have always been told this is a cardinal sin. Please explain.

That's a good question! Does the Canary Islander Antonio Polegre really pronounce the "h" in "hace"? Well, we took a listen and it SEEMS like he does! What is going on? 

One of the first things we notice is that, in caption 21, when Antonio says hice mis amigos ("I made my friends"), we do NOT hear any "h" sound in hice. So why would Antonio pronounce hice correctly but not hace? We also notice that he didn't pronounce the final s in mis nor in amigos -- a common enough practice in many regions, and, oddly enough, perhaps a telling clue.

Antonio uses hace four times in the video (twice in caption 27 and twice in caption 29), each time as part the two word combination nos hace; and each time it really does sound like he is pronouncing the "h" in hace.

We did a little research to see if perhaps "Canarian" Spanish makes an exception to the "never pronounce the 'h'" rule. We don't find such an exception, but we do find another characteristic of Canarian Spanish echoed in a number of places, such as wikipedia:

/s/ debuccalization. As is the case with many varieties of Spanish, /s/ debuccalized to [h] in coda position.

Obviously not written for the layman! A little more research tells us that "debuccalization" is a linguistics term that describes a sound being "reduced" to an "h sound" (e.g. the "h" in "high"), and that the "coda" position is the final position in a syllable, after the vowel. 

So, if Antonio is "debuccalizing" the final "s" in nos, which produces an "h sound," then perhaps what we are hearing is not the "h" in hace but rather the "debuccalized /s/" (i.e. "h sound") at the end of "nos"! Could it be?

Let's look at caption 29:

y al final yo considero que todo nos une, todo nos hace... todo nos hace ser humanos 
and, in the end, I consider that everything unites us, everything makes us... everything makes us human 
caption 29 - Fiesta en Miami - Antonio

It's not as strong, but we think we can also MAYBE hear an "h sound" in nos une, almost coming out as 'no [h]une," and if that's true it supports the debuccalization theory. 

Further, he does not pronounce the "h" in humanos (just as he doesn't the one in hice)-- so clearly it's not the case that he is in the habit of pronouncing every "h" that starts a Spanish word.

A Dominican friend of ours tells us that not only does Antonio's pronunciation of "nos hace" sound perfectly natural to him, but that he can think of many similar "debuccalization" examples in Dominican speech. In fact, he thought that Antonio's Spanish sounds more like that of the Caribbean than (what he considers) that of Spain. This makes sense, because linguists tells us that early Canarian settlers in the region had a great amount of influence in what we know now as "Caribbean Spanish." 

No wonder Antonio feels right at home in Miami!

Spanish speakers in many regions are known for (in one way or another) reducing, softening, or "aspirating" their s's (or, as many frustrated learners would say, "dropping them" entirely). In fact, one of our resident experts, a guru of Spanish (though his students in Mexico City call him "professor"), told us that Antonio "is aspirating the s in nos, which could sound as if he were pronouncing the h in hace to someone who is not a native Spanish speaker." 

We came across a "Voices en Español" podcast which discusses the "aspirated s," as well as some other Spanish consonant sounds that are a challenge to English speakers. Have a listen!
http://spanish-podcast.com/2008/04/04/spanish-consonants

Antonio Vargas - Artista - ilustración Part 2 of 2

Did you see the beautiful deck of playing cards drawn by Antonio Vargas, depicting the conquistadors as well as the three big historical tribes of Mexico (Maya, Olmec, and Aztec)? He explains to us that, although very scholarly, the Mayans were no slouches on the battlefield:

Y también se ponían sus buenos catorrazos, pero eran un pueblo de mucho conocimiento...
And they also gave good blows, but they were a people of much knowledge...
Caption 29, Antonio Vargas: Artista - Ilustración - Part 2

Have a look at one of our previous lessons,  —azo: a painful suffix, and you will learn that the suffix "-azo" gives the meaning "a blow/hit from." For example un palazo is a hit with a stick (palo) or a shovel (pala), and a tortazo is what you receive when you get in the way of a moving torta (cake)!

So what about these catorrazos that Antonio refers to, and that we translated simply as "blows"? Sources tell us that the root word is cate, a rather obscure Spanish word synonymous with golpe, and which itself means "hit" or "blow,"—which would give us a "blow" by way of a "hit" (or a hit by way of a blow). Obviously a bit redundant!

Catorrazo
 is very colloquial, and is primarily heard in Mexico. In actuality, bilingual dictionaries define it as simply a "punch," a "blow," or even "a hit with a stick or billy club."

Here's an interesting tidbit: Since the word for "fist" is puño, we might be tempted to also try puñazo for "punch." However, the word you are most likely to hear (and what you will find in the dictionary) is slightly different, "puñetazo." However, puñazo is also seen occasionally, and, in Latin America, the word puño itself doubles for "punch" as well.

Biografía - Pablo Echarri Part 1 of 4
Arturo Vega - Entrevista Part 5 of 5
Shakira - Loba
Antonio Vargas - Artista - ilustración Part 1 of 2

If you are at all familiar with the Spanish word apenas, the meaning that probably first comes to mind is "hardly" or "barely," as we find in the interview with Pablo Echarri:

  ...pasó apenas un año o una cosa así, y... ...hardly a year or so passed, and...
Caption 11, Biografía: Pablo Echarri - Part 1
  Apenas can also mean "just," as in "only." You may have picked this up when watching Shakira's latest tantalizing video, "Loba."

La vida me ha dado un hambre voraz y tú apenas me das caramelos
Life has given me a voracious hunger and you just give me candy
Caption 10, Shakira: Loba

Our recent interview with illustrator Antonio Vargas brings us another use of apenas you might be less familiar with:

Este restaurante todavía no existe; apenas se va a hacer. This restaurant doesn't exist yet; it is about to be built.
Caption 2, Antonio Vargas: Artista - Ilustración - Part 1
When placed before a future tense phrase, apenas often conveys the message that the action is just about to happen, or is on the verge of happening.
Arturo Vega, the famous Ramones' lighting and logo designer, uses apenas this same way when he predicts the rise in popularity of Latin American rock bands.
  Yo creo que apenas va a empezar. 
I believe it's just about to start.
Caption 13, Arturo Vega: Entrevista - Part 5
Keep your eyes and ears open for still more interesting uses of apenas. We will, too, and bring them to you in future lessons.

Chayanne - Lola

Le encanta el poder y le atrapa la noche
She loves power and the night ensnares her
Caption 6, Chayanne—Lola

The Spanish verb encantar literally means "to enchant" or "to delight greatly," so when Chayanne sings "le encanta el poder," he means to say that "power enchants her" or "power delights her." In English we would simply say "she loves power." If this looks a lot like the way we use gustar (to please) when we want to say someone "likes" something, that's because encantar belongs to a family of verbs known as "verbs like gustar." These verbs always take an indirect object pronoun, usually to refer to the person who in the English version would be the subject, and in this example the "le" is the indirect object pronoun (her), referring to "Lola."

Atrapar/"to trap; to ensnare" is NOT a "verb like gustar," but Chayanne, in the interest of lyrical flow, seems to be doing his best to set it up like one. First, notice he is putting the subject la noche/"the night," after the verb atrapa/"ensnares" (a bit unusual, but not incorrect). Secondly, he is referring to Lola using the indirect object pronoun "le," but in this case it is really acting as a direct object pronoun. You can tell because it answers the question "what?" about the verb ("The night ensnares 'what?' It ensnares her") rather than the question "to whom?" or "for whom?" which would call for an indirect object pronoun.

Note that, unlike indirect object pronouns, the direct object pronouns in Spanish DO have gender distinctions, "lo" for him and "la" for her. Chayanne could have expressed the same sentiment by putting the subject before the verb and using the proper direct object pronoun, making it clearer for most Spanish learners:

La noche la atrapa.
The night ensnares her.

Strictly speaking, "le" is not to be used as a direct object at all, but Chayanne, like a great many of his fellow Spanish speakers, IS using "le" as a direct object. The phenomenon of using the indirect object pronoun "le" (or its plural "les") where you technically should have used a direct object pronoun is known as "leísmo," and its use varies by region. It is common enough that it is not always heard as "wrong" by a great many Spanish speakers, and there are even a few cases where "le" is seen, even by the strictest grammar mavens, as an acceptable alternate to the "proper" direct object pronouns.

These "acceptable" cases of leísmo usually involve the substitution of "le" for the masculine direct object "lo," but Chayanne is substituting "le" for the feminine direct object "la"—which, while not entirely unknown in colloquial Spanish, is usually not considered "acceptable" by those with learned opinions on such matters (such as the RAE).

Further reading:
http://spanish.about.com/library/weekly/aa081301a.htm
http://buscon.rae.es/dpdI/SrvltGUIBusDPD?lema=leísmo

Chayanne - Lola

Carambola: more than tricky pool


We already know Chayanne from Provócame, where he portrays a shy stable hand who also sings the show's sanguine theme song. Now we encounter his wilder side, singing about Lola, a jet-set party-loving socialite who might even be a bit dangerous:

Como disfrutas la carambola, Lola.
How you enjoy deceit, Lola.
Caption 15, Chayanne—Lola

But how does carambola translate as "deceit?"

The usage evolves from a billiards shot (known in English as a cannon), whereby the cue ball ricochets off its target and hits a third ball, seemingly by chance, in a way that's beneficial to the player. The word comes from a pocket-less type of billiards known in English as carom billiards, and in Spanish as billar de carambolas (or just carambolas) where these types of rebounding shots are standard and can be amazing to watch.

So when someone (like Chayanne's Lola) plays her hand to achieve some benefit and makes it look like an accident, she is doing una carambola. A skillful billiards player bounces off one ball to hit another, and a skillful conman sets a trap that does not directly point back to him.

Estoy seguro que los políticos están haciendo carambola.
I'm sure that the politicians are doing something illicit.

However, not all uses of the term have negative overtones. Because the carambola shot appears to be fortuitous by happenstance, de carambola can also simply refer to chance, good luck, or "dumb luck."

Vine a recoger unos papeles y me encontré con Camilo de carambola.
I came to pick up some papers and I found Camilo by chance.

Pateó al arco, el balón golpeó en un defensor y entró de carambola.
He kicked toward the goal; the ball hit a defender and went in by luck.

Calle 13 - Atrévete-te-te

Calle 13 loves to mix English into their lyrics, which no doubt is pretty natural for them with all the exchange between their homeland of Puerto Rico and the predominately English speaking mainland United States. But Spanish natives often pronounce English words a bit differently than native speakers. Oddly enough, some of these differences can clue us into an interesting facet of the Spanish language. Listen to the way Hato Rey (aka "Residente") raps the English word "starter" in this line:

Préndete, sácale chispas al "starter".
Turn yourself on, get sparks from the starter.
Caption 6, Calle 13, Atrévete.

Do you notice he says something like "estarter"?

He also does similar when he sings:

Que tú eres callejera, "street fighter".
You're a woman of the streets, street fighter.
Caption 9, Calle 13, Atrévete.

He pronounces the English word "street" as "estreet."

Spanish speakers seem to have trouble saying some English words that start with "s," adding an "e" sound to the beginning? But why would it be? Especially when Hato seems to be able to say "sippy" without turning it into "esippy":

Mira, nena, ¿quieres un "sippy"?
Look, babe, would you like a sippy [a little sip]?
Caption 40, Calle 13, Atrévete.

If Hato has no trouble with "sippy," why does he say "estreet" and "estarter" instead of "street" and "starter?" Furthermore, there are plenty of Spanish words that start with an unadulterated "s" sound that we hear him pronounce clearly throughout the song: "sácale," "sudor," "salte," "sacúdete," "seria," and so on. He seems to have no problem with those.

You may have already started to notice a pattern! While many Spanish words start with the letter "s" and an accompanying "s" sound, they almost always follow this leading "s" with a vowel. It's when the first "s" in an English word is followed by consonant (s + consonant) that Spanish speakers feel compelled to precede an English word with an "e" sound. Why? Because almost no Spanish words that start with an "s" are followed by a consonant. 

Spanish words that have an "s+consonant" near the beginning pretty much all start with an "e" as the first letter. Certainly you noticed that the language is "español" and not "spañol"? Or that the country from whence it all came is España (not Spaña)? Looking again to Calle 13 for clues, we hear:

Destápate, quítate el esmalte.
Show yourself, remove your nail polish.
Caption 3, Calle 13, Atrévete.

In the word "esmalte" (nail polish), there is an "s+consonant" near the beginning of the word, but, in line with norms of Spanish, it is preceded by an "e."

Modern life causes "stress" in English speakers but Spanish speakers experience "estrés." Why? It's because when this English word made its way into Spanish, it conformed to a typical Spanish pattern.  Likewise, when a shop that sells long bread rolls filled with meats and toppings opens up on Old San Juan, Residente and his buddies will no doubt be happy to grab "sandwiches" (or "saandweeches") at "Subway" (or "SOOBway"). The beginning "s" sounds in "subway" and in "sandwich" are no problem, because they are followed by vowels: "u" and "a", respectively --  a pattern Spanish speakers are well accustomed to. ¿Sí o no? -¡Supongo que sí!

Keep an ear open for Spanish words that begin with an "s" and with an "es." Does the theory fit? We hope so, or it will be an escándalo!

Side note: On the other side of the coin, the "es + consonant" phenomenon runs so deep in Spanish-language phonetics, and so many English "s" words have a corresponding similar Spanish "es" word, that Spanish speakers learning English sometimes mistakenly that think that "es + consonant" is only a Spanish-language thing. This will lead them to say specially for especially, state for estate, and streme for extreme, thinking that the "e"s are a hangover from their Spanish pronunciation. You just have to remember Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy, the Cuban immigrant musician and band leader who was always ready to admonish Lucille Ball's character with "Lucy! You've got some splainin' to do!

Muñeca Brava - La Apuesta Part 11 of 12
David Bisbal - Haciendo Premonición Live Part 5 of 8
Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta Part 3 of 8
The Krayolas - Little Fox

Let's stop by the kitchen of the Di Carlo mansion, setting of preparations for the big gala in Muñeca Brava. The maids are very excited. They want to get a detailed description of how Mili looked as she made her Cinderella-like debut. Notice that Socorrito uses the imperfect tense of both ver (to look) and bajar (to go down, to lower, to descend) when she asks:

 

 

 

Contame, contame, ¿cómo se la veía cuando bajaba de la escalera?
Tell me, tell me, how did she look as she was walking down the staircase?
Caption 1, Muñeca Brava - Episodio 41 (La Fiesta) - Part 2

If you've ever heard anything at all about the imperfect tense, it's that it applies to past actions that are not completed or that are ongoing. We see that quite clearly above in the case of bajaba; Mili "was walking down," an action that was ongoing at the time. However, another rule of the imperfect, one less bandied about, also comes into play here: the imperfect is employed when describing two or more simultaneous past actions. Socorrito wants to know how Mili "looked" (using the imperfect veíaas (at the same point in time) she was going down the stairs. 

With her usual enthusiasm, Mariposa definitely puts them in the moment when she answers:

Socorrito, ¡no sabe lo que era! Parecía una princesa.
Socorrito, you can't imagine! She looked like a princess.
Caption 2, Muñeca Brava - Episodio 41 (La Fiesta) - Part 2

 There is yet another well-documented use of the imperfect that we can cite here: its use to "set the scene" or provide background information, especially at the beginning of a larger story. She uses the imperfect era (from ser, to be) when she says ¡no sabe lo que era! which literally translates to "you don't know how it was!" And she employs parecía (she looked like), which is an imperfect conjugation of parecer (to appear as/to look like/to seem like). Mariposa is setting the stage for the fairy tale taking place in the ballroom, and doing so in much the same way one would recite an actual fairy tale (which is no surprise if you remember that Muñeca Brava is a retelling of the Cinderella story).

The start of your average ghost tale or mystery story makes a good illustration of using the imperfect to paint a background picture:

Era una noche oscura y tormentosa, llovía y unos pájaros cantaban a lo lejos.
It was a dark and stormy night. It was raining and a few birds were singing from a distance.

[Note that in Spanish one can also use the past continuous tense, for example estaba lloviendo (it was raining) or estaban cantando (they were singing)—but it would not likely be used by native speakers when setting a scene or providing a backdrop. We'll look at the past continuous, aka past progressive, in a different lesson.]

More well-known to the average student of Spanish is the use of the imperfect to refer to a habitual or repeated action in the past. We saw an example of this in an earlier episode of Muñeca Brava when Milena says to Louise:

 

Sí, antes nos veíamos siempre.
Yes, we always used to see each other.
Caption 58, Muñeca Brava - La Apuesta - Part 11  

 And David Bisbal tells us about what used to (regularly) happen to him and his band while touring.  

Y muchas veces la gente se confundía.
And several times people would get confused.
Caption 32, David Bisbal - Making of Premonición Live - Part 5

The other simple past tense in Spanish (called "simple" because its conjugations are only one word long) is known as preterite and is used for past actions that are completed and non-habitual. We find an example in a recent music video from The Krayolas:


Cuando yo la vi por primera vez me enamoré en un dos por tres.
When I saw her for the first time I fell in love with her instantly.
Captions 1-2, The Krayolas - Little Fox

 

The singer uses the preterite vi (saw) instead of the imperfect veía (was seeing/used to see) because he is talking about a specific, completed instance of laying eyes on someone.

Read more interesting things about the imperfect on the 123TeachMe site and be sure to visit Spaleon to master the imperfect conjugation of all verbs.

Muñeca Brava - La Apuesta Part 12 of 12

¿Hombres? Pero mirá que sos cínica, Martita, ¿eh?
"Men? But you're quite shameless Martita, aren't you?"
[caption 12, La muñeca brava - la apuesta - part 12]

Pero no lo hace de mala, eh. De bruta que es, lo hace.
"But she doesn't do it because she's mean. She does it because she's just stupid."
[caption 16, La muñeca brava - la apuesta - part 12]

Mili is having it out with her fellow domestica, Marta, in La Muñeca brava, La apuesta, part 12. Mili calls Marta cínica and bruta. But Marta doesn’t look like a "brute" and we really don’t know her philosophical affiliations. So, what gives?

The words bruto and cínico share Latin roots with their English cousins “brute” and “cynical,” but they don’t mean exactly the same thing. As a matter of fact, they usually mean something else when used in Spanish. If you look at how we translated these words, you will find “stupid” for bruta, and “shameless” for cínica.

Both are adjectives that, when applied to human beings, can also be nouns. No seas bruta or bruto translates into English as “Don’t be stupid” or “[…] dense,” the idea being “as stupid or dense as an animal, a ‘brute.’ ” In Spanish, on the other hand, if you want to call someone a “brute,” you’d say he's an animal (“animal”) or bestia (“beast”): Ese animal quiso propasarse con mi prima. (“That brute tried to go too far with my cousin.”)

In English, “cynical” usually refers to a person who believes in nothing or is generally distrustful of people. “That critic is a real cynic. He never likes anything!” But for this critic to be cínico in Spanish, he would have another quality entirely: Ese critico es un verdadero cínico. Escribió una buena reseña de la obra sólo porque la actriz principal es su amante. “That critic has no shame. He wrote a good review of the play only because the leading lady is his lover.”

There is a Yiddish word, frequently used in English, that nails cínico right on the head: chutzpah. In Spanish it only has the negative sense, though, which according to Leo Rosten is “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery”. That’s the Spanish cínico in a nutshell. “Talk about chutzpah, the nerve of that guy!” ¡Qué cínico!

Notes:
Bruto and "brute" both have a shared root in the Latin "brutus" ("heavy, dull, stupid," later came to mean "associated with lower animals/beasts"). The English "brute" tends to associate more with the physicality aspect (strong yet not graceful) while the Spanish bruto tends to associate more with the mentality aspect (simple minded, ignorant, stupid), but there does exist some crossover in both languages.

Similarly, the Spanish cínico does at times take on a meaning very similar to the meaning we usually ascribe to "cynical" in English, and the reverse is also true. Their shared ancestry goes even deeper than the Latin "cynic," all the way back to the Greek "Kunikas."

For further reading on cínico:
An excellent and very interesting deeper look at cínico and cynical:
http://life-in-translation.blogspot.com/2004/12/cynical-about-dictionaries.html

An expat in Chile discovers the cínico / cynical difference the hard way:
http://cachandochile.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/cynical-or-cinico/

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