Thursday, November 13, 2008

Betraying All That Is Good and Holy

When I was in Spain I looked down on the Americans who refused to speak Spanish with a lisp because it seemed weird to them. I mean, c'mon, it's not even really a lisp--it's just the way the language is spoken. S is pronounced just like it is in English, but the soft c and z are pronounced like an English th. It's no stranger than the fact that in English we put a t and an h together and get en entirely unrelated sound. If you were speaking Russian you wouldn't insist on pronouncing their letters the same as we pronounce them in English.

But some people just couldn't get past the fact that in their minds a soft c and z should sound like an s. It doesn't help that most North Americans' exposure to Spanish is through Latin America, where they've corrupted the language and completely lost the "th" sound.

When I came back to the states I saw other returned missionaries who had served in Spain and pronounced their cs and zs correctly there but since coming home had reverted to what in Spanish is known as seseo, a sort of reverse-lisp. Their excuse? They didn't like being made fun of by the returned missionaries who had served in Latin America. I vowed never to follow that path of weakness. I had learned Spanish in Spain and gosh darn it, that's the Spanish I'd speak until the day I die.

It's been nearly eight years now since I came home from Spain and I've done a pretty good job of retaining my pseudo-Spaniard accent (by which I mean my American accent that tries to be Spaniard). Despite the fact that 95% of my interaction with Spanish speakers has been with Latin Americans who find my accent at best amusing and at worst incomprehensible, I've stuck to my guns.

But now my five-year-old daughter is learning Spanish from a Hispanic teacher in a California school. It would be one thing for me to pronounce words differently than she hears them at school when I'm speaking Spanish or reading a Spanish book, but this afternoon I was helping her with some reading homework and decided to make some flashcards to help her learn the sounds. I was grouping letters together by the sound they make, so for example a single card has ba and va because in Spanish the b and v are identical. I went back and forth on whether to group the soft c and z sounds with the s sounds because in my mind they are entirely distinct and to say otherwise is blasphemy. But S-Boogie has a hard enough time with phonetics as it is, so I decided it would be best to swallow my pride and teach her the same thing she's learning at school.

When I made that first card with sa and za together as if they make the same sound, a little piece of me died inside. The funeral will be held on Saturday.


FoxyJ said...

Can we have funeral potatoes and jello after the service?

Mr. Fob said...

Yes, please.

playasinmar said...

Thome of my friends are from Thpain and they ditched the soft-cz thing not long after arriving.

Don't know if that's relevent. Just throwin' it out there.

Also, "theudo-Thpaniard acthent," is my new favorite phrase.

Katya said...

Maybe it's not dead, but only sleeping?

(Also, does that mean that Theric's Latin American name is "Seric"?)

Th. said...


Zeric, actually.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

It's not so much that Latin America "corrupted" Spanish, as the interdental fricative ("th") was just appearing in Castillian Spanish at the time of the discovery (invasion) of America, so that sound wasn't very common at the time, and therefore didn't end up in the Spanish of Latin America.

Em said...

RMs that overgeneralized the "th" were among my biggest pet peeves at BYU...and I didn't even serve in Spain.

Mr. Fob said...

Playa: I will not bow to your cruel teasing, sir. I stand firm in the face of adversity.

Katya: Phew, it's a good thing you got here before the funeral--we might've buried it alive!

Z.: Yes, but it's pronounced "Seric" in Latin America.

Craig: There's also the fact that many Conquistadores came from southern Spain, where they still don't speak with the theta in any consistent kind of way, but all in all I like my version of the story better.

Em: You mean people who say things like "Ethpanya" and "grathiath"? Nothing makes me cringe more than to hear an s lisped in the name of the theta.

Edgy said...

Hmm. I find that to be a fascinating difference between Portuguese missionaries and Spanish missionaries. Whereas your Spanish compatriots cower in the face of Latin American bullying, my Portuguese compatriots turned our nose up at the Latin American (Brazilian) bullying.

Mr. Fob said...

It might have something to do with the fact that the Latin Americans outnumber us by about a hundred to one.