Saturday, September 8, 2007

¿ Language Skilz ? ¡ We has them !

¡just ask the don!

¡we has them!

C2 : notable*. 568 hours.

Note that this certificate does not include the 120 hours spent preparing for the DELE intermedio. So my total is actually closer to 680 hours in class, all told.

* "notable" is the second-highest grade. I've been told that it is almost impossible to get the highest grade "sobresaliente" at level C2. Though, IIRC, one student that I know, the inimitable Dawn, from Chicago, did so earlier this summer.

It leaves me something to strive for. That, and the DELE superior, of course.

Friday, September 7, 2007

And the Oscar goes to ...

Thanks to Paul B. for sending me this update on Oscar, the pussy-cat-of-doom:

Ode to a recently departed tenor

In times of great grief, nothing unites us quite like some truly dreadful poetry. What can I say? When the muse comes a-calling, all one can do is receive. I'm just an empty vessel:

To a recently departed tenor

Oh dearly departed Luciano Pavarotti
My sister thought you were quite a hotty
My father also liked you a lot, he
Used to say often, very wittily,
That all the best tenors came from Italy.
Myself, though I found you at times a bit sweaty,
I liked you much better than your compatriot Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Felled at 71 by cancer of the pancreas,
There is no doubt at all that you sang much better than Olivia Newton-John in "Grease",
And because of your death, the joy in the world is perceptibly decreased,
So, as you join the heavenly chorus of angels up on high, may you and all the other celestial choristers rest in peace.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Counting sheep

I will get to the somewhat primitive looking drawing above in a moment. The title of this post refers to the book I am currently reading, the wonderful Three Bags Full . To quote an reviewer:

"If you read only one detective novel about a murdered shepherd told from the perspective of his sheep, translated from the German and written by a woman who looks like Emily Watson's twin this decade, this should be the one."

Yes, indeed. crime-solving sheep. They are hilarious.

But this post is also about counting sheep in the figurative sense. This week, for reasons unrelated to ambient noise (my hotel room looks out on a quiet side-street), I've been having difficulty sleeping again. The Spanish have a nice way of expressing this - they say "me cuesta dormir", literally, "it costs me to sleep". The reason is simple - as I lie in bed, words and phrases that I've heard or read during the daytime gambol around in my head, like so many unruly sheep. Of the 25 or so weeks I've been here in Spain, I estimate that I've had this problem roughly 20% of the time, usually for about a one-week interval at a time.

Oddly enough, though it does leave me a bit tired during the day, this "problem" no longer bothers me. Because I finally figured out that it is actually a very good sign, as far as my progress with the language is concerned. Which brings me finally to the crude sketch at the top of this post. What the drawing is meant to represent is an approximate sketch of my (self-perceived) mastery of the language over time. (I've edited out the temporary backward slide attributable to my week in San Francisco earlier in the summer).

You will notice that the graph consists, for the most part, of a series of straight-line segments, representing gradually decreasing linear rates of improvement - that decrease in the rate of improvement is the law of diminishing returns in action. But every so often, there is a distinct jump in the graph, which corresponds to a substantial improvement that happens almost overnight. This has actually been the case - on several occasions I've shown up in class on a Monday, with a noticeably better command of the language that seemed to just arrive over the weekend. What I finally figured out is that these significant improvements always happen during, or towards the end of a week where I've been having difficulty sleeping because of the "words bouncing around my head" phenomenon. It's as if some part of my brain is driven into overdrive during these periods, with the result that, although my sleep patterns suffer, there is a definite payoff at the end.

OK, this post is decidedly geeky, and probably of little interest to anyone other than my own self. So I will leave it at that. Except to note the analogy with the received wisdom that children's physical growth is also subject to sudden short-term spurts of a similar nature. I'll spare you the geeky details about the pulsatile nature of nocturnal growth hormone secretion, because really, enough is enough.

The plain people of Ireland: This is possibly your most boring post ever.

The management: You may be right. But why don't you just be quiet and move on?

The plain people of Ireland: Crime-solving sheep, though. That's an idea with some potential. Sinéad was always very fond of them "Freddy the Pig" detective books growing up.

The management: An astute girl, Sinéad. The "Freddy the Pig" books are an overlooked treasure.

Ni Hitler ni Superman

Dateline Caracas: Venezuela trata de prohibir los nombres extravagantes para los recién nacidos (Venezuela tries to outlaw bizarre names for newborns)

Hitler Adonys Rodriguez Crespo, Usnavy, Usmail, Superman, Makgiber, Yuvifred, Genghis Khan o Nick Carter Backstreet Boys no serán aceptados en un futuro como nombres para los venezelanos (will no longer be accepted as names for Venezuelans) ......

No, I'm not making this up. According to an article in today's El País, the Venezuelan government has introduced a bill designed to prevent parents from burdening their infant children with names which could expose their offspring to "ridicule" in later life. In a country which is home to at least 10 people rejoicing in the name "Superman González", passage of the bill into law is not expected to occur without some heated debate.

Just thought you would like to know.

¡ Los pandas! ¡ Los pandas!

España has been panda-less for eleven years, ever since the death of Chu Lin (Treasure amidst the Bamboos), the first panda born in captivity in Europe. But, the long national wait is almost over. On Saturday, the 7-year old male Bing Xing (Star of the Night) and the 4-year old female Hua Zui Ba (Colored Mouth) will arrive at Terminal 1 in Barajas, to be greeted by a reception committee befitting a foreign head of state. Following their 35-hour journey from China, they will be whisked, with full police escort, in a refrigerated van to the Madrid Zoo, where they will take up residence for the next two years.

OK, fine. I'm not ashamed to admit it. The only reason for this particular entry is that it is a thinly veiled excuse to include cute panda photos.

Because everything, blogs included, is better with pandas!

Disclaimer : pandas depicted in this entry are not the actual pandas who are, even now, winging their way Madrid-wards.

¿2016 Olympics?

Here in Madrid the municipal authorities are nothing if not far-sighted. Thus, efforts to lure the 2016 Olympics to the city are in full swing. For instance, this week, on the Paseo del Prado, residents and tourists alike are invited to vote on the logo for the 2016 games, should the city's efforts be successful. Five concrete cylinders, representing the Olympic rings, were constructed to display the ten proposed designs. Here are my three favorites (all ten may be found among my Flick'r photos):

septiembre 009

septiembre 013

septiembre 011


  • Ensnorkelled: bewitched by one's deep sea diving instructor
  • Pollyglot: a multi-lingual parrot
  • Sinchronicity: Group misbehavior of post-menopausal urban women
  • Atrial fibrillation: Excitement induced by perjury in the courtroom
  • Zugma: Figure of rhetoric exemplified by the phrase "He missed the train, and his mother"
  • Myrrhmaid:

The plain people of Ireland: What does this have to do with anything?

The management: You're perfectly right. Never mind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The trouble with Tribbles

Here at MOTP, an unspecified (but shameful) percentage of our time is spent trolling (trawling?) the internets for the good stuff, so that you don't have to. These surfaced in our net this evening:

The trouble with Tribbles (a television adaptation in the style of Edward Gorey)

I can has Tribblez


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sinous infection

If there were any doubt that dictionaries can be dangerous, the following vignette provides corroborative evidence.

One of my classmates is suffering from a cold. Perhaps contemplating the possibility that she might have to go to the doctor, she tried looking up the word "sinus" in the dictionary, to find the Spanish "equivalent" seno. That's what my dictionary says too. Problem is, if you look up the word "seno" in a Spanish-language dictionary, you come across a multitude of meanings, but none of them corresponds to the word "sinus". One of the most common meanings is the trigonometrical term "sine".

So that when she tried to explain to the teacher that she had a "sine infection", much hilarity ensued.

The plain people of Ireland: Here, don't you think this post is going off on a bit of a tangent? Get it? Tangent?

Fadeout to the sound of rural thigh-slapping mirth...

La secreta de Letizia

From the vile TV program "Está pasando" (the sacrifices I make for my readers!), breaking news. The secret of Doña Letizia. She is the owner of two "escopetas" (hunting rifles), indicating a "desconicida aficion a la caza" (secret love of hunting).

Just thought you would want to know.

The plain people of Ireland: ¿And just who, exactly is this Donna Letitia?
The management: ¡¡¡ Imbeciles!!! Have you been paying no attention whatsoever all summer. Doña Letizia is, of course, the divorced commoner who is married to El Principe, mother of the future queen of eSpain, la Infanta Leonor.
The plain people of Ireland: Wouldn't Diana be a better name for her, given that she is a huntress?
The management: Oh, spare me your faux-erudition. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to this breaking story. You will be pleased to know that El Rey always chooses escopetas manufactured in eSpain.

News from Japan

Thanks to my good friend PB for these links:

Hello Kitty folk dances

Dancing robot

Can the Riverdance Robot be far behind?

La vida intelectual

"But David", I hear my imaginary reader ask, "¿what of the life of the mind allí en España? ¿What is up in the vast exciting world of the eSpanish intellectual?"

I thought you'd never ask. Well, over the last week or so, two events have dominated the eSpanish intellectual landscape:

The first was the forced departure, a little over a week ago, of the director of the Biblioteca Nacional, Rosa Regàs. The proximate cause of her departure was the disappearance, the previous week, of two 15th century maps from the collection, removed from Ptolemy's Cosmografía. Regàs clearly took the fall for the robbery, having had little option but to resign after the Minister for Arts and Culture blamed her publicly for negligence, adding - somewhat ungraciously - that she had accomplished "nothing" in her three-year tenure as director.

Things heated up when Regàs announced publicly, in an interview with a Catalan radio station, that she knew the identity of the thief, an Argentine investigator who had been sent to the library with letters of introduction from the Spanish ambassador in Buenos Aires. This instigated a lively kerfuffle, with denunciations and counter-denunciations on both sides of the Atlantic. Later that same day, Regàs retracted her statement, on the grounds that she had been "misunderstood", a somewhat difficult claim to support, given that the radio station was gleefully making transcripts of the interview (in Catalan and in Spanish) available to any and all reporters on the Iberian peninsula.

The brouhaha continues: the maps are still missing, nobody has been charged, and the authorities are keeping mum, pending results of the "official investigation".

The second major event of note was the death last week of the writer and journalist, Francisco Umbral. A man whose death provided a vivid reminder of the truth of the dictum "friends come and go, but enemies accumulate". One rarely looks for good news in the paper these days, but even I was surprised at the level of vitriol that surfaced in the various "tributes", many by his former colleagues, that appeared in "El País" on Sunday. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum is a concept apparently unfamiliar to eSpanish intellectuals. They also seem not to grasp that it is rarely the target of vitriolic pettiness that ends up looking small.

But all is not seriousness and internecine strife in the world of the arts. Here are two, dare I say "fluffier", items from the home page of El País:

a moustache to remember (video)

Shilling for tea (video)

Regular readers of this blog will remember that the last time Adrien Brody was featured, he was shilling for Schweppes, not for Darjeeling.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Translation nuts and bolts

I'm currently reading an excellent novel (Carlota Fainberg) by the Spanish writer Antonio Muñoz Molina. Which led me to the following interesting discussion of the difficulty in translating proper names by Verónica Albin:

More whining about language

Consider, for a moment, the ubiquitous Spanish verb "tener". In your naive innocence, you may be thinking that this word simply means "to have", or "to hold". Indeed it does mean those things. But, depending on the context, it can mean so much more. Here is just a partial list of other verbs which can be substituted for "tener", depending on the particular context in which it appears:

  1. mostrar
  2. presentar
  3. sufrir
  4. conservar
  5. alcanzar
  6. conseguir
  7. lograr
  8. adquirir
  9. ofrecer
  10. ocupar
  11. llevar
  12. buscar a
  13. tender a
  14. perseguir
  15. mantener
  16. retener
  17. ganar
  18. alimentar
  19. soñar con
  20. heredar
  21. padecer
  22. contraer
  23. fichar
  24. ejercer
  25. desempeñar
  26. llevar a cabo
  27. attraer
  28. alojar
  29. dar
  30. proporcionar
  31. profesar
  32. compartir
  33. producir
  34. vivir
  35. soportar
  36. sostener
  37. conocer
  38. hundir
  39. cobrar
  40. percibir
  41. arrastrar
  42. medir
  43. emitir
  44. sacar
  45. lucir
  46. exhibir
  47. exhalar
  48. desprender
  49. incluir
  50. englobar
  51. hacer
  52. despertar
  53. atravesar
  54. alimentarse de
  55. escondir
  56. cumplir
  57. jugar
  58. guardar
  59. archivar
  60. presumir de
  61. vanagloriarse de
  62. conservar
  63. exponer
  64. sostenerse
  65. mantenerse
  66. acarrear
  67. coger
  68. contagiarse

and whatever you're having yourself.

Don't believe me? Think I'm making this up, self-pitying whiner that I am? What would it take to convince you? Perhaps you'd like to see all of the sentences with 'tener', and the appropriate substitutions. Well, hold on - I'll be happy to oblige. But it may take a while.

Don't even get me started on 'hacer'. Gaaaaaah!!!!!

Bocabulary update

Some of you may be wondering, now that I've take the exam (el DELE intermedio), what's next on the agenda, language-wise. A reasonable question, and one to which I don't yet have an answer. But I will offer the following observation. My experience in trying to learn Spanish seems to be the opposite of when I was learning German. It is a truism that German grammar is difficult. As with all truisms, there is more than a grain of truth to this - there is no denying the ugliness of German grammar. However, once the grammar is mastered (which can take quite a while, admittedly), one makes the reassuring discovery that learning German actually becomes easier. The reverse seems to be the case with Spanish. That is to say, Spanish grammar is not all that hard (despite my occasional whining about its difficulty on this very blog). But, once it has been covered, improving one's Spanish appears to get harder, not easier. (I've had similar experience with French). There remain all of the infinite nuances, the expressions, shades of meaning. Which, sadly enough, it seems, can only be mastered with the passage of time.

I thus find myself caught in a stage where progress is imperceptible. My passive vocabulary is not the problem - I can now read most newspaper articles with little need to resort to the dictionary (unknown words can almost always be deduced from context, or etymology, or both). But there is the annoying sense that my active vocabulary is stuck, or at least being augmented at an imperceptibly slow rate. Other than immersing myself as much as possible in the language - seven hours a day of class, a couple of hours of TV, a couple of hours with the newspapers, a couple of hours spent conversing with fellow students, I don't know any way of accelerating the process. It may be that my expectations are set too high - after all, toddlers don't go from zero to full fluency in six months, so why should I expect to be able to? Presumably the law of diminishing returns applies to the exercise of learning a language, as well.

Here are some words I've learned recently, which illustrate some of the difficulties I'm experiencing:

tableta de chocolate : six-pack abs (literally, a bar of chocolate)
la nuca: the nape of the neck
la nuez: the Adam's apple (literally, walnut)
la sien: the temple (anatomically speaking)
la nuera: the daughter-in-law
la suegra: the mother-in-law (aka la madre política, which cracks me up)
el sauce: the willow-tree

It's the short words, like nuca, nuera, sauce, which are the killers - there are so damned many of them, and there is no etymological clue whatsoever. They are also very easy to mix up.

So that's my tiny little first-world problem of the day. I feel almost ashamed to bring it up. And now, if you will excuse me, I will go take today's copy of El País and go for a stroll in Madrid's delightful Retiro gardens.

¡Hasta pronto!