¿Son los españoles sibaritas?

Lo siento de verdad si realmente buscabas un artículo sobre las tendencias gastronómicas en España, pero bueno, no te costará mucho encontrar algunos que te gusten, ya que pululan en la red. No, en este artículo no voy a presentarte los últimos tuits graciosos que llevan el hashtag foodie, y tampoco se trata de un artículo del Comidista (¿acaso hay una diferencia entre los dos?)¿Vale, pues de qué va esto? Vamos al grano: lo siguiente consta de una lista de expresiones relacionadas con comida. Así de simple. Viene de que siempre me ha resultado fascinante el número de expresiones relacionadas con comida, sea en español, en inglés, en francés, etc. Claro, los españoles no son los únicos amantes de la comida. De hecho, todos los hispanohablantes comparten la mayoría de las expresiones que encontrarán a continuación, y seguro que se podría haber redactado una lista parecida en una multitud de otros idiomas. Escogí España porque me hacía gracia, y no quería comerme la cabeza. Ya, la cabeza, y luego dicen que lo peor de la crisis ha pasado… no sé pero a mí esta expresión me suena a alguien que muere de hambre. Literalmente. Por cierto, aquí tiene la respuesta a la pregunta del título. Que sí, lo son tanto que hasta son pioneros culinarios: dentro de unos años comeremos todos este infame plato. Ya verás. En cuanto la naranja americana meta la pata con la cebolla coreana, me vendrán de perlas las horas que he invertido en Fallout.

    • Importar un pepino / Ser pepino – ¿De dónde vendría esta expresión? Me resulta muy raro (y divertido, claro, soy humano) que se haya escogido este fruto para expresar la indiferencia. Ahora mismo no me viene a la mente semejante expresión en inglés, o en francés ( ya, soy pesado con estos dos idiomas, pero son los únicos que domino). Bueno, sí que hay frases de sentido equivalente, pero no mencionan ningún fruto, salvo “I don’t give a fig”. Aunque no sé si cuenta, puesto que procede de un eufemismo, o sea, se usa cuando uno es demasiado cortés como para proferir fuck. No creo que ser pepino sea una expresión tan extendida como la anterior ya que no llegué a encontrarla en Internet, pero sí que la he oído bastante. Así que para los que no lo saben, significa que algo es muy bueno, muy chulo, lo que sea. También cabe mencionar que solo se usa con objetos, cosas, y no con personas. Una lastima, realmente. Que genial hubiera sido esto. Que te llamarían pepino, y que encima te lo tomarías como un cumplido. Pues si estás de acuerdo eres as cool as a cucumber.
    • No ver un pimiento – Se puede también sustituir pepino con pimiento en la expresión anterior, pero hubiera sido un poco redundante hablar de nuevo del poco que les interesa los frutos a los españoles. Es más, deben de ser hartos de ellos, imagínate, son tan omnipresentes que hasta los usan como puntos de referencia visual.
    • Meterse en un berenjenal – Cuando crecen las berenjenas se vuelven espinosas, de ahí la expresión. Si te metes en un berenjenal, tendrás rasguños, a no ser que lleves unos pantalones y evites tirarte en medio de las espinas como un loco… ¿Pero dónde está la gracia?
    • Ser pan comido / Ser más bueno que el pan / Estar más bueno que el pan – ¿Comer pan engorda? Creo que este tema ha hecho derramar tantos ríos de tinta como el de los conflictos en el Medio Oriente. Sí que sabemos priorizar las cosas.
    • Estar de mala leche / Ser la leche – Sé que las dos expresiones no tienen nada que ver entre ellas, bueno, por lo menos no significan lo mismo. De hecho, es curioso que la leche tenga un uso tan versátil en España, en serio, hasta nos cagamos en la leche. En cuanto al porqué de esta obsesión con la leche… se lo tendrías que preguntar a Alex. Según tengo entendido, aguza los sentidos.
    • Dar las uvas – No voy a explicar esta expresión (Realmente no expliqué ninguna) ya que su etimología se encuentra muy fácilmente en Internet. Por cierto, es una pena que no exista la versión Dar el vino para cuando te tomas aún más tu tiempo. A veces tardo tanto en hacer algo que cuando me dan las uvas ya se han convertido en vino.
    • Dar calabazas – Tiene su origen en la antigua Grecia, pues era entonces un antiafrodisíaco, y después en Cataluña se usaba para rechazar a los novios y no sé qué y en serio no me convence este supuesto origen que se albergó en cada rincón de Internet. Me recuerda demasiado a lo del ceceo. Érase una vez un rey que ceceaba, y todo el mundo, del miedo que lo tenían, le lisonjeaban tanto que empezaron a cecear también. FIN. “Ay por favor ¡Qué pintoresco! Europea es un país tan curioso…”, se susurró a si mismo Sheldon Adelson al oír esta historia obviamente falsa.
    • Ser un chorizo – Es la última expresión de la entrada de hoy, puesto que viene muy a cuento con las alusiones a los negocios y a los políticos que he sembrado en cada parágrafo. Ya hemos llegado a la cúspide. Cosechamos el chorizo.
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Languages with Similar Phonemic Inventories

I have recently wondered about whether there could exist two distinct languages that would sound exactly the same to a foreigner. You sometimes see people confusing French with Spanish, or vice versa, even though they sound nothing alike to speakers of either languages. Same thing goes for the numerous languages in China, more often than not conflated as the equivocal “Chinese”. Although I suspect this lack of distinction has more complex political and social underpinnings. Despite the obvious reason that confusions like these arise because of uneducated guesses and untrained ears, there are also some undeniable factual similarities, but are there two languages with the same exact phonemes? French and Spanish only have a few in common, and the closer you look, the more they differ. I know that the idea of two languages sounding exactly the same to foreigners is more complicated than this; it goes beyond the realm of phonemic inventories, and compel us to delve into codas, onsets, nucleus and even social variables. Thus, I will stick to phonemic inventories for now and I will try to find which languages have the most similar ones.

Romansch and Serbo-Croatian

A unlikely match, but it looks like the perfect contender for number 1, and it’s also exactly what I was looking for. Two languages with not much in common, expect for their surprisingly similar phonemic inventories. If you compare their consonants and vowels side by side, the similarity is pretty evident. Let’s focus on the different phonemes, since there are a couple: the most striking ones are /x/ and /ʋ/, two completely non-existent phonemes in Romansch, that, you guessed it, appear in Serbo-Croatian. Similarly, Romansch features the semivowel /w/, a phoneme which apparently doesn’t even guest star in Serbo-Croatian loanwords. Vowel-wise, Romansch has the same ones as Serbo-Croatian, with slightly more variety, distinguishing between /e/ and /ɛ/, /o/ and /ɔ/. There’s also a schwa-like vowel. And Serbo-Croatian has a pitch accent. I know, I know: if you scratch under the surface, they are not that similar, but so far it is the closest match I could find. For a more thorough comparison, see my excel spreadsheet with all the relevant information. Keep in mind that I didn’t really account for dialectal variations, and instead focused on identical phoneme occurrences in both languages, thus weeding out as much as possible differences induced by dialects. If you want to listen to these languages being spoken by native speakers, you’re in luck: Wikitongues has recordings in Serbian and Romansch.

Spanish and Greek

A bunch of people on the internet will readily point out to the similarities between those languages. The comment section of this video by Wikitongues is an example of how much curiosity (or dispute) the comparison stirs up. I will focus on Castilian Spanish since it shares with Greek the consonant /θ/ which is substituted by a /s/ in virtually all other Spanish dialects (except Equatoguinean Spanish, which I unfortunately don’t know much about, but find fascinating nonetheless, especially for its use of the guttural R among certain speakers, like in Puerto Rico). According to the Wikipedia page on Modern Greek Phonology, there’s obviously quite a lot of differences with Spanish, but it’s worth noting that the vowels are really similar. Anyway, here’s my spreadsheet. Honestly, they’re not that similar in terms of phonemic inventories, but for whatever reason the Internet seemed intent on setting them up on a date.

Now, if you’re a speaker of either Greek or Spanish, you’re probably starting to call into question the very premise of the post. “They sound nothing alike”, you might mumble in disappointment. I know. It seemed like a fun exercise to indulge in, but it turned sour very quickly: I’ve gone through numerous other pairs of languages, some of which are regularly brought up in Internet discussions (Let me fool myself into thinking that it somehow lends more credibility to my approach, that it’s the poor man’s peer review) but it felt pointless and futile after a while. The spreadsheets are also ludicrously contrived and inconsistent: for starters, they would have benefited from the inclusion of allophones, although I’m not sure how quantifying and comparing such blurry and shifting notions accurately is feasible. My attempt at compiling this data may seem like travesty but in that case I’d rather you take it as a parody. All in all, I became desensitized to the wondrous jolt of adrenaline elicited by such serendipitous harmony (Just me? Ok fine). It suddenly felt like I was caught up in the whirl of a culturally biased storm of phonological eggcorns, and I was whisked away to the Land of Faux Pas. The thing is, I didn’t want to end the post on such an abrupt note, as if I were snapping someone’s head off (Sorry, French reflex). I tried to put it to rest anyway.
During my grieving process, I came to realize that native English speakers were often curious about what their language sounded like to foreign ears, and, oftentimes, they will channel that feeling into inquiries regarding similar-sounding languages (*Gasp* Blog post, is it thee? Whence hast thou come? I thought thee dead, mine precious). English is so ubiquitous but alien at the same time. It has Germanic roots but, because of its marriage and subsequent divorce with French, it sort of lost touch with the Teutonic clique. So what better way to end the post with a bonus round dedicated to relatives of English? No, not Frisian. I want to focus on the Anglic languages, among which there’s English, and…

Scots and Yola

Yes, there’s also Fingallian, but I can’t find any recordings, because it is extinct. Yola is also… extinct, but there’s a recording of the language being sung, albeit a rather inaccurate and lackluster one. (I’m just assuming, but, realistically, what are the odds of this guy sounding exactly like a native speaker of a dead language?). Enjoy experiencing the uncanny likeness of familiarity, the distorting ripples in your reflection, the transient and basilisk chill of ancient memories, the quiddity of reverse speech… enjoy hearing Scots and Yola.

I oversold this, didn’t I?
Here’s a bonus to make up for it: Shetlandic Scots and Doric Scots

The Castilian Click

It has probably been a year since I first noticed a paralinguistic oddity in Castilian Spanish. I have looked far and wide for literature documenting this peculiar ‘click’, but, alas, it did not prove effective. In the hope a lost and wandering linguist find this article and shed some light on this topic, I will lay bare the secret fruits of my personal findings.

First of all, my introduction might have been slightly misleading, the ‘click’ in itself is not unfathomably weird (I don’t actually know how to refer to this, so for lack of a better word, I will stick to ‘click’, that is, until a linguist in shining armor slays the hydra of ignorance). Its use and frequency, on the other hand, are (maybe) unique.

The sound in question is a… I don’t know. It sounds like a cross between a dental click and a voiceless bilabial click. It’s mostly used when someone is looking for a word they can’t find. It’s akin to both ‘you know’ and ‘errrm’. It’s basically a filler sound, but I had never heard of a click serving this purpose (especially in a non-click language), so it’s better if I leave you with a couple of examples from YouTube:

RiME | En Español | Capitulo 1 “Una solitaria isla” from 20:02 to around 20:31, he does it a couple of times.

BUENOS YOUTUBERS con Hank Green – Youtube Restart LuzuVlogs #4   once at around 4:45

LATE MOTIV – Berto Romero. El único humano que sobrevivirá al apocalipsis final | #LateMotiv226  twice between 6:50 and 6:58

– The stars of Las Chicas Del Cable discuss Spain’s “seductive” first Netflix Original Nadia de Santiago does it once at 2:15, and then I can’t pinpoint who is doing it but you can hear twice at 2:48. Maggie Civantos also does it at 3:36.

Learn French Through Indie Music

I have seen plenty of articles claiming you can learn French by listening to French music, and although I’m not going to disprove that, I would like to improve the lists they usually provide, since it’s sometimes songs that would get you sneered at for listening to them. If you’re learning French, my goal is to make sure you don’t end up being severely disconnected from the current trends. You don’t want to look silly like that dude who can only come up with one or two cliché French singers “Oh yeah I love Edith Piaf”. Jesus. Sure, yeah. That’s great. But come on, do you really expect people to still be raving about her when there are plenty of cool modern alternatives? (picture me saying that with a baseball cap put on backwards). If you’re well-meaning but a bit lost, don’t worry, I’ll help you out. I have concocted a list of somewhat obscure (not all of them !) indie bands, just so you can mingle with the madding French crowd and slightly stand out at the same time. Quite a difficult balance to strike if you’re left to your own devices in a foreign language. If you’ve ever wondered whether your French music taste was on a par with that of the fanciest scarf-wearing aesthetes, fret no longer, for I hereby swear to do my utmost to quench your unbridled thirst for such an answer. Well, kind of.

Mansfield.TYA

I’ll try to keep it short. I don’t have that much to say about each band anyway. So without further ado: I recommend you start with the song Les Contemplations. I’d say their music style is geared towards the post-rock scene, but I am awful at categorizing music genres, partly because I think it’s sometimes a terribly human and futile exercise stemming from our unrivaled need for neat little categories, especially once you stray from the big archetypal genres and delve into complex nuances, which equates to dissecting a rainbow: just take it all in. Jeez, I sound like such a millennial. Anyway, this song weaves together ethereal voices singing lines from the melancholic poem by Victor Hugo and a repetitive, visceral beat.

Liz & Laszlo

A band with a rather similar electro vibe, plus a definite influence from the cold wave. I think Rien à Paris may be the most popular one and coincidentally the one I’ve listened the most to. Again, the lyrics do not feature that wide a range of words, meaning, it’s mostly the same sentence punctuated by synth beats. I hear that’s inherent to the genre. You rarely find electro songs with long, flowery lyrics, since it would be inconsistent with the aesthetic and stance they are going for. It is not unlike Pop Art, in a way. Pop Art isn’t striving for a romantic, schmaltzy painting or an awe-inspiring rendering of the sublime. It’s the repetition of the mundanely famous in a sometimes ironic and accentuated way. This band is more low-key though. It’s like the estranged friend of Pop Art who’s been living in a matchbox apartment working a 9-5 job. It doesn’t have those blown-up portraits of larger-than-life celebrities, it’s bleak and gloomy. It’s those blank moments when you feel nothing and you’re just staring at your reflection. Bauhaus isn’t typically considered as pertaining to the cold wave movement, but their song “All we ever wanted was everything, all we ever got was cold” sums it up for me.

Véronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul

I don’t know much about this collaboration, neither do I really know the artists involved, but they definitely fit in the category of indie. Je pleure tout le temps, despite his comically depressing title (it translates as “I cry all the time” or “I’m always crying”) has jovial undertones, not lyrically, but musically. To put it bluntly: If you didn’t understand the lyrics you’d think it was about lollipops or a carousel. It has a playful feel reminiscent of 70s cartoons, or even Jean-Jacques Perrey’s music. Maybe that’s just me. Also, I just found out there is another (more popular) version of the song, this time more melodically congruent with the lyrics.

Air & Françoise Hardy – Jeanne

This is just a single song. I mean, both Françoise Hardy (not indie at all) and Air (somewhat indie, I’m using the term really loosely anyway) are French, so you can check them out individually if you feel like it. But Air doesn’t usually do songs in French, this one being the exception. It’s a beautiful, poignant and mellifluous song you’ll want to enjoy naked, draped in a fluffy cloud on a rainy day.

We Are Wolves – Magique

Another song on its own, although the band might have done a few more in French. I’d describe this song as esoteric, lighthearted and exuberant. Oh, and they’re Quebecois !

BONUS

Hardly an indie artist, but in case you still didn’t know about Christine and the Queens, you should check some of her songs out. She sometimes sings in English so if you want to brush up on your French skills I’d recommend Nuit 17 à 57 or Chaleur Humaine.

Movie Titles With Bad English Translations

Chances are, you have already encountered movie lists with a similar catchy, clickbaity title. Buzzfeed particularly comes to mind. It does not stop here though: a quick Google search for bad movie translations gives plenty of results ranging from ‘the hilariously bad’ to ‘the wackiest’, ‘the craziest’ or ‘the sexiest’. I’ll get back to that last part later. For now, let’s please acknowledge the fact that they all follow the same pattern: you take an American (usually) or British movie title and you look at how it was translated in a non-english speaking country. Then you (try to) translate it back into English, chuckle at how weird it sounds and sarcastically point out how much the original meaning was distorted according to inherent cultural traits from the said country. I get it, it is a bit of harmless fun, and I am not going to argue against it, I enjoy those lists as much as the next guy. We rarely get to see a role reversal though. So I thought, how about turning the tables on Americans (I am well aware that it is not always Americans who do that, or rather, I don’t know whether it is always Americans, but the majority of titles translated are from Hollywood, that glistening fantasy-making industry atop a city churning dreams). I have compiled a list of foreign movie titles translated into English. The catch: they are all pretty bad, or mindbogglingly lazy (or so it seems, since I have a theory they might have been ‘lazy’ on purpose. If you stick around long enough, I will share all its details with you). Sorry for the parentheses, I don’t know why I went so overboard with them. There won’t be as much below. (I hope)

Los amantes pasajeros – I’m so excited

images

This 2013 comedy by Pedro Almodóvar plays like a metaphor for the economic imbroglio Spain was ensnared in after the infamous financial crisis of 2007-2008. Some argue that it might be a tad on the nose, a plane flying in circle with nowhere to land while the passengers indulge in heightened dalliances? Think Wolf of Wall Street as a very light Spanish comedy. Ok, not really. But what about the title? Well, Wikipedia has actually a pretty good sentence that sums up the whole issue with the English version: ” Its original Spanish title is Los amantes pasajeros, which has the double meaning of ‘The fleeting lovers’ and ‘The passenger lovers’ “. Not only is the double meaning completely missing in the English version, but it doesn’t even try to substitute it with another one. Is this even a translation ? I’m not entirely convinced it is, it feels more like a ‘re-branding’. Whoever was in charge of translating the title just watched the first few minutes of the movie and went ‘Duuuude… got it’. I saw the movie a couple of years ago, but I seem to remember that The Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited plays during the intro. One thing for sure though is that it’s featured in the original trailer. Can I also draw hasty and broad generalizations from this title translation? I’m looking at you, Cracked.

Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain – Amélie

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Ok, remember when I said it felt like some of them were lazy? Exactly. Fabulous something something what is this? A novel? Cut out all the fluff, people are in a rush, they whizz past billboards in a flash, do you expect them to catch all of that? No way. It’s actually pretty easy to make it sound like a stereotypical American thing. Oh it’s just Americans trying to grab your attention, they have that business mindset at all times, they just sell products, and sometimes said products happen to be movies. Of course I don’t believe any of that, and I actually like the ‘translation’ (again, I have qualms calling this a translation, it doesn’t really feel like it, they literally kept one word and discarded the rest, which is pretty ingenious, methinks, but hardly a translation, right?). This title translation was in fact brought to my attention by a British friend, so I know they also went for the same minimalist approach in the UK. For those wondering, a literal translation of the French title would go something like this: The Fabulous Fate of Amélie Poulain. It’s not as catchy as ‘Amélie’, sure, but I still felt like I had to include it on the list, considering it meets the standard requirements for a ‘bad translation’. However, I would say this title provides an interesting example of how to avoid dealing with the usual risks in translation: it can’t be translated back into the source language as a quirky, goofy looking sentence. On the one hand,  I’m so excited may have been cause for confusion in Spain ‘¿Estoy excitado? Pero qué traducción más patética ‘. On the other hand, this one likely wasn’t. Oh, a French person or two might have raised an eyebrow upon hearing this translation, but nothing too serious, since I suspect the movie title might have already been shortened down to ‘Amélie Poulain’ in informal conversations.

Las brujas de Zugarramurdi – Witching and Bitching

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I think this is the worst one. By the way, you probably noticed a trend in the movies I have covered. They are either Spanish or French. It’s not really on purpose, since I would have liked to include more language variety, but I don’t feel confident enough in other languages to actually gauge the quality of the translation, unless it’s something as horrendous and striking as ‘Witching and Bitching’, but I have yet to find one that bad in, say, Japanese or Chinese. I have looked at a number of movies shot in these two languages and the translations seemed decent to me. Now, what’s to say about this particular one? Errrmm… I get that you could not translate ‘Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi’ as ‘The Witches of Zugarramurdi’ since the town is most likely a cultural reference that would have been lost on an English-speaking audience, but, still, it would have been better than ‘Witching and Bitching’. Come to think of it, I am not sure every Spaniard is familiar with Zugarramurdi (a town rumored to have been inhabited by witches, who, surprise, were burned to the stake in the seventeen century, so… you may say, like a Basque version of Salem? Pretty much) therefore they could have kept the name, if it weren’t for the difficulty it poses marketing-wise. Not only is it awkward to pronounce, but it is also not the kind of thing you’d get right in one try on Google search. That may be why they decided to forgo a more elaborate translation. Too much of a headache. The Basque Witches would have been fine though.

Conclusion

It turned out to be harder than I had thought to find movie titles badly translated into English. A couple of reasons why: a substantial part of the titles I reviewed were good, or so inconsequential and safe that they weren’t worthy to be talked about. A lot of the times the titles were left as is, completely unaltered, like in the case of the French movie ‘La Haine’, which should probably ring a bell if you’re from the English-speaking world. My theory is that the producers attempt to tap into a certain niche market by leaving the title untranslated. Foreign movies are almost like a special kind of delicacy, they are a product on their own, removed from the general public and aimed at those interested in art-house films. I definitely get the impression that some foreign movies are relegated to that category in America. Not every foreign movie follows that same marketing pattern, and some, like the unfortunate ‘Witching and Bitching’ aim for bigger audiences: it has the tacky packaging of a failed attempt at crowd-pleasing, slightly edgy comedy, and it reveals a lot about the kind of content producers (or whoever, publicists, marketers, I’m just trying to be consistent) think will sell. They see a demand for ‘Witching and Bitching’ and not so much for The Basque Witches… what does that tell us? Erm… I don’t really know, because, sure, it would be tempting to say something about the culture of America as a whole, but in my experience, those producers are really out of touch with what the public expects or wants. It’s not so much a reflection of America’s self-centered obsession with pop culture references and corporate logos’ eye-catching simplicity as it is a skewed and lackluster interpretation of an American appetite for foreign movies. These three title translations basically provide a solid start for a slideshow in Marketing Done Wrong 101. What I’m trying to get at is this: it doesn’t make much more sense to infer from a handful of salacious titles that French people are sex-crazed fiends (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I encourage you to check out this Cracked article, if you haven’t already. Please keep in mind that it is all in good fun). Ironically enough, American movies with risqué French translations would imply that the producers were baiting a French market with its expectations of what American movies should sound like, or, to put it more simply, they think the French view America as a promiscuous place. If there’s even a bit of truth in that I find it funny because it turns on its head the American preconception that the French are always playing with their baguettes and croissants, and instead proposes the same idea but with the roles reversed.