Tuesday, February 5, 2008

[Language] Romance in the Romantic Tongue, lesson 001 of ???

I've been wanting to talk about the use (and, well, the humourous misuse) of the Romance languages for some time now, especially since getting involved in the Granado Espada MMORPG phenomenon. I have to admit that my reaction to bungled Iberian Spanish leaves me either in stitches or in incredulous disbelief, and I plan to change all that by writing and (re-)reading Español. I believe that my only advantage is that not only do I have some research and dictionaries on hand, but that, more importantly, I have 13 years of education in a (Iberian) Spanish-run Catholic school to back it up.

On the side I'll be adding a bit of Italian, because I'm currently taking that up IRL (which goes a long way towards explaining why I ironically have no time or money for GE these days... XD;)

First let's do the basics!

Historical Background and Introductions

The Romance languages are rooted not entirely in romance (though the countries that DO use the languages them are known for being quite the venues for romantic rondezvous ;P), but in the Roman language, Latin. You see, modern Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Romania, and even Germany, were once territories of the Roman Empire. All of the people in these countries were forced to speak in Latin, the official language. However, as is true today in all countries, there were two kinds of Latin used: classical, which is the one most visible in written form and is very poetic and formal, and vulgar, which is something like everyday street language. If you compare Latin to modern English, the difference between the two would be that classical language is formal language used by the academe, politicians, generally very important people and cityfolk, with an emphasis on proper pronounciation, proper enunciation and impeccable grammar, while vulgar language would be used in the ghettos or slums, on the streets and in the countryside, with the speakers hardly caring if they mispronounce some words or have an overriding provincial accent while speaking. We owe it to Vulgar Latin (to be precise, some particularly foul-mouthed Romans and their country-bumpkin subjects XD) for the Italian, Spanish, Portugese, French and Rumanian languages today.

While it is true that regional variation as well as constant and uncorrected mispronunciation and enunciation have all contributed to the break-up of the Romance language into Italian, Spanish, Portugese, French and Rumanian, there are still many similarities between them, which makes it pretty convenient when you're lost in any of these countries because they will understand you if you speak a similar language. One of these similarities would be in giving and receiving personal introductions. Allow me to demonstrate.

In my 13 years of Spanish education, the one thing my classmates and I never forgot was this:

  • Q: Hi! What is your name?
  • A: My name is [name here].
In Spanish, this dialogue would run:
  • Q: ¡Hola! ¿Cómo te llamas?
  • A: Me llamo [nombre aquí]. (yes I translate quite literally for as much as the languages allow :P)
In Italian, this would be:
  • Q: Ciao! Come ti chiami?
  • A: Mi chiamo [nome qui].

Do you see the similarities? I sure can. It gets even better when you say those aloud. d^_~b

Of course, in these Old World countries, you can't just use those introductions on anyone. The Roman civilization has also spawned class segregation and formal speech. What I have written above are all informal speech, language that you use between peers your age. Unlike the English language which does not distinguish formalities between persons, users of the Romance language must observe politness towards their elders, bosses, superiors and people who have seniority in general, so here are the formal equivalents:

  1. Spanish
    • Q: [saludo según el tiempo de día*] ¿Cómo se llama usted?
    • A: Me llamo [nombre aquí]

  2. Italian
    • Q: [saluto secondo il tempo del giorno*] ¿Come si chiama?
    • A: Mi chiamo [nome qui].
The asterisked phrases both mean "greeting depending on the time of the day", because it is obviously improper to just say "Hi" to a senior. :P

As you can tell the responses are the same, but the questions are phrased differently. To be precise, you normally use the third person of speaking (referring to the person you're talking to as if he or she were not being conversed to) during formal introductions.

Alright! Sadly that's all the time we have today. I promise I will discuss more of these with you as I find more time to do so. Until next time!


  • Orbis Latinus for the historical background
  • IELanguages.com (Indo-European Languages) also for the historical background, and for excellent tutorials in any of the Romance languages (perfect for those who have no time to enroll in class)
  • Wikipedia entry on the history of the Romance languages
  • Babelfish, the first and (almost) all-purpose online translator, although it can be too literal in translating words and phrases. Originally in Altavista until it was bought by Yahoo.
  • ImTranslator, which is better than Babelfish for translating between Spanish, English and French because the translations are actually intelligible and the site also has back-translation! (Though it has yet to feature direct Italian<=>English translation...)
  • A VERY OLD copy of Bantam Diccionario Ingles-Español, Espanol-Iñgles. Geared towards Spanish-speaking people, it truly lives up to the claim of being "the best, most complete, compact Spanish & English dictionary available." My copy has been with us since for at least 20 years now and the covers have been torn apart, but it still works very well. I cannot recommend it enough, and I now wish Bantam/Random House had one for Italian too.
  • Contatto, the trusty workbook for serious students of the Italian language

1 comment:

Jairo said...

Very interesting article. You did well the Spanish sentences. Pretty well done ^^ (Spanish is my main language so i can tell).