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Friday, July 25, 2008

Uruguayan Spanish

Well, as we struggle along with our crippled Spanish, I am reminded that we are not only having to learn Spanish, but Uruguayan Spanish. It would be comparable to learning English as a second language, then being dumped into the middle of Harlem. You wouldn't really understand much.

UY Spanish has it's own peculiarities. For instance- take this statue on the 1 Mayo Plaza, near the Legislative Palacio. Look at the name. How would you pronounce that? Well, did you guess "Baht Shjay"? Yes, the "ll" sound in Spanish (a rolling "Y") is now a "Shush" sound. So is "Y" in many cases. In fact the "Shush" sound is found in so many words that it sounds (to the untrained ear) as if it dominates the language. Now to be fair, it adds a distinct soft sound to conversation, but not easily understood by a person just learning.

Let's try another one. "Tres Cruces" (a downtown bus terminal in the capital). How would you pronounce that one? Well, if you guessed "Tray Crussay" you would be correct. You notice the "S's" are left out. Yes, most trailing S's and many in the middle are left out entirely- leading to even more confusion.

Add to the mix the fact that as typical anglo-americans we do not stand out from the mostly European stock that makes up 70%-80% of the Uruguayans. That means that on the street, with our mouths closed, we look exactly like any Uruguayan. That is why frequently we are stopped and asked for directions. Of course, the first words out of our mouths identify us as "not from around here".

On the plus side, the Uruguayans are very patient and very sharp. They will find a way to communicate and appreciate any little Spanish you can add. For the most part, we have been able to do what we have needed to do and get what we have needed to get, with our limited language skills. A little trick I learned has helped me. The first thing I ask is if they speak a little English. Most will say no, or "very little". Then, when I use my Tarzan style Spanish ("Me Wally, I want buy guitar")- they are relieved that they will not have to carry the full load of the conversation.

As I completed my bank transactions, today, in preparation to closing our house on Monday, I realized that I have been focusing on my difficulties with the language. I totally forgot to consider their problems in dealing with me. Asking me the simplest question draws a stupid look from me. How disconcerting that must be for them. Then I had a small little idea for a Saturday Night Live routine that involved my trying to rob a bank in Uruguay. You can see the scenario- I shout at the top of my voice "This is a holdup" in my best Spanish. It draws blank stares. The round of explanations begin- gesturing- and finally I leave, because they don't know they were being robbed. Ah well, I digress.

We are working on it though- but it will be a long, long time before we can carry a conversation. However, the Uruguayans are an optimistic people. Even when they know you don't speak Spanish- they just go on as if you do, and I just nod and smile (when I think it is the proper response). When asked a question on the bus the other day, I responded with what I thought was the answer to the question. The lady just looked at me sympathetically and said in Spanish "You don't understand do you?" She had me pegged. So now, when asked for directions, I put my hand on their arm, look at their faces, smile and say "Somos Americanos"- That explains a lot.

16 comments:

Franklin said...

Wally,
When you say "Somos Americanos" they are probably thinking "Dumb Yankees" LoL!

Enjoy reading you blogs, keep it up.

Wally said...

Actually, Franklin- that is the phrase I am trying to convey- "We're stupid and we don't know what we're doing."

Eddie said...

Yeah, you should say "Somos norteamericanos".

:-)

Eddie

ecotectura uruguay said...

yes, wally, if you say "somos americanos" many people will think ???? "nosotros tambien!!" !!! (we too) so you´d better say either "somos norteamericanos" or better "somos yanquis" (we are yankees)... about some pronunciation (eating the final "s" is BAD!!)...i´ll tell you later personally :)

Wally said...

I would disagree. I think US Citizens are particularly the ones who refer to themselves as "Americans". Certainly Canadians would not want to be lumped in with the US, by refering to themselves as Americans.

When traveling abroad, do Urugayans refer to themselves as "Americans" or "Uguguayans"?

I think that in most countries "Americans" identify residents of the United States.

Wally said...

My wife disagrees with my sentiments and suggests I just say "no hablo español".

She wishes to avoid all controversy.

Eddie said...

Your wife is smart...

:-)

Seriously, "somos americanos" would be considered by many to be a sign of arrogance, implying that you're the REAL americans, and everybody else (including the person you're talking to) isn't.
From YOUR point of view, it sounds fine, since you've used it your entire life. To them, it's a slap in the face.
Trust me.
Eddie

Wally said...

You know, you may be on to something. I noticed that when identifying my passport, they note it as Norte Americano, not just American. So I think I will take the suggestion and not refer to myself as simply "American". Thanks...

Sandlapper said...

Hey Wally! I've been meaning to leave you a comment for a while now, but have been too lazy to bother with the Google thingy.

Anyway, thanks for writing. I'm hoping to get my Jenny to read through your blog to see that a normal "boomer" can really do this.

By the way, I once tried to explain to a Brit that "American" doesn't necessarily mean someone from the US. She looked at me like I had two heads...

Chrystal said...

We've definitely struggled with the differences between Uruguayan Spanish and Mexican Spanish. I grew up in San Diego so I'm very used to the sound of Mexican Spanish. We're starting to get more used to it. But I feel like we've been hindered by the fact that so many people do speak English (especially in Pocitos). I'm hoping that once we get out of the city, we'll be forced to learn faster. I've been finding that when I ask "hablas ingles?" and they say no, that as soon as I start speaking Spanish, they instantly can speak great English... I think they just want to know that you're willing to try :-)

Learn English said...

Interesting post, thanks! I always find it amazing how much Spanish can change from country to country -- but then I suppose English is the same!

Saludos,
Monica V, English teacher

Anonymous said...

I selddom leaave responses, but i did some searching and wound up here "Uruguayan Spanish".
And I doo have a ffew questions for you if it's allright.
Couhld it be only me or does iit look like some of the responses look like written by brain dead
individuals? :-P And, if you are writing on other nline social sites,
I would like to keep up with everything fresh you have
to post. Could you make a list of every one of all your communal sites lke your linkedin profile, Facebook
page or twitter feed?

My sitee ... cheating woman

Rodefe ... said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Denise said...

Dear Rodefe,
I am amused that you readily said "I am Uruguayan" and not, I am South American.

I know many people in Uruguay can be touchy when people from the USA call themselves Americans and not North Americans. So as not to offend some, I do say, soy de Los Estados Unidos. However, do you REALLY want to know why it's NOT SO Offensive? Bear with me!!!

In North America, Central America and South America there lies the countries of:
1) Canada
2) Estados Unidos de America
3) Estados Unidos Mexicanos
4) Republic of Panama
5) República Federativa do Brasil
6) República Argentina
7) República Oriental de Uruguay

Now notice, how each title ends!
That is why people are called 1) Canadians,
2) Americans 3) Mexicans 4) Panamanians
5) Brazilians 6) Argentines 7) Uruguayans!

Canadians never go around calling themselves North Americans! or Americans! America doesn't have that great of a reputation with other nations anymore and a Canadian wouldn't want to be mistaken for someone from the USA.

Beside how funny would a joke be if it started with an American, and an American, and an American all walked into a bar..... Rather, a Mexican and a Canadian and an Argentinian all walked into a bar one night... that could make for a funny joke as immediately different traits from each country would come to mind etc...

In all honesty how many times in your life have YOU identified yourself as an American or even generally referred to your self AS A South American? other than to say where Uruguay is LOCATED!

I have unfortunately found that sometimes because Uruguay IS such a tiny country the need to prove itself flares up like a "chip on it's shoulder" Mexico is a huge country population wise and in land mass. Canada is very large in land mass yet Mexicans are happy to call themselves Mexicans and Canadians Canadians, Just like you proudly called yourself a Uruguayan!

So that is WHY people from the USA call themselves Americans and NOT North Americans! When they do so, EVERYBODY knows instantly that they are from The United States of AMERICA and they are not Mexicans or Canadians!

So I hope, I don't have to start calling you Orientals because that would really start to confuse everyone but I gladly call you a Uruguayo/a from South America!



Rodefe ... said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Denise said...

This is not for anyone in particular, but I only bring it up one last time because this debate has come up on other forums and I want to get my own frustrations out of my system!

Just to add one more thing to clarify. Mexico, also has the title of the united states, It's the united states Mexicanos. So, to say you are from the United states isn't always so clear a designation as that means you could be from anywhere in the world that has the title "united" in it. The LAST WORD in our countries' TITLE is what we are known by, that's the same principal for Uruguay or anywhere in the world. The last word for the USA just happens to be, the word, America. America, that's where the A comes in from the USA. So we call ourselves Americans. The last word for Mexico, in their title is Mexicanos so thats where we get Mexicans/Mexicanos from.

A Mexican doesn't feel "left out" not being called an American? Or gets hurt or offended because Exclusion has nothing to do with it. Neither does haughtiness.

***If the title of our country's government was called, the united states of Washington, we would call ourselves Washingtonians and NOT say Americans at all! It's as simple as that. If that were the case and we were known as Washingtonians then, we would, although living in North America not be jealous of or feel slighted by a country who then called themselves Americans because we would be called Washingtonians and not care what others called themselves. Just like, people in Canada have no hurt feelings by our saying, Americans, neither do Mexicans because we are simply using the last word in our title as an identification, the same as they do, and they know that.. We are "Americans" by Government title name, We are living in one of the 3 continents also called America, our continent is the North one. It just so happens that our country is named after one of the Americas. Brazil was known as the united states do Brazil from 1937-1967. So back then being from the united states could have meant you were a Brazilian to someone from Uruguay. Instead the term Brazilians is so much clearer!

I just felt like explaining for once, "our side of the coin" and what it's like from "our point of view", having to deal with weird, imagined slights of feelings and people seemingly excluded and hurt, etc, etc, etc... when all we're truly saying is the designated term of each of our government countrys' title and yet we have to step on eggshells to keep from offending people. People who have NEVER in their entire life or ever would, use the term "somos Americanos"/we are Americans to INTRODUCE themselves to someone, to call themselves by that designation but they also do not want you to use it either! They only "think about it", when you use the term. Honestly, how many times have they introduced themselves like that? They only say, they think it and yet the answer would be Thousands and thousands of times for someone from the USA. Why after 200 plus years of use do we "have to" call ourself something different now to appease them? If I have to say from now on, that I'm a North American then you had better be saying you're a South American from now on too. Maybe, you're Brazilian or Argentine or from Chile, keep others guessing. People can then wonder if I'm Mexican or Canadian and then no feelings slighted! It can be very very tiring, trying to please the whole world. Let's be real, this continent is South America but this country is...Uruguay and that's why you call yourselves Uruguayos. Our continent is North America. Our country is America. We are called, Americans. The continents are the Americas, the countries are Uruguay and America we are named after our respective countries, end of story, get over it!

That's my rant for the year.