Mangling the language


One of the banes of a journalist’s life is that there is always someone willing to prove you wrong. Usually I don’t enter into the debate, accepting that everyone has a right to their say even if it’s contrary to mine. It’s not their fault that they are wrong. But I made an exception to the rule a short while ago when someone sent an email to a local magazine I’d written an article for about Spanglish. Contrary to what you might think, this is being recognised as a genuine developing linguistic form, and the article was a serious attempt to explain the current situation, backed up by research and reasoned argument stolen from elsewhere. But there is always one dickhead, isn’t there, and in this case he’s called Northill.

The basis of Mr Northill’s letter is that my article was uninformed and contrived, being that it did not deal with the hybrid ‘language’ used by the ex-patriot community on the Costa Blanca, something he quite correctly describes as ‘a bastardised conglomeration’ – unfortunately about the only point we agree on. If Mr Northill had read my article in a less deprecating manner he would have noticed that, virtually from the beginning, I say that the Spanglish currently in use in the US is forming the basis on what may or may not become an accepted language in the dim and distant future, just as Yiddish is an amalgamation of a number of north European languages and dialects but eventually became recognised as a language in its own right. In fact, there are a mere thimbleful of languages that aren’t and conglomeration of something else.

The article never refers to the manglings of Spanish used by many European residents in Spain and was never intended to. If it helps them get by, all well and good, but I don’t think it can be equated with the content of my article, which was trying to explain the gestation of a possible new language and not the chomping of the linguistically inept.

I’m sorry my research did not satisfy his rigid criteria. Unfortunately I don’t have such a person as his good old barman friend from Todmorden, currently being ‘mine host’ in Calpe, as a font of idiomatic study who he quoted as saying “Quiero un fat lippio?’ when threatening an overly boisterous customer, and translated it into ‘Would you like a smack in the mouth?’ I’m sure even Mr Northill has enough knowledge of the Spanish language to know that ‘Quiero’ refers to the person speaking so his friend was actually asking for a smack in the mouth! Correct me by all means Mr Northill, but please make sure your own examples aren’t rubbish before you do so.  Sadly, while researching my article all I had access to was a Professor of Spanish at Amherst College in America who is an authority on Spanglish, and a journalist colleague, Alex Johnson, one-time editor of the Madrid-based magazine The Broadsheet who, before he unfortunately had to return to England, wrote widely and wonderfully on all things Spanish. Incidentally, I also referred to the work of one of Spain’s most noted Hispanicists, Tom Burns, as part of my research. Unfortunately it would seem that the combined knowledge of these three gentlemen is as nothing to Mr Northill’s pal from Todmorden. I will inform said professor immediately that his attempts to codify and classify Spanglish are mere gobbledygook and, to quote Mr Northill’s rather sad and unnecessarily insulting comment, ‘a load of old cobblers”. I am sure the professor will desist his labours forthwith.

I have no wish to enter into a debate with Mr Northill or a diatribe against him. I bow to his vastly greater knowledge of the idiomatic mumblings of the foreign residents on the Costa Blanca. But that is not Spanglish, Mr Northill, especially the rather crude examples you give. That is the corruption of an elegant language to cater to an individual’s linguistic inabilities. A far different kettle of palabras.

But Mr Northill’s comments did make me think of something that hadn’t crossed my mind for years, something, for want of a better phrase, I called Aggreviated English.

My first experience of ‘Aggreviated English’ came from our local fruit and veg delivery man, but before I tell you about his particular form of ‘aggreviation’, let me explain just what the term means. It’s not simply an abbreviation of the language, nor is it just an aggravation; it’s a combination of both, an abbreviation which aggravates – hence ‘aggreviation’. It’s probably a lot simpler to give an example than enter into a linguistic discourse.

When I was a boy living on a council estate just outside Newcastle-on-Tyne, Jimmy Ball delivered the fruit and veg on an old cart pulled by a tired old dobbin called Trudi. Jimmy could be heard approaching because of his call, starting as low growl in the throat but ending with a high pitched bellow – ‘Hurookinapperyetomarays’. It never occurred to anyone to ask what he was actually saying, we just recognised it as Jimmy’s call and went to fetch the canvas bag we kept the vegetables in. I probably wouldn’t know even now had I not seen Jimmy sitting over a pint in the local pub, a few years after he retired, by which time I’d acquired enough teenage confidence to ask him what he’d been shouting all those years. He seemed genuinely surprised that I should ask.

By then my ear was becoming attuned to the simpler forms of aggreviation; the rag-and-bone man’s ‘Raaagbo’, starting loud and dropping rapidly, ending on an abrupt ‘o’; the newspaper vendor for the Evening Chronicle who had a strange hiccuping sound in the middle of his ‘Roooonico-o’, but Jimmy’s was much more prolonged and intriguing. The phrase he’d been spouting as he travelled around our streets for almost three decades, totally unaware that no-one understood a word of what he was saying, was ‘Cooking apples, ripe tomatoes’. Not the most earth shattering of pronouncements, but I was glad to have found out at last.

As a further example of this new discovery in lexicography, where does the ‘H’ go when Essex man drops it? I can tell you. It packs its bag and heads North up the A1 to be welcomed with open arms by the Geordie Pub Singer, where it joins forces with ‘A’, as in ‘hat’, to add a whole new set of sounds to the muzakal repertoire. Frank Sinatra’s classic ‘My Way’ now begins ‘Hen nowa, hthe time is neara, hits time to face the final curtayna.’ A further aggreviation is added if the singer is a devotee of the late Nat King Cole. Nat was renowned for stretching the vowels in his songs, so that ‘Blue Moon’ became ‘Bluuue Moooon’; perfectly acceptable when he sang, and in keeping with the tune, but when the GPS tries to Cole it he has neither the vocal dexterity of the ‘King’ or the breath control. Sinatra’s classic now becomes ‘Hen nowaaaaaaaa, hthe time is nearaaaaaaa, hits time to face the final curtaynaaaaaaaaaa.’ with a wavering warble in the final ‘aaa’s’ as he runs out of breath. (There is a Southern version of this syndrome where the ‘h’ and the ‘a’ are replaced by ‘hu’ pronounced as the ‘u’ in ‘gut’. Thus – ‘Hutake me to the moonu, an let me play humong the starzu.’)

These days there are dictionaries available for every form of terminology, so why not an Aggreviations–English Dictionary. For example, ‘Knava, k’nava, please may I have……..’,  it could include regional variations ‘Divnaa, div’naa, (Northeast), I don’t know.’, ‘Issmecompuo, Iss’me’compu’o (Manchester), it is my computer.’ It could lead to a whole new world of understanding. Or, more likely, it would lead to a whole new world of aggression when we realised exactly what it was someone had said to us. As a working class character in a television play once said, after suffering a diatribe from a haughty upper class bit of totty, ‘Sorry darlin’ I didn’t understand the insult.’ Perhaps it’s better that way.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.


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