Pimpea mi idioma

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How do i love this sign? Let me count the ways. One, two.. yeah, two. One being, it’s just so delightfully and unabashedly Puerto Rican, the intervocalic /d/ be damned. But more than that- it’s the evolution of language.

A lot of speakers of other varieties of the language judge Puerto Rican spanish pretty harshly, both for certain typical features of pronunciation* and for the supposed bastardization of, let’s say, the King’s Spanish. Every language has its purists. When you think about how much value we attach to speech, what we think it says about class, education, heritage, even political ideology, it makes sense that people would feel very strongly about the subject. It’s impossible to separate language from culture. But neither culture or language are, or have ever been, static. They are living organisms, and like any other organism, they are constantly changing and adapting.

Even among linguistic purists there is a subconscious recognition of this fact, and one might even say that the sometimes rabid defense of a certain priviledged variety of a language is a reaction to this recognition. But the fear that a change in language is a precursor to the destruction of a culture as we know it is unfounded. Case studies from around the world show that this need not be. Rather than shameful evidence of linguistic imperialism, I see the appearance of new loanwords as a creative, entertaining side effect of a cultural blending that comes, yes, from the presence of U.S. cultural on the Island/in the airwaves, but also from the constant back-and-forth migration of Puerto Ricans to and from the mainland that has been going on for the better part of a century. The innovators here, the people choosing what words will be borrowed and what they will mean, are Puerto Ricans.

favor no tirar papel al toiletThe vast majority of new verbs that appear as the result of such English-Spanish borrowings show up as -(e)ar verbs. there are oldies and goodies such as janguear (to hang out) and chequear (to examine, to check), and newer arrivals such as textear and chatear (I’ll assume that those need no translation). There are also a number of nouns, which almost always enter as masculine. I love the nouns (subject of my unfinished thesis, womp womp) because they’re more likely to change a little and/or take on their own meanings. Here we have el parking (the parking lot) and el shopping (the shopping center). I have no idea how to say ‘closet’ in ‘spanish spanish’ (hello, es un closet), and my mechanic laughed at me when I told him I needed new amortiguadores because clearly what I was looking for were los shock absorbers. There are also generics- think ‘kleenex’ and ‘xerox’ in english- like un pamper (any kind of diaper).

We answer the phone ‘hello’- but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the person on the other end speaks a lick of English- and use the word in the kind of valley girl way that I did above. If you want brilliant wordplay with a ton of great examples of all this, check out the lyrics to calle 13’s atrévete-te. one of the most recognizable lines- ‘hello, deja el show‘- demonstrates the usage i just described, plus an example of a noun with a meaning that doesn’t exist in english. Un show can be a concert/performance, but in this context it means something like ‘to pretend’; deja el show would probably best be translated as ‘quit fronting’.

There are also phrases that draw on English without actually using the words, such as the infamous calque llámame pa’trás (literally, ‘call me back(ward)’) instead of devuélveme la llamada- and here I have to admit to just rolling my eyes at people who have a problem with that. Dame un break is an example of a phrase with more a more limited meaning: it’s used to mean ‘hold on a second/gimme a minute/etc’, but does not work in the ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me’ sense that is sometimes employed in English.

Pimpear, though, is something even more special. Think of how far that word had to come- geographically and socially- for it to end up on that sign. Whatever I think about the actual value being espoused here (because I don’t think I’ll ever be excited about the whole ‘weee, look at my expensively and excessively accessorized car!’ thing), I’ve got to applaud the word for the work it’s put in.

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*In addition to the dropping of /d/ mentioned above (‘pimpeao’ instead of ‘pimpeado’), you will frequently hear: /l/ instead of /ɾ/, typically at the end of a word (‘amol’ instead of ‘amor’); a weakened or eliminated /s/ after a vowel (‘los libros’ may have the /s/ replaced by aspiration, i.e. something along the lines of ‘loh libroh’, or with the sound completely eliminated, i.e. ‘lo libro’; and in some, typically more rural varieties, a voiced uvular fricative (this is a sound most people probably associate with hebrew- that kind of throat-clearing friction in the back of the throat) instead of the double r.

I would argue for the inclusion of two other features that aren’t often mentioned: first, instead of using either the flap /ɾ/ or the /l/, a lot of younger people are pronouncing ‘r’ at the end of a word as an alveolar approximant /ɹ/- basically, something very close to the ‘r’ in american english. Second, in words like pimpear, the first vowel in that ‘ea’ sequence is frequently pronounced as /i/ (‘ee’) instead of /e/ (more or less ‘eh’). I’m curious as to how common the latter is in other countries/varieties.

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: las dos son caribe « definition:

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