Tag Archives: language

Spanish Lesson

By Carolina Garcia

Proverbs with Culinary Themes
A good way for Mexicans to remember their grandmothers is
with sayings and proverbs. Many of these refer to traditional
dishes. Here are some of the most popular and what they really
mean.
“Dar atole con el dedo”
Literal meaning: To feed someone atole (a hot drink made with
corn) with your finger , the way you would feed a baby.
What it really means: That you are talking to someone as
though they are stupid.


“Echarle crema a los tacos”
Literal meaning: To add cream to the tacos.
What it really means:
That someone is boasting ,bragging or exaggerating.


“A ojo de buen cubero”

Literal meaning: To watch the good barrel. Cubero is an old-
fashioned word for barrels that used to be used for water, oil

wine or rum.
What it really means:
To make an educated yet imprecise guess. To do something by
approximation.


“A darle que es mole de olla”
Literal meaning: Go for it because it is mole from the pot.
What it really means: That something needs to be done right
away.


“No se puede chiflar y comer pinole al mismo tiempo.”
Literal meaning: You can’t whistle and eat ground maize at the
same time.
What it really means: Stop multi-tasking.


All of us Mexicans have heard these proverbs from our
grandmothers at least once. Now with the passage of time they
are not as common to hear but they will always be present.

Zapotec Writers:
Not as Boring as History Class Led You to Believe

By Brooke O’Connor

An issue about Mexican writers would be remiss if we didn’t include some original writers in Mexico: the Zapotecs. Although Spanish is the legal and most widely spoken language, Zapotec is still one of the largest indigenous language groups spoken, comprising 58 different variations among different communities.

Many dialects and traditions are being lost to modernity, but there are some champions of Zapotec, publishing bilingual and trilingual books. More on that later.

The earliest preserved Zapotec writing is from 600 BCE, and we know this Mesoamerican script was used for well over 1,500 years. Just as they do today, Zapotec peoples had many uses for writing in the ancient thriving society. However, time has left us more monolithic billboards than personal journals.

The earliest known inscription comes from San José Mogote, northwest of present day Oaxaca City; San José Mogote reached its political peak before the establishment of Monte Albán, southwest of and closer to Oaxaca City (more writings have been preserved from Monte Albán than from San José Mogote). Many of the large engravings from San José Mogote detailed competitions and the development of urban life. They chronicled the succession of leaders and winning of battles. This led archeologists to believe that writing during this time was used mostly for political and civic education. They’ve since found those conclusions to be false.

The earlier (600 BCE to 200 ACE) writings in San José Mogote appear to be related to sacred topics; self-sacrifice, the proper oral invocation of ancestors to ensure success in warfare, the taking of captives, ritual combat with captives, and how-to manuals on burning humans alive to petition for agricultural and human fertility. Political topics included strategies and plans written by members of the elite class, designed to create division in society with the aim of developing more power as leaders.

In addition, these elites promoted an elaborate ideology that centered on a primordial covenant between humans and the divine; the ideology depended, of course, on the populace following the elites. The authors masked the inequalities between the classes, and used these ideas to create messianic movements, binding the people to one political party or another. There are other writings showing resistance to these movements, and how the elite plans didn’t always unfold as expected.

People wrote on many media – wood, pottery, leather, cloth and paper bark. These items were more portable for trade, as well as written communication between elites in all areas of ancient Oaxaca. Unfortunately, the soft nature of these media makes them highly perishable. With the ravages of time, most are lost to us.

A few items survived, or were documented when the Spaniards came. Translation can be tricky, and sociologists are taking a second look at Spanish accounts of ancient writings. It seems there may have been some creative liberties taken, to promote the narrative that “Savages need to be tamed.” The friars sent information back to Spain, and the more exotic and titillating the better.

The characters of early written Zapotec were not like the written language seen today. Many symbols represented an idea, rather than denoting the phonic sound of a letter, group of letters, or a syllable. Numbers were portrayed with lines and bars.

When the first Spaniards came, the indigenous wanted to communicate freely (arguably more than the Spaniards did), so as early as the late 16th century, Zapotec peoples appropriated the Spanish alphabet to render their own language graphically. They wrote stealthily about their traditions though. They hoped to come to an amicable agreement for the Spaniards to leave, in peace, after learning a bit about the culture. By subverting the colonial gaze, they were able to keep intact some of the important cultural identity and family issues, and still talk about exploitive political practices. Lucky for us, the Zapotecs have continued to use the alphabetic script today, and we can begin to understand more of this rich culture.

Zapotec language is full of imagery and deep meanings. It is formal and respectful, particularly to elders and people not in your immediate family. It’s a language that commands a level of humility on the part of the speaker. The natural world is invoked regularly. There is a sense of connection to the earth, the ancestors and human kind.

If you want to experience this magical, dream-like writing I highly recommend Red Ants by Pergentino José, who was born in 1981 in the Zapotec village of Buena Vista in the municipality of San Agustín Loxicha, in the mountains a couple of hours north of Zipolite. He writes both poetry and prose in Loxichan Zapotec, which he has described as “the Zapotec of the coast,” and Spanish. In 2006, he wrote the bilingual Spanish/Zapotec Y supe qué responder /Nyak mbkaabna (I Knew What To Answer); in 2013, he published a tri-lingual (Zapotec/Spanish/English) collection of poems, Ndio dis mbind /Lenguaje de pájaros /The Language of Birds. The volume is beautifully illustrated with paintings by Raga Garcíarteaga. It is difficult to find as a book, but you can download it from the publisher: http://www.avispero.com.mx/storage/app/media/libros/lenguaje-de-pajaros.pdf.

Red Ants was first published in 2012 in Spanish as Hormigas Rojas, but included expressions in Loxichan Zapotec; it was translated to English in 2020 by Thomas Bunstead, who chose to keep the Zapotec passages. Red Ants is the first ever translation of a Zapotec author. It’s a collection of short stories that are neither linear nor logical, but rather surreal, with an intoxicating perfume of culture and connection to the land. Each story builds on the last, from a different angle and perspective. There are underlying themes in these modern stories that speak to the Zapotec people’s experience through history: forced change, imprisonment, longing for a simpler time, loss of autonomy, grit to overcome even when bruised and broken, but never losing connection with the natural world.

I invite you to take time reading this. Think about the complexities of translating one language to another. Translation is always less about the actual words, and more about meaning in a sentence. Hence, translated into stoic English, we have a mystical sensation, with animals and imagery expanding in ways we may not immediately grasp. Sit with it, and let the ancestors of this land breathe understanding into you.

If you’re interested in hearing what Zapotec sounds like, and see some of the work being done to preserve and understand these languages, check out this site from the Zapotec Language Project of the University of California at Santa Cruz: https://zapotec.ucsc.edu/. The University offers an online dictionary, monthly language classes, and audio samples of native speakers. For example, this “scary story” spoken by Samuel Díaz Ramirez: https://zapotec.ucsc.edu/slz/texts-query.php?lg=&content=&query=match&text=SLZ1089-t1&parse=no

Spanish Lesson:
Masculine/Feminine

By Julie Etra

Spanish is a gender-inflected language, which means that the forms of nouns, adjectives, and articles change according to whether someone or something is considered masculine or feminine. In general, but not always, an ending of ‘o’ indicates the masculine, and an ending of ‘a’ indicates the feminine. Sometimes the word for an obviously gendered noun is completely different in the masculine vs. the feminine.

The very language is macho in that Spanish favors things and people being male – if there is one boy present in a group of girls, just ONE, they are all niños or hijos, etc. Now, linguistically speaking, that’s not really offensive, because the masculine gender includes words that in another language – e.g., Latin, from which Spanish is descended – would have been neuter. The feminist perspective, however, finds it really offensive. Efforts at language neutrality in Spanish are underway in Argentina, but that’s a long and complicated story for some other time!

Baby: el nene, el bebe (masculine), la nena (feminin- also means girlfriend, like babe), la bebe
Boy/girl: muchacho/muchacha. Muchachos can also equate with fellas, boys, as in ‘let’s go boys’: ‘vamos muchachos’
Kid(s): chavos/chavas,chamacos/chamacas, esquincles/esquinclas
Child: el niño, la niña
Man/woman: el hombre/la mujer
Son/daughter: el hijo/la hija
Son-in-law: yerno
Daughter-in-law: nuera
Stepson/daughter: hijastro/hijastra
Male/female dog: macho, hembra.

Here’s a funny story on the sex of dogs. Many years ago, before I spoke Spanish, we drove down the Baja Peninsula with our male dog. When the cops asked us if the dog was macho, which was obvious as he was intact, I thought they meant aggressive. So I answered, “No es macho, es muy amigable” (“He’s not male, he is very friendly.”) No wonder the cop looked confused!

Next month I’ll continue with other family members and friends. Maybe more animals.

Spanish Lesson: Expressing Happiness

By Julie Etra

As in English, there are various ways to say you’re happy.

Happy: feliz, felices (pl). “Feliz” may be the most common word used for “happy.” There’s a wonderful song, “Sé feliz,” written by the Cuban singer Anaís Abreu, with big hits by singers like the late Mercedes Sosa from Argentina and Lila Downs from Mexico. The lyrics contrast states of sadness and despair with buoyant happiness:

Si la soledad te enferma el alma
If loneliness makes your soul sick
Si el invierno llega a tu ventana
If winter comes to your window
No te abandones a la calma, con la herida abierta
Do not abandon yourself to calm, with an open wound
Mejor olvidas y comienzas una vida nueva.
You better forget and start a new life.
Y respira el aire puro
And breathe the fresh air
Sin el vicio de las dudas.
Without the vice of doubts.
Si un día encuentras la alegría de la vida
If one day you find the joy of life
Sé feliz, sé feliz, sé feliz, sé feliz.
Be happy, be happy, be happy, be happy.

Happy Birthday: feliz cumpleaños (don’t forget the tilde over the ‘n’).

Congratulations: felicidades, felicitaciones – obviously, these terms are related to feliz.

Other words for “happy”:
alegre – happy, gleeful, joyous, stronger than feliz.
contento(a) – happy, less emphatic than feliz, equivalent to “content” in English: Estoy contenta – I am content, I am happy, I am satisfied.
satisfecho(a) – much like contento(a).
dichoso(a) – especially happy, blissful, fully satisfied: Me siento dichoso por haberte conocido – I am really happy to have met you.

Words for “happiness”:

alegria – happiness, gleefulness, cheerfulness.
gozo – joy, enjoyment, from the verb gozar, to enjoy.
júbilo – joy, glee, jubilance. It is not the same as jubilado(a), which means retired (which, dear readers, I am not).

We’ll save triste and tristeza (sad and sadness) for the next issue of The Eye.

Spanish Lesson

Verbs beginning with A

abandonar – to abandon, leave behind
abordar – to board, get on [plane, bus, etc.]
abrazar – to hug, embrace
aburrir – to bore; to tire, weary
abusar – to go too far, take advantage
acabar – to finish, end
aceptar – to accept, approve; to agree to
acercarse – to approach
adorar – to adore, worship
advertir – to notice, observe, advise, warn
afeitar – to shave
afirmar – to make firm, steady, to affirm
agradecer – to be thankful for
aguantar – to put up with, endure, bear, stand
abrir – to open
acercar – move towards
ahorrar – to save
alcanzar – to reach, catch, catch up to
almorzar – to lunch, eat lunch, have lunch
alquilar – to rent; to rent out
amar – to love
amenazar – to threaten, menace
andar – to walk, go
anunciar – to announce
apagar – to extinguish, put out, turn off
aplaudir – to applaud, cheer, clap
aplicar – to apply
apostar – to bet, wager
apoyar – to support, hold up, prop up; to back
apreciar – to appreciate, value, esteem, estimate, notice
aprender – to learn
arreglar – to arrange, settle, fix up, repair, tidy up
arrepentirse – to repent, be repentant, regret

Spanish Lesson

By Julie Etra

This month we’ll take just a little bite out of food and menus.

Appetizer(s): entrada(s) (NOT the main course)

Breakfast: desayuno – ayunar is the verb for “to fast,” as in break [your] fast, just like English

Corn Chips: totopos

Dinner: cena – cenar is the verb. As in ¿Donde quieren cenar esta noche? Where do you all want to eat tonight?

Drinks: bebidas Your mesera/mesero/joven will ask you ¿Quieres algunas bebidas? Anything to drink? (The verb beber means “to drink.” You could also use tomar for “drink”: ¿Algo para tomar? Something to drink?

Lunch: comida. Yes, I know comida also means “food,” but if you go to a translate app or, God forbid, a dictionary, “lunch” will translate as almuerzo, which is not a quick and easy meal; almuerzo could be used for a full brunch or a “lunch” that starts late (maybe 2 pm) and is a heavy meal. And comida is a more complicated term. You will see signs for comida corrida, a fixed-price lunch special with three to four courses. In Huatulco, try the restaurant Albahaca (which means “basil”) on Gardenia, or La Cabaña de Pino on Guelaguetza on the east side of the canal. A comida corrida menu typically includes soup, tortillas, rice or pasta, and a choice of main course. Sometimes they offer a dessert – and sometimes it’s on the house (postre de cortesía)!

Ice cream: helado. Around the zocalo (“central square” in southern Mexico, although an architectural term as well), you will find food carts selling nieves (nieve means “snow,” and in this case is a refreshing frozen treat, like shaved ice flavored with syrups); push carts also sell paletas, the Mexican popsicle on a stick. They are water-based and flavored with natural ingredients.

Snack: bocadita (“little bite”), or antojitos (literally, “whim” or “craving”), from the verb antojar (“to crave”).

Pun of the month: ¿Qué dijo el tortillero filósofo? No hay más allá.

Spanish Lesson

By Julie Etra

This month we look at pegar, a verb with many uses, and suerte, the word for “luck,” which, surprisingly enough, can come in quite handy!

Pegar

Pegar is, as noted, a very versatile verb, but rather than being verbose, I will keep it to a few fun phrases and definitions! Its primary use is “to stick” or “to glue,” but it can be used as a synonym for golpear, “to hit,” and it can be used to describe plants, to mean “well rooted” or “established.”

Examples

  1. Por favor, me gustaría pegar los carteles a la pared. Please, I would like to put up these posters on the wall.
  2. Hace tanto calor que se me pega el pelo a mi frente.
    It is so hot that my hair is stuck to my forehead.
  3. El campocorto pegó la pelota de béisbol al campo derecho.
    The shortstop hit the baseball to right field.
  4. Esa bugambilia tiene por lo menos tres años; está muy bien pegada en la jardinera.
    That bougainvillea is at least three years old; it is very well rooted in the planter.

Pegar derivatives (nouns, adjectives, adverbs):

Pegamento: glue
Pegajoso: sticky

Suerte

The word suerte means “luck.” If someone wants to wish you “Good Luck,” they will say “¡Buena suerte!” or just “¡Suerte!” Useful at the Chedraui checkout counter when they offer you lottery tickets: No, gracias, ¡nunca tengo suerte!

You can have buena suerte or mala suerte. Should you wish to practice your Spanish reading skills, try Rosa Montero’s 2020 novel, La buena suerte, in which good luck turns out to be bad luck, and vice versa – or maybe it’s hard to tell!

Here are some other phrases associated with luck:

  1. Mere circunstancia. Mere chance.
  2. Chiripada, chiripa. Lucky.
  3. Pura cajeta. Literally, “pure dulce de leche,” or pure caramel sauce; used to mean serendipitously lucky, as in a lucky shot in tennis.

Spanish Lesson

By Julie Etra

This month, let’s take a look at two verbs with multiple, not-always-obvious meanings – andar and echar.

Andar literally means to walk, but also to go out with or date, to be, to come out, run (operate), to run around, go ahead, go around doing something, to be from; synonymous in some meanings with caminar.

Examples:

  1. Andamos juntos al cine. We walk together to the movies.
  2. Mi coche anda bien. My car runs fine.
  3. Todo anda bien/mal. Everything is (going) fine / wrong.
  4. Maria anda con Juan. Maria is dating Juan/going out with Juan.
  5. ¡Andale (pues)! Move it!
  6. Tomas siempre anda tomado. Tomas always is/ goes around drunk.
  7. El andaba borracho cuando se cayó. He was drunk when he fell.
  8. Ella siempre anda preocupada. She is always worried.
  9. ¿Andas por aquí? Are you from around here?

Echar is complicated! It is very idiomatic but fun and versatile. There are lots of ways to use this verb. Common meanings: to throw, launch, toss, drop, throw out.

  1. Echar de menos. To miss someone. Te echo de menos. I miss you.
  2. Echarse a perder. To rot/go bad. La leche se echa a perder. The milk is going bad.
  3. Echar ganas. ¡Echale ganas! To be motivated, move it, let’s give it a try!
  4. Echar un vistazo. To glance. Le echo un vistazo a Carla. I glance at Carla.
  5. Echar chispas por los ojos. To glare (literally, to throw sparks from your eyes).
  6. Echar aguas. To warn someone, “Watch out!” (From the medieval custom of throwing dirty water, including night soil, out the window into the street.)
  7. Echarle porras (a alguien). To encourage (someone).
  8. Echar hojas. To sprout leaves.
  9. Echar el ojo. To take a look, to choose.
  10. Echar tacos. To eat lunch. Echarse un taco (de ojo). To look, maybe leer, at someone very attractive.

Spanish Lesson

By Julie Etra

Local Expressions (colloquialisms) and Polite Exchanges

Money: Dinero is broadly used. Lana is synonymous and more common here. Billete refers to the actual bill. Biyuyo is also used here. Moneda is coinage, but slang includes morraya and chincastle.

Bottled water: A big 5-gallon jugs of water is called a garrafón as opposed to a small bottle of water, una botella

Beer: Cerveza is universal, but also known here as a chela. A caguama is the 40 oz version, and a species of sea turtle. A michelada is beer with lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, clamato juice, and chili peppers. It is served in a chilled, salt-rimmed glass. Kind of like a Caesar.

Work: Trabajo is universal but here you will hear chamba (noun), chambear (verb), chambeando (adverb)

Polite expressions for excuse me:
Con permiso: Useful when shopping and you need to get around someone
Perdón: pardon
Discúlpame: forgive me

¡Provecho! Enjoy your meal, said to the adjacent diners upon leaving a restaurant

Boats: Here the smaller fishing boats are lanchas or pangas. Yachts, power or sail, are yates. Big boats are barcos. Sailboats are veleras.

We are even, as in ‘keep the change’ (said when paying a bill): Estamos a mano.

And for fun, here is a pun:
¿Que le dijo un pez al otro pez?
NADA

Spanish Lesson

By Julie Etra

We are resurrecting a monthly column that addresses local phrases to help you with your stay here in Huatulco, be it short or long term. This month we will focus on road signs and other interesting asides.

Ceda el paso = yield
Desviacion = detour. Via is the Latin root for route, way. The vehicles marked with ‘viales’ could be translated as highway patrol, but not as we know them in the USA.
Dos sentidos = two-way traffic
Grava suelta = loose gravel
Maquinas pesadas = heavy equipment working
Un sentido = one way
Solo carril = one lane only
Tope, vibradores = speed bumps (these come in a large assortment; check the EYE archives for more detail)
No estacionarse (often an E with a circle and red line across the E) = no parking
No tire basura = no littering

And what is with those seemingly randomly located stops signs heading east on Highway 200, ending at Secrets, with no one stopping? Those are for future hotels with associated bus stops and pedestrian crossings. And in La Crucecita there is the ‘no one stops at the stop sign’ at the intersection of Chahue eastbound and the north entrance to Calle Gardenia (one way), across from the ADO bus depot. And an Honorable Mention for the stop sign on Benito Juarez Blvd just west of the golf gourse where it turns south towards La Crucecita.

A few words in Zapotec. Zapotec is one of many distinct languages in the state of Oaxaca (there are at least 16), predating the arrival of the Spaniards. It resides in the family of otomangues and within the family are multiple dialects in accordance with the region, e.g the Isthmus versus the Valley of Oaxaca, often mutually unintelligible. Here in Huatulco, we have several restaurants and a few hotels with Zapotec names, such as:

Bie’ che’ is a bar and restaurant located above Xipol in La Crucecita, the former location of La Crema. It means ‘rejoice’, ‘be glad’.
Binniguenda is an all-inclusive hotel in Santa Cruz. It means ‘ancient people spawned from the clouds.’
Bladuyu is the name of a restaurant at the entrance to Chahue where they feature dishes from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. It is named for the clay (terracotta) dishes used in many restaurants.
Itoo’, another restaurant, is in Santa Cruz. It means ‘go eat’.