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YucaLandia


Aug 19, 2011, 12:03 PM

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Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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There's a thread on a different Mexconnect sub-Forum about the trials and troubles of getting a car imported by ferry, where the very sweet OP had a lot of trouble getting his car. His stories left me wondering about how the problems might have come up due to languaging issues.

When we go to INM or Banjercito or Aduana, do we have someone with us who speaks excellent Mexican Spanish? Were our communications discusiónes or dialogos o monologos de seria?

Each time I hear serial stories of frustrations by an expat who did not get the systems to work as they hoped, I flashback on memories of waiting at Aduana, Banjercito, INM, CFE, and Telmex, and listening to various expats attempt to explain their problems and their desires in less-than-polished Spanglish. Rayas become Rayos, Martes becomes Marzo, they hear "En Absoluto" and they think "absolutely!", "Apologies" become "Apologías", and on and on.

On May 2, 2010, I listened to one very bright intelligent gringo friend explain to an INM agent that he was planning to fly to the United States on July 5, and that he absolutely must have his FM2 renewed before then. In reality, he said: "Yo necesito departo en El Cinco de Mayo! " The INM agents shook their heads and said it was not possible. He basically went ballistic inside. I stepped-in to try to explain the actual ( no "actual" ) date of his viaje. " En realmente..." The INM agents understood immediately, but the friend was annoyed...

I suspect that the combination of idioms, slang, shibboleths, cultural differences, and false cognates often bury our chances of effective communications. When we get hot, tired, frustrated, worn-out, or a little excited, I think our perceived abilities to communicate in Spanish far exceed reality.

I have heard many gringo stories that recount word-for-word quotations of what they said, followed by exact English quotations of the perfectly translated Spanish replies. Unfortunately, the quoted stories vs. what I heard or witnessed as a bystander, just do not jibe. The gaps between perception and reality widen when the stakes are higher (like trying to get INM to approve something), and when anxiety and frustration creep into the American/Canadian English brain.

I also note that many gringos launch into prolonged monologues that twist and turn, (where even small translation errors in the monologue send the listener off into blind alleys), and then they gradually reach their desired endpoint vs. making simple declarative statements of what's needed. Personally, I try to think of the bare essentials of what I need to communicate, and then rather than thinking in English and translating the English, instead, think in Spanish - form the thoughts/ideas/words in Spanish.

"Yo soy caliente." vs. "Yo tengo calor." vs. "Necisto ayuda, por favor. La clima en mi cuarto no funcionar."

In the Mexconnect car example, did the OP say "panga" or "feria" when asking about the car ferry?

I know that when I get an answer that smells a bit off, I intentionally look confused, and then try repeatedly asking the question in different ways - try to get them to repeat their answer in different ways. If that doesn't work, I look around for a helpful-looking soul who has quietly been listening and watching - someone who knows the insider-language & idioms, and urge them to help.

Anyone know where I can buy a "sapo", because I am tired of my "tina" going dry?

At one point, I realized that I needed help with these things, so, I pulled out three old printed lists of English-Spanish false cognates that I'd saved over the years, created a single Word document of them, and then I trolled 5 websites on the internet, and merged all the lists into a single shmear - culling out the duplicate items, and re-writing all of them into a single consistent format - and posted them on Yucalandia: Surviving Yucatan http://yucalandia.wordpress.com/...nish-false-cognates/

This list is a little cumbersome because it is a compendium of about 8 lists, but it helps avoid some confusions. Still, it does not deal with idioms or shibboleths.

Maybe an ongoing Mexconnect thread of Mexican idioms, shibboleths, and slang could help? ¿ Que padre ?
steve
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Read-on MacDuff
E-visit at http://yucalandia.com

(This post was edited by YucaLandia on Aug 19, 2011, 2:55 PM)



sioux4noff

Aug 19, 2011, 4:28 PM

Post #2 of 49 (18178 views)

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Re: [YucaLandia] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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I have a book called Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish, which covers many of the concepts you mention. I have found it helpful, and go back and peruse it from time to time.
Thanks for your article, it is interesting and should come in handy.
http://www.amazon.com/...Keenan/dp/029274322X


eyePad

Aug 20, 2011, 5:31 AM

Post #3 of 49 (18159 views)

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Re: [YucaLandia] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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Yukka,
Is this really an issue of Idioms, Slang, etc? The excellent examples you give aren't really examples of someone having trouble with subtle shades of the language, they are examples of people that are just plain ignorant. These are people below level A1 (using european common model) One thing that just blows me away is how people can move to mexico and not acquire language skills. It took me a year just to realize this, cause I didn't want to believe it.
One thing I really like about southern europe (excluding the Balkans where I've never been) is that speaking spanish causes no adverse reaction at all. In Italy and Portugal people just assume you are spanish and get one with it. Many people have a fair grasp of the language. In spain of course it is the default language and it seems everyone wants to know where my wife is from (she is an indigenous speaker first and spanish second).
On the other hand in California people are sooo provencial about language. Speaking spanish if you're white seems to be considered rather freaky. I think people associate it with poor mexicans. People don't even realize it is a major world language and spain is a country of arrogant people. What a difference! (I work with people from the UK and they are not much better but without this yucky provencial attitude)


YucaLandia


Aug 20, 2011, 7:40 AM

Post #4 of 49 (18141 views)

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Re: [eyePad] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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eyePad,
You're right about most of my post not including idioms and slang or shibboleths, and yes, the major problems for typical expats at Aduana and INM are related to basic Spanish language skills (which include false cognate problems). Still, common conversations are sprinkled with slang, idioms and shibboleths that trip me up, and are things not easily found in a dictionary or text/program of Spanish lessons. I included the sapo and tina allusion, because that's the one type of issue that often bites me personally in day-to-day conversations and trying to watch Mexican TV, so, I include my personal bug-a-boos. Shibboleths tend to bite people of all stripes (otherwise they wouldn't be shibboleths).

For example, the "mochomo"/"sayes" thread seems to be a good example of Mexican shibboleths: If you know the word, and how to say it, then it shows that you have an insider's view (sibboleth vs. shibboleth). I suspect that we run into more shibboleths here, since Yucatan's isolation and unique history may give us more shibboleths than other Mexican states: No rail connection with Mexico until the 1940's, no road connections until the 1950's, full independence from Mexico for much of Yucatan for 60 years (1845-1905), attempts by Yucatan to secede and join the USA, etc. make us mentally & linguistically a bit different, especially due to many Yucatec-Maya influences.

I also think most expats would find life here a bit less stressful, if they viewed some of their problems as a result of the natural consequences of common communication problems, rather than assuming that the other person is being difficult, poorly informed, or wrong. Maybe a good analogy for expat communication problems is to think of an articulate but typical non-technical person going into a US hardware store or auto parts store to ask for a specialized part. Many people don't know the verbs or the nouns in tech-speak, and often a bystander can help translate the person's need to a bewildered counter-person. "Do you want that bezel-like stand-off clip that shims-out the connecting rod on the throttle plate linkage?"

I spoke English in that example, but the combination of shibboleths and idioms likely obscure my meaning to even articulate English speakers - while someone who knows carbs knows exactly what I want. A good Cuban-American friend confirms that even though Spanish was her native tongue at home, she often has communication problems with Yucos.

In any case, I think an ongoing single thread of Mexican examples of these various traps would help me and others.
I'm also a bit lazy, because I'd prefer monitoring a single thread for updates, rather than tracking multiple threads over time.
steve
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Read-on MacDuff
E-visit at http://yucalandia.com


YucaLandia


Aug 20, 2011, 7:42 AM

Post #5 of 49 (18138 views)

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Re: [eyePad] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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How many people reading this thread know what a sapo is, when mentioned at a Tlapalaria?
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Read-on MacDuff
E-visit at http://yucalandia.com


cbviajero

Aug 20, 2011, 9:54 AM

Post #6 of 49 (18132 views)

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Re: [YucaLandia] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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toilet flapper
chris


La Isla


Aug 20, 2011, 11:35 AM

Post #7 of 49 (18128 views)

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Re: [cbviajero] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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What is a toilet flapper?


Rolly


Aug 20, 2011, 12:00 PM

Post #8 of 49 (18122 views)

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Re: [La Isla] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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It's the thing in the bottom of the tank that opens to start the flush cycle. It leaves the toilet running when it doesn't close completely.

Rolly Pirate


La Isla


Aug 20, 2011, 12:17 PM

Post #9 of 49 (18115 views)

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Re: [Rolly] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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Thanks, Rolly, for your clear and complete definition!


eyePad

Aug 20, 2011, 1:13 PM

Post #10 of 49 (18110 views)

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Re: [La Isla] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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Quote
What is a toilet flapper?


a sapo


(This post was edited by eyePad on Aug 20, 2011, 1:14 PM)


Bennie García

Aug 20, 2011, 1:25 PM

Post #11 of 49 (18103 views)

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Re: [eyePad] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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In Reply To

Quote
What is a toilet flapper?


a sapo


How many know another definition of sapo?


La Isla


Aug 20, 2011, 1:31 PM

Post #12 of 49 (18102 views)

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Re: [Bennie García] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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I learned many years ago that a sapo is toad in English.


Bennie García

Aug 20, 2011, 1:40 PM

Post #13 of 49 (18101 views)

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Re: [La Isla] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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There is yet another. But.....you better cover your eyes when the answer is posted!


La Isla


Aug 20, 2011, 1:47 PM

Post #14 of 49 (18097 views)

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Re: [Bennie García] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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If I cover my eyes, how can I read your post? Don't worry, I don't shock so easily, Bennie :).


sparks


Aug 20, 2011, 8:05 PM

Post #15 of 49 (18078 views)

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Re: [La Isla] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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shibboleths = a lesson in Hebrew. Is that the best word to use here?

Sparks Mexico Blog - Sparks Costalegre


mazbook1


Aug 20, 2011, 9:14 PM

Post #16 of 49 (18065 views)

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Re: [sparks] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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sparks, you looked in the wrong dictionary! Mine says that shibboleths are (among other things) "…a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.", which is what I think YucaLandia meant.


tashby


Aug 20, 2011, 9:31 PM

Post #17 of 49 (18063 views)

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Re: [sparks] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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Yes, thanks for that, Sparks.

I live at Lake Chapala, a weird place in Mexico with a lot of ex-pats and foreigners. Granted, learning Spanish is a lot of work. But even the wonderful few people here who make the extraordinary effort to learn Spanish tend to fail frequently with basic communication.....and it's not just the lack of words or idiom or slang or false cognates that slay communication.

It's pronunciation.

I'm maybe intermediate level and my Spanish sucks. It's a slow grind but I'm determined and keep working at it.

But it's really sad when I see and hear people putting in so much effort to learn Spanish -- they have the words, they have the construction -- but even I can't understand them because their pronunciation is so bad.

Good luck everyone!


sparks


Aug 21, 2011, 5:12 AM

Post #18 of 49 (18054 views)

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Re: [mazbook1] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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In Reply To
sparks, you looked in the wrong dictionary! Mine says that shibboleths are (among other things) "…a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.", which is what I think YucaLandia meant.


I only meant that it's a Hebrew word ... and seemed out of place speaking about Spanish. Of course I have no idea of a Spanish equivalent

Sparks Mexico Blog - Sparks Costalegre


cbviajero

Aug 21, 2011, 8:20 AM

Post #19 of 49 (18043 views)

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Re: [Bennie García] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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It can also mean burp.Back to the tlapaleria what's a chalupa or a trompito?
Chris


YucaLandia


Aug 21, 2011, 12:35 PM

Post #20 of 49 (18025 views)

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Re: [mazbook1] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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In Reply To
sparks, you looked in the wrong dictionary! Mine says that shibboleths are (among other things) "…a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.", which is what I think YucaLandia meant.


Sibola, Shibbola: Originally, during Jewish genocide activities against the enemy/Edomites, when at a Jordan river crossing, and asked what city was nearby, if you said Sibola, the guards would kill you (since it meant you were not a Jew, who pronounce it Shibola). - 42,000 dead by one report.

In modern times, a shibboleth is a word that has meaning to a limited group of insiders - kind of like a buzz-word. Shibboleth is a perfectly good English word that conveys a complex meaning in a single word, and it is a word that has no equivalent synonyms. Colloquialism sort of approximates it, but not really.

The Yucatecans use shibboleths, that show an insider's view or knowledge of Yucatecan culture and sometimes Yucatec-Maya.

My wife likes: "Banqueta" for sidewalk, or "Achocado" for people crammed close together, etc. I notice people in Mexico City smiling sweetly when they hear my wife's Yucatecan accent and her colloquialisms and shibboleths. (and yes, some other Spanish speakers also use banqueta.)
steve
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Did others on this thread note how the confusion on the other original thread resolved, where the dock and car ferry to Cozumel was just 100 m away, yet the Yucatecan responded that it was 20 km away when asked "Necissito el Barco a Cozumel por mi y mi caro. Donde barco por Caro a Cozumel por favor." ? Yucatecans use "panga" for ferry, and the expat used "barco" and got a very different answer, since the Yucatecan assumed they wanted a big ship or barge that cheaply transports cars vs. the ferry. And I learned that "panga" is not necessarily a ferry in the rest of the Spanish speaking world.

This also ties up a loose end with shibboleth, because dictionaries are not the "final word" in the real world, and we can get different perspectives from learning the actual spoken language vs. what's written in books. ¡ Huay, huay !

This may partly explain why lots of people can communicate by reading a language, but speech and conversation are whole other ballgames.

Learning vocabulary from lists is helpful, but still can leave us hanging, especially when we fall into the trap of believing that Spanish and English have word-for-word equivalents: like the times when our English version does not really capture the nuances of the Spanish word (and vice versa).
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Read-on MacDuff
E-visit at http://yucalandia.com

(This post was edited by YucaLandia on Aug 21, 2011, 12:37 PM)


YucaLandia


Aug 21, 2011, 1:26 PM

Post #21 of 49 (18016 views)

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Re: [YucaLandia] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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As my wife and I talked, how about: Duende

A feeling of awe, as when surrounded by a beautiful natural setting.
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Read-on MacDuff
E-visit at http://yucalandia.com


mazbook1


Aug 21, 2011, 3:32 PM

Post #22 of 49 (17998 views)

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Re: [tashby] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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tashby, you hit it right on the mark, "It's pronunciation." The absolute most important thing for speaking understandable Spanish is the correct pronunciation. All of the other pitfalls of learning to speak understandable Spanish, the idioms, slang, shibboleths and false cognates all put together are only a distant second place.

http://editorialmazatlan.com/...xico-in-spanish.html


(This post was edited by mazbook1 on Aug 21, 2011, 3:35 PM)


YucaLandia


Aug 22, 2011, 9:12 AM

Post #23 of 49 (17967 views)

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Re: [mazbook1] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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Good point on pronunciation.

I was focused on trying to better understand what other people say, where their poor pronunciations, and slang & idioms trip me up. If you have a fair vocabulary, you can usually finesse your way around a specific word you don't know, but when I hear slang, etc, I get lost.

On a strange note, I have several expat friends who speak Spanish with a pure American English accent, with no attempt to pronounce things in Spanish, but their verb conjugations and vocabulary are superb, making them almost universally understood here.

sale y vale
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Read-on MacDuff
E-visit at http://yucalandia.com


Bennie García

Aug 22, 2011, 9:33 AM

Post #24 of 49 (17962 views)

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Re: [YucaLandia] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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Henry Kissinger spoke perfect but heavily accented English. Christopher Dodd speaks excellent Spanish with a very slight accent. Both are easily understood.


Maesonna

Aug 22, 2011, 2:47 PM

Post #25 of 49 (17945 views)

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Re: [YucaLandia] Idioms, Slang, Shibboleths, and False Cognates

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Quote
My wife likes: "Banqueta" for sidewalk, [...] I notice people in Mexico City smiling sweetly when they hear my wife's Yucatecan accent and her colloquialisms and shibboleths. (and yes, some other Spanish speakers also use banqueta.)



Within Mexico, I’ve only ever lived in Mexico City, and all my Spanish is picked up here. Banqueta is the only word I know for sidewalk. What am I missing?
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