Spanish English month continues with a guest post by Valerie Collins on pronunciation. Valerie is a writer and linguist, a former translator, and co author of In The Garlic: Your Informative, Fun Guide to Spain.
I’ll say it upfront and get it out of the way. After 37 years in Barcelona, Spanish English still drives me crazy. First, the pronunciation. Spaniards basically can’t handle stop consonants, final consonants, most consonant clusters, various fricatives and affricates. Which doesn’t leave very many. Andalucians are notorious for dropping the remaining ones and using ‘h’ instead of ‘s’, so imagine what they manage to do to English.
Vowels are another stumbling block. Spanish only has the ‘pure’ vowels ‘a e i o u’ plus a few simple diphthongs, nor does it have the schwa (neutral or atonal vowel). So, famously, chip and cheap, ship and sheep (and you name it) are indistinguishable. And unlike English, Spanish is syllable timed, so their speech sounds like rapid machine gun fire.
No prizes for deciphering these*:
Piha ehpreh (fast food company)
Boornimut (seaside town in UK)
Gwindous (operating system)
Estarbu (chain of coffee shops)
And then there’s the famous initial ‘e’ – the one characteristic feature that mimics will fix on to produce a Spanish-sounding accent. As in the famous tourist board slogan: Espain is different.
So, who’s your idol? Merrill Estree? (stress the last syllable.) Bruh Esprinnestin? Lor Rollinn Estonn?
As everywhere, English has had a huge influence on Spanish, with many words entering the language, despite the losing battle waged by the Real Academia Española. These words have been Hispanicised, which is perfectly natural. The problem arises when Spaniards use them in English.
“This car it has eyervah?” [‘Eye’ as in eye.] “What? Qué”?
“The car. Has EYERVAH?”
“Look, I’m really sorry and I apologise if I’m being dim, but I don’t understand.”
“But it is English!”
“Whaaat? Hang on … Aaah!” [Slaps forehead]. “You mean AIRBAG!”
I have to say, though, that after 37 years, I often no longer remember what the English is supposed to be in the first place. Take the capital of Poland, for example. When I flew there from Barcelona to visit my younger son, the Spanish pilot announced in English that we would shortly be landing at the airoport (sic) of Barsof. And Barsof it has been in my family ever since.
* No prizes but here are the answers just in case you were wondering…
Piha ehpreh = Pizza Express
Gwindous = Windows
Estarbu = Starbucks