Friday, November 21, 2008

Mutjaba: palabrotas

By Mujtaba Akhter

My work at Champaign Central High School consists of communicating with high school students for essentially the whole time period. Although I tutor them in various subjects, many times we digress into stories about our own lives and just general small talk. Since I speak in Spanish with many of the students, there were always a few words I would hear that I never understood. I always just figured it to be some technical word that I would learn later, but finally a couple days ago I figured out what was being said.

I was tutoring a student in geometry and was saying "you need to look at the line from this point to this point" which in Spanish was "necesitas ver la linea de este punto a este punto." However, I seem to have been saying the word "punto" fast and not pronouncing the "n" which leads to the word becoming a swear. The students around started laughing and then told me what I was saying. Although I knew that swear, I decided then to ask them about other swears. It probably wasn't the most proper thing to do, but I had a feeling they wouldn't mind so much and I knew they were well-mannered enough not to say those swears to anyone else. They started telling me all the ones they knew and their definition. I obviously won't list them here, sufficient to say that I've expanded my colloquial vocabulary. When I was being told these swears, I then understood some of the words I had thought were "technical." They definitely are not. They're "palabrotas."

One interesting point that came out of the conversation was how certain words aren't swears in some countries but are swears in other countries. While I was studying abroad in Ecuador, anytime I would need to "catch a bus," I would say "necesito coger un bus." However, the word "coger" does NOT have the same connotation in Mexico. It goes vice versa as well. In Mexico, "tirar" is used as "to throw"; however in Ecuador, the word has a MUCH different connotation. It was quite interesting to see how such innocent words could have a whole different meaning in other Spanish speaking countries.

1 comment:

  1. I have always though one of the things students need to learn when learning a second language is, if not swearing words, at least colloquial, street jargon.

    The problem in the US is: which one to teach/show? From Spain, Mexico, Argentina?

    In Spain, while I was studying English, we all study British English, so that's what we learn all along from high literature to slang...but here students end up going to many remote and different places, and learning some "palabrotas" from one country (at least you need to know what NOT to say in a formal conversation with your host mom) might be totally useless if you travel to another...