Spanish by Hill et al.

A few years ago I wrote about some linguistic troubles that the mystery writer Elizabeth George had when she tried to make one of her characters Spanish-speaking. It struck me as telling that, among the many grateful acknowledgments appended to her novel, there was not one addressed to anyone who might have helped her with her Spanish.

I have since found that Elizabeth George is, in this regard, far from alone among English-language mystery writers. It is especially striking that Tony Hillerman and Michael Connelly, who have written respectively about New Mexico and Southern California — both places rife with Hispanic people, culture and history — have also been cavalier to the point of ludicrousness when it comes to Spanish. I meant to call attention to some of the blunders at the time I read the books, but somehow didn’t get around to it.

I will make up for it with Reginald Hill, the (English) author of the Dalziel and Pascoe series. His novel The Stranger House is a mystery that involve detective work, but it is not crime investigation by actual CID detectives. Rather, it’s about personal quests by a disparate pair of graduate students: an Australian young woman doing mathematics and a Spanish young man doing history.

Early in the book the young man’s name is given as Miguel Elkington Madero. Except that his father was Miguel Madero, while his mother is an Englishwoman named Christine Elkington. He should, therefore — following Spanish and not English naming customs — be Miguel Madero Elkington. While a recent law allows some freedom in the order of surnames, Miguel was born in the late 1970s, so that Hill’s version of the name is an impossibility.

Another linguistic impossibility is Miguel’s nickname, which is given (also early on) as Mig. Spanish words do not end in -g, except English borrowings ending in -ing (such as párking) which is pronounced /in/ or /iŋ/. The ‘hard G’ sound implied by Miguel’s self-introduction cannot occur in Spanish.

Further on in the book there are at least three howlers. Miguel gives himself a more formal introduction as Miguel Ramos Elkington Madero. What in the world is a third surname doing there? Perhaps Hill thinks that a surname can, as in English, be used as a second given name. While some Spanish-American countries allow plenty of latitude in assigning given names, Spain does not, and Ramos is not a possibility.

In a manuscript supposedly written in Spanish, the line ‘Father, forgive me’ is written as Padre me perdona, which means ‘Father forgives me.’ The correct Spanish is, of course, Padre, perdóname.

And Christine Elkington is said to be known in Spain as Donna (not Doña) Cristina.

In his author’s note Hill thanks two Australian editors for helping him get things “right about matters Australian.” There is nothing equivalent about “matters Spanish.” And it shows.

 

 

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