Archive for April, 2016

Catalanisms in Mexican Spanish?

April 25, 2016

The San Francisco Bay Area has numerous streets and institutions nutamed Alemany, Portola and Serra, and a few named Alberni, Palou and Yorba. These are all Catalan surnames belonging to bigwigs (political and ecclesiastic) during the Spanish and Mexican domination of California. (Palou and Serra were Majorcans, the others Catalonians.) Elsewhere in Mexico, however, one is hard put to find Catalan surnames; they are nowhere near as common among Mexicans as they are among Cubans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. It appears to me, from what I have managed to find out from reading, that until the nineteenth century Catalans who went to the Indies to make their fortune tended to return home once they had made it and so did not leave many descendants in those countries that were no longer under Spanish rule. In Wikipedia’s listing of  Mexican people of Catalan descent, most of the names belong to people who are twentieth-century immigrants from Spain or their immediate descendants.

But, oddly enough, Mexican Spanish seems to me to have more elements that correlate with Catalan than any other variety of Spanish besides that spoken in Catalonia itself. Here are some examples.

Nomás, seemingly a calque of només, is the common word for ‘only’, not solamente or solo.

Estimado/a, like Catalan estimat/da, is usually used for ‘dear’ in the salutation of a letter, not querido/a.

Mande, almost the equivalent of Catalan mani’m, is the usual response to hearing one’s name called or to not catching what was said, not or cómo.

Almuerzo is, as in Catalonian Spanish, the equivalent of esmorzar, a mid-morning snack, and not lunch as elsewhere.

I would need to know more than I do about the presence of Catalan-speakers in Mexico during the formative era of Mexican Spanish before I could say that these are indeed Catalanisms. Hence the question mark in the title.


Spain and Syria

April 22, 2016

Yesterday I heard a radio interview with Adam Hochschild, the author of a recently published book about American fighters in the Spanish Civil War. Hochschild pointed out the great disunity among the various factions supposedly fighting on the Republican side — Stalinists, Trotskyites, anarchists, Catalonian and Basque separatists, and others — as being among the factors (aside from the lack of international support, except by volunteers) that led to their defeat by the highly unified nationalists led by Franco.

The nationalists were, of course, rebelling against the Republic, the legitimate government of Spain.

In Syria it is Bashar al Assad who is, technically, the legitimate head of state. But he is a ruthless dictator very much in the Franco mold, and the various rebel groups fighting his forces can be readily likened to the anti-Franco groups in Spain. And, like the letter, they are spending as much energy fighting one another as they are fighting Assad. Similarly, they receive only token support from governments that would be expected to favor them, be they Western democracies or Sunni autocracies, while Assad receives substantial support from Putin much as Franco did from Hitler and Mussolini.

Marx was wrong. Here we have tragic history repeating itself as tragedy, not farce.


April 11, 2016

A little over a year ago I published a post in which I proposed a simple rule for comparing the prices of things across the years.  I call it the “one-hundred rule” because it postulates that, at least since about 1900, prices — in US dollars — have been increasing a hundredfold in 100 years. It corresponds to an annual inflation rate of 4.73%, and also means that prices double every 15 years. I have found that it works quite well for such disparate products and services as postage, coffee, hamburgers, hotel rooms, cars (at least from the time that they were in general use) and even houses in rural England (with reference to Downton Abbey).

Some products or services, however, cannot be compared over a long time span.  As I noted in the post, the price of a Model T Ford automobile dropped considerably in the decade after its introduction, as car ownership gradually became the norm, and the formula works only from the later point in time (1925).   Similarly, a telephone call nowadays is a very different process from what it was half a century ago.

And while the formula works reasonably well with respect to broadly based housing costs, it fails spectacularly when it comes to housing in cities. A personal example: in 1966 (exactly half a century ago) my then-wife and I bought a small house in Berkeley (California) for $16,900 and sold it six years later for $22,300. This is a factor of 1.32, and 1.04736 = 1000.06 = 1.32 — perfect! But according to the rule the price should now be ten times what we paid, that is, around $170,000. Instead, it is estimated at between $700,000 and $800,000. Yikes!

What has happened is that city living in early-21st-century America is not what it was in mid-20th century, and though the house is physically the same (there is no record of any expansion), it no longer represents the same thing. In the 1950s and 1960s middle-class Americas, on the whole, didn’t like living in cities. The very rich, of course, had their mansions and town houses as well as their country homes, but the middle class opted for something in between, which was the suburbs. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, which was designed in the 1950s and built in the 1960s, reflects the attitude of the time: what it does is connect the urban core that includes downtown San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley (where the University of California is located) with the suburbs (including those that are within the legal city limits); what it does not do is facilitate movement among various parts of the metropolitan area that don’t happen to lie along the lines going through downtown Oakland and San Francisco.It is, in other words, not a metro like those in other big cities around the world, but a commuter railroad comparable to the RER in France, the S-Bahn in Germany or the Cercanías in  Spain, with the big difference that the European systems are integrated with their countries’ mainline railroad networks, including high-speed trains, while BART is not integrated with anything; it doesn’t even use standard railroad gauge.

The absence of a true metro makes Bay Area living more cumbersome and more dependent on driving.  (While Washington has something called Metro, it’s also a radial system like BART.)

The change from a time when “inner city” was a pejorative to the present situation, when it is desirable enough to have caused a hyperinflation in urban housing costs (except in places like Detroit), may have occurred some time around the 1980s, when air travel got cheaper and more Americans traveled to Europe, discovering the tree-lined boulevards with bicycle lanes, the sidewalk cafés (hitherto banned in the US for supposed health reasons) and other pleasures of city living, which were then brought back here. But, as a result of planning decisions made in an earlier age, convenient public transportation is not one of them.