Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Classics and Language

Are classic books too difficult to read? Many consider it a nightmare to plod through a classic book that seldom passes muster with readers, and is easily put down. Why do the classics put us off most of the time? 

Why do people shy away from the so-called classic books, the works of literary artists that have supposedly withstood the test of time? My answer is that for the classics, the road to hell is paved with difficult, obsolete vocabulary and syntax.

Continue reading at: http://voxxi.com/2012/11/10/language-hurdles-reading-classic-books/

Thursday, October 02, 2014

SEFARAD and the Hispanic Jews




Sefarad and the Hispanic Jews: The Sephardim

What is Ladino? What country is Sefarad? Who are the Hispanic Jews?
 
In the novel Nunca volverás a casa, 1997, by José María Carrascal, a New York sefardita travels to Toledo in search of the house his family left behind in the Spanish-Jewish Diaspora, carrying the key which has been in his family for hundreds of years in case some day they were able to return to Sefarad, to Spain. Carrascal’s book is fiction, but based on reality.

Read more at : http://voxxi.com/2012/09/27/sefarad-hispanic-jews-sephardim

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Meeting Camilo José Cela

Camilo Jose Cela was Premio Cervantes, Nobel Prize Winner—and had a reputation for being outspoken, abrupt and ill-mannered.

The University of Hardknocks has taught me, and many others, some bitterly-earned lessons which, at times, have led to certain conclusions that I expect and try to heed. One of those lessons has been that the more intelligent and truly important a person is, the more humble and accessible and friendly he is. I would dare venture to say that we could very well make this conclusion a rule of thumb to live by, and expect from life.


The riffraff, the hoi polloi, the small fry, the parvenus, are too bloated with their newly acquired fame and importance, which have gone to their heads, to bother with the rest of the world. As soon as someone is given a radio or TV interview, she feels she has reached the Olympus of politics, literature, science, whatever, and are beyond good and evil, full of certainties. They scorn the lesser humans and tend to ignore them.

My first meeting and personal relationship with the Spanish writer Camilo Jose Cela (1916-2002) started because one fine day I lost my marbles and decided to compile a serious bilingual Spanish and English slang dictionary which I finally titled A Spanish and English Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional Language

Continue reading at VOXXI: 
http://voxxi.com/2012/11/28/meeting-camilo-jose-cela-nobel-laureate/

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The best English or Spanish to study



Spanish and English are spoken in so many different countries and have so many varieties, that often the questions arise: Which variety is the best to study? Which type of English or Spanish should I teach my children?

The point is very tenable because most people are confused, and rightly so, when they are confronted with a difficult choice in the case of English, for instance. American English or British English? Most Europeans believe that, of course, real English is the one spoken in the British Isles and that American English is a bastard tongue. I believe that Britishers think so too. I do not.

The case of Spanish is probably worse because in the US the language has been neatly divided into two distinct varieties: South American Spanish and Peninsular Spanish. However, the question cannot be waved aside so sweepingly and neatly. Each country has its peculiarities: the Spanish spoken in Mexico is not the same as the Spanish spoken in Argentina or Paraguay, all of them Latin American nations.The Cuban accent is not the same as Colombian accent.

Let me make it clear for you.

The Spanish and English languages, no matter where they are spoken, have the same grammatical foundation, the same wiring, the same scaffolding that make Spanish and English adjectives, verbs, conjunctions, nouns, pronouns act the same everywhere. Grammar, with certain differences, is the same for all and form the firm ground for rich varieties in both languages.

The basic vocabulary: tener, to have; silla, chair; nube, cloud; y, and¸ loco, crazy, saber, to know; ir, to go… are the bricks, common to all, that keep up the edifice of the language. Each country, each region within each country, will have different words at times, peculiar idiomatic expressions, and even sounds.

What is the answer then to the question above?

The best English and Spanish, regardless of origin, is the one that can be best understood by most people. Educated English and educated Spanish will stand you and your children in good stead anywhere, in any country, in any region, of the English and Spanish speaking worlds. It is that simple.

Make sure your child’s teacher -regardless where she comes from- speaks distinctly and clearly. Most teachers do, of course, whether they come from Peru, Argentina, Spain, Mexico or Guatemala. A good teacher will use an educated language, easy to understand by all.

Well spoken, distinct Spanish, is a joy to the ear, whether the accent is Chilean or Colombian.  Well spoken, distinct English, whether the accent is Southern American, Oxonian, Scottish, is a joy to the ear and will always be understood, which is the aim of language:  communication. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

My meeting with Camilo José Cela


Camilo Jose Cela was Premio Cervantes, Nobel Prize Winner—and had a reputation for being outspoken, abrupt and ill-mannered.
The University of Hardknocks has taught me, and many others, some bitterly-earned lessons which, at times, have led to certain conclusions that I expect and try to heed. One of those lessons has been that the more intelligent and truly important a person is, the more humble and accessible and friendly he is. I would dare venture to say that we could very well make this conclusion a rule of thumb to live by, and expect from life.
My meeting with Cela. CC by Iria Flavia Spanish Courses

The riffraff, the hoi polloi, the small fry, the parvenus, are too bloated with their newly acquired fame and importance, which have gone to their heads, to bother with the rest of the world. As soon as someone is given a radio or TV interview, she feels she has reached the Olympus of politics, literature, science, whatever, and are beyond good and evil, full of certainties. They scorn the lesser humans and tend to ignore them.

My first meeting and personal relationship with the Spanish writer Camilo Jose Cela (1916-2002) started because one fine day I lost my marbles and decided to compile a serious bilingual Spanish and English slang dictionary which I finally titled A Spanish and English Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional Language.

Impossible Literal Translation of Idioms.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

HISPANIC SCIENTIFIC ROLE MODELS: Dr. RAFAEL YUSTE




ARE HISPANICS UNSUITED FOR SCIENCE?


Not all Hispanics in the US are cooks, dancers, singers, actors, politicians, language teachers, journalists or gardeners… some are also scientists, top-notch scientists, mind you, contrary to the prevailing preconceived idea of the Latino as a person unsuited for science and scientific research. That notion flies in the face of reality.
More than any other country, the US is the land where the stereotype flourishes, where there is a tendency to slot nationalities according to age-long, worn-out ideas and definitions. Hispanics do not escape the notion that Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Greek-Americans –to name a few- have inherited from their immigrant grandparents or parents who, this way, feel important and have a better sense of belonging to a land their forefathers  reached after abandoning their “old country”, as they used to call their land of origin. Stereotyping others makes them feel important.

Some examples of Hispanic Scientists in the U.S.

Dr. José Manuel Rodríguez Delgado, late professor of physiology at Yale University became famous for research in the physical control of the brain. His book Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society, is still a must. He was born in Spain and died in California in 2011. His experiment with a bull with electrode implants in its brain which was stopped in its tracks while charging, became world famous.

In 1959 the Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to Dr. Severo Ochoa who, after doing research at Oxford and Heilderberg in Germany, in 1942 was appointed professor at Columbia University.

Columbia University’s Dr. Rafael Yuste, “professor of biological sciences and neuroscience, is a leader of the Brain Activity Map Project, a massive effort to create a dynamic map of the mind. Its aim is to reconstruct a full record of neural activity, which could unlock fundamental and pathological brain processes.” (Research, Columbia University, Feb. 26, 2013.) 

Born in Madrid in 1963, Dr. Yuste graduated with an MD degree from the Universidad Autónoma and later obtained a Ph.D. from Rockefeller University. He is now Full Professor at Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences, and the Department of Neuroscience at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia’s Medical Center.

Dr. Rafael Yuste has been tapped to advise the White House on brain study, on the “butterflies of the soul”, as Dr. Santiago Ramón y Cajal so poetically called neurons, brain cells.

“An intrepid mountain climber, who has scaled Monte Perdido in the Spanish Pyrenees, he likens this sport with scientific research: Assemble a skilled team, get the best equipment, map the route and proceed with slow, deliberate steps. By walking up very securely, step by step, and not losing track of the summit, you can get there.” (Research, June 23, 2011.) This piece of advice by a hard scientist could very well be applied to other pursuits in life in general: Slog through your work and reach the summit, the goal of your endeavors, come what may. 

Neurologists do not know how the brain works, but they are trying to disentangle its mysteries. Along with other researchers, Yuste is working on the Brain Activity Map, dedicated to map the activity of each neuron. This project will take time, effort and money. “At the end of the project, Dr. Yuste says there should be a greater understanding of the causes of depression, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and schizophrenia. Causes that are currently unknown.” (Kristina Puga, NBCLatino, 02/22/2013) No small feat trying to unlock those mysteries.

Friday, May 30, 2014

MICHAEL GOVE DROPS AMERICAN WRITERS FROM BRITISH GCSE

A reviewer, back in 1997, lamented that most of my material in A Dictionary of Proverbs, Spanish and English, was "British." I had compiled that dictionary with the English language in mind, not thinking about nationalities. Proverbs in English, I thought, do not carry passports.
Why this? Because it has been brought to my attention (Vicky Ascorve Harper) that Mr. Sean Griffiths mentions in The Sunday Times, 22 May, 2014, that Mr. Micael Gove, education secretary, has decided to drop American writers from the new English list of GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). He wishes British students to read British writers.

Writers do have nationalities but their main allegiance is to language, regardless of place of birth. Naipaul, Patrick White, Alice Munro, Tagore, Yeats, G. Bernard Shaw, Hemingway... were born in Jamaica, Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, United Kingdom, United States of America... and yet we all read those Nobel Prize winners in English.  They have enriched the language and given it the importance and shine it now has. 

It is a mistake to ban writers because of their nationalities.

In my time I read some American writers who, in my teens, made a deep impression on me. Look them up and read one of their works.


John Steinbeck
J.D. Sallinger
Ernest Hemingway
Eugene O'Neal
Henry Miller
Arthur Miller
Tennessee Williams
James Baldwin
Erskine Caldwell
John O'Hara
Scott Fitzgerald

Poets:
Emily Dickinson
William Carlos William
Robert Frost
T. S. Elliot 
Edna St. Vincent Millay

This is my personal short list of authors I read as a boy. All American.  All wrote in English.