Eclectic 5th of July Celebration of the English Language


I really meant to do this post yesterday, July 4th, in the U.S. but between attending a traditional parade with the family, having them over for dinner, watching the fireworks and getting ready to leave for the airport a few hours later, I had to give it up.  I thought my post had lost its relevancy and I would have to wait until next year.

At this posting, I am writing from Caracas, Venezuela where I am interpreting at depositions. Much to my surprise when I arrived, I found out that today is their equivalent of July 4th.  It is the country’s date of independence and this year they are celebrating the bicentennial. They started celebrating yesterday when Hugo Chavez returned from his cancer surgery in Cuba.  As a student of business I found in interesting that bond yields had sharp gains from speculations that he might be forced to step aside due to health reasons.

I feel like I am in a time warp and that my Independence Day deadline has been extended, so here you have it.

For a hilarious abbreviated history of the English language, click here.

When I came to this country I was 8 years old and it was a wonderful experience for me and my then three brothers, which quickly turned into four.  We came from a tropical island (Cuba) to New England, which to us was nothing else but “Davie Crockett” country where we experienced snow, and living in close proximity to the woods where my brothers and I went camping, sledding, built teepees etc. With the characteristic exuberance of youth, nothing fazed us.  We were very proud of our initial “F” grades in school before we mastered the language because we thought it stood for “Fine”. I remember going to a speech therapist to recognize the difference between a “sheet” we slept on and the product of our bowels.  It didn’t bother me to have my friends laugh with me as I diligently practiced to commit the sounds to memory.  I wanted to learn the language so badly that I spent every spare minute reading everything from fairytales to Nancy Drew to the Encyclopedia Britannica, resorting to a flashlight under the covers after lights out.

At this tender age  I learned words by reading that one does not commonly use. For years I thought thigh was pronounced like “fig” starting with a “th”. I will always remember how at the “grown-up” age of 21 when I was starting to interpret, a judge asked me to stay for a moment after a hearing to see how I was doing.  He asked me how everything was working out and I answered him very seriously that things were somewhat  “awry”, pronouncing it to rhyme with “story”.  I had always loved that word but had never had the opportunity to actually say it.  I was very chagrined when the judge was barely able to suppress a smile and told me with a twinkle in his eye, “you mean awry” and he pronounced the “ry” as in rye bread…  Live and learn. That is the name of the game.  I went from writing short stories in cursive during elementary school for extra credit, to teaching myself to type my term papers and college newspaper articles on an antique typewriter that my mother purchased in a garage sale.  This all paved the way to my doing translations later and my writing this blog now.

English is a beautiful language and we must all do our part to keep it from losing its venerable form. I read a wonderful  article I want to share with you in this regard, by a fellow blogger.

Please share your language stories with me and tell me how you see the status of the English language.  Is it going downhill?

About mariacristinadelavegamusings

Certified SpanishEnglish interpreter by the Administrative Offices of the U.S. Courts, the State of Florida and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), where I have served on the board of directors, am chair of the Public Relations Committee, and have a column entitled "Getting Down to Business" in Proteus, the association newsletter. I am a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and have a monthly column named "Interpreters Forum". In addition to the prior two associations, I also belong to AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters). I own ProTranslating, Inc., an LSP in Florida. I hold an MBA, which keeps one foot firmly grounded in everyday waking consciousness while the other aggressively seeks unity consciousness...

Posted on July 6, 2011, in Languages, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. lissett samaniego

    Dear Maria Cristina,

    Thank you for sharing your personal anecdotes about the trials and triumphs of growing up bilingual in the US. I had to chuckle when I read this article because it took me back to my own childhood and made me re-live my own missteps growing up in this wonderful country as a heritage Spanish speaker. To share just one memory, I remember how upon first enrolling in Middle School when I came to this country, I was assigned to a Home Room teacher who had many recently arrived non English speakers as students. My fellow classmates decided to pull a prank on me. I asked them for some help filling out some documents in English. I saw the word “gender” and I asked them what this meant. So they told me in Spanish, just check the box that says “M”, “M is the first letter in Mujer”. So I did as I was told. When the teacher collected my forms, she looked at me askance, then she looked at the documents. She was frozen, then she muttered some unintelligible words to me and I heard the entire classroom burst out in laughter. I’ll never forget that. I realized then that I’d been had. It was one of those experiences that left an indelible mark in me and I in some mysterious way may even have informed my career choice.

    • Hi Lissett! Great to hear from you and thanks for sharing. I love to hear the experiences of others. My other famous educational experience was with my Algebra teacher. I was having a hard time reconciling the method I was used to learning with about math in Cuba and how it was being taught here. My father, who was trying to tutor me at home, was no help because he would only reinforce the way I had learned in Cuba and say things like “I can’t believe that my daughter doesn’t get this when I was first in my class in math…” and other encouraging words that he unknowingly regaled me with. The nun who was my teacher would break out into song in the classroom, and tell me to close my book to the tune of “Maria” from the Sound of Music, putting a new twist on the words of “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”

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