Spanish vs. English

English is a descriptive language whereas Spanish is an analytic language; or so said my new friend, Maximo. After he made that pronouncement I knew I had to write it down because it triggered a nascent awareness.

What he said stood to reason. Spanish is very specific. The heart of Spanish are the verbs, of which there are seven simple tenses and seven compound tenses. As such the speaker can dial in an exactness that doesn’t exist in English.

In all my fumbling through verb conjugations – keeping them to the simple: past, present and future – avoiding the more sophisticated (read, specific), the consequences of which  my studies never coalesced sufficiently to appreciate the language as analytic.

Maximo told me that English phrases like ‘take-off’ – in reference to say an airplane – positively drive him crazy because a) take-off is nontranslatable, b) is highly contextual and c) take-off, when you examine the two words standalone from a linguistic point of view, they really don’t mean anything at least  in any definitive way.

He asked me if I ever studied the history of the English language. And after thinking about it for a few seconds  I honestly had to say no. I found the subject of the question in all of its inherent formality to be both penetrating and ludicrous at the same time. But I was fascinated as I could tell he was developing an interesting argument.

He said he actually sat through a 5 hour video on the subject after which he asked me if I was aware just how much the English language has changed since the time of Shakespeare. And without a lot of thought I said yes (I hated reading him in school), as I couldn’t stand the phrasing.

So yes, point well made – spelling, word usage, everything about the English language has changed dramatically in the last 500 years. But I knew that already, I just hadn’t thought about it comparatively.

He then asked me if I had ever read Cervantes (who wrote one of the first fiction novels in the western tradition and possibly one of the greatest novels of all time) legendary ‘Don Quixote’. I was happy to say I had although I had read an English translation of it.

He brought his point home when he said that the language it was written in is the same today as it was when it was written ca. 1605. That was a real stunner. The thought of which had never occurred to me.

I have been studying Spanish in a very half-assed way for the last 4 years and I have learned just enough of the nuances to realize what he said was positively revelatory.

No one had ever summarized the difference between the languages so succinctly: English is a descriptive language whereas Spanish is an analytic language. Hmm.

That is certainly something to chew on.


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