Thursday, November 29, 2012

Did he not really not mean that?

Mr. President, tell us it isn't not so! Does he really want to eliminate Colombians' rights?
One thing which has bothered me since moving to Colombia is the grammatical construction by which people say one thing while meaning the opposite.

I guess I supposed that I might just be imagining things - until I spotted this quote by Pres. Santos in today's El Tiempo, about protecting Colombians' rights in the wake of the controversial ruling by the International Court of Justice slashing Colombia's maritime territory in the Caribbean.

Did he really say this? Evidently, yes.

Did he really mean it? No. He meant exactly the opposite:

But this grammatical construction, for some historical reason, has become so internalized in Colombia that even educated people accept it for what it's supposed to mean, not what it does.

It's far from the Spanish language's only logical failing. Take the whole double negative thing, which in English would mean a positive - such as: 'No hay nadie en la casa,' which translated literally gives us 'There isn't nobody in the house,' meaning that there is somebody.

But that double negative has become officialized, institutionalized and sanctified in high school grammar texts. I'm just hoping that this 'Hasta no..,' construction never does.

English, of course, has its own grammatically nonsensical phrases, including 'I could care less.' People use it to mean they don't care, and should say what they really mean: 'I couldn't care less.'

Meanwhile, the dispute with Nicaragua just gets worse and worse. Colombia's withdrawal from the Pacto de Bogotá leaves the two nations with no common agreed arbitrator. Nicaragua will continue claiming the sea territory the court awarded it. And, as long as Colombia rejects the new sea boundaries, Nicaragua will undoubtedly continue claiming the San Andres Islands and keys, as it has for decades.

Those are the ingredients for an ugly international dispute, which has the potential to turn violent, and will surely cost Colombia international stature.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Paul Fowler said...

To be fair in Britain we say 'I couldn't care less', and we're very confused by the fact that Americans say the exact opposite to mean the same thing.

Moorlock said...

If I say "there ain't nobody in the house" I mean the house doesn't have anybody in it.

Moorlock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miguel said...

Yes, but a douible negative with an ain't is considered very wrong in English. Every language has its oddities, but I guess what bothers me is when a language becomes MORE irregular or MORE illogical.

I'm no stickler for 'proper' language, by the way. Languages should evolve, and I think that Ebonics, African American ethnic English, is a big improvement on standard English, because it regularizes and simplifies the language. But don't expect it in the NY Times anytime soon.

Interestingly, some language experts believe that the first language used double negatives, and that's why so many people make this illogical error.