Say hello to your soul mates

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Charlemagne.

pair-167267_1280Greetings, and how are your second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth souls doing today! Your Portuguese soul is uma alma and the Spanish one is una alma too; your French one is une âme; your Italian one is un’anima and they are all feminine; your Romanian soul is un suflet and it’s neuter.

Learning a second language, or a third, fourth and fifth (how far can you go?), is complicated, regardless of whether they are similar or vastly different. And whether you learn them simultaneously or one by one, you can be sure that your brain will muddle bits of one language with another. But the effort is rewarding, and for those who like to travel, being able to communicate even just a little bit with the locals in their “foreign” (to you) language just makes the travel experience so much more enjoyable. You will feel “at home” as opposed to foreign.

With some grasp of the Romance languages, you should be able to get by in much of south and south-western Europe, and in Romania and Moldova to the east; in South America and Central America; and in other parts of the world such as the former French and Portuguese colonies in Africa. And let’s not forget the French flavours of Canada.

There are other benefits too. Studies have found that learning a second language can keep your brain going as you age and helps ward off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. So whatever language you are learning, persevere. And if you are pondering learning one, get going!

To make learning and revision easier, over the next couple of months I am going to collate most of the key points covered in this blog so far and make it easier to find. Today, pages on the subject pronouns in Italian and Romanian have been added to the grammar sections, and the verb “to be” is now listed in all the five language verb pages. Use the drop-down menus on the main menu bar to get to them.



In Portuguese: dar a alma ao daibo – to sell the soul to the devil; dar vida e alma por – to do all one can (literally, to give life and soul for); do fundo da minha alma – from the bottom of my heart/soul (one would say heart in English); de alma e coração – with heart and soul (literally with soul and heart, but it sounds better in English the other way around); nenhuma alma – not a soul; alma gêmea – soul mate (literally, twin soul); pela minha alma! céus! nossa! – upon my soul!

spain-28530_640In Spanish: agradecer a alguien con toda el alma – to thank someone from the bottom of one’s heart; llevar en al alma de alguien – to love somebody deeply; parecer una alma en pena – to look like a ghost; ser el alma de la fiesta – to be the life and soul of the party; caerse el alma a los pies – to lose heart (literally, drop the soul to the feet; partir el alma a alguien – to break someone’s heart.

france-151928_640In French: vendre son âme au diable – to sell one’s soul to the devil; du fond de l’âme – from the (very) depths of one’s soul; chanter/jouer avec âme – to sing or play with soul; âme damnée – partner in crime; errer comme une âme en peine – to wander around like a lost soul or like a soul in torment; une âme soeur – a soul mate (literally, sister soul); ville sans âme – a soulless town; sans voir âme qui vive – without seeing a living soul.

flag-24134_640In Italian: l’anima della festa – the life and soul of the party; vendere l’anima al diavolo – to sell one’s soul to the devil; con tutta l’anima – with all one’s soul/heart; anima e corpo – literally, soul and body, but in English we’d say body and soul, wholeheartedly; rompere l’anima a qualcuno – to drive someone mad (literally, to break or smash the soul of someone); anima gemella -soul mate; pace all’anima sua – God rest his soul (literally, peace to his soul).

romania-28958_640In Romanian: suflet pereche – kindred spirit, soul mate (pereche means a couple or pair); a-şi trage sufletul – to pant, have a rest, take a breather; suflet amărât – poor soul, miserable soul; a-şi da sufletul – to give up the ghost, breathe one’s last; a-şi descărca sufletul – to get something off one’s chest; a-şi uşura sufletul plângând – to have a good cry (lighten the soul through crying).


Hirsty work: the shortest history of European languages

History bookI have been reading The Shortest History of Europe, by John Hirst (published by Black Inc). It’s 147 pages long (short?), for those who are thinking of writing a shorter one and snatching the title from him. It’s really a series of lectures he gave at La Trobe University in Melbourne to introduce European history to university students in Australia, who apparently, “had had too much Australian history and knew too little of the civilisation of which they are a part”. But it’s a good refresher for anyone who wants a very general look at how Europe came to be what it is today. The book has had quite a few front covers but mine looks like the one in the picture, from 2009. Since then, I think, it has been reprinted with more dramatic covers, and possibly even updated.

It includes an excellent chapter on languages, which has certainly given me a clearer picture of the overall set-up, whereas often those complicated graphs, charts or family trees that you see in reference books and websites leave you feeling more bewildered than anything else. The chapter starts off by explaining how there were two “universal languages” in the Roman empire, Latin in the west and Greek in the east, and the boundary between the west and east ran through what is now part of Serbia. But even though the Romans got as far west as Britain, there the Celtic language survived. In contrast, in the rest of the west, many of what were the local tribal languages, if you like, gave way to Latin. Not the formal Latin of scholars, but rather the “vulgar” Latin spoken by soldiers, traders and the like. There were, of course, regional variations, and after the Roman empire broke up, these evolved into separate languages, the Romance languages. Hirst says the chief Romance languages are French, Spanish and Italian, but I think the Portuguese and Brazilians would quibble with that.

Romance languagesLatin, Hirst says, was a highly inflected language – that is, “the meaning of a word in a sentence depends on the ending of the word (its inflection)” and word order in Latin “does not matter”. He then explains that people, through ignorance of the grammatical rules, began to use prepositions and did not change the word ending. This, he says, “explains why Romance languages do not inflect their nouns and hence word order is crucial”. (But Romanian, for example, still has some characteristics of Latin that the other Romance languages don’t).

There is also an interesting segment on how Latin did not have a word for “the“, so people used the demonstrative pronoun “that” (ille in the masculine form, illa in the feminine), which were shortened to le and la in French, el and la in Spanish and il and la in Italian. (In Portuguese, o and a are used, but in Romanian, “the” is a suffix attached to the end of the word).

In the fifth century, the Roman empire fell, not so much in a significant battle but more by petering out – it just became too hard to administer from a central point – and German conquerors took over in the west, while in the sixth and seventh centuries, Hirst says, the Slavs settled into much of what was the eastern part of the old Roman empire. However, the Romance languages survived in south-western Europe because Germanic settlement there was not strong enough to change the languages, but it did add Germanic words to the local Romance lexicons. These words were mainly, Hirst says, “those concerned with kings and government and with the feudal system; that is, the terminology of the new ruling class”. Later, of course, France, Spain and Portugal evolved into powers in their own right, and so cemented their languages.

Indo-European-languagesHowever, as the above map shows, Germanic languages are prevalent today in the western-central parts of Europe, in most of Scandinavia and in Ireland and Britain. The history of England and hence English is interesting. Hirst says, “It is in England that the Germanic languages had a complete victory, which is to be expected given the over-running of the Britons by the invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes.” Later, in the ninth and tenth centuries, England was again invaded by Germanic-speaking tribes – Norsemen and Danes. “The basic vocabulary of English emerged with the melding of these Germanic tongues. In the process English lost the inflections of its Germanic origins,” Hirst writes. Then in 1066 England was invaded by the Normans, who spoke a variant of French. “England’s new ruling class continued to speak Norman French for several centuries until this too was melded into English, which resulted in a huge increase in the vocabulary of English. There were now two or more words for almost everything.” (Hirst gives the examples of royal, regal and sovereign being added to king and kingly.) This may explain why English is a challenging and perhaps baffling language for other language speakers to learn! (My comment, not Hirst’s.)

Hirst does point out that the Latin/Romance, Greek, Germanic and Slavonic languages are descended from what has been called the Indo-European language. It has been given that name “because the Indian language Sanskrit and Iranian are also descended from it”. But, Hirst says, linguists are still arguing or debating over where the Indo-Europeans lived. The discovery of the Indo-European language is attributed to William Jones (1746-1794), an English judge living in India, but others also contributed, some of them before Jones did.

But not all European languages belong in this category – some European languages are what Hirst calls “loners” – they are not closely related to any other. Greek and Albanian are among them, even though they are Indo-European. Hungarian and Finnish are not Indo-European, and neither is Basque (no-one quite knows where it comes from”).

Latin_EuropeSo why is Romanian the “surprise” sole surviving Romance language in the former eastern part of the old Roman empire (the lonely black blob on the right in the above map)? Romania today is sandwiched between Slavic-language speaking Ukraine to the north and east (as is Romanian-speaking Moldova) and by Slavic Bulgaria and Serbia to the south and south-west. Hungary, too, is an odd meat in a similar Slavic sandwich. How come the Slavs did not make their linguistic presence felt in this region? Hirst does not go into this much, other than to say, “That country [Romania] lies to the north of the River Danube, which was usually the border of the Roman Empire. The Romans extended their control north of the river in a great bulge for a hundred years but that would not seem a long enough exposure to Latin for it to have become the base for Romanian. This has led to the suggestion that the Romanians lived south of the river, where they had a long exposure to Latin, and later moved north, not a suggestion that the Romanians are happy with.” (A reference, most probably, to territorial disputes with Hungary and arguments over whose ancestors were there first, etc). I think it would need a much longer history of Europe, of the Slavs, of the Dacians, and the Turks, and of Romania in particular, to be able to answer that properly. I’ll get back to you later, okay? Much later, probably!

* John Hirst’s books are available online at the Black Inc website. Here is the link to The Shortest History of Europe, which appears to be available as an e-book too. I bought mine in a second-hand bookstore. 😀

* Language maps and illustrations from Wikipedia.

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Let’s chat up a few million Spaniards and have nice days

English: La Giralda at dusk, the tower of the ...

A nice place for a conversation: La Giralda at dusk, the tower of the Cathedral of Seville, as viewed from the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes in Seville, Spain. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Okay, so far we have chatted up the French and we have made acquaintance with Portuguese-speaking people in places such as Angola and Brazil as well as the mother country. My, we do get around. Now we are going to charm the pants off (it’s a metaphorical expression) those who speak Spanish, the most widely spoken of the Romance languages (see the item Five is a plucky number). And don’t forget, after this we still have to chat up the Italians and Romanians. We are embarking on what you might call a charm offensive. (To charm in Spanish is encantar, as it is in Portuguese, and obviously enchant is a related word. And if you said encantado – or encantada if you were a woman – in an exclamatory tone it is a way of saying pleased to meet you.)

So, where would we like to be chatting up the Spanish speakers? We could be in one of the big cities in Spain, such as Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, or in one of that country’s many lovely lesser known cities, such as Salamanca or Cáceres (see my travel piece on the latter here).

English: Early morning in wonderful Machu Picchu

Maravilloso: Early morning in wonderful Machu Picchu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But you could just as easily be somewhere in South America. How great it would be to have a conversation at Machu Picchu in Peru, for example, or in Quito in Ecuador or Cartagena in Columbia, which I have heard are well worth a visit. Alas, the only parts of Spanish South America I have been to are Buenos Aires and nearby Tigre, where the great Paraná River forms a delta as it empties into the Rio de la Plata.  As for the reach of Spanish, there is Central America too, of course, and it is now an important language in the United States. If those places don’t take your fancy you could head to Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean. One thing is for sure, there are many exotic places where you can practise your Spanish.

Right, let’s get started (to begin is empezar or comenzar). When you first greet someone you say buenos días, buenas tardes or buenas noches – note that the Spanish are very generous and they do not wish you one good day, afternoon or night, they wish you many. Isn’t that wonderfully generous. You can see from the agreement of nouns and adjectives that día is a masculine word and that tarde and noche are feminine. More casually you could just say hola, hello

To ask how are you?, you would say cómo está? If you are unlucky the answer to this may be no me siento bien, meaning I don’t feel very well, but hopefully you will get muy bien, gracias. Y usted?, as in very well thanks, and you?.

Less formally, if you were chatting to a friend, you would say cómo estás? and the answer back would be muy bien, gracias. Y tú? See my explanation of which ‘you’ to use.

Bien is a key word which has many uses, most of them to do with wellness, but one of the more unexpected uses is bien … bien for either … or: for example, bien en coche bien en tren, either by car or by train. And bien can mean very, as in bien caliente, meaning very warm or hot.

Incidentally (a propósito), the word for morning is mañana, and you are probably familiar with the expression hasta mañana, meaning see you tomorrow (as in the sense of until tomorrow).

Some expressions that I hope you will use often are estar de buenas, to be in a good mood, and que pase un buen dia, have a nice day.

On that cheerful note, I shall leave you. Hasta prontosee you soon. 🙂

Here is ABBA‘s Spanish version of Hasta mañana

Let’s get a little vulgar and wax lyrical but not with earwax please


Centurion (Photo credit: bomvu)

All our Latin teachers at school were weird. Very weird. There was the priest who kept smiling sweetly while saying “Eheu, eheu”. (Alas, alas!, or in a more modern translation, bummer!) This meant you were in trouble and were about to be caned. On the bum. Bummer! But the worst was a grumpy male lay teacher: he would sit at his desk, take his handkerchief out, twist it into an earbud and jab it into his ear, collecting wax samples, which he would then examine forensically. Sometimes he would take off his shoes and fiddle with his socks, but thankfully he never twisted them into earbuds. While all this was happening, some poor boy in the class had been asked to translate something from our text book. He would do so hesitantly, and there would be a long silence while the teacher excavated his ear canals and sometimes his nostrils too. Then out of the blue the teacher would pound the desk with his fists, roaring “No, you blithering idiot! You bloody fool!”. Sometimes he would even throw his shoe. The whole class jumped in fright. The teacher would look around for someone else to translate and we all bowed our heads, trying to hide behind the boy in front, praying, please Jesus, don’t let him pick (on) me. At least we said our prayers. This went on for 40 minutes until the bell rang. What a relief. To illustrate this post I could have chosen a picture of some earwax, or a smelly sock, or someone picking their nose, or a priest caning a boy but I opted instead for some Roman Centurion who seems to have clean ears and a ferocious roar. I hope you are grateful. But I will dig out some earwax and snot if you insist.

Anyway, the Romance languages that we are studying today are derived from Latin, or more specifically vulgar Latin (I can’t wait to get stuck into modern vulgar French, vulgar Portuguese etc etc). So as a way of revising the verbs to be and to have, and to refresh my memory of Latin, I thought I would look up those verbs in Latin and see which of My Five Romances is closest to it. I don’t have a Latin grammar text book, though, and thus am relying on websites, and I have found conflicting information. Some use accents on some Latin words (I don’t remember having to learn accents at school), and some give ille/illa and illos/illas  for he/she and they instead of is/ea and ei/ea, and so on. I suppose it depends on whether it is more formal written Latin or a vulgar variety. To save space I will drop the subject pronouns in the other languages since we have covered them previously. Remember the Portuguese second person plural verb endings are archaic and are no longer in spoken use, so I have put the third person plural endings in that slot instead.

The subject pronouns in Latin are: ego (I, that’s easy to remember, think of alter ego), tu (you singular), is/ea (he/she), nos (we), vos (you plural) and ei/eae (they).

To be goes like this:

In Latin (esse) :   ego sum;     tu es;     is/ea est;    nos sumus;   vos estis;    ei/eae sunt

French (être):            suis          es          est           sommes          êtes            sont

Portuguese (ser):      sou           és            é             somos             são            são Portuguese (estar):   estou       estás       está        estamos         estão         estão

Spanish (ser):           soy           eres         es            somos            sois           son 
Spanish (estar):       estoy        estás       está         estamos        estáis        están

Italian (essere):        sono         sei            è              siamo             siete          sono
Italian (stare):          sto            stai           sta           stiamo            state          stanno

Romanian (a fi):       sunt          eşti         este          suntem         sunteţi         sunt

Looking at this, I would say that in this instance French is the closest to Latin, perhaps followed by Romanian, while Italian, surprisingly, seems the most removed.

Let’s do the same with to have, but I will discard ter and tener in Portugese and Spanish and go with haver and haber:

In Latin (habere):    habeo   habes    habet   habemus   habetis   habent

French (avoir):           ai          as           a           avons       avez       ont

Portuguese (haver):  hei       hás        há        havemos       hão        hão

Spanish (haber):        he       has        ha         hemos        habéis      han 

Italian (avere):            ho,       hai        ha        abbiamo       avete     hanno

Romanian (a avea):  am         ai          are         avem          aveţi          au

With this verb it seems like Portuguese, Spanish and Italian are closest to the Latin equivalent, and that French and Romanian have dropped their haitches and drifted off together on a different path. But you might beg to differ.

For more comparisons of Romance languages you might like to look at the website.

Must go. The bell has rung and the Latin lesson is over. It’s time for some physical education (a swim at the beach). See you next time, thanks for reading.

Cheers, Bernardo 🙂

I don’t want to corrupt you but you could give me a bustarella


money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Wheel of fortune. Shot wide open using 50mm/f1...

Wheel of fortune. Shot wide open using 50mm/f1.4 @ISO2800 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Football is the world game, so they say, but an even bigger one is corruption. It’s everywhere. My favourite sport has been tainted once again by stories of match-fixing, bribery and betting cartels, etc etc. (See the links at the bottom of this post to the various reports.) But those are just the antics of footballers and their followers. Let’s not get started on the conduct of politicians.

Oh bugger that, let’s get started on the conduct of politicians and those in the corridors of power! There were reports this week that a former head of Iran’s central bank was arrested in Germany for having a cheque worth 300 million Venezuelan bolivars, or about $US70 million. What is going on? I want to meet the Venezuelans who write these cheques!

Don’t think that corruption is linked to faraway cowboy countries. In Australia, which likes to think it is very civilised, there are juicy stories coming out every day at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into the conduct of Eddie Obese, sorry Eddie Obeid, and other former ministers in relation to the awarding of lucrative mining leases.

So, let’s have a look at this from a language point of view. Football in French is le football and a footballer is un footballeur. A game is un jeu and to gamble or play is jouer. A bet is un pari and to bet on is parier sur, or to bet that is parier que. A bribe is a very interesting word or concept un pot-de-vin (it’s like saying a little pot of wine) and to bribe is soudoyer or corrompre. The word for bribery is given in my dictionary as la corruption. Cash is argent.

In Portuguese, football is o futebol and a player is um jogador. To play is jogar, a bet is uma aposta, to bet is apostar, to bribe is subornar, to take a bribe is deixar-se subornar. A bribe is um suborno and bribery is the same word, suborno. If one is open to bribery one is subornàvel. Corrupt is corrupto. Money is dinheiro.

In Spanish, football is fútbol, and a player is un futbolista, to play is jugar and a player is un jugador. A bet is una apuesta, and as in Portuguese the verb to bet is apostar. To bribe is sobornar or cohechar, and the nouns for a bribe or bribery are soborno and cohecho. Money is dinero.

Ok, let’s see what the Italian dictionaries have to say. There has been a lot of match-fixing and corruption in Italian football over the years, so the dictionaries should feel inspired. Football is calcio and a footballer is un calciatore, and a football game is una partita di calcio. To kick is calciare. To bet is scommettere, to bribe is comprare, but there is a nice word for a bribe and it is una bustarella (it kind of sounds like something you would spread on your toast, I must be thinking of Nutella). To gamble is giocare. Money is denaro or soldi, which is a masculine plural word. (Non ho soldi means I don’t have any money).

Lastly, on to Romanian. The definite and indefinite articles (the, a, an, etc) are treated differently in Romanian to the other Romance languages – basically it has three genders or nouns and the definite article (the) comes after the noun, not before it! Football is fotbal, a game is un joc (both are neuter nouns), corruption is corupție, money is a masculine plural word, bani. My very innocent simple dictionary doesn’t give me the words for the following, so I will use Google Translate: a footballer is un fotbalist, bet is un pariu, to bet is a paria; a bribe is o mită and to bribe is de a da mită. To gamble is de a juca, a gamble is un joc de noroc, which I think is literally a game of luck.

So, having absorbed all this, if you wanted to impress your friends with your multilingual abilities and hint at some pecuniary advantage, you could say: “I am always subornàvel to bani, a bustarella and a little pot-de-vin.”

Send your cheques in Venezuelan bolivars to Bernardo please. 🙂

The haves and have nots in French, Italian and Romanian

Cover of "To Be and to Have"

Cover of To Be and to Have

When I first heard that a French documentary film called Être et avoir (To be and to have) was turning out to be a great success, I was really surprised. A documentary named after two verbs! Seeing it would be like going back to the first dreadful days of school, surely. What next, a comedy about arithmetic and algebra!

I had to see it out of curiosity (I am a former teacher) and of course the film, directed by Nicolas Philibert and set in a small rural school, was about a lot more than getting kids to conjugate two verbs correctly. If you have not seen it (it was released in 2002), I do recommend it. One thing we could learn from the film, in case you didn’t know already, is that the verb “to have” is as important as the verb “to be”. This is because in the Romance languages, as well as in English, to have is an auxiliary verb that helps form compound tenses (such as “I have eaten”). Furthermore, in some Romance languages the verb “to have” is often used in contexts where English would normally use the verb “to be” … for example, “I have thirst” rather than “I am thirsty”, and “I have 32 years” rather than “I am 32”. In the Romance languages to be and to have tend to be irregular verbs.

So, “to have” in French is avoir, in Italian it is avere, and in Romanian it is a avea. You can see the similarities. Portuguese and Spanish are a little bit different, as usual – it seems their respective equivalents of this verb, haver and haber, now have limited use as an auxiliary verb and ter and tener are more commonly used, particularly to indicate possession. For space reasons I will have to cover them in a forthcoming post.

Let’s look at their conjugations: I will put the singular persons on the top line and the plurals underneath, with the masculine form first in the third persons.

Language:                  first person          second person         third person

French                          j’ai                             tu as                           il a, elle a       

French                         nous avons              vous avez                   ils ont, elles ont

Italian                           io ho                         tu hai                          lui ha, lei ha 

Italian                           noi abbiamo             voi avete                     loro hanno

Romanian                   eu am                          tu  ai                           el are, ea are

Romanian                   noi  avem                    voi aveţi                    ei au, ele au

The negative form is constructed thus (with a translation of “Maria has a dog” and “Maria does not have a dog” cited as an example):

In French one usually puts a ne in front of the verb (or n’ if a vowel follows) and a pas after it: Maria a un chien. Maria n’a pas de chien

In Italian one puts a non in front of the verb: Maria ha un cane. Maria non ha un cane. 

In Romanian one puts a nu in front of the verb: Maria are un câine. Maria nu are câine

In Romanian, the nu becomes n- in front of the a of an auxilary verb. For example, here is a song I like on YouTube (posted by someone called darkrose1989) by a Romanian band, Holograf. The song is N-am stiut, which means I didn’t know. In this posting the lyrics have been translated on screen into Italian and English. It’s another song about lost love and regrets, and the accordian notes round about the 2:10 mark sound very French. Play it a few times and I expect you will be humming nu, nu, nu to yourself regularly.

For explanations of the formal and informal forms of address in these languages, see my posting from December 21, 2012 – Hey you! Which ‘you’ should you use? and you can hear the pronunciation of the Romanian verbs a fi and  a avea on the YouTube link in the my posting on “Being Romanian” from January 10, 2013.

The main thing with the verb ‘to have’, I guess, is to have fun. 🙂

Cheers till next time, Bernardo

Talk like a drunk and you’ll be fine

Picture of shampaige

Picture of shampaige (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this post we are going to encourage you to cast a few slurs.

This is why we have chosen a picture of what looks like alcohol drinks, by the way. You will have to read through to the conclusion to understand why, but you can start drinking now if you want, (but do it sensibly, s’il vous plaît).

So, amigos, having studied the verb “to be” in French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Romanian and discovered great musicians such as Zazie, Voltaj, Tiziano Ferro and Rebeca along the way – I must throw in some Spanish singers next – what can we say thus far about how closely connected these five Romance languages are?

As far as the subject pronouns go, look at this:

The first person singular (“I“) is the same in Portuguese and Romanianeu.

The first person singular also looks pretty much the same in Spanish and Italianyo and io.

The second person singular (“you“) informal form tu is used in all five languages, with just one slight difference in that in Spanish it has an accent – . (But remember that in Brazil tu is rarely used, use você instead.)

The third person singular (he and she) forms are pretty much an “il” or “el” sound for him and an “elle” or “ela” sound for her in all languages except in Italian, with its lui and lei. The same applies with the plural equivalents. 

The first and second person plural forms (“we” and “you“) are the same in Italian and Romaniannoi and voi.

Portuguese seems to be the only language which no longer has a second person plural that takes a second person plural verb form – the archaic vós (as in vós sois, for example,) has been ditched in the modern era and vocês (as in vocês são) has become the norm.

As far as the verb endings go, regardless of the fact that there two variants of the verb to be in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, we can say:

Portuguese and Spanish are so closely related they could be twins… with estar, for example, the endings in the second and third person singular and third person plural are exactly the same: estás, está and estamos.

In all five languages you can see that all the various verb endings sound roughly the same. Look at the first person singular sounds suis, sou, soy, sono, sunt … or the third person plurals … sont, são, son, sono, sunt …. they are all six of one and half a dozen of the other (actually, five of one and five of the other, but hey let’s not get too pedantic).

This is why, in my opinion, if you know one Romance language, communicating to people who speak another Romance language is easy; all you have got to do is mutter in your own Romance language very badlymumble a bit, disguise the exact sounds, thrown in some shhh-type hissing and some nasal twang, in short, speak your own Romance language like a drunken idiot, and the others will understand you perfectly!

Grab yourself a glass of champage or whatever your favourite tipple is (mine’s a Pernod, by the way, but I am willing to form new allegiances) and let’s toast your success! 😀 😀

Cheers till next time … Bernardo

Be happy, you’ve got all the ‘be’s in your bonnet

Romance languages

Romance languages (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The purpose of this blog is to enable you/me/us to chat up – oops, sorry, chat with, watch your prepositions, Bernardo! – the 1030 million people who speak the major Romance languages (see the statistics in the ‘Five is a plucky number’ page). The orange and yellow bits on the accompanying map will give you some idea where most of them are. There should be a tiny, tiny dot in eastern Australia, near Sydney, to indicate me – Wikipedia has left me off the map!

Mastering the verb “to be”, needless to say, is an important step along the way because once you have done that you can then go on to say things like “I am hungry, I am thirsty, I am horny” etc etc. In some Romance languages, though, they say “I have hunger” and “I have thirst”, which is why we will study the verb “to have” soon after this. (Whether they also say “I have horniness” at this stage I have no idea, but I guess sooner or later we will find out.)

In the meantime, here is a recap of the verb “to be” in the five featured Romance languages. As noted in previous posts on each, some of these languages have two verbs meaning “to be”, and some have more than one way of saying “you” depending on whether it is a formal or informal relationship. We won’t repeat the explanations here.

French (être):

singular:  je suis;                      tu es;                  il, elle est;

plural:  nous sommes;          vous êtes;            ils, elles sont

Portuguese (ser)

singular: eu sou               tu és;                ele, ela, você é

plural:  nós somos                                  eles, elas, vocês são

Portuguese (estar)

singular: eu estou;               tu estás;               ele, ela, você está

plural: nós estamos;                                      eles, elas, vocês estão

Spanish (ser)

singular: yo soy;                   eres;                él, ella, usted es;

plural: nosotros -as  somos;      vosotros -as sois;    ellos, ellas, ustedes son

Spanish (estar)

yo estoy;                          estás;                   él, ella, usted está;

nosotros -as estamos;     vosotros -as estáis;      ellos, ellas, ustedes están

Italian (essere)

singular: io sono;                         tu sei;                    Lei, lui, lei è 

plural:  noi siamo;                      voi siete;                       loro sono 

Italian (stare, which can also mean “to stay”)

singular: io sto;                   tu stai;                 Lei, lui, lei sta; 

plural:  noi  stiamo            voi state;              loro  stanno

Romanian (a fi)

singular: eu sunt;                 tu eşti;                      el, ea este

plural: noi suntem             voi sunteţi                  ei, ele sunt

Till next time….


Be a happy champion in 2013

Fireworks Over Sydney Harbor Bridge, Australia

Fireworks Over Sydney Harbor Bridge, Australia (Photo credit: DakotaPrarieNova)

Happy new year from me and My Five Romances in Sydney, Australia (hence the choice of pic). I hope you haven’t got a hangover – une gueule de bois if you are French, uma ressaca in Portuguese, una resaca if you are Spanish, postumi di una sbornia if you are Italian and o mahmureală if you have been imbibing too much in Romania.

So, how does one wish everyone a happy new year in my five Romance languages? The French might say Je vous souhaite une bonne année, the Portuguese Desejo a vocês um feliz ano novo, in Spanish you could try Les deseo un feliz año nuevo, the Italians might say Vi auguro un felice anno nuovo and the Romanians Iti doresc un an nou fericit. Or you could just use body language … grin a lot, pat everyone on the back, hug them, kiss them … body language can be a romance language too, you know 🙂

I have a hunch that 2013 will be a good year, better than its predecessors. It’s going to be great! I wanted to find an uplifting piece of music that would set the tone for the year ahead, and have opted for one by a Romanian band called Voltaj (yup, you guessed it, the Romanian word for “voltage“). Although it’s a stirring kind of anthem aimed specifically at Romanians, I like the sentiments – no more settling for second place, it’s time to step up to the winner’s podium, everyone can be a champion. The song is entitled MSD2 which, guessing by the translation of the lyrics, is short for mai sus de 2, or “above 2“.

This is taken from a YouTube posting by “SkadiSubs” and the lyrics in Romanian and English can also be found in the “info” section there. It’s very catchy, enjoy.

Being Italian … is your ego under control?

Italian Slushies

Italian Slushies (Photo credit: razvan.orendovici)

I have some fond memories of Italians in their native land, even though I don’t know much about them, apart from what one sees in the media and on film and so on. It has been a long time since I was in Italy. When I was nine my father took us on a great holiday, cruising on an Italian vessel, “M/V Africa”, from Beira in Mozambique round the Horn of Africa and up into the Mediterranean until we disembarked in Trieste. The ship, being part of the Lloyd Triestino Line ( was manned mostly by Italians and while on the journey I had my first crush as a child on one of the crew! But alas my feelings were not returned, haha. I was spurned for another twice or three times my age, can you believe it! 🙂

The only other time I was in Italy after that was another family holiday and this time I was in my mid-teens. On our last day, we had checked out of our hotel and were getting into a taxi when the hotel manager came running towards us. “Quick, quick, get in, hurry” my dad said, trying to bundle us into the cab and urging the driver to speed off for the airport. “He probably wants more money. Pretend not to notice him.” But it was too late. The manager caught up with us. “Your passports,” he said, waving them in the air. “You forgot your passports!” The moral of the story, I think, is to trust an Italian, and never trust my father :).

We have large Italian communities in Australia and it is always nice to go to the Italian districts for a coffee or gelato and to sample the atmosphere. If you are being a typical Italian male in Sydney then most probably you will drive down Norton Street in your souped up Alfa Romeo with a Tiziano Ferro song blazing at full blast on your sound system. As you drive along you will check out all the talent walking down the street and cast admiring glances at your own and your car’s reflection in the shop windows. 🙂 I was flicking through Lonely Planet’s Italian phrase book and it had a section on pick-up lines – Ti posso portare a fari un giro (in moto)Can I take you for a ride (on my bike) – and how to reject unwanted advances, my favourite one being Il tuo ego è fuori controlloYour ego is out of control.

So, down to business. The bad news is that Italian also has two “to be” verbs, essere and stare. According to the above mentioned phrase book, the former is generally used to describe ongoing characteristics (like ser in Spanish and Portuguese) and the latter describes temporary states or locations (like estar in Spanish and Portuguese). Here is how they are conjugated

Subject pronoun      essere / stare          English translation

io                                   sono / sto               I am

tu                                   sei / stai                   you are (informal)

Lei  (capitalised)            è / sta                     you are (formal)

lui / lei                             è / sta                     he / she / it is

noi                               siamo / stiamo          we are

voi                                siete / state               you are (plural)

loro                               sono / stanno            they are

See the posting from December 21, 2012 (Hey you! Which ‘you’ should you use?) and the replies for explanations on when to use tu and Lei. It is pretty much the same as in French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Now for some music. Who is Tiziano Ferro, you may ask? He is an Italian singer who has also sung in French, Spanish, Portuguese and English, so if you are interested in Romance languages you should investigate him (not sure about his Romanian repertoire, though). I first heard of him when I spotted his song Alucinado on MTV in Argentina, taken from the Spanish version of his debut album Rojo Relativo (the Italian version is Rosso Relativo, and the equivalent song title on it is Imbranato.) According to my dictionaries, alucinar is an intransitive Spanish verb meaning to hallucinate, but when used in the transitive it can mean to deceive or to fascinate. But imbranato in Italian is an adjective meaning clumsy or awkward, or as a noun a clumsy person. Rojo / rosso means red and I think the album title must be a play on “red hot” (rojovivo in Spanish), so I guess it means the more modest and self-effacing “relatively hot”. But I could be wrong. Anyway, here are the links to the songs in Italian, Spanish and French, and it is the chorus that is the making of the song, really, in my opinion.

Which do you prefer, the Italian, Spanish or French version …. is one language more musical than the other?

Here you will find the Italian lyrics with the English, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian translations (among others) alongside:

In researching this I have just found out Tiziano recently revealed he is gay so maybe those macho Italian boys won’t be playing his music so loudly while cruising down Norton Street after all.