Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Por Que No Te Callas

A few of you may know that a few days ago, the King of Spain was at a summit of leaders of the Spanish-speaking world. Apparently, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela kept interrupting Spanish PM Zapatero. King Juan Carlos then leaned over and exclaimed, "Por que no te callas?" It means, more or less, "Why don' t you shut up." The LA Times article, as is typical of today's LA Times, did a miserable job of explaining why this caused a hullabaloo.

Well, let me fill y'all in: it wasn't saying "shut up" - at least by itself. The real dustup is that the King used the familiar "tu" for the President of Venezuela. It is for intimate family and children. Also for dogs. Today, colleagues will use "tu" at work if they are of the same age group too, as do students as something of a rebellion while at college. But the context is clear here. The Spanish colonists of Latin America used "tu" to refer to all indios and slaves, without distinction, as if they were children.

In one sense, the closest equivalent for an American would be if Trent Lott leaned over to Obama and said, "Why don't you shut up, boy." But of course, it's not a perfect analogy, because the overtones of colonialism are different than those of slavery. The fact that even the President of Venezuela (who is Mestizo and identifies with Indios) gets "tu" from the King of Spain made me gasp when I read it. But that's also a false analogy. The great news is that, all over Latin America, some also love it. Apparently the King's voice saying "por que no te callas" has become, among other things, a popular ring tone. Imagine if Queen Elizabeth leaned over to George W Bush and said, "Why don't you put a sock in it, junior."

Two things: (1) Even Pat Robertson calling for Chavez to be killed doesn't have half the insulting power of King Juan Carlos saying "por que no te callas"; and (2) the LA Times reporting just bites on this one.


Raised By Republicans said...

Given His Majesty's role in the establishment of Spanish democracy, I like the idea of Juan Carlos telling a dictator and windbag like Chavez to shut up, regardless of how polite he was when he said it.

Also, imagine the absurdity of the translation of the implied translation..."Please shut up, Sir." If you are going to tell someone to shut up, why use the polite form?

USWest said...

This also speaks to the power and subtly of language. I hadn't thought about the King of Spain's rebuff so deeply myself. I was just amused at the audacity of it. And I was amused at my own rather Anglo-Saxon ethnocentrism that thought, "'bout time some one put that 3rd world tin pot dictator in his place!"

Thanks for pointing that out, LTG. Another, closer analogy for the Francophones would be if Sarkozy leaned over the Moroccan King or Canadian PM and said, "(Ferme)Ta guelle!" which is double insulting because of the informal tense and the use of the word to describe an animal's mouth.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR, "Please shut up, sir" is a poor translation of using the formal rather than familiar. It's a hard distinction to capture in English, but it's about the register of speech. The better analogy in English is the difference between "Why don't you be quiet" and "Shut your mouth." What King Juan Carlos said was the latter in flavor because of the familiar.

Incidentally, he did not really say "shut up" - a crude English colloquialism - but used the verb for "to be silent." I have heard a moderator hush a crowd of boys with "callense, muchachos" which did not mean "shut up." So the familiar is more jarring.

Watch the video. The King is clearly blowing his stack.

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