How do new words move in to your brain? Do they creep in through a crack in the window, do to they move in proudly, with suitcases and boxes, and a could-you-move-that-couch-a-squidge?
I have puzzled over this many times, both in English and in Spanish. Well, I have not actually puzzled over it in any language, as my thoughts seem to swirl around in a languageless place, but I think about how it happens in English, and how it happens in Spanish. Certainly my vocabulary is better in English than in Spanish. I am much less likely to come across an English word I don’t know than I am a Spanish one that seems unusual. Part of this is just time. I spent many, many years in an English-only environment. I went to university and more grad school than I probably should have in English, and I am a prolific reader, mostly in English. I’ve had contact, I have, with this mother tongue of mine.
Spanish I’ve had a lot less contact with, but I’ve still developed a decent vocabulary. And this I question more. How did it get there?
As a tip last night for remembering the name of a relative stranger who, along with his friend saved my and my friend’s evening, by being our non-dates, and thereby repelling advances from well-meaning men saying things like “you look sad! don’t be angry! what are you drinking? you have a sweet face! are you Chilean? Where’s the bar? Where’s the bathroom? Is this your scarf? Where are you from? Are you X’s friend?”… Wow, even I got lost in that sentence.
Anyway, in giving me hints for remembering his name, he said a door, it’s supported by:
Hinges? (visagras) No.
Screws? (tornillos) No.
Bolts? (pernos) No.
Anchors? (tarugos) No.
The thing around the door, it’s called?
The doorway? (umbral)No.
For a second I thought I’d gotten it, that his name was Umberto, which is more likely than him being called Tarugo, which is not a name, though it does have a manly sound to it).
Or a picture?
FRAME! (MARCO!). Man, am I ever a genius. And yes, his name was Marco, not Perno, which is really good for him, because a perno is kind of a nerd, someone you don’t want to be around. Though not as bad as a Gil. But I digress.
Anyway, so I have all these words floating around in my head, and if you’d asked me if I’d ever studied construction in Spanish, surely I would say no. But I love words like some people love cats or dogs, except I don’t buy them anything to eat, which surely is some level of abuse. But how do they get there? Do I pick them up because they seem lonely on the street, and I have room in my head for more words, and what’s a few more lexical items, and hey, I could give them a home!
I studied theoretical linguistics for years. But this seems to be more of an information storage and retrieval issue than a language one. And I don’t have answer for you, though I’d love to hear what you have to say.
I thought of this while writing an email just now, about the night when I met the Marco in question, which I spent at Santiago’s answer to (what?, the World in the 80’s, I’m not even really sure, please cool kids fill me in) Castillo Hidalgo, at the “after office” (please say with Chilean accent) and how I surprised myself by staying late, as I tend to escabullirme early. And I thought to myself, escabullir? where did that come from? I had to look it up to make sure it was real. And what do you know? It means to escape or flee. Which is exactly what I meant. But where did it come from? Maybe if I weren’t so despelotada (disorganized) with how I learn language, I’d know. But where would the fun be in that?
FWIW, I don’t know where despelotado came from either. I used to have a theory about the number of times you heard a word before it became real to you, but I’ve lost track of it, and I’m beginning to think I’m just the crazy word lady.
Whatever. At least they don’t shed.