Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dominican language, Herman

            Dominican Spanish along with Puerto Rican has the reputation for being among the most degraded, or perhaps evolved, or perhaps devolved from the Spanish of textbooks and literature and I encounter many words  that are in common usage here but do not appear in, for example, the Harper Collins Unabridged Spanish/English Dictionary (2003) but only appear, if they appear at all in print, in the Dictionary of Dominicanisms by Carlos Esteban Deive (2002).
            My favorite of these dominicanisms, and perhaps the most commonly cited as a purely Dominican word, is chin which means a little bit as in, “I only want a little or a chin of coffee”, and you might say muy chin or chinchín or chinichin or chininin to mean a very little bit  like, “I only want a tiny bit or a chinchín of coffee” and chin is used much more here than its common synonym poco.
            The suffix ita or ito is usually an affectionate diminutive when attached to a noun  as in muchacha (girl) and muchachita (cute little girl) or ladron (thief) and ladroncito (cute little thief) but note that nada, which means nothing, means less than nothing as nadita and rojo, or red, is redder when it is rojito and gordito is fatter than gordo and likewise tranquilito is calmer than tranquilo and igualito is even more equal than igual and muerticito deader than muerto. I have heard Dominican Spanish criticized by Latinos from other countries as sounding childish and, I think, it is because of this enthusiastic use of the affectionate diminutive.
            I suspect that concón, or the layer of partly burnt crusty rice found at the bottom of the cooking pot, exists in every country in the world that cooks rice which I suspect is every country in the world, but I have never heard of it as a popular delicacy or as having its own coinage and it is very popular here-- I have heard it asked for in comedors like someone might ask for an end cut of prime rib at a buffet in the States and once, when I did not have any money for the tip and it was near lunchtime, one of the garbage truck guys asked for a glass of water and a chin of concón.
            Oranges are always naranjas in the dictionary but here are chinas when eaten and are only naranjas after they are juiced.
            A lot of words and phrases are truncated here when spoken, that is, not all of the words are pronounced as they are written and may be missing sounds, which is contrary to standard Spanish instruction which tells you, on the first day, that in Spanish, unlike English, all the written letters should be enunciated, that there are no silent e's or diphthongs and that each letter has its own invariable sound. But to my dismay here-- Madre and padre (mother and father) become mai and pai; ¿cómo tu estás? (how are you?) becomes cómo tu 'ta; gallinas (chickens) become gai' and so forth. One of the great ongoing debates in any Spanish language student's mind is when to use por (for) or para (for) but here both are pronounced p' the majority of the time so the decision of which to use can often be ducked.
            There is a rich vocabulary of face and hand gestures that perhaps evolved to compensate for the missing spoken sounds. One of the most important of these is lip pointing which is an exaggerated pucker which may be aimed left, right or straight ahead, is usually expressed without turning the head and may be used to silently tell someone to look over that way or this way but which may also be used as a voiceless howdy, which I thought at first was meant as a kissy, seductive gesture but it is used between men as well as between men and women. Other gestures include tapping ones elbow with your fingers to indicate a cheapskate; holding the little finger up by itself to indicate scrawniness or that something is dried up and aged; and snapping your fingers fast while whipping your hand in front of you to indicate how hot or angry or fast someone or something was and is usually used when telling a story.
            Dominicans, instead of saying Hey you! or Waiter! or Taxi! attract attention by hissing, a sound that carries a surprising distance and at first sounded rude to me but is not intended that way. It is evidently a peculiarly Dominican device so much so that, so I have heard, Puerto Rican customs officials trying to spot illegal Dominicans will walk through a crowd in the San Juan airport and make that hiss and watch to see who turns their heads first .
            Since it seems to me that the language of the Dominican Republic, which is islandic, is more richly idiosyncratic than in other countries that there might be a comparison of this evolution to the speciation of the animals of the Galapagos Islands which is also richly idiosyncratic because of having been allowed to evolve in an isolated, or islandic, setting. When I have mentioned this half baked theory to friends they invariably point to the fact that nowhere is like an island anymore because of internationality and the homogeneity of television, newspapers and the internet but here, in my barrio, people only read Dominican newspapers, most do not know what the internet is and it is difficult to watch much television because the power usually goes out at dark. So I wonder if language might evolve in Darwinian ways.

            So last  night Niningo, who sleeps in the bedroom closest to the street, heard someone outside buy some pot from Herman, then smelled them smoking it and then heard that they were hiding it under a stone by the marquisina and so he tells Jhoanglish this morning who then goes and finds Herman and tells him to find some other house to make his drug deals in front of because even if you know nothing about them and police find drugs associated with your house it can be big trouble and you can actually lose all your furniture and other possessions as potential evidence and who knows how long it could take to get it back from being stored comfortably arranged in some cop's living room. I am on the galleria later in the morning when Herman, who reminds me of a snake in every way because he has a snaky walk, snaky slit eyes and long skinny snaky arms and legs, and he wears the most gigantic shorts with the cuffs coming almost to his ankles and the crotch is not much higher and I don't know what keeps them up because it's not his ass, approaches with some other Fulano (a Fulano is a Tom, Dick or Harry or Joe Bagadonuts) and quickly flashes me a walnut sized bag of brown dried looking herbage he has hidden in his hand and then hands it to his friend and the friend hands him a little money and Herman says loudly and in my direction that he is going to sell drugs any damn place he pleases and I just look at him confused not knowing why he just made this big show because now I know that he sells drugs whereas I only suspected before and later when Jhoanglish explained this to Herman he, reportedly, apologized and felt appropriately stupid.
            After Ambar borrowed the buckets of water the other night I have seen her several times sitting on the roof  outside her second story room with several women, one of whom is extremely pregnant, and an assortment of little kids and once I smiled and waved and she smiled and waved back and another time I said hola to her as she was passing the house and she said hola back and then yesterday afternoon Chloë and I passed the roof group but this time they were sitting in plastic chairs down on the sidewalk eating chicken noodle soup out of washed out two pound margarine containers and the pregnant one asked if I owned a hammer and could she borrow it and I said sure and so one of the kids followed me home and I sent the hammer back with her and about an hour later, which is a record here for returning tools, she returned it using the same courier. Later that evening, unusually and for no particular reason, I walked Chloë the other way past the last colmado and Guangu, the father of Titi, was there and so I bought him a Bohemia grande and we sat outside the colmado and Ambar and two other women and the usual group of kids entered the colmado and left after a minute but a half hour or so later the little hammer courier girl came back and shyly asked me if I would buy a beer for Ambar and I figured why not which is probably what Ambar was figuring when she got the idea to ask and so I sent the courier back with a Bohemia. If one of Guangu's children, for example, came up to me and asked the same favor I would have done the same thing so, even though when I told Altagracia what I did, which was better than waiting for her to hear it, embellished, as street gossip, she only shrugged and said that I was free to waste my money any way I liked, why do I feel guilty? Because Ambar is 23, single, and stacked? I also feel flattered even though I know that Ambar did not risk asking me for a beer because I am so handsome and/or charming or because she likes the cut of my jib but because I am a gringo and undoubtedly rich, and so to be flattered is my prerogative whether it is a foolish one or not.


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