Romance tenses and Romance culture

I’ve been studying Spanish. Partly because my next travel adventure will be in a Spanish-speaking country, and partly because my current circumstances make it relatively easy. A word of advice to all you young readers: Don’t wait until you’re over 50 to learn a new language. Your brain will not absorb the new language nearly as easily as when you’re still young.
But enough of that; it’s time for some crazy, half-baked, linguistic theories from a person who knows just enough to be dangerous. For the benefit of those of you who are not familiar with Spanish, it distinguishes between two types of the verb “to be.”
The root ser is used, in general, to denote a state of being that is static. The English word “essence” is related to ser. The root estar is used, in general, to denote a temporary state. I won’t burden you with the full conjugation of either verb, but I will lay before you the first person forms of ser:
I was = FUI
I am = SOY
I shall be = SERE’
According to Wikipedia, other Romance languages also make this distinction and, more importantly to my point, they are all similar in that the past, present and future forms of ser are noticeably dissimilar. I don’t think it matters, as far as I’m concerned, how these forms came to be so dissimilar. What matters is that they are, and that this dissimilarity appears to be consistent across the Romance languages.
Let us bear in mind that, while Germanic languages require the word “I”, Spanish (and, I’m pretty sure, other Romance languages) do not. The word “I” is implied in the word fui, or soy or sere’. It would be redundant to say “yo soy” (I I-am).
When the Romans, and those they ruled, became Catholic, their culture and decadence didn’t disappear; they became part of Catholicism When we speak of Roman Catholics, as opposed to Protestants, we’re speaking not only of religion, but of culture. It’s the macho, laid-back, culture of Southern Europe. According to some scholars, it’s what made southern Europe poor in relation to northern Europe.
Just as I’m no expert in Spanish, so too am I not an expert in Catholicism – but I know enough to come up with some half-baked ideas. A Catholic may have sinned yesterday – but he can always confess today and be forgiven. He may sin today – but this doesn’t prevent him from confessing tomorrow, and being forgiven again. I’m not denying that there are sincere Catholics who are consistent and sincere. But there is definitely an element of truth to what I’m saying regarding the Catholic hoi polloi.
In Germanic languages, there is a clear continuum of “I”. “I was”, “I am” and “I shall be” are all the same entity. But it could be that speakers of Romance languages subconsciously projected their temporal disconnect onto their languages.
Those who speak Romance languages are, for the most part, Catholic. The fui of yesterday has little relevance to the soy of today. The soy of today cares little about the sere’ of tomorrow. When a task needs to be done, it is likely to be pawned off to somebody else, to sere‘. To mañana.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Romance tenses and Romance culture

  1. Andry says:

    It would not be redundant to say “yo soy”, et c. It simply isn’t *necessary* to include the “yo”. And this is not true of all Romance languages. The subject pronoun can be dropped when the verbs change enough to tell you the subject themselves. In French, for example, this is not the case. (Je pense, tu penses, il pense, and ils pensent all sound too much alike.) However, it is true of Italian and Latin (I do not know about Portuguese or minor Romance languages).
    Your theory is interesting, but I do not think it would be true even if Romance speakers *always* dropped the subject pronoun. The inflected verb does the same job as the “I” or “you”, and conjugations are reasonably consistent from verb to verb and at times from tense to tense. The “-o” ending will mean to a Spanish speaker what “I” means to us.

  2. sestamibi says:

    Soy un perdedor. . .

  3. EW says:

    French is or was Catholic and does have an “I” and one verb for to be. Don’t know about Greece, but they are not Catholics but Orthodox. It seems your hypothesis is really half-baked.

  4. Jim says:

    Among Indo-European languages English has simplified the inflections and
    conjugations to such a great extent that it is generally necessary to use pronouns to supply some of the information which used to be expressed by
    verbal morphology. In most other Indo-European languages more suvives from the old Indo-European morphology so that personal pronouns are often
    redundant and are often omitted except for empasis. Such is the case for
    example in Modern Greek.

  5. jewamongyou says:

    Alright folks. This is one of those spur of the moment, not well-thought out posts I made when I was tired. I’ll probably delete it and keep the comments.

  6. The papist doctrine goes to my knowledge something like this. Before one confesses, one must examine one’s conscience. the sinner must be honestly contrite. Also, he or she, once absolved is to not commit the sin again. The doctrine recognizes that temptation is ever present and even the honestly penitent are not saints and may, even with the best effort, sin again. It was always put that no matter how many times you fall, you get up and try again to live a better life.
    I know nothing of Jewish doctrine, but guess the Day of Atonement is somewhat similar.
    Sir, even though you have fallen, I am sure your readers absolve you, though expect more effort in the future.

  7. Attila says:

    How is the way of confession in Catholicism different from the one in Judaism? –the only difference being that one confesses (presumably sincerely) to a priest instead of G-d?
    Also- having spent many years in Latin America- I don’t recall but a few instances of that alleged mañana attitude (I see more of that among American Negroes). I would say however- that the culture stresses work as a PART of life, not work AS life (with some life left over if you haven’t dropped dead yet).
    Regarding the use of suffixes in the Romance languages- the only reason English-speakers have to use pronouns is because English is almost literally a bare-bones language, having dropped quite a bit of complexity along the way- which could explain the difficulty native English speakers have when trying to learn any language more complex than their own. They almost always end up sounding excessively analytical, stiff and offensively positivistic/factual. English verb conjugations are also rather simple and fuzzy compared to those found in Greek, German or any of the Romance languages.

    • jewamongyou says:

      Yes. This is definitely not one of my more robust theories! However, I’ve worked with Latin Americans for years and it’s clear to me that their concept of time is different from ours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *