Me duele la cabeza: Whose head hurts you?

IbuprofenWhose hair is that on your head? Whose throbbing molar is making you suffer? Whose aching back has put you out of commission for the weekend? Mastering a new language involves far more than memorizing vocabulary and verb conjugations. It also means adapting to unexpected combinations of words and ideas that can put some very basic notions of how the world works to the test. For example, what is uniquely yours and what is not.

In contrast to my last post (Ya mi niña, Who do YOU belong to? ), which pondered certain possessive idiosyncrasies of spoken Spanish (mi niña, mi reina, mi mamá), today I flip to the polar extreme and wonder why it is that Spanish speakers seem to disown body parts, which could not possibly be more uniquely personal.

For example, want to get your hair cut? Go ahead and tell someone “Necesito cortar mi pelo” (I need to cut my hair)… chuckle, chortle, ha-ha-ha… no you don’t… what you need to say is:Necesito cortarme el pelo,” or literally: “I need to cut me the hair” (of course the better translation would be “I need to get the hair cut”)… the hair… not my hair… just the hair. I guess it’s just obvious that you wouldn’t be bothering with cutting the hair on anyone else’s head, so specification is just not required.

The same goes with aches and pains. Have a headache? “Me duele la cabeza” (It hurts me the head” or, “the head hurts me”) to which I always want to respond: WHAT head hurts you? But Spanish speakers are a step ahead of me because they know that unless you’re whacking noggins up against someone else’s (it makes me think of those Mexican wrestlers in gaudy face masks), it’s obviously the head attached to “the neck” (which is assumedly also your own) that hurts you.

So when it comes to aches and pains—it’s always THE body part that hurts you, not YOUR body part:

Me duele el oído (the ear hurts me / my ear hurts / I have an ear ache)

Me duele la garganta (the throat hurts me / my throat hurts / I have a sore throat)

Me duele el estómago (the stomach hurts me / my stomach hurts / I have a stomach ache)

Me duele la espalda (the back hurts me / my back hurts / I have a backache)

You get the picture… (or should that be—you get my picture??)

Cachando Chile readers know I’m stubborn about certain things, and I don’t give up without a fight… or without at least trying to convince all the Spanish speakers I know that the parts attached to my body really ARE mine, but alas, to no avail. I know when to surrender, give in, take 2 aspirin and blog about it in the morning… but guess what body part is hurting me now?

I’m sure there are other “disassociated body part” language examples beyond haircuts, aches, and pains that I am missing here… can you think of any?


71 responses to “Me duele la cabeza: Whose head hurts you?

  1. Creo que esto vale la pena comentarlo en español.
    Cuando decimos “me duele la cabeza”, lo decimos así por que decir “me duele mi cabeza” suena (y se siente) redundante.
    ¿Qué cabeza podría doler, si no la nuestra?
    Al decir “Me duele mi cabeza”, implícitamente estamos dando a entender que podría dolernos una cabeza… Que no fuera la nuestra.
    Aplicar “me duele mi cabeza” sería abrir la puerta a que se pudiera decir “Me duele TU cabeza”.
    Si eso en inglés llegara a tener sentido, sería realmente interesante de sentirlo en español.
    La situación se repite con las otras partes del cuerpo; damos por entendido que son nuestras partes corporales. No podemos físicamente percibir dolor desde extremidades que no sean nuestras, o sentir necesidad por que a otro le corten el pelo (aunque los profesores en los colegios probablemente sí lo sientan, pero lo dicen de otra forma, como “Córtese el pelo”).
    “Me pica tu garganta” me parece, entre esas posibilidades, una particularmente graciosa.
    ¿Qué parte me duele? La cabeza. Me duele… la cabeza.
    Finalmente, algunas de ellas sí existen, pero significarían otra cosa y me estoy alejando del origen del tema. Creo que lo decimos así por que sólo nos puede doler algo de nuestro cuerpo, no el del vecino. xD

  2. Yes! I always got caught up on this, but someone explained it to me just like Marmo did, and now it makes more sense. But it’s funny though because in English if you say “the arm hurts” a logical response would be “whose arm hurts?” Maybe it’s because in that context, hurt isn’t a reflexive verb, so we don’t say “the arm hurts me” and thus the possessive pronoun is necessary. Anyway, after many years of saying “me duele mi cabeza” I’ve finally learned and both languages make sense even though they seem contradictory.

  3. Marmo-have you been talking to my husband? This is the same answer he gives me, and of course this is just the way it is in Spanish (as Abby and I have both come to accept!)
    The difference is that in English we say “my head hurts” or literally translated “mi cabeza duele.” Kind of a cause and effect sort of thing… in Spanish the disembodied “I” is being hurt by a head , which of course is mine. In other words, the head is the culprit and responsible for the pain that “I” am feeling.
    In English, MY head is hurting, and the cause is not specified… So the head is the victim rather than the culprit… See what I mean?
    Yes, I know… I’m either a real geek or have way too much time on my hands…
    OK… I confess… I’m a geek!

  4. Then I suppose my explanation makes sense. Sometimes, when we try to explain something like this, we get beyond the point of simple translation, and we get closer to epistemology, thinking about the ideas and even feelings behind the words we use in both languages.
    And I´ve just discovered “epistemology” and “epistemología” are false cognates too.
    It´s nice to see Abby thinks it now makes sense, as I do understand how it makes sense in its english form too; the ideas that flow in our minds after every word in different languages… That could be the subject for an entire book.
    And surely, your husband is a smart man, Margaret x)

  5. Marmo- YES!! ahora me estás cachando! What I’m trying to get at goes beyond simply remembering what order to put the words when we speak one language or another, but what lies behind their structure and what that says about the cultural construction of the way we think! (nerdy fun)…
    You’ve got me curious about epistemology and epistemología! Now I’m going to have to do my homework on that one!
    And I’m sensing a bit of collusion between you and my husband here! hahaha…

  6. I am not a syntax-expert, but I suspect the answer lies in the structural aspects of Spanish and not the semantics of “whose head can I say hurts me”. I have always explained to my students that the indirect object pronoun (me) does the job of indicating the “whose” much like the possessive pronoun does in English. With verbs like doler, you have to use the i.o. pronoun, so adding a possessive does indeed make it redundant (even though we can do this in English, i.e., my head is killing me). I also point out that there are a lot of verbs that function this way with the i.o.pronoun and then articles.

    There is also something about body parts… that they almost always use articles rather than possessives.

    Of course,with some verbs you’d have to specify.
    Me fascinan los ojos (in general?)
    Me fascinan tus ojos (you could say that, right?–I start to doubt myself…)

    I wonder though with examples, such as molestar:
    you can say “me molesta el brazo” my arm is bothering me… but what if your arm is bothering me… you can say “Me molesta tu brazo”, cierto??

    There might be something, as Marmo kind of suggests, about sensory verbs, except then I am not sure what to do about something like
    “rascame la espalda” (scratch my back) or “Me llevas la mochila” (carry my backpack) I think it is more about the function of the “me” pronoun… that it designates the “whose” and the possessive is used in these cases to indicate that it is not the indirect object’s object that is referred to.

    hmm, sorry for the “thinking aloud” I’ll have to see if I can find anything on this.

  7. Thanks Annje, this is starting to gel now (although admittedly still a bit gloppy)… And I enjoy following your virtual thinking out loud!
    I mean, I know how to construct the sentences correctly in both languages, but it gets more difficult (for me) when I have to try and remember the directs from the indirects…

    I am certainly not advocating redundancy in pain (my head it hurts me), but rather that in general we say “my head hurts”–period–(except when it’s killing me, of course).

    Your comment about body parts is exactly the point I was trying to make earlier. I find it interesting that body parts, which have one and only one “owner” use an article instead of a possessive pronoun… Even today, after all this discussion, I caught myself saying, “Necesito secar mi pelo” and corrected “Necesito secarME el pelo”…

    In the end, what I’d like to know is what it the root of these 2 different ways of referring to our bodies? What do other languages do? Do all Latin-based languages follow the indirect pronoun + article rule? What other languages take possessive pronouns with body parts?

  8. @Margaret xD Nerdy fun is still fun
    @Annje That`s right, and you explain it better than me. The “me duele” part makes redundant the “mi” part.
    “ráscame”, comes from “me rascas”, where “me” indicates something I posses, and the verb the action I´m asking you to do:
    “¿me llevas la maleta?” Indicates that the maleta is mine, or at least, it´s my duty to carry it, and I´m asking you to do it for me.
    I like this kind of subjects, they make think in things I wouldn´t.

  9. Marmo- ¡Me alegro que te guste el tema! Me too…
    Yes C (el Mr… or is that “mi Mr”?) kept complaining about redundancy, but the point is not to be redundant, but rather WHERE to put the me, mi or my!
    I am feeling an increasingly urgent nerdy need to start making charts and testing situations…

    Can we kick around Annje’s examples a bit more? OK- I’m going out on a limb here–writing as the ideas come rather than expressing any definitive thoughts or rules… just playing with ideas…
    Both the Rascame la espalda and Llévame la mochila examples are imperatives rather than simple statements about body parts, so I’m not sure whether the rule holds (can’t decide… help me out?) For example, the mochila might belong to a 3rd person (a child, for example) in which case the “me” would refer not to possession (my) but rather person (me) as in “please help me by carrying this thing.”

    Perhaps the problem with the fascinating eyes example is that if we are indeed talking about sensory verbs–which to me that imply a physical sensation–the problem here is that fascination is not physical but emotional… and although I’ve certainly known people whose egos might indicate otherwise, most of us require an external stimulus for fascination and therefore would need to declare just which eyes are attracting our attention.

    Does this make sense?

  10. My head’s still working on this one and I’m getting even geekier here. My sincere apologies to any linguists who will immediately detect that I am NOT one…
    I’m wondering about other languages or non-standard English usage that may incorporate this use of indirect object pronoun (i.o.p.)… for example, “I need to eat me some food” “I need to get me some new clothes.” It’s not the same in the sense that the “me” is not replacing a “my,” but it is an irregular placement of the i.o.p. (in English) in the sense of reinforcing who is receiving the action.

    Tell me if I’m wrong, but I think Spanish also uses this reflexive construction as in: “Necesito comerme algo” or “Necesito comprarme alguna ropa nueva”… ¿no?

  11. another language nerd here…

    I think, in my previous examples, the imperative-ness doesnt matter… it could be any tense “Siempre me rasca la espalda” or “Nunca me lleva la mochila”. I think it is more about the structure… finding my grammar book…

    Ok, I am looking right now at “A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish” which says basically that possessives are not used as much in Spanish and that def. articles are used in their place where context is clear. It also confirms my suspicion that an article is used when the thing possessed belongs to the person indicated by the indirect object pronoun. Possessives are used when it is not clear or to emphasize.

    There are some places in MX, apparently,where the possessives are used in addition to the IOP. Now I wonder if there is some influence from an indigenous language…

    I love your examples of non-standard English using object pronouns where they don’t generally belong.

    I usually tell my students not to use comer in the reflexive until they are comfortable with how it is used… they go through a phase where they want to add pronouns to everything and it can get awkward.

    I think someone should clarify why Spanish-speakers are now adding an ‘s’ to the tu forms of the preterito… i.e., fuistes, comistes. Does that only bug me?

  12. Ah! The New Reference Grammar! It’s sitting right over my desk and I didn’t even think to look! I could also check the Diccionario Hispánico de Dudas… I bet that’s got some good insights…

    The fuistes thing I can explain! And yes, I think it bugs everyone who notices it! As far as I know it’s not a new thing at all, but rather a case of hyper-correction, because as you know, Chileans tend to “comer” their s’s and some who try to be very careful to speak “correctly” put them in where they don’t belong. I’ve even heard of cases of over-correcting the dropped d’s in “ado” so that Bilbao becomes “Bilbado”!

  13. I hope this helps, since I can´t stop thinking about the subject now, xD.
    You have to keep in mind, that in spanish, there are words that come from joining two different words in one, like the case of “me llevas”, that becomes “llévame”.
    Like Annje correctly said, the “me” particle denotes possesion, not necessarily about the thing, but about the relation with the thing or task.
    It the example about the mochila belonging to a third person, if the speaker says “llévame la mochila”, he or she is implicitly also saying “I´m the one who must carry that mochila, even if it´s not mine”.
    A person that carry the luggage of a tourist in a hotel walks to the elevator with three heavy bags, and there he founds a maid from the hotel and says “¿me llevas esta maleta?” He´s asking for help in a task appointed to him, he owns the task of carrying the bags, not the bags.
    And your last paragraph, I think is right, it uses a reflexive construction, and can also use “Necesito comer algo” and “Necesito comprar ropa nueva”, although the last phrase also could mean that I have to buy new clothes, but not for me… This is endles, like our nerdyness. xD

  14. haha, Bilbado! that’s hilarious.

    I figured it was an over-correction. Chileans shouldn’t feel bad about it, en todo caso, they aren’t the only ones who do it, I have heard it from several nationalities.

    Over-corrections are so interesting! Who’s with Margaret and I? (did you catch that over-correction?)

  15. Annje & Marmo– I am sooo glad that I am not alone in this nerdy obsession! But it’s been a very useful conversation for “I” (yes, Annje, caught that! jajaja).
    Marmo, I like your explanation of the person who owns–or is responsible for–a given task or object, rather than necessarily being the owner per se… so that llévame la mochila is “carry the backpack FOR ME.” (and of course we cannot forget that in Chilean Spanish we can play with raising and lowering the tone “LLEEEEvame la moCHEEEEla?”instead of saying please… but that’s for another post!)
    I suspect that somewhere in all of this the fact that Spanish sentences do not require a specific subject (which can me implied in the verb) plays a part in what makes English speakers need/want language to be more specific: subject + verb (He needs to cut HIS hair) vs Spanish which allows the verb conjugation to include the subject (Necesita cortarse el pelo) (who? I don’t know…someone!) Spanish seems to allow more contextual nuances that just seem uncomfortably vague to English speakers.
    I’d love to get a cultural linguist in on this conversation!

  16. I´m just someone who likes language, not an expert by any chance, but anyone in Chile talking about over correction should mention “tovalla” used instead of “toalla”, as one our finest examples.
    @Annje, how much would it cost for you to make a chilean style completo in the U.S.? (avocado and all off course included)

  17. Tovalla? I’ve never heard that one before! Maybe my ear just isn’t tuned to it–I’ll start paying closer attention.
    And I’m glad you brought up the completo idea again… I have material for an excellent post on making completos in different parts of the world!
    I’ll get that up very soon!
    Annje- would love to have your input on that!
    Anyone else too for that matter!

  18. You are forgetting cars and other things.

    My car has its wheels dirty = Mi auto tiene las ruedas sucias.

    That house has its windows open = Esa casa tiene las ventanas abiertas.

    Re: fuistes. I read two other possibilities besides hypercorrection.

    a) All other tenses (except for imperative) have “s”. eres/eras/fuiste/seas/fueras/serás/serías

    b) Fuistes is the form corresponding to voseo, i.e. derived from fuisteis, with an i dropped. This doesn’t explain why in Spain some people say fuistes.

  19. Hi Pedro-
    I was wondering when you were going to weigh in here!
    At this late hour, I can’t say anything more about dirty wheels and open windows (somehow it just doesn’t seem to be on the same wavelength as the others, but like I said, it’s late and I need to think about that for a while longer)…
    Interesting comments on fuistes–never thought about option a before, but had in fact wondered about option b… especially since Annje said she’d been noticing it more lately… this could indicate an intentional use rather than hyper-correction.

  20. I’ve always seen the (mis)spelling toballa. Google says toballa = 29,600; tovalla = 9,140. Many children say it that way.

    I cant’ believe it, but DRAE has toballa!!!!!!

  21. Hmmm- about “toballa“… I have the print version of DRAE which gives a bit more detail. The entry just prior to toballa is tobaja, which comes from the same root (germanic thwahlja) and says: lienzo para secarse la cara o manos después de lavadas; toalla, and then mentions that it is used in Andalucía… which is pretty interesting, because Chilean Spanish seems to have some pretty strong linguistic ties to Andalucía… at least when we traveled throughout Spain, we found the Andalusians the easiest to understand!

  22. Marmo… haha completos. It doesn’t cost that much per completo… maybe a dollar or less, when you consider the small quantities that atop one completo. I confess that every now and then (not too often) we eat Chilean-style completos for dinner, palta and all. It is our version of “ethnic food” and a way to stay connected to our roots… haha

    Who is going to go to Domino with me when I get there? I am due for a real completo soon.

  23. Annje- “small quantities” on a completo? Sounds like you’re not doing it right! My recipe seems to call for GOBS of everything! Also, my guess is that avocados should be relatively cheap in Texas? At least a luxury item as they are in New York!
    Domino? You betcha!

  24. well, relatively small quantities… you don’t need an entire palta or the whole jar of mayo–you can only really use one bun and one hot dog… what do you mean by GOBS??? 😉
    You can find small avocados on sale, in season for about 50 cents about 250 pesos. That is not a bad price, for here, but they still have the luxury item feel they had when I was growing up. Other things are more expensive: I bought a red pepper the other day that set me back 2 dollars (mil pesos!) and artichokes were on sale for 3 dollars a piece (mil quinientos) Those prices are insane. I rarely buy artichokes, but we use red pepper quite a bit.

    From the syntax of headaches to the luxury of produce, we are a varied bunch!

  25. Ah yes, varied we are! An interested and interesting bunch indeed!
    But I suppose after putting big enough gobs of mayo on those completos we’ll need to talk about the syntax of stomach aches!!

  26. Hahaha, when I said “chilean style completo”, I mean a “completo completo”, not an elegant, artistic delikatessen, but a street strong cardiac killer hot dog with avocado and mayo, in a bun twice as big as their american counterpart.
    I remember when I was in Texas, we made a few completos, but we had too much palta for those small (and strangely sweet xD) buns we found in Wallmart.
    @Pedro, when you and I speak about a car or a thing, the idea is on a different level as we speak about our arms, heads, legs or anything in our body. The car really could be somenone else´s, my head, no.

  27. ooooh! language. I do think that in the case of me llevas la mochila, it’s the equivalent of “will you hold this for me?” I don’t think I’d necessarily say “Will you hold my backpack?” but I would use “for me.” Another one, with the same construction that I use quite a bit but that I would say with my in English is “Me tienes la bici?” (Will you watch/hold my bike?”

    You know, it’s funny you mention this, because though it probably seems very simple to people learning Spanish (and it is), it’s a place where English grammar tends to interfere, (because we believe we know how to say it), and is a mistake that is somewhat hard to let go of. I know I’ve heard gringos who have lived in Chile for years reverting to “Me llevas mi…” or “Me duele mi…”

    Fun! Oh, and the other day, someone said to me “se te va a caer el carnet.” So it seems like this little bugger is all over the place!

  28. Excuse a non-Spanish speaker intruding. I’ve been following your blog since it featured in the Guardian, just after the earthquake.
    You might find “The Unfolding of Language” by Guy Deutscher, or “The Power of Babel” by John McWhorter informative. I suspect the differences may be connected to Spanish using inflected verbs, such that the subject is included, could have a bearing. In English, we have very few inflections left. In terms of cross-cultural comparisons, and linguistic change, I’d guess the places to look are border areas between language communities, as they often borrow heavily from each other. Even grammar, I gather, melds – not just vocabulary.
    Do I detect in some of the contributors a hint of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis? The notion that our langauge influences our world-view? It was out of favour for a long time, but I believe is making a comeback.
    However, I do envy Spanish having “nosotros”. My one visit to Chile, in 2004, led to my being corrected in my stumbling Spanish by a charming woman at the hotel desk whom I inadvertently invited to visit the observatory in Vicuña.
    I look forward to visiting Chile again. Wonderful country.

  29. Hi Margaret,

    Great post! I noticed this when I took a beginner Italian course and my textbook (for English speakers) stressed this difference (“Mi fa male la testa” you should say). Don’t know what happens with other Romance languages, but probably work in a similar way as long as they are used with a reflexive verb which indicates the receiver of the action.

    Talking about body parts, I recently read that the English “an arm and a leg” equals to the Spanish “one eye of the face.” Things are cheaper on this side of the world it seems.


  30. Fun discussion you started here! Just like in Italian Karen mentions here, French also uses the same reflexive verb structure.
    For example: J’ai mal aux jambes (me duelen las piernas). This is not exclusive to Spanish. It is a matter of using the proper grammar for the respective language. English tends to use a lot of possessives. Not so in other languages. We say ‘me lavo las manos’. The use of the reflexive verb ‘lavarse’ already implies whose hands are being washed. ‘Me lavo mis manos’ is redundant and wrong.

  31. Hi everyone- I was without an internet connection all day, so what a nice surprise to come home and find so many interesting comments!
    @Eileen– ah! you’re ready for the “se te va a caer” discussion, huh? It’s coming! But I see it as a different issue (maybe it’s not, but I’ve got a thing or 2 on my mind about that particular construction!”
    @John– Glad to see you’ve been following along! Always nice to widen the community! Thanks for the book recommendations, they are both now in my Amazon cart! And yes, I must admit to being intrigued and influenced by Sapir-Whorf in the early years of anthropological training. I’m a bit rusty on the specifics these days, but the concept has always seemed to make sense… language & thought / chicken & egg…
    And yes, Chile is a beautiful country and I’m very happy to call it home!
    @Karen– thanks for answering my question about other languages… I suspected that other Romance languages probably had a similar structure. And yes, “me costó un ojo de la cara” would be “it cost me and arm and a leg” in English… never thought about that before- good call!
    @Anamaría– ok- so now we’ve got French, Italian, and Spanish in the same linguistic camp… Anyone know about German or Japanese, for example?
    And about the redundancy… I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t see myself ever saying “Me lavo mis manos” but could perfectly envision “YO lavo mis manos” (some darned good Spanglish going on there! Spanish words, English construction!)

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  33. You know, I think this is also part of a generalized theme of de personalizing actions (or over-personalizing them in English), like the famous “me lo regalaron” which in English would be “someone gave it to me,” but in Spanish lacks a specific actor (even a vague one, like someone).

    What do you think? And I don’t know if I qualify as a linguist, but I did major in syntax as an undergrad. Still doesn’t make me know what’s going on here. I’m more like an early adapter. I have no idea what’s going on in Spanish, I just use it because me conviene. (it works for me). (not xlated for any of you native (or nonnative) Spanish speakers, but in case someone else comes along!

  34. @Eileen: Didn’t realize your linguistic studies were in your undergrad life—I thought that was grad school! Anyway, I agree that this seems to have something to do with the higher degree of specificity required in English… the clearest example being that it requires a separate subject (someone), whereas Spanish (and apparently other Latin-derived languages) include the subject in the verb.
    It’s interesting that a number of the Spanish speakers keep going back to the issue of redundancy in the “Englishized” treatment of this construction (cortarME MI pelo), whereas for English speakers it’s not redundancy because we probably wouldn’t use the reflexive cortarme but rather the non-reflexive cortar… and THAT is where I believe the answer lies, now that I think about it!
    I’m a bit surprised that the issue of reflexive verbs (such as cortarse), which is a case we don’t have (as such) in English (where the pronoun is separate). By definition, reflexive verbs refer to the doer and the “doee” being one in the same… so therefore, if someone says “cortarme” some hair, he/she is automatically talking about his/her own hair… and hmm… thinking out loud again… we come back full circle to who’s doing the cutting, because very few people are actually going to cut their own hair, but rather have it cut for them… Although we do the same generalization in English (I need to cut my hair vs I need to have my hair cut).

  35. Margaret! I love you blog. I am 18 years old chilean living in Chongqing, China. It was not till I read your blog that I realize how different we think sometimes. Like I came to China and just here start to realize that somethings I thought were universal are just chileans, not to mention how surprise I am to find out Americans see us like this. Last year I received an American student in my house in Chile. It was a really nice experience and yeah he did alienate us in the same way you put in your post some time ago hahaha
    This language post is really interesting, cause sometimes I realize that the structure to say something in spanish differs greatly from the english. The thing about toballa is funny, in my region unless (Bio Bio) using that word would be considerate very FLAITE.
    I would like to see your opinion about our soap opera culture. By this time I think you have realize that chileans (and latinos in general) loves to watch soap operas. Maybe you hear about the “¿Dónde está Elisa?” phenomenon.
    Well greetings from China and I hope you keep updating your blog 😀

  36. Hi Brian-Thanks! And what a great experience for you to be living in China! I bet you’ve got some great stories to tell! Living abroad is such an incredible experience because I believe we learn as much (or more) about our own culture as we do about the new one.
    OK- so how would you say “Necesito cortarme el pelo” in Chinese?
    Soap operas… no, I don’t follow them here in Chile, although the idea is fascinating. I might if they were on just once a week, like the wonderful show Ochenta (highly recommended!) but I just can’t bring myself to be that tied to the television for a couple hours every night! But thanks for the idea–I’ll have to write a post about teleseries at some point… The whole Donde está Elisa phenomenon was incredible! People rushed home from work to watch it!

  37. Well in chinese it will be “wo yao jian tou fa” which literally means “Yo necesitar cortar pelo”
    In general chinese sentences lacks of “conectores”, but there is a particle that indicates posession. Also in chinese there are no times. If you want to say something in past, you just say the date and what you did. Like “Ayer ir comprar cosa” (Ayer fui a comprar algo)

    PD:And yeah”Los 80″ is a great show.

  38. Ohh que envidia, comer comida china todos los días, mmm!

  39. @Brian– Very interesting! So it’s just understood that if “I” am cutting hair, that I’m talking about my own hair? Which is different from both English AND Spanish… How would a barber say it? (yes, nerdy question, but I’m curious how the language whose hair is being cut).
    Also interesting about the lack of verb tenses in Chinese… I remember when I was first learning Spanish and couldn’t remember how to conjugate the past of ir (to go) and would resort to saying things like “yo ayer-ir-cine” (I yesterday to go movies)!!

  40. @Marmo– Me encanta la comida china–y ni puedes imaginar lo diferente que es allá versus en Chile! Nada, pero NADA que ver! A propósito, si quieres comida china real en Santiago, anda a China Village en La Reina y en Manquehue cerca de Colón!

  41. Hahahaha, si, en realidad la comida mexicana, japonesa y china que comemos en Chile es muy diferente de la que realmente se come en esos países. Es una idea loca que tenemos mi polola y yo, de si vivieramos en esos países podríamos comer todas esas cosas ricas, y serían simplemente comida. ¡Gracias por la recomendación! La pondremos en práctica en mi próximo viaje a Santiago.

  42. A barber would say “Ni yao jing tou fa ma” which literally means “Tu querer cortar pelo?”
    This brings me some confusion sometimes, cause if they want to say someone’s hair is beautiful, they will use the possesion particle however for this case there is no need to use. The bad thing here is mandarin chinese differs in every city, cause each one has its own local language therefore I don’t know if this is only in my city or is in general. By the way I thought it was a cliché that chinese people can’t pronounce R and that they replace it with an L when talking spanish, but to my surprise is totally true and is soo fuuuuny!!!
    @Marmo no puedes ni imaginarte lo exquisita que es la verdadera comida china. Si por casualidad alguna vez visitas China, te sugiero que vayas a Sichuan, ellos tienen la mejor comida de China.

  43. Ahh the discussion continues. There’s so much to say, but I would just like to weigh in on the “fuistes” discussion. When I lived in El Salvador, where the voseo is used, they added an “s” to the end of all verbs in the preterite.

    And also, I was talking a bit about this with C. yesterday and how in Spanish everything is very depersonalized as Eileen pointed out. Like “se me fue” or “se me olvidó” instead of “I forgot”…it’s as if it wasn’t my fault but some third party made me do it. I think this MUST affect how we see the world, because it’s such a different concept. Or at least I see things differently when I say “se me olvidó” than when I say “I forgot”. In English I somehow feel more responsible for forgetting, whereas in Spanish I feel more let off the hook. Maybe that’s just me though.

    Ahh also, Margaret, loved your impression of “Lleeeeevame la mochiiiiiila.” Haha perfect, and so Chilean!!

  44. @Marmo– pruébalo y después me cuentas!
    @Brian– it must be such an interesting challenge to try and master a language that is so different from your own. My parents lived in China (Shenzhen) for 3 years (1988-1990) and never learned to say much more than hello, please, and thank you! Of course they were surrounded by English speakers and interaction with locals was strongly discouraged by the Chinese officials who ran the program! But I remember how absolutely delicious the food was!
    @Abby– Yes! I’m really pleased to see that I am not the only one who enjoys these detailed discussions on little points of language!
    I completely agree on the responsibility angle of forgetting and dropping things in Spanish! (Post forthcoming!)

  45. So I’m back, I was just listening to some Silvio Rodriguez and I noticed these lyrics. One line says “Ojalá que las hojas no te toquen el cuerpo cuando caigan” and another line says “Ojalá que la lluvia deje de ser milagro que baja por tu cuerpo”. I think it must have to do with the verb, because tocar can take the object pronoun (I never remember if it’s direct or indirect!) “te” whereas bajar can not because it’s referring to the rain not the person, so the “tu” is necessary before cuerpo in that case. Maybe? I’m no Spanish grammar expert, just a thought.

  46. @Brian Espero, algún día, averiguarlo por mí mismo xD.
    @Abby maybe is different than in english, but when you say “se me olvidó” there´s an “invisible particle” that says “(a mí) se me olvidó (a mí)” that goes implicit there, in the beginning or the end. Remember, when you say “me” in spanish, you imply yourself, and yourself only. Or maybe just I feel responsible anyway when I say something like that xD

  47. Te=Tu
    I guess…

  48. @Marmo- so what happens when you say “se me cayó encima”… which I understand to mean that something fell on top of me, not that I am dropping something on myself (which, of course, I have actually done more than once!)

  49. Well, that would be “se cayó encima de “(yo). “Me cayó encima” (Something fell on top of me). Then “Se me cayó encima” (something that I had, or that I had some sort of control over it, fell upon me)
    “Salí a la calle y me cayó encima la lluvia” (Not in control of this), “Salí a la calle y se me cayó encima el canasto que llevaba en la cabeza” (I was in control of the canasto)(…In this ridiculous example, you were carrying a canasto over your head, afro/vega monumental style).

  50. ¡Pucha! ¿viste? So many years and I STILL have problems with this! So… if I’m finally cachando bien… it’s se me cayó encima when it’s my own fault (I dropped something on myself) and me cayó encima when it’s not!

  51. As far as I know spanish, I think so, yes.
    Me= Mi
    Te= Tu
    Se = soy (I´m not sure, but it works)

    “Se te cayó el carnet” (se te cayó a tí)
    “Se me cayó el carnet” (se me cayó a mí)
    “Se cayó el carnet” (simplemente se cayó, en neutro)

  52. OK, here’s the thing with the reflexive verbs and English speakers again (we get confused between caer and caerse). We would think that
    Se te cayó el carnet” would mean “your ID fell” when apparently what it really means is “you dropped your ID”
    Se me cayó el carnet” / My ID fell, but really it’s “I dropped my ID”
    Se cayó el carnet” /well, we get that because it’s just “the ID fell”

  53. (Marmo smiles and nods, but feeling a strange nerdyness growing in his mind)

  54. Yeah… I know what you mean!!

  55. First, Abby, that is one of my favorite songs, ever! (and the te in “te toquen” is direct 😉

    Eileen–we use that “they” in English a bit too, but maybe not as much. We use passive constructions more (it was given to me) or “someone” as you mentioned. .. just ways to indicate the “giver” (or whatever verb) is not importnat (syntactically or semantically–not that they are not really important, you know?)

    I have always read explantions in grammar books about the “se me olvido” construction and it is always attributed to that sense of non-responsibility that is mentioned here. I honestly always thought it was just the way it was explained, so English speakers could try to make sense of it, but I have always suspected that it isn’t necessarily why it exists. There is something about using the indirect object that doesn’t exactly let you off the hook. I love how Marmo put it, which means that indicating who had control and lost it is part of the deal.

    The one that always stumped me is the use of the singular ‘le’ referring to plural objects. I remember there was a sign about domestic abuse or something, up at a bunch of bus stops, that said something to the effect of: “Le golpearias a tus hijos” does anyone remember that, is it still up? It drove me nuts! I am sure it is correct, but no one could give me a good explanation why. I might have to take another look at my reference grammar…

  56. @Annje– I just asked “the Mr” who is also a “Dr” (as in PhD in Literature) and he says the le in “¿Le golpearías tus hijos?” is wrong… it should just be ¿Golpearías…?) and the le is redundant (oh how they love that word!)…
    So my understanding is that the verb is golpear and NOT golpearse, so there is no reason at all to have the pronoun le here and the gringa doctor wins! Good call Dr. Annje!

  57. ok, maybe golpear wasn’t the verb… I just can’t remember what it said exactly… my questions is more why you would have le… a tus hijos… whatever the verb was. (I just used golpear because I couldn’t remember the exact phrase. Why le and not les?

    le darias____ a tus hijos

  58. OK… he says that both ¿le darías golpes a tus hijos? and ¿darías golpes a tus hijos? are correct and that the le refers to who is doing the action, but he can’t tell me why (he majored in literature but was never a profesor de castellano, so he can tell me whether something is right or wrong, but can’t explain why!)
    So maybe it’s time to get that New Reference Grammar out again!

  59. See! I am certain that the le refers to the a tus hijos, because it is not a subject, so it can’t be the person doing the action, it has to be the person receiving the action, as indicated by a tus hijos. My husband couldn’t explain it either, only tell me it was correct. There must be something about “le” being used as a general indirect pronoun, when you really don’t know if the actual indirect object is singular or plural. But that is something, that grammatically, no me cuadra…

    I am going to look it up…

  60. Please do and let us know! C says that the le refers to the doer and not the doees (hijos)… so I asked if dar and darse were the same and just got one of those “I don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m too tired to try and figure it out” kind of looks… (Clearly I am the nerd in this family!)

  61. got it! You’ll have to tell C that he’ll have to defer to the gringa Dr. on this one… le is definitely not the doer (the doer in that case is “tu” as in darias)

    Apparently, in spontaneous colloquial speech everywhere, le is used in place of les where it is redundant (that word again). For example: “siempre LE digo la verdad a mis padres” rather than siempre LES digo la verdad a mis padres. (it is redundant because you have both the explicit indirect object a mis padres and the IO pronoun les–which is then replaced by le and doesn’t really escape the redundancy issue, if you ask me)

    The wierd thing is that indirect object pronouns are often redundant… you would say “siempre le digo la verdad a mi madre” (where le refers to a mi madre but singular-singular, no problem). I don’t know why the redundancy bothers them with the plural???

  62. Thanks Annje- Interesting… I’m going to check the RAE de Dudas as well to see what that says (not doubting you, just arming myself for whatever odd looks Dr C gives me when I go back with even higher levels of nerdiness!(Uf, just checked… it has 3 1/2 pages on “leísmo”!!) In any event, I’m sure I’m not going to get anything out of the good doctor at this hour… I’ll have to catch him in the morning! Stay tuned!

  63. @Annje- I couldn’t resist… I told him your explanation. He did his best to smile and be attentive (as his eyes slowly crossed and he tried hard not to let me see the “why is she telling me this NOW” look)… he nods slowly (like professors do) and says “puede ser…” which we know, of course, means…no comment, end of discussion…

  64. My husband doesn’tunderstand my fascination with language either. I think thata nod was a silent concession.

    Marmo left a comment on my latest post where he does this very thing (le rather than les).I’ll point it out under his comment.

    Can you believe this is the stuff I pick up on? Well, yes, you can!

  65. Yep, you’re right… we’re on the same wavelength! ah! The beauty of internet!
    And that nod? Yep, his version of “Whatever you say dear”!

  66. Have you noticed that in TV translations they use lots of possesives? For example “dame tu mano” or “lava tu cara”.

    Searching in Google I found there is a song “Dame tu mano”. It seems Gabriela Mistral is outmoded with her “Dame la mano y danzaremos”.

    In Yahoo Respuestas México there are 197 question containg the sentence “me duele mi cabeza” (and 21,600 with me duele la cabeza, I have to add).

  67. OK, I couldn’t resist and not contribute my two cents. “Me duele la cabeza” is the “reflexive” form for “a mi” or in Shakespeare’s language, “to me”.
    Te duele la cabeza is the reflexive form of “a ti” or to you. Therefore I don’t get the point about the confusion. If I were to say “duele la cabeza” you could rightly ask, whose head does it ache? But I say “ME” duele la cabeza which means ” a mi” me duele la cabeza” Capire? (Get it, in Italian)

  68. It’s amazing how much conversation this post provoked!!
    It’s not the who’s getting hurt part it’s the what’s doing it part that is different…
    It’s MY head that’s hurting me, not THE head ¿cachaí? (Get it, in Chilean)
    BUT… there’s that old saying about beating dead horses, so I just have come to grips with it… I may rule the world (as you just commented on a different post), but not the language, so OK, THE head it is that’s hurting me!

  69. Dear Margaret – You are certainly not alone here. I was born and raised in Chile and have lived MOST of my life in North America. Here is a good one for you. To be “thrifty” means to have good control of one’s assets, right? How about being a spend thrift? Logically, shouldn’t that mean being able to exercise restrain in spending?
    I do not want to bore with a whole bunch more just like this. As my private English tutor so wisely told me, English is NOT Spanish translated, and vice versa.

  70. Hmmm- I hadn’t thought about that one before! Good example! And yes, there are plenty of linguistic pits to fall into–and that’s all just part of the fun!

  71. The French have a good expression for this: “Vive la difference”.

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