For years I have formulated in my mind a pet theory on why countries like France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Latin American countries and few countries that speak romance languages in Eastern Europe invariably lost the military conflicts they began.
It has all to do with the very fact that these countries all speak languages that had their origin in ancient Rome. Ultimately those ancient Romans lost out to civilizations (or entities that lacked civilization) that spoke un-romantic verbiage.
The romance languages all feature the Subjunctive Mood. It is a mood of uncertainty. Americans and even the British avoid the infrequent appearance of it. Thus, “I wish I were in Dixie (as I am certainly not whoever might be singing that line),” becomes “I wish I was in Dixie.” That Future Subjunctive is excised and things become a predictable as a constant present. That uncertain future is transformed most comfortably into one of definite possibility.
The Subjunctive Mood is one of uncertainty, and the most uncertain of all uncertainties is the Future Subjunctive.
Consider, “When in Rome do as Romans do.” In Spanish it is far more complex. The very idea of anybody finding themselves in Rome is left as indefinite possibility. En el país que fueres has lo que vieres.” It virtually defies translation but is means something like, “In that country that you might just find yourself in some future, you may perhaps do as others might do.”
Successful generals fronting successful armies fight on certainties. If possible these generals choose their place of battle and twist the situation to favour them. You cannot run an army on just possibilities.
There is the Mexican joke of the general that sends a soldier to the front to report on the numbers of the attacking army. The soldier returns and says, “My general I saw about a thousand and one of the enemy.” The general, incredulous at the lack of logic in his soldier’s statement, orders him to clarify it. “Mi general,” the soldier replies, “I saw one attacking soldier and perhaps a thousand behind him.”
And so, the French had their Waterloo and their 5 de Mayo against the Mexicans at Puebla. The less said about the Italians in WWII the better.
Of late I have been giving more thought to the vagaries of language and how language affects us without our complete awareness.
Consider someone like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewing President Barrack H. Obama. They might sit close to each other perhaps with the small interruption of a coffee table. Blitzer would address Obama as Mr. President and might just continue with a, “What did you mean bb… in your last statement, sir.” The sir would be marked.
Consider that in English you might say:
Please come here, sir.
Will you please step this way, madam?
Or if a friend you might say: Hey! Come over here!
It is difficult to conceive rudeness or familiarity in those statements unless you shouted them or simply said, “Get your ass over here!”
In Spanish like in French we have two options:
There is the formal:
Or the informal
The situation becomes more complex in Argentine Spanish (perhaps borrowed from Italian immigrants) which gives you the further choice of:
Venite para acá.
The informality of that third method of ordering people around has a sense of intimacy unknown (and what would I know of this if nothing) in other languages).
In English with the advent of the World Wide Web we tried to give the impression of intimacy by stating: “Visit us at our website.” Or “Browse our website.” The word visit seems to inject an intimacy impossible to achieve in even in the most prurient of porn sites. We cannot visit because we are alone.