25 de mar de 2016

Palavras Africanas / African Words

Brazilian Portuguese is full of words with African origin. Because the black people came to Brazil as slaves, however, they often are loaded with some bad connotation. The other day I started listing some that, to me, sounded African (I know I am being very loose and treating the different people as if they were all the same... but this is supposed to be a fast post =) ), and a friend called me racist because I could only remember words with bad connotation (actually, it was not true -- some words were food names, and he ignored them v__v). I wanted to put somewhere a list of them (so that I can close some tabs in my browser), and that is why I am posting this here.

The version in Portuguese of the article on Kimbundu (a language spoken by many of the slaves who came to Brazil) in Wikipedia has a list of many of the words I am looking for, like
  • muamba: anything that is cheap in another place that you bring home when coming back -- often without paying the taxes);
  • muleque: boy;
  • bunda: ass;
  • fubá: some corn flour/powder.
Another word, mandinga (a curse or a "spell"), comes from the Mandinka people in West Africa. Also, some places say that treta (previously, I always heard it as a "scheme", in sentences like tem treta nisso aí ["there is treta in this thing"], but nowadays it became some kind of "flamewar", and people say isso vai dar uma treta [this is gonna cause a huge treta]) is European, having versions in Spanish and French, while mutreta (this can only have the first scheme meaning) probably came from Kimbundu.

Finally, there are two words that confused me.
  • balangandã actually comes from just the sounds that heavy stuff hanging does. It should refer to some "ornaments" that women wear, but also sometimes is used as how "tough" some woman is, in sentences like não tem balangandã pra isso (i.e., "[this woman] doesn't have enough balangandã for this").
  • maracutaia, which is just a "fraud" or a "scheme" (just like mutreta above), was said to come from indigenous origins when proferred by our ex-president Lula in the 90's, but apparently it is unclear where it comes from.
In fact, finally, while this Facebook post is VERY inaccurate (apparently, they didn't take the trouble to check the origins of the words before writing those stuff), it has a list of at least interesting words that I suppose are not much used in Portugal. It is public, so you don't need Facebook to see it.

Sobre "ser" / On "to be"

[Desculpa falantes de Português. Dessa vez sem tradução =/ ]

In the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I spent some time with a colleague who liked to be "philosophical", to discuss about random concepts. One day, I suggested a question (but we ended up never discussing much about it) to him, which is the topic of this post: "what is 'to be' something?" [see below for a discussion on how this question was badly translated into English]. As the time goes, I often come back to this question. This post is about random stuff I thought about it.

On the "Romance copula"

When I asked this friend, I said it in Portuguese (naturally, since I was in Brazil -- and no one in his full mental health would be speaking in English there unless there is a very good reason for it). This has some "hairy" implications, which justify making a detour on the main topic and talking about how our verb for "to be" evolved.

[the Wikipedia has a full article on this topic, but I recommend a grain of salt: the Portuguese part has at least one example sentence that I don't like, "confusing" copula with the passive]

As (I suppose) you know, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian (and many other languages) descend from Latin. As any Indo-European language (besides English =P), verbs in Latin could assume many forms. Because of that, it was easy to confuse conjugations of one verb as if they were part of some other (or simply not using some conjugation because it "didn't sound" well). Through time, three verbs gave birth to "to be" in the Romance Languages: sedere, esse and stare.  I want to talk a little about these verbs:
  • sedere: apparently, it meant "to sit". There is another verb related to it, sidere, which meant "to sit down". I was taking a look at their etimologies and comparing them to the opposition between setzen and sitzen in German (and set and sit in English) and apparently they are all cognates (but I'm not sure -- will have to take a better look at the Wiktionary).
    For our purposes, what matters is that this verb merged with the third one, esse and generated a lot of its conjugations.
  • stare: "to stay", or "to stand". Stare is a very interesting verb. Its past participle was status, and gave birth to English's state and it is even cognate with English stand and German stehen. Words like instance or circumstances are also derived from its active present participle.
    In Latin, it was possible to sometimes use stare in places where esse should be used, but apart from these cases, it didn't normally have (as far as I know) the meaning of to be.
  • esse: this was the verb for "to be" in Latin. But notice also other words that this verb created. From its active present participle, the word essentia gave birth to essence and essential. A corrupted version of the active present participle, ens, created things like entity.
Why it is interesting to know this? The thing is that Portuguese (the language in which I posited the question to my friend) has two translations for the "to be" from English (similar usages also occur in Spanish and Catalan, for example; but there are some discrepancies, and it is always great to talk in Spanish and find out I am using the wrong one):
  • ser: descendent of a mixture between sedere and esse, this to be is more related to the "essence" of what is being talked about. If I say "I am (ser) happy", this means I am a happy person. It doesn't mean I can't get unhappy for a moment, but it means that "overall" I am happy.
  • estar: direct descendant from stare, but with a different meaning. This to be is more related to the "state" of what is being talked about. If I say "I am (estar) happy", this means I am currently (at this moment) happy, because, e.g., the sun is shining or I ate a good lasagna.
So, now, I can finally "retranslate" my question (that one I asked my friend) in a [weirdly] different way: "What is 'to be' (ser) something?".

Another possible way of viewing it

Something that disturbs me a litte is how loose our use of this "essence vs. state" difference is in Portuguese. Instead of  (or in addition to) this difference, people often refer to another opposition: that of "permanence vs. state". But...

When I say I am alive, I use estar. If I say I am (ser) alive, then it sounds like (i.e., it is a slang for) I am always careful not to be fooled. Analogally, I say my grandfather is (estar) dead, but he obviously can't change his state of being dead.

It becomes actually worse because I can say someone is (ser) dead, and it sounds to me either that he is always "down", "slow", in a terrible mood; or that he is (and won't ever not be) a dead being (like a zombie, or something).

And to confuse the non-native speaker, there is actually even an expression, agora Inês é morta (i.e., "now Inês is (ser) dead"), meaning now it is too late, which uses ser for the dead state of Inês (a woman).

A humble answer

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandma. Sometimes, in order to make us (children) eat something, she would tell us some lies. I.e., she would say there is no something at home, so that I would eat something_else. The problem was that, because she did it too often, and having seen that something was actually there, I would say it is a lie (in Portuguese, I'd simply speak "lie" -- implying that what was just said was a lie).

Immediately, the other adults would look at me and tell me something along the lines of "aren't you ashamed of calling your grandma a lier?". For me, it was not the case. I was not saying she is (ser) a lier: I was saying she is (estar) lying [though the lie is (ser) a lie]. She would be (ser) a lier only if she did it all the time (which actually she did......... but oh well :v ).

Here in Kaiserslautern, I made a friend I rarely can trust to be punctual. While initially I would say he only was (estar) unpunctual, through time I started simply accepting that this is who he is (ser). When I complained to him about his problem, I recalled the question (topic of this post). Basically, I told the same: if a person lies only once or twice, I can't say he is (ser) a lier, but only that (probably) the circunstances led him to lie; but if a person lies all the time, then this characteristic becomes part of his "essence", and now he is (ser) someone who lies.

So, well... I don't believe this is actually very useful [it was only an excuse to talk a lot about these words], but this is just a humble answer.

And... what are (ser) we actually?

We are so transitory that we are (ser) not: we are (estar).
[a friend posted this in Facebook some time ago]

Something I have been thinking about now is that we often change our state. And this is expectable, right? It is just a state. In fact, I will post below my all time favorite Ted Talk, on how simply changing small body behaviors could help one to change a lot in how the body is functioning:

But it seems to me that we are often also capable of changing our essence (she herself in video above says "fake it until you become it" -- in opposition to "fake it until you make it"). What I am (ser) now doesn't necessarily is what I will become soon. Though I am (ser) currently a Portuguese speaker, nothing prevents me from (Deus o livre*) having an accident and completely forgetting the language, which would make me stop being (ser) a Portuguese speaker.

This can also happen in the opposite direction. Four years ago I wouldn't consider myself a Spanish speaker. Nowadays, I do say I am (ser) a [at least okay] Spanish speaker. Hopefully, in the next years, I will also become a Hindi speaker.

All of this makes me think of how much whatever our "essence" is keeps changing. One could think he is (ser) not intelligent, but through time and hard work change this belief (and/or actually even become intelligent?). It seems that if we think we are (ser) something (and, because it is our "essence", we can't change it) we end up embracing this something, and maybe even (if we actually weren't) becoming it. And conversely, if we think we are (state) something, then we feel capable enough of changing it.

Of course, I am not saying you can grow some height (if you are short), or change your skin color (though some rich and popular guy from the last century tried it); but there are things you for sure can change. And this reminded me, actually, of a Ted Talk on Mindset (some concept developed by some researchers in Stanford, apparently) I saw some time ago:

Well... that is it. I wanted to only share these ideas. I don't think they are in any way "groundbreaking" or "new", but I thought it would be a nice reminder that they exist =)

* I searched for a link to send you, reader, to understand this, and didn't find any. I couldn't believe. It means literally "God free him [of whatever is gonna be said]", and one often says that before saying something hipothetical situation in which something bad happens. It is also used in other contexts (e.g., if I do something really incredible, I myself would say it; or also if someone eats a lot and we want to express that the person doesn't ever stop eating -- though in this case I'd also use "benza Deus", i.e., something like "may God bless [him/you]"). I had never thought how strongly religious these expressions sound... HUEHUEAHUEA

20 de mar de 2016

Poemas no blog [7] + mudanças / Poems in the blog [7] + changes

[Versão em Português abaixo]
If you were used to visit this place before, you will notice that I did some (many) changes. I created those menus there at the top, where I now include an "about" page with information about myself and the blog, a "poems" page with the list of all these poems I keep publishing here (in fact, seriously, I am kind of proud of the result :v ), and a "works" page, where I intend (soon) to put some list of different stuff I have worked on. Maybe through time I will have other ideas and create other pages.
Of course, it is some kind of "cult of personality" that I am doing here: it is clear I am trying to show how "good and likeable" I am. But the truth is that I wanted for a while already to create some kind of "website" for myself, where I'd store "stuff" I am somehow proud of having done, and now I decided to use Google's services for that purpose: Google Drive to store the links, and Blogger to create the webpage. Sure, it is not as flexible as it could be, but I think it is probably better than I'd have the patience to make it had I decided to do everything by myself (in fact, I know absolutely *nothing* about Web, and I am kind of ashamed of that =/ -- it is not a problem when you spend most of your time programming low level stuff in C =S).
Now... about the poem... I swear... this is the last poem in a row. I actually had already done it some time ago, and now I just wanted to post it here (so that I could list it in the "poems" page). The context is kind of melancholic, and I won't write too many details. To me, it sounds like it could easily become some samba, i.e., it could easily receive an "upgrade" from "poem" to "song" [after all, what is a song, but a poem with music?].

I hope you like it.
(of course... I know it is a shame the non-Portuguese speakers won't be able to appreciate it. I really hope I will soon come up with content that is not language specific )

[Version in English above]
Se estáveis acostumados a visitar esse lugar antes, então percebereis que eu fiz algumas (muitas) mudanças. Criei aqueles menus ali em cima, onde eu agora incluo [todas as páginas têm versão em Português] uma página "sobre" com informações sobre mim e o blog, uma página "poems" com uma lista de todos esses poemas que eu fico publicando aqui (de fato, sério, eu mei-que sou orgulhoso do resultado :v ), e uma página "works" [trabalhos], onde eu pretendo (mais pra frente) pôr uma lista de diferentes tralhas em que eu já trabalhei. Talvez através do tempo eu acabe tendo outras idéias e crie outras páginas.

É claro que isso é um certo "culto à personalidade" que eu to fazendo aqui: é claro que eu to tentando mostrar o quão "bom e gostável" eu sou. Mas a verdade é que eu queria já há um tempo criar algum tipo de "site" pra mim, onde eu guardaria "tralhas" de que eu tenho algum orgulho por ter feito, e agora eu decidi usar os serviços do Google pra esse propósito: Google Drive pra guardar os links, e Blogger pra criar a página. Certamente não é tão flexível quanto poderia ser, mas acho que é provavelmente melhor do que eu teria paciência de fazer se tivesse decidido fazer tudo por minha própria conta (de fato, eu não absolutamente *nada* sobre Web, e mei-que tenho vergonha disso =/ -- isso não é um problema quando se passa a maior parte do tempo programando coisas em baixo nível em C =S).

Agora... sobre o poema... eu prometo.... esse é o último poema um atrás do outro. Na verdade eu já o tinha feito um tempo atrás, e agora eu só quis postá-lo aqui (pra poder pô-lo na lista na página de poemas). O contexto é mei-que melancólico, e eu não darei muitos detalhes. Pra mim, ele soa como se pudesse facilmente tornar-se um samba, i.e., ele poderia facilmente ser "subido de nível" de "poema" pra "música" [afinal, o que é uma música, se não um poema musicalizado?].

Espero que gosteis.

(é claro... eu sei que é uma pena que os não falantes de Português não poderão apreciá-lo. Eu realmente espero logo idealizar algum conteúdo que não é específico pra uma só língua )

Oh Lua

A Lua há tempo já não
A Lua tentei em vão
Já a Lua dessa oração
não há.
Na Lua meu coração

À Lua humilde canção
Pagão, meus versos, então
"Oh dou-te o meu coração:
Contigo sempre estarei!"
bradei e com distinção

No peito a bondade vou
dos tempos em que deixou-se
Daquilo que me ensinou,
sem nada, pois, me cobrar,
a Lua, que, há tempo, já
(dizendo que forte sou)
partiu e só me deixou
silêncio, pois se ausentou.
Passou, ja foi, se ocultou
no mar.