Spanish linguist talks about interpretations of transitional phrase

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Spanish linguist Francisco Gonzálvez-García spoke at Burdine Hall on Tuesday about the present-day variations in the interpretations of Spanish structures. 

Gonzálvez-García, an English philology professor at Spain’s University of Almeria, focused on the structure “lo que se dice,” a transitional phrase that varies in meaning according to the context of the sentence. Gonzálvez-García said “lo que se dice” can mean “really,” “just” or “in short” because of the grammaticalization, or the transformation of a noun or verb into affixes or prepositions, of the phrase. 

Gonzálvez-García noted the analysis of “lo que se dice” was structured on the standard usage of the Spanish phrase.

Hans Boas, Germanic studies professor and director of the Linguistics Research Center, said the department sponsored the talk to draw connections between the Spanish language and other languages. 

“We’re trying to study language from a contrastive point of view, so not only an individual language, like Spanish or German or English,” Boas said. “We’re trying to understand how these languages are different and how they influence each other.”

According to Boas, the structural influences among languages become evident in Texas, a state with a long history of immigration. Boas, who studied the transformation of the German language within Texas, said the end result of language adaptations can raise questions about the history of language development.

“It creates a lot of sleepless nights,” Boas said.

Boas said the issues presented in the talk can be applied to language teaching. Boas said teaching the idiosyncratic meaning behind idioms in Spanish can be very similar to teaching idioms in English.

“If you have a phrase like ‘kick the bucket’ and ‘kick the table,’ they have the same structure and look the same but one has an idiomatic meaning and the other one has a transparent meaning,” Boas said. “Whether you teach German to English speakers or German to Spanish speakers, you have to come up with a systematic way of teaching these types of structures.”

Sandro Sessarego, Spanish and Portuguese assistant professor, said he attended the talk to further understand the theoretical approach used in presentation, but the principles behind the talk could benefit his classrooms. 

“I don’t know if that specific construction presented is being taught in my courses, but the ideas and the general framework might be something we see in class,” Sessarego said.