home, christ, ale, master

Only a matter of time before I started quoting James Joyce. From Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.

What’s up, sulkster? But he’s got a point about the way the Irish say English words. That list of words, Home Christ Ale Master, has stuck in my head ever since I went to Dublin and an Irish guy named Terry Dolan said the words for me, for the group, and then had an English guy say them to show the difference.

It’s true, Joyce chose four words which really pronounce the Irish inflection. They feature vowel and consonant sounds of the Irish alphabet as it was before the Irish spoke English, sounds which the Irish accent has maintained. The four words he chose are also vital, what I think of as mother words, really fundamental. Even “master” could be fundamental, for people truely in a position of subservience. Massa.

Anyway, it’s got me thinking, what are the words in Spanish which I will never pronounce like I’m supposed to? Assuming I actually get good at Spanish, I mean.

I have a feeling my Home Christ Ale Master will contain many Rs. Also my LLs are whack, in a way that I’m already determining is enjoyable.

“¿Qué dijiste, MC?”

“Ya fuí a la taquilla.”


“Fuí a la taquilla. Ya compré los boletos.”

“¿Fuiste a la qué?”

“A la taquiya”

“Ah, a la taquiyYya”

“Sí, taquilla– ¡Es lo qué dijé!”

I guess what I enjoy is that my “yuh” versus their “eyyuh” is so noticeable to them, and so unnoticeable to me. I find it funny.

I realize this attitude dooms me to Gringo Accent Forever, or in Stephen Daedelus terms, never owning the language. In a way, though, I kind of love the idea of making it my own instead.

This is all part of an idea I’d like to roll with, that Spanglish es la onda del futuro. Speaking in cognates, cool adaptations, or words that cross the border in interesting ways like “yo.” Kinda quiero pushalo.

So maybe that’s less James Joyce and more Anthony Burgess anyway.


3 responses to “home, christ, ale, master

  1. I like this post. I wonder what the 4 mother words would be for American English? It probably changes by region.

  2. Thanks, and yeah!

    Home could be one, definitely. Haha, and Coke. Well maybe not for you, since you’re not into caffeine. Work is definitely one. It could also depend on your family/cultural values as well as your region.

    You’ve inspired me to start a list. A lot of these words are obvious to me because I have to translate them into Spanish.

    And I think there are more than four, definitely; James Joyce just chose four really good examples. You know, being James Joyce and all… his words are really concrete because he’s trying to put a picture in our minds, but I think more abstract words can be mother words, too.

    “Wonder” is a word that we use a lot, for example, and kids learn it pretty young. It’s also a word that doesn’t have a literal translation into Spanish, which is a good indicator that it’s a word that’s “special” to us, though maybe not as vital as “child” or something that does translate across many languages.

  3. actually, i was just on the roof thinking (today is a very beautiful day!)– the more abstract words that don’t translate as precisely maybe aren’t as likely to be “mother words.” that’s maybe not a criterion i was looking for. words like love and hate can be, though… stuff that little kids say, stuff that we say every day.

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