Students of Spanish sometimes become aware of gallego/Galician, which is spoken in the part of Spain that sticks out above Portugal and is a descendant of Galician-Portuguese (called gallego-portugués in Spanish and galego-português in Portuguese). The most famous writer in the Galician language—though she wrote in Spanish also—was Rosalía de Castro, who lived in the 1800s. One of her poems begins like this:

Nasín cand’ as prantas nasen,
No mes das froles nasín,
Nunha alborada mainiña,
Nunha alborada d’abril.
Por eso me chaman Rosa,
Mais á do triste sorrir,
Con espiñas para todos,
Sin ningunha para ti.

With a little help, a Spanish speaker can understand it:

Nací cuando las plantas nacen,
En el mes de las flores nací,
En una alborada mansita,
En una alborada de abril.
Por eso me llaman Rosa,
Mas la del triste sonreír,
Con espinas para todos,
Sin ninguna para tí.

(Those who would like to see the rest of the poem as well as an English translation can turn to A.Z. Foreman’s blog.)

The last word in the quoted portion, ti, brings us to the subject (or should I say object?) of today’s Spanish-English word connection: the second-person singular personal pronoun. As a subject, Spanish uses ; as the direct or indirect object of a verb, te; as the object of a pronoun, . English now translates them all as you, which does double duty as a plural, but English once had the singular thou and thee, which are cognates of the Spanish forms. English speakers still encounter thou and thee in literature and old versions of the Bible, where thou serves as a subject and thee as an object. Most speakers of English today have no idea when to use each form or (in the case of thou) the -st ending of the present-tense verb. As an example of that ignorance, take a current American television commercial for insurance. It features an old-time scene in which one man says “Lookest over there” in order to fool another into needlessly looking at something, then says “Madest thou look.” The correct statements would have been “Look (thou) over there” and “(I) made thee look.”

I hope thou hast enjoyed that. See thee next time.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Aug 07, 2014 @ 22:24:47

    The Gallegos name is fairly common around here. Raul Gallegos writes for the Houston Chronicle. Is the name rooted in the geographic region you mention?

    I was caught by the repeated use of para ti. I learned that expression early, because of Mongo Santamaria’s version of the song. I don’t think I had a clue how it translated. It just stayed in my mind as a phrase.

    We used to pass through Amish country on our way to see relatives in Illinois. I remember hearing “thee” and “thou” now and then. I gather the Mennonites and Old Order Amish have gotten away from that, but that some in the Society of Friends still use the terms.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 08, 2014 @ 07:28:46

      Yes, as far as I know, the family name Gallegos originated with people from Galicia.

      I’ve had a similar experience with song lyrics in another language. You probably remember the Italian song “Volare” that was so popular in the United States in 1958. The words were just sounds to me at the time, but some 15 years later, after I took an introductory Italian course, I could hear some of those sounds that had been stored in my head and make sense out of them.

      I thought about the Amish using thee and thou, but I don’t know if the depiction in Hollywood movies is accurate. In some films I’ve heard supposed Amish people use thee as a subject, which is historically incorrect, but could have become the normal Amish form for a subject. A brief look online didn’t turn up anything I would trust as authoritative.


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