Names are a tricky business.
Most of the time, it’s just a matter of translation—yo=I, estudiar=study, and España=Spain. A rather bland, formulaic process if you know the vocab.
Sometimes it’s a little more complicated: do I call myself Steve or Eteban* with native Spanish speakers? Should I refer to the Austrian emperor Franz Josef or Francis Joseph? Should I translate “hacer” to say “to do” or “to make?” Value judgments are required, oftentimes instantaneously, to avoid loss in translation or looking like a jelly doughnut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ich_bin_ein_Berliner).
These judgments are made primarily by a thorough knowledge of the subject. Renowned physicist Richard Feynman noted that simply knowing names had limited use. One of many defining characteristics about this man was that he insisted on discovering the ins and outs of a theory instead of simply knowing where to insert specific variables to obtain specific results. Feynman cared about practical meaning more than names. It strikes me that his sort of practical familiarity will be most useful in the coming semester.
The past few days have not been without a variety of practical problems. Last night, my three-year-old laptop battery kindly informed me it was operating on 4% capacity before plunging into oblivion (taking with it the first draft of this blog post). My first credit card payment decided not to go through online (for the record, Capital One has excellent rates abroad, but terrible customer service). Oh, and I forgot to bring sunscreen to my sister’s first collegiate tennis match last Saturday, so I’m traveling to Europe looking like an embarrassed lobster. Given my complexion, I guess it was only a matter of time.
In the coming semester, I’ll be learning a lot of names—historical figures, verbs, and street signs. I’m hoping to finish up a Spanish minor abroad—the first time in my education that I’ll be able to focus on directly correlating subject matters. When I get back in December, I’m sure that I’ll continue in my quest to augment my mental encyclopedia—LSAT training, business terms, and constitutional law.
But the part that I care most about this semester is a little more fundamental. How can I hone my ability to associate a linguistic label with the thing itself? How can I communicate with friends and coworkers abroad without English or similar backgrounds? How do I translate as a person?
Of course, the little things should be remarkably interesting too. How exactly am I going to be getting to Valencia tomorrow? How is it to live with a Spanish widow? How will life in 90˚ weather work without air conditioning? Where will I find time/Internet to blog on a weekly basis?
These questions and more will be answered next week. Here’s to a fantastic semester.
*In my admittedly limited experience, native Spanish speakers seem to aspirate the “S” far more than in English. My host mother, whether on purpose or on accident, addressed her principle email to “Etevan.” I replied, graciamente, Steve.