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Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun Paperback – February 15, 2012
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Since I learned Spanish in Argentina, Mexican Spanish and its extensive use of Madre-isms has always been a challenge for me. Thus, it was very helpful to be able to add the expressions that Ms. Bakewell explains to my vocabulary.
All in all, I found Madre to be a fun read and have recommended it to any friends I have who are interested in the Spanish Language or have lived in Mexico. Recommended!
This book brings back many personal memories, yet, in talking to others who have lived among other cultures, whether here at home or abroad, it is amazing how easy it is to relate to the experience. Congratulations on a vivid memoir!
Five things: A perilous noun
by More Intelligent Life, M.Y. | NEW YORK
THERE it was in black graffiti letters on an earthen wall in Mexico City: A todo madre o un des madre. Liza Bakewell, a linguistic anthropologist at Brown University, noticed the phrase and puzzled over how to translate it. Her bewilderment inspired a lengthy investigation into the word madre (mother) and its complicated meanings, which she documented and distilled in her new book, "Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun".
Made up of only five letters and two syllables, madre, Ms Bakewell finds, is like "a cell under a microscope"--seemingly small but "filled with more activity than I had planned and had seen with my own two eyes over the years." The word itself implies power and powerlessness; it is central yet marginal. Here More Intelligent Life has chosen five highlights from the author's charming book, a mix of memoir, research and travelogue.
On common phrases and their implications:
¡Qué padre! literally translates as "what a father", and means, "How marvellous and awesome." Me vale madre, however, translates as "it is worth a mother" and means, loosely, "I don't give a damn" or "It's worthless.
"Grammar," Ms Bakewell writes, "doesn't just mean grammar. It also means a can of worms." As an example, she points out the rule in Spanish that dictates using the masculine plural los rather than the feminine plural las whenever describing a group that includes at least one male. Ms Bakewell sketches an example: 99 madres walk into an auditorium and sit down. A speaker welcomes them, using the feminine plural. Then a man walks into the back of the auditorium, finds an empty chair, and sits. "Perdón," the speaker corrects herself, re-welcoming the group using the masculine plural. "Las ninety-nine amigas plus el one amigo resulted in los one hundred amigos," Ms Bakewell explains.
On female iconography:
"To say the Catholic Church in Mexico is a patriarchal institution would be unnecessary," Ms Bakewell writes. "But it is worth noting that the iconography of a Mexican Catholic church is disproportionately female." In Mexico images of the Virgin Madre are ubiquitous, and almost always outnumber any of men, including Jesus and male saints.
On surprising turns of phrase:
Parto--childbirth--is a masculine noun in Spanish, as are the words for love, marriage, sex and pregnancy. Qué raro."
On linguistic consistencies:
"Mother" in Bengali is ma; in Polish it is mama; in Persian maman; in Welsh mam; in Quechua mama; in Basque ama; in Italian mamma.
"Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun", by Liza Bakewell, is published by W.W. Norton.