Sue Burke (mount_oregano) wrote,
Sue Burke

English: a love story

This is the short-short story I read in the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading at WisCon 32. The quotes by Alonso are written in Spanish phonetic English to help me get the accent right.

In a place in La Mancha whose name I don't want to remember, not long ago there lived a man named Alonso. He decided to learn English, since it's such an important world language, and so he found a private tutor, an American woman named Sarah.

She was an excellent teacher, and she taught him common vocabulary and practical grammar — from basic irregular verbs to advanced rules like inversions of auxiliaries for questions, countable and uncountable nouns, and the use of transferred negation in statements in which the verb is followed by an infinitive.

Soon, useful English sentences fell easily from his lips:

"¿Güer is di concert tequing ples? [Where is the concert taking place?] Ai yúsuali put chúgar in mai cofi. [I usually put sugar in my coffee.] Ai dont expect tu si yu bifor mandai. [I don't expect to see you before Monday.]"

Alonso knew he was making excellent progress, but he grew frustrated by Sarah's emphasis on practical usage. English, with its precise grammar and extensive vocabulary, permitted clear and unambiguous communication, but couldn't there be more? English was the language of Shakespeare! He longed to learn to express his romantic heart, and so he found a second tutor, a British woman Jessica, and she taught him using sentences chosen from great literature. He spoke them with rapture:

"Di qualeti of mersi is not strend, it dróped as de chéntel rain from heben apon di ples binid. [The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.] ¿Chal Ai comper di tu a somers dai? Dau art mor lofli and mor temperet. [Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.]"

Alonso was learning the artistic side of English, and his heart sang with joy.

But one day, during a lesson with Sarah, she asked if he was tired of grammar drills, and he let slip, "If al di yir oer playing jolidais, tu esport oud bi as tídious as tu oerc. [If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.]"

She was aghast. "I never taught you anything like that. . . .Why, you've been seeing another teacher!"

"It is tru. Bot it güas not bicaus of yu. Yu haf tot mi di raim and rison of Inglich. I onli sot suít saunds. Güat a bes felo and ful am Ai. [It is true. But it was not because of you. You have taught me the rhyme and reason of English. I only sought sweet sounds. What a base fellow and fool am I.]"

"I would have taught you anything if you had only asked! . . . But I can't give you classes any more and hear the lessons of another teacher in your alliteration and poetic inversion. It breaks my heart to know how you didn't come to me with your questions about literary usage and vocabulary."

So Alonso never saw Sarah again. For a while, he continued his lessons with Jessica, but it was never the same, and he stopped seeing her, too.

Although he had become fluent in English, he rarely speaks it now, and the sentences that come to his lips are sad and bitter.

"Oh, dis is di poison of dip grif. [Oh, this is the poison of deep grief.] Ai am rit in saur misfortuns buk. [I am writ in sour misfourtune's book.] Neber uas a stori mor of uo dan dis. [Never was a story more of woe than this.] ¡Lord, güat fuls dis mortals bi! [Lord, what fools these mortals be!]"

Tags: personal, spanish, writing

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