Spain. Europe. Ser y estar – every non-native Spanish speaker’s worst nightmare (if we don’t count the Subjunctive vs Indicative battle from Hell). Shakespeare may have asked the seminal question in the early 17th century, but the Spanish seem to have had the answer all along (or at least since the poem of the Cid saw the light of day).
“We inherited this linguistic trait from the Latins”, Spanish scholar Pablo Abra explains. The verbs come from the old Latin “sedere” and “stare” which translate into modern Spanish to different aspects of the verb “to be”. A sense of being permanent is attached to the verb “ser” and a sense of being transitory to the verb “estar”. Personally,” Prof. dr. Pablo Abra informs,”I believe this development was heavily influenced by weather conditions. If you look at modern Italian, you can see it is a Romance language who also preserved the particularity of the verb “to be”. Is Italy a Mediterranean country? Yes. Is it sunny there? Also yes. Now, look at Romania. They do speak a Romance language too, but what is their climate? Aha! Less sunny with pretty cold winters! Whose influence were they under for 50 years? Exactly! The Russians. You see my point? Fewer reasons to be so freakin’ excited about affirming the value of existence through language.”
“Mr. Abra, tell us about how this all relates to Shakespeare?”
“In the early 17th century, when Shakespeare shook the world with his existential question(s) which he basically copied over from the Greeks, the Spanish were already prepared and armed with 340 days of sunshine/year, ready to dismantle the gorgeous, but unpractical musings of the English bard. Between us,” Prof. Dr. Pablo Abra continued, “Hamlet totally had a free pass at homicide, but was forced to complicate things because otherwise, we could not call it a tragedy, only lyric poetry. Basically, he could have killed his motherf*****ing uncle Claudius, but couldn’t be bothered. At least not at first. Most scholars blame it on the damp, cold Danish weather. It is said to get your mind all foggy, that it tends to cloud your judgment and you get overwhelmed by a somber mood.”
“Oh yes, back to Iberia. It’s very different down here in the South. With abundant sunlight throughout the entire year, spectacular olive oil, fresh fish and an impressive variety of tapas, we, inhabitants of the beautiful world, are less concerned about having to kill our uncles. It’s more of a live and let live mentality. Okay, unless you are a bull.
As the Northerners wonder if they should be or not, doubting even if that is the right question, to begin with (jeez), we Southerners focus on two perspectives:
- a constant uncertainty regarding the correct usage of ser and estar, which naturally affects nonnative speakers, most of which still finding this state preferable to the Shakespearean dilemma
- the confident and eternally correct usage of the verbs ser and estar while not really asking many…”
“Perdón, cuál era la pregunta?”