Category Archives: Bilingüismo

Weird cognates in Swedish

There is no doubt many languages bear the grunt of false friends or cognates and surely Swedish can be an entrapment of sorts when it comes to said dubious company as one traverses the landscape of scandinavian languages and their codifications whatnot and even worse if you happen to be bilingual Xicano that is, fully native in Spanish and English. These sort of false friends words are a challenge to any language learner since they are hurdles on the way to proficiency. Both visual and auditive associations induce a plethora of cognitive dissonance that must be negociated as a good juggler would.

Exempli gratia:

Words in Swedish which are either homophone or homographs in Spanish that also might raise an eyebrow either when uttered or read. These, according to Chamizo-Domínguez (2008) in Semantics and Pragmatics of False Friends can be classified as chance false friends since «there is no semantic or etymological reason for the overlap»:

Both homophone and homograph
lo  (Lynx) similar to Spanish lo (a neutrum Spanish article)
vete  (wheat) (conjuctive form of att veta, to know, old, not in use) Spanish for ‘go’.
kaka (cookie) similar to caca in Spanish which means feces in Spanish
gata (street) cat in Spanish
koka (boil) sounding like coca in Spanish
el (electricity) sounding like the personal pronoun in Spanish él (he)
ser (see) but to be in Spanish in the infinitive
putta (push) sounding like puta which translates to prostitute in Spanish
pippa (slang for coitus) but pipa in Spanish and pipe in English
mina (mine) which in Spanish means not the possessive mine but mine as in mining
en (one) which in Spanish is a preposition (in)
linda (wrap or namesake) which in Spanish is an adjective (pretty) but in Swedish it could be either a verb or a proper name
basta (sauna) but enough in Spanish
Sole homophone
oj! (exclamative which means ouch!) but sounds like hoy (today) in Spanish
Sole homograph
vi (we) in SWedish; saw in Spanish as in the past tense of to see
sur (sour) similar in spelling to Sur in Spanish which means south

Just the same there are a number of Spanish words which are either chance false friends as a homophone or homograph for Swedish people:

Both homophone and homograph
linda (wrap or namesake) which in Spanish is an adjective (pretty) but in Swedish it could be either a verb or a proper name
basta (sauna) but enough in Spanish also in the frozen phrase “och med det där basta!”
ser (see) but to be in Spanish in the infinitive
gata (street) cat in Spanish
ropa (clothes) but shout in Swedish
¡pisa! step on it! In Spanish but which in Swedish is to pee
por (preposition through) but sounding like porr in Swedish which in turn is porn
loca (crazy) which in Swedish is a renowned beverage except its spelled loka
Sole homograph
hora (hour) but prostitute in Swedish
sur (sour) similar in spelling to Sur in Spanish which means south
paja (slang for masturbation in Spain but hay in Mexico) but in Swedish means broken

English takes the lot though when it comes to chance false friends which tend to cause a lifting of the eyebrows for English speaking persons:

Both homophone and homograph aka homonyms to a degree
bra  (good in Swedish) sounding like bra in English suffice to say, ugh! damn homonym
men  (but in Swedish) near homonym to men in English
hen  (S/he in Swedish) recent coin though a chance false friend homonym in its own right
sex   (6 & sex in Swedish) chance false friend homonym & butt of jokes in Swedish
titt or the name tittis  (look or namesake?) near homonym to titty in English.
Sole homophone
fack  (union or slot in Swedish) near homophone to fuck in English
 Sole homograph
barn  (children in Swedish) though a farm barn in English?
slut  (finish/end in Swedish) though prostitute in English
kiss  (pee in Swedish) but kiss in English
bad  (shower in Swedish) but bad in English
gift  (poison or married in Swedish) but a present in English
kock  (Chef in Swedish) but near homonym to cock in English
dog  (die in Swedish) but homograph to canine in English
spring  (run in Swedish) but homograph to Spring in English
driver  (run in Swedish) but homograph to driver in English
hem  (home in Swedish) but homograph to hem (as in stich) in english
fall  (case in Swedish) but homograph to fall (autumn) & (trip) in English
jerker  (namesake in Swedish) but homograph to jerker (slang for masturbator) in English
fan  (devil in Swedish) but a homograph to fan in English

Those are a few examples that if you happen to have English and Spanish as a mother tongue it surely creates a disarray in the head. though often one is warned of said evilish words no one really goes through the ropes when it comes to not just heading the warnings but going through the ropes of understanding that the words (or graphemes thereby) have several meanings (polysemy) in different languages but also how the brain goes about organizing said words to be readily read in the different languages in due process without having to stumble upon the various meanings of the words. I suppose that after a few stinging or negative reactions you just turn off the mother tongue and start treating every word with a new meaning and only afterwards compare the word with one’s L1. But one inevitably starts of by making fun of the weird similarities until they completely become more of a burden than a fun fact.

I suppose that habit makes habitual to understand the different impacts words have on the being. A clear example is the Swedish word for cookie in Swedish which is kaka. Now, kaka sounds very much like the word caca in Spanish which in turn means feces. Caca so happens to be a repulsive word for Spanish speakers and they cringe at the very utterance of it. It’s unpleasant and brings about a plethora of nasty images. I suppose that time allows the brain and one to allow for versatility and juggling the many associations and even with time meanings we no longer use get relegated to the back burner or use it as an analogy at parties to friends of the same feather.  We are able to negotiate the associations by sheer comprehension that the rules and norms governing a meaning of a word are always subject to the ruling and existential conditions in which the word is uttered. I am not reinforcing the idea of language being subject to the idea of nurture but in a sense language does become subjected to its environment since caca while being a homophone to the Swedish Kaka the fact of the matter is that the party that doesn’t share the same cultural baggage the meaning and thereby consequences upon hearing the word will become null and void. And since only one party feels the sting the it becomes obsolete in a sense. The impact has lost its sting.

Had to ask

So am writing profusely in English. Don’t ask why. It just happens. I think I started picking up on my writing because of Hemingway. Or the movie at least. The one with that chick, Nicole Kidman. Though I’ve read a number of stories of Hemingway I can’t say that I have read all of them. I am a Hemingway reader, make no mistake about it. But he is like a lollipop. Though am sure he wouldn’t approve of the metaphor. I’m trying to get in the game. Listening to stuff to get me out of my rut. Which is not writing. That rut. So why English? I suppose it’s easier than having to confront my shortcomings in Spanish. I really hate writing in Spanish though not that much. But it does rile me that Spanish has more vocabulary I wish I knew how to use as compared to my English which seems to be a deep well of knowledge that I can just stick my hand in it no matter how deep the well is and still be able to enrich my writing with beautiful words.

Spanish always leaves me feeling alien. Every time I come across a good book in Spanish written by Spaniards I am left flabbergasted at the richness of the language I supposedly call mine. Now, by good book I mean books by people who painstakingly work with the language in a manner that they select carefully by second hand their own choice of words. Usually the lot is one who is academically oriented such a Pérez-Reverte or my favorite Isabel Vicente. Their use of language makes them inherently mysterious because their use of language leaves a certain flavor in the mouth that I haven’t come across in a so-called iberoamericano.

Which begs the question. Are we too bereft of the richness of Castilian that we stand oceans apart? The answer is quite intricate in many fashions. For one, Iberian American Spanish has to contend with the fact its language is not wholly Spanish or Castilian nor surrounded by its latinate variations to feed of its latin nutrients. There are many other linguas which affect iberoamericano languages of which Spanish is but one, although be it the main funnel by where the indigenous languages must traverse in order to make sense in the world of the Spanish. Alas! yes, indigenous language are subjugated even to this day to the Spanish whore.

Be that as it may, both sorts of Spanish are different in different ways.

I guess I still feel short changed when it comes to Spanish. I rue the motherfucking tongue that gives me its milk & honey because its tit is not mine. Its not mine yet.

Competing languages

I feel comfortable to say am a trilingual. Having said that I can proceed with a phenomenon that I have experienced as a trilingual, newly at that if one wills.

I get stuck at times.

Allow me to expand. I suppose imagery ought to come handy in these sort of explanations.

Imagine three people trying to get through the same door, this door is really, like for one person to get through.

Imagine now an object, say a table. In Swedish it is bord, in English it is table, and in Spanish it is mesa.

A simple word, you will agree with me, as that,  are plentiful.

These words compete with each other at one point or another in the everyday of an ordinary trilingual.

No longer is there an option but suddenly there is a clash of options.

These clashes produce a hesitance of sorts.

A hesitance that causes an uncomfortable lapse of sorts. Which in turn presents a critical rupture of sorts.

Normal speaking people or monolinguals probably don’t experience this as often. I can imagine. It is possible that it may occur when competing synonym vys for a place or a choice of word for suitability arises.

Competing personas of a trilingual

Retrato de Ramón Goméz de la Serna Puig. Diego Rivera (1915)

Here in the Swedish Highlands I speak Swedish to those few I speak to. Don’t get me wrong, there is the occasional Spanish speaker to whom one is lucky to exchange a few inborn lingo with in that tongue of yore. For the most part the operative language in my daily affairs tends to be Swedish. For all intent and purposes this has its advantages and disadvantages. It also explains why I thirst to speak my native languages, English and Spanish. Since I don’t get many opportunities to speak them I yearn for them. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do use the languages at work, that is how I earn my bread and butter. Yet one thing is to use the language for teaching purposes and another to speak it to talk to people. I mean talk, uninterrupted by silly things such as meta-linguistic awareness. Uninhibited talk about what has happened or what is going on in a language that requires no stopping and thinking about its grammar nor which elicits foreignness 24/7. I want to feel “me” or whatever is left of that “me”.

Allow me to expound.

You see, whenever I speak Swedish, as in any other language, one has to adjust to all sorts of manners and ways of being for many a pragmatic reason which tend to be inherent in the language at hand, customs and practices, unwritten rules, the whole lot. This tends to alter the very fabric of any identity, specially if one is trying to achieve native status. Granted, I probably don’t have the energy to achieve said feat in lieu of my bitching but be that as it may, one cannot escape nor avoid the required niceties one is obliged to fulfill as one speaks the target language, mostly to accommodate the native listener. All for the sole purpose of creating an illusion of communicating as painless as possible and to accommodate the old adagio that when in Rome blah, blah. This tends to jar the nerves and exacts a toll in the person who practices multilingualism.

Growing up bilingual I was always afraid to let my “real” self come out, specially in the USA but on occasions in México as well. I was always afraid of the intruding accents in my speech which would reveal who I really was, in this case a Mexican or an Anglo-Americanized Mexican which would show that I wasn’t who I said I was. Respite where I could really find myself has always been my xicanismo. This is home identity wise. Neither Mexicans or Americans buy this but my fellow Xicano brethren do. They recognize the difficulties of having to pass off as one of the “real” deals because one tends to be hard to be believed in as either as Mexican or American. At times, being having to bear the brunt of being possessed by one group or the other claiming me as one of their own as if I in my plight ventured to suggest I was in need of repossessing or something. Allegiance and all that monolingual identity stuff that comes along with nationalism and its oneness of purity BS. Which brings a host of other points of contention for the bilingual ens since these sorts of nationalistic jingoism have a nasty habit of every now and then putting the crux of national identity dead square on bilingual’s shoulders. We must decide and more often than not we resort to let our emotions decide in a split second. Hence the dubiety with which monolinguals eye us for: monolinguals don’t trust the national or patriotic allegiances of bilinguals. We often go for the host nation. So while as a common bilingual growing up in Aztlan gave dialect and national identity headaches in my persona as a being in Sweden the matter goes beyond said issues.

Now I am confronted with another sort of unwanted language implementation affecting my persona: Swedish demands of its speaker to live up to high expectations of truth and honesty. Brutal honesty expecting to say it like it is no matter what the consequences. This is a key aspect of Swedish in its manner of communicating that failing to include this attitude in social conventions will brand one very easy and fast as an unreliable person to deal with, specially if you live in a very small town like mine. This has a tendency to clash with my other languages which are privy to favour all sorts of avoidance strategies for several pragmatical reasons and practically propense to beat around the bush. This leaves me feeling rather odd in many ways because I feel that there is a competing way of essence in constant flux with the essences of being a Spanish speaker and being an English speaker vis-à-vis Swedish. It’s not that Spanish or English speakers are dishonest but rather that the aforementioned speakers are more on the defensive when it comes to emotional values such as honesty and truthfulness, one guards itself more in other words rather dodging situations that would requiere direct truth and honesty. Hence, Swedish leaving me feeling like I am being a hypocrite when I am being more honest than Benjamin Franklin’s policy. And I know why it turns out that way: it makes me feel a goody two shoe. In English nobody likes a goody two shoe, mind you and in Spanish the truth is more questioned than a fat lie. It makes me feel that am not being myself when in reality I haven’t been more open about myself and my surroundings then I have ever have. I can formulate it as a clash of different values leaving a residue as I segue from one language to the other. It must be a residue from the other languages because I have no other explanation with which the uneasiness arises.  Not only does that happen with my everyday learning of the Swedish language of course, I also experience language interference at a greater rate than I would than when I only had to think about my bilingualism. But this doesn’t go beyond other than affecting my emotional self steem. Listeners are not that patient in Sweden and they don’t complete sentences as courtesy because it goes against their politeness code.

Now, I don’t know if it can be cast into the disadvantage slot but I suppose that in some spot it could be seen as that. I speak namely of the position many a good trilingual has to endure for the sake of learning. One has to shove aside intelligence and allow for the asinine ghosts of prejudice and intolerance to rein free. This means I get to allow myself to be misinterpreted as a fool and at worst as an idiot and at the very best as a retard no offence, off course, to the community often associated with the aforementioned word. I allow that. I loose a lot in that.  I am not terribly proud to expound on this, but it is necessary. A sacrifice of sorts if one is to learn a new language with all its dirty secrets and all. Is it a disadvantage then, to allow a slight denigration for greater gains? I suppose that as a language learner, being greedy doesn’t make me better than a Wall Street stock broker. The downward and minus aspect for the sake of the plus and upward reward.


Así habrá de pensar si es que las cosas son como uno cree que son

O quizá sea simplemente prudencia

O quizá miles de otras cosas que mi imaginación juega conmigo

eres un ente tóxico para mis jugos químicos

no hay otra que me conmueva las venas de mi cuerpo tanto como solo tú sabes hacerlo con solo tu presencia

No he mirado tu cuerpo

Solo tu existencia

tan solo eso ha causado tanta perturbación en mi

pero ni tanta que ni me animo a mirarte a los ojos

solo logro ignorarte tanto que quizá sea el ignorarte

lo que me causa el dolor que siento por ti.

No es un dolor malo, te quiero para mí cuando sé de antemano que no eres para mí.



Nothing brings me more joy to my hearts delight then when I confuse people about my ethnicity. I just love it. I will give an example of said ventures of mine that tickles my belly silly. I recently came across a Spaniard and spoke only English with him. He asked me where I was from, México I said. Pronounced with that unmistakable ancient Arab glottal sound in the /x/. He even asked me if I spoke Spanish to which I proudly said straight out that not only was Spanish my mother tongue I also taught it as well at a local high school in the Swedish Highlands. He was dumbfounded. I know it sounds mean but this guy is highly educated with a doctorates degree.

Today I got to experience once more one of those moments, man am I ever delighted. It sort of boosts the ego somehow, mind you am otherwise terribly insecure of himself so when I met this American guy unbeknownst to me and him, he came and made my day. Before you knew it he was basically left scratching his head. We struck up a spontaneous conversation because he overheard me speaking English and after a while he asked where I was from. No easy daily sure I can assure you. Swedish people aren’t too fond of spontaneity. I noticed he had gotten comfortably secure because we both had the same cultural baggage and it went rather smoothly for the first 5 minutes or so until I said I was Mexican. His look was askance to put mildly. Normally I reject when people put me in neat little boxes but am getting the better out of this game of language and identity of recently, mostly for my amusement.

Monolinguals and monocultural people live another life period. It’s all black and white so when they encounter people like me they are left on their own devices and they don’t like that. So this new secureness brings a small payback. Many of my insecurities can easily be traced back to the bullying I went through as a language aware person that is bilingual. I think many monolinguals have been themselves bullied except they gave up. I did not have the choice of giving up. What was there to give up? I was just bullied for being myself and I could not be accepted as I was. Monolinguals are encouraged to give up their acquired awareness. It becomes too painful for them to live the rejection or the bogey man before them.


I don’t understand how is it that people don’t get that we bilinguals, or some of us either way, cannot switch to another language as a means of communicating with a person with whom we have learned to communicate in only one language. Here in Sweden people are left in an aghast state of mind when I tell them that I don’t speak Swedish with my sambo. We have always spoken English and if we go over to speaking Swedish it would change a whole set of rules and it be like getting to know another whole new person. Am allergic to doing that anywheres in the world. I remember that I got teased as a young boy for just that. I happened during my first stint or rather sojourn in the USA, I was but a little lad and when I came back to Tijuana I refused to speak Spanish. I flatly refused to do so. I have no memory of the decision for that or when it happened. I wasn’t that precocious mind you. What I do remember is the laughter for having said that. Monolinguals don’t get it but they will get that language is identity. All monolinguals will defend a capa y espada their language but they can’t understand that bilinguals hence have two identities to deal with. Pero no, their monoistic world refuses to comprehend it. We are ambivalent. We are ambiguous. Even Gloria Anzaldúa doesn’t it and she is the creator of Borderlands! She doesn’t understand why chicanas are uncomfortable with each other.

bilingüe nórdico

Por alguna razón inexplicable mi pasión por los idiomas ha retornado a su proper place. Creo que en parte se debe a que por estos días estoy enseñando español como lengua materna en estos altiplanicies suecos que se caracterizan como mi hogar.

Me resulta grato poder enseñar castellano a estas criaturas que son una plétora de ese mestizaje que caracteriza el continente Americano. Los hay desde peruanos, chilenos, salvadoreños y hasta colombianos. Algunos incluso son medio suecos y medio latinoamericanos. La combinación es en sí sumamente interesante por no decir un tanto desafiante ya que al enseñar español como idioma materno hay que integrar los valores suecos con los hispanos.

Los valores suecos no resultan radicalmente opuestos a los de los hispanos, después del todo, pertenecemos a la misma esfera del Occidente y por ende tenemos una plataforma que nos sostiene. Lo que más bien se detalla son las costumbres en general y algunas tradiciones contrapuestas a las perspectivas de cada cultura en particular. Risacu nos pregunta:

Me imagino que es especialmente difícil para un “no-sueco” estar enseñando valores suecos, no? [sic]

La respuesta está antepuesta. Amén de que si algo caracteriza a Suecia es la multitud de regiones que luchan por lograr una especie de singularidad sin igual. Lo que quiero decir con lo anterior es que la sociedad sueca es una sociedad basada en el consenso y esto tiende a caracterizar su postura ante el exterior. Los valores como aquel que insta a evitar los conflictos o no hablar de economía son comparados con los valores hispanos como el del presumir a diestra y siniestra las posesiones de uno así como el de explorar emociones abiertamente ante la sociedad. Así que uno no necesita ser necesariamente sueco para poder lograr un resultado satisfactorio para este nivel educativo.

Otro de los motivos por lo cual me atrae este curso es que trata mucho sobre bilingüismo y lo que une a los bilingües es la plétora de fenómenos lingüísticos que nos aquejan. Las reacciones no se hacen esperar al saberse comprendidos y ese carácter bilingüe tiende a ser universal lo que me ha causado cierta sorpresa a ser verdad. Como bilingüe californiano recuerdo mis experiencias agudas por ser bilingüe en California. Ser bilingüe en California no es un lecho de rosas para ser verdad y las experiencias suelen ser muy negativas para aquellos que nos aventuramos a utilizar dos idiomas entre una población que se caracteriza por insistir en ser monolingüe. DE hecho existe una especie de hipocresía entorno al bilingüismo que raya en lo burlesco ya que mientras los monolingües expresan admiración ante la habilidad de uno de poder utilizar dos idiomas detrás de uno hablan pestes hasta el cansancio. Aquí en Suecia me sorprende que hablar dos o tres idiomas no significa realmente nada y mucho menos se admira la gente de la proeza que tanta alabanza causaría en mis californias.

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