Anyone have this issue?  Speaking in one language and then changing to another without realizing?  “Code switching” they call it.

Although that is descriptive, not explanatory.  I have a working theory… well, perhaps not fleshed out enough to be a theory.  So, I have a hypothesis – or maybe I should call it a hunch.  I think aural similarity in vowels greases the rails.  Consider:

Japanese Spanish Pronunciation
a a Ah (like “Aha”)
e e Eh (like “egg”)
i i Ee (like “Eek”)
o o Oh (like “Oh sh**”)
u u Ew (like “Ewe”)

There’s virtually (not literally) no difference in short vowel sounds between these two languages.  Also, since Spanish has gendered nouns (and, like biolgical entities, not just male and female, but Spanish distinguishes masculine, feminine, neutered, common, epicene, and ambiguous), many words end in vowel sounds ‘o’ or ‘a.’  Japanese similarly ends most words in vowel sounds.  Hmm…

When I first returned to the USA after a long stay in Japan, old college buddy Jeremy let me sublet a room.  I hadn’t had decent guacamole or tequila in years, and we were headed out one night to reacquaint myself with these Mexican delights.  I said something like…

¡Vámonos, quiero las margaritas!

…What was that?


What you said.

I was speaking Spanish.

No you weren’t.

I wasn’t?

No, that was like…. Banzai Spanish.

Then Jeremy mimicked a sword slice á la John Belushi in Samurai Delicatessen.


Over the past couple of weeks here’s a few things I’ve caught myself saying (italics are Japanese):


Me: Tiene un… cómo se dice en Espaõl no sé, shikashi es para abrir kono botella de vino.

Do you have a …. I don’t know how you say it in Spanish, but it is to open this bottle of wine.


Me: Quiere beber Jerez.

A museum guard: Vivir en Jerez?

Me: Iiechigao, bebir.

Guard: A, para allá…

He wants to drink some sherry.

To live in Jerez?  (The fault is my pronunciation of “beber” sounded like “vivir,” “to live.”  And Jerez, the source of the name for the alcoholic drink “sherry,” is based on the town name it comes from, “Jerez.”  She thought I was asking about a place to live in town, not a place to drink some sherry.)

No, that’s not right.  To drink.

Ah, go that direction…


I met a Japanese woman eating tapas at a cafe in Sevilla with a woman from the UK.  I told her I used to lived in the Kansai region, and it turns out she’s from Kobe.  We spoke in Japanese a bit, and she actually teared up for a moment.

Her: It has been so long since I’ve been able to speak any Japanese.  I feel so… relieved.

Me: Jitsu wa, Hanshin Daishinsai no toki yo vivó en Kansai.

Her:  Daijoubu deshita?

Me:  Hai.  Pero estaba preocupado por mis amigos.

In fact, I lived in Kansai at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Were you ok?

Yes.  But I was worried about my friends.


This probably doesn’t seem interesting or funny to most people.  But to those of you who code switch, you’re going to laugh.


Fåborg and Norse Origin Mythologies

Traipsed into Fåborg, a portly hamlet of south Fyn  (South Fyn – Funen – Fiòna). The city of Odense sprawls out on the north coast, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875).


Danish has true vowels (while English has diphthongs).  Try saying your English vowels out loud:

A like in the middle of “hay” or”hey” – notice how your jaw slightly closes as you go from start to finish, and it rises
E mostly a constant long sound, like in “flee” or “flea”
I more pronounced closing of the jaw as you draw this out from start to finish – end sound is like an ‘E’
O just like when you overemphasize saying “no,” as in, “Are you the one who ate my flan?”  “Nooo.”  It rises at the end, just like ‘A’ and ‘I.’
U like “yew,” or the middle of “yule,” the beginning sharp with the “y” shape and sound, the ending a sound of disgust

English “vowels” as we native American English speakers pronounce them slide (or glide, depending on your mood) – they change their sound depending on where you are: the ending of an “I” doesn’t sound at all like the beginning of an “I,” and same with the “U.”

(The term diphthong comes from the Greek: “diph” meaning “two” and “thongos” meaning “sound; tone” – also means someone who dual-wields thongs.)

Danish vowels are true vowels: short, crisp, attentive and standing to order.  They have one sound, and do not glide.  In the map above, two examples are:

Fåborg We call å “a hat.” Sounds like “aw” in “paw. “Faw – borg,” which we write (read: transliterate) as “Faaborg.”
København Ø becomes “o bar,” which sounds a lot like the German or Swedish ö (which is “o umlaut”), and sounds a little like the middle “e” in “her” (which is why when you hear a German say “Göethe,” it almost sounds like a little “r” is creeping in there (“GRR-tuh“), which drives my sister crazy – “I don’t see any damn ‘R’ in his name!”).

Fåborg is tiny, with one or two cobblestone streets.  Painted with the typical pastel colors outside Scandinavian homes: pale & bright yellow, luscious ruby, sighing turqoise.  I think it is because these colors become so vibrant in the long and low light that drags across the southern sky like an overripe tomato that is flung against a wall.  It creeps slowly, leaving a brilliant residue.

Mid-day is harsh light, like the Colorado summertime: raw and stinging.  But from 4pm to 10pm it lingers thickly, like fingers sticky with syrupy cotton candy, or a tenderloin marinade heavy with tamari.

Stumbling through the town square I meet this statue.

FaaborgTownSquareStatueIf I remember my Norse mythology, this is Bure (or Bùri) and Ymur.  (My saga transliterated him as “Bure,” which I read sometime in junior high school and apparently has been obviated in the age of wikipedia to a more proper translated entity: like diphthongs, translations glide over time.  There’s something about when your childhood memories get corrected by collective wisdom…)

No plaque explained the statue, but I recall an elemental bovine licking at a cube of ice, out of which Bùri formed.  Both Ymur and the cow (Auðumbla) spawned from a primordial river.  While the cow nursed Ymur – who was the progenitor of the ice giants – she licked away at the salty ice.  After three days (it is always three, isn’t it?  Unless it is seven), Bùri emerged.  He is the grandfather of Odin.

Curiosity drew people to the statue.  Most people were impressed by Ymur’s exagerrated non-circumcised condition.  (He is far better endowed than Michelangelo’s David, let’s get that right – my father, with a fatherly penchant for inappropriate exhortations at inappropriate times, once stood in a throng of tourists beneath the contraposto pre-pubescent youth as he stared from Florence to Rome and said, “Yep, David.  The most famous penis in the world.”  And then guffawed to his own inimitable self.  My poor, mortified mother.)

Two German boys, about 4 and 6 I’d guess, found it a great handhold when ascending the statue.  Their father couldn’t help but giggle, and his wife, laughing, kept slapping him on the arm when he took out his smartphone.

I don’t recall any early daguerreotypes of the mid- to late 19th century being used to shame our progeny.

A couple more pictures of Fåborg scenery (yes, that Thor Heyerdahl):