Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Where 1 means I

In Costa Rica, when a person uses 'uno' as a subject pronoun, she will almost always be speaking in the first person. 'Uno', in such a case, would essentially mean 'yo'. This is a very important cultural aspect of Costa Rican language that shows the Ticos' indirect nature.

To demonstrate exactly what I'm referring to, here's a quick example to get you caught up:

Uno no podría montar a caballo por tanto tiempo
[translation] I wouldn't be able to ride a horse for so much time

Perhaps this way of speaking first originated from Costa Ricans' tendency to speak indirectly and always take the explicit personal nature out of what they say. However, this language has become so pervasive over time that 'uno' simply means 'I' (or 'me'). Even more, the use of 'uno' to mean a more general 'one', as used in English, simply does not exist in Costa Rica. I know this because I've tried using 'one' in the more general third person sense and have confused the hell out of people as a result. I was doing a presentation for a rural community group and said something along the lines of "one not being able to do something." Well, that something was apparently a personal core competency. Admitting that "one" couldn't do it compelled everyone in the room to give me odd looks. I wasn't trying to refer to myself, but everyone in the room thought I was. I clarified the situation very quickly and moved on, but many foreigners never pick up on this subtlety because it goes much deeper than conventional, direct translations between English and Spanish. So, "one" can certainly sympathize ;)

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