El Español Tossed Me a Cudve

If I could change just one thing about the way my parents raised my sister and me, it would be their attitude toward Pennsylvania Dutch. Both of our parents and their families were fluent speakers of Dutch as well as English, but they gave both sets of grandparents strict instructions not to speak Dutch to us, so we never learned it as we grew up.

[Yes, I know that technically it should be called Pennsylvania “German”, not “Dutch”, but everyone around us always referred to it as “Dutch”, so that’s the term I’m going to use in this blog post.]

I don’t know why they issued the No Dutch edict, and I regret that I never asked them about it. I suspect that they thought of Dutch as a non-standard language and feared it might cause us problems if we learned it, but I really don’t know. They used to speak Dutch to each other when they wanted to say something that they didn’t want us to hear, but I doubt very much that that was their motivation for the edict. Anyway, one result of the edict is that I grew up only speaking English, and I never became multi-lingual like my parents were.

Along the way, however, I have studied other languages, just never well enough to gain any kind of fluency in them. I’ve written before about my teenage efforts with a “Learn Russian in Record Time” recording. I even followed up on that with a term or two of Russian when I was at Penn State, but other than a few basic words here and there, my Russian is still pretty much limited to “Я не понимаю по-русски.”


In high school I took two years of Latin, which is all that Elco offered at that time, followed by two years of Spanish. I did pretty well with Latin, and I have fond memories of our teacher, Mrs. Spitler. In fact, when I went to Penn State, two years after completing the second year of Latin, I took a Latin aptitude test during orientation week and did so well that they stuck me in the Latin IV class, Latin III not being offered during that term.

When I protested, I was told that I shouldn’t worry because I had done very well on the test. It was a multiple choice test, and as I’ve written before, taking multiple choice tests is my superpower. In the event I should have protested harder, or at least waited until a term when Latin III was being offered, as I didn’t have the vocabulary and could barely comprehend the advanced grammar required. I was lucky to finish that course with a D.

Several years later I developed a fondness for German opera, and through a process of osmosis, I did learn eine kleine Deutsche. So I have a repertory of very useful phrases such as “Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater.”

Then while living in Harrisburg in the late 70s, I was treated to a Polish course by a friend who didn’t want to take it by himself. This was a short course intended primarily for folks who might be traveling to Poland and who wanted just basic familiarity with the language. I turned out to be the star pupil because my pronunciation was nearly spot on right from the start, thanks to my earlier study of Russian.

I’ve always regretted not being fluent in more than one language, and on the theory that it’s never too late, I recently bought a Spanish course from the The Great Courses company. I don’t seriously expect to become fluent in it at my age, and I’m well aware that my ability to learn and retain new memories isn’t nearly what it used to be, but I thought I’d be happy if I could develop a basic comprehension of the language. After all, I hear it spoken around me every day that I venture out on the streets.

I recall only un poco of the Spanish that I learned in Señor Slyke’s class in high school, a word or phrase here and there. We were taught the Castilian pronunciation, the one spoken in Spain as opposed to Latin America, so we learned to pronounce the s sounds as th as though we were lisping. The Spanish spoken in this hemisphere pronounces the s’s pretty much the way you would expect them to sound. I remember that I could never really get the hang of rolling my r’s like native Spanish speakers do.

But now I’ve discovered that Spanish actually has two different r sounds, and I don’t recall Mr. Slyke teaching us that (although at least one of my former classmates disagrees with me on that). The one that I’m familiar with is the double r sound, which is the rolled r that I recall. But the single r sound is quite different. It’s actually close to the English d sound, or the t’s in the word little. If Mr. Slyke taught us that, I’ve long since forgotten it.

So para is pronounced as pada, tres as tdes, and señor as señod.

Check out this page on pronouncing the Spanish d.

I know. I felt like I was entering The Twilight Zone when I found out.

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