Linguistic Reforms / Yoani Sanchez #Cuba

We will never yield to blackmail from any country or group of nations no matter how powerful they may be.

We will never yield to blackmail from any country or group of nations no matter how powerful they may be, come what may!

Don’t worry, reader, this article isn’t about what you think it is. It’s not a call from the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language to expedite the process of accepting new terms, nor even a demand to reduce the complexity of Spanish spelling. None of that. It’s been quite a while since I hung up the robes of a philologist, and I now understand more about bytes than syllables, more about tweets than conjugations. I am speaking, rather, of those peculiar twists used in Cuba to describe economic, political and social phenomena. The “reforms” that we are experiencing seem to be happening more in the field of linguistics and semantics than in concrete reality. I will offer up some examples… don’t despair.

In our country there has been a call to “update the socialist model” through measures that are simply adding elements of a market economy to the system. What is called “self-employment” is known in other parts of the world as the “private sector.” Nor are the unemployed designated with the corresponding word, but rather given the label of “available workers,” a very smooth way to describe the drama of unemployment. In hospitals, when they greatly reduce the number of X-ray and ultrasound technicians, it’s explained as a chance to “enhance the clinical diagnosis.” Which, translated into a truthful statement, means that the doctor must discover with her eyes and her hands everything from a fracture to an internal hemorrhage.

In the official discourse, popular frustration with the reforms is simply a sign of “misunderstanding and indiscipline.” If, in addition, this disagreement leads to protests in the street, then the participants are neither “outraged,” nor “proletarians demanding their rights,” but rather “mercenaries” and “counterrevolutionaries.” On this Island, the expression “the people” is one of the many pseudonyms for the powers-that-be, so you can imagine the confusion this often creates. When you read, “by the decision of a sovereign people…” or “with the participation of all the people,” you can substitute for the subject in each of these phrases “the Communist Party.” Nor can the cholera epidemic be mentioned by its seven letters, because the newspaper Granma has already coined the phrase “an illness of acute diarrhea.” And those impoverished neighborhoods that stretch around the periphery of the city, don’t even think of calling them favelas or slums! They are, in the distorted semantics surrounding us, “low-income communities.”

I don’t understand anything and neither do you. A meta language has taken over our lives and no word is what it seems. But trust me, reader, and “don’t worry yourself,” which is just the way we say every day that “the situation is worrisome.”

28 November 2012