Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 January 2017 — – I have often heard or read about the supposed Cuban “culture and education,” a fabulous academic record based on official Cuban statistics and, of course, the Cuban Revolution and its (literally) ashen leader.
A few weeks ago, during the prolonged funerals of the Deceased in Chief, while walking through some streets of Centro Habana in the company of a foreign colleague – one of those who, either because of her gullibility or her sympathy, has swallowed the story of “the most educated island in the world” — I had occasion to show her several categorical examples of the very renown solid and expansive Cuban culture.
Beyond the filthy and cracked streets, the mounds of rubble and the containers of overflowing debris, which by themselves speak of the peculiar conception of the hygiene and health culture in the Cuban capital, posters everywhere overflowed, plagued by spelling mistakes: “we have striped coconut” [rayado means striped, rallado, grated] read a sign at a market on Sites street; “Mixed coffee” [misspelled mesclado, should be mezclado] offered another ad on a menu board in a private coffee shop; “forbidden to throw papers on the floor” [proibido instead of prohibido] on a sign a bit further on.
The menus at restaurants, both privately and state-owned, also abound in terrorist attacks on the Spanish language that would have the illustrious Miguel de Cervantes shaking in his grave. “Fried Garbansos“, [garbanzos] “smoked tenderloin” [aumado for ahumado], “breaded fillet” [enpanisado for empanizado], “paella valensiana” [instead of valenciana] and other such similarities have become so common that no one seems to notice them.
The “Weekly Packet,” by far the most popular cultural entertainment product and the one most available among the people, is ailing from the same malady. There, among the video title archives, one can find misspelled jewels of colossal stature, such as “Parasitos acesinos,” [for Parásitos Asesinos], “Guerreros del Pasifico,” [instead of the correct Guerreros del Pacífico], “Humbrales al Mas Alla” [correct spelling: Umbrales al Más Allá] and many more.
There are those who consider the correct use of language as superfluous, especially in a country where daily survival consumes most of one’s time and energy, and where there are not many options for recreation within the reach of the population’s purses. Cubans read less and less every day, which contributes to a significant drop in vocabulary and the deterioration of spelling. In any case, say many, who cares if the word garbanzo is written with an “s” or a “z”, when the important thing is having the money to be able to eat them? What is more essential, that a video file has a correctly spelled title, or that the video itself is enjoyable?
It would be necessary to argue against this vulgar logic that language constitutes a capital element of the culture of a nation or of its population, not only as a vehicle of social communication for the transmission and exchange of feelings, experiences and ideas, but as an identifying trait of those people. Furthermore, language is even related to national independence and sovereignty, so, when language is neglected, culture is impoverished; hence, truly cultured people demand the correct use of their language.
The systematic destruction of language in Cuba is manifested both verbally and in writing, and among individuals at all educational levels, including not a few language professionals. Thus, it has become commonplace to find essays of journalistic analysis where unusual nonsense appears in common words and is frequently used in the media, such as “distención” for distensión or “suspención” instead of suspensión.
The relationship could be extensive, but these two cases are enough to illustrate how deeply the Spanish language culture has eroded among us, to the point that it also shows up among sectors that, at least in theory, are made up of people versed in the correct use of language.
What is worse is that a pattern of the systematic destruction of language stems from the national education system itself, since spelling mastery has been eliminated from the curriculum of skills to be acquired by students from the elementary levels of education. In fact, the very posters and murals of numerous state institutions and official organizations exhibit, without the least modesty, the greatest errors imaginable, both in syntax and in spelling.
This is the case of an official notice on the door of a state-owned office in the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo – on calle Peñalver, between Subirana and Árbol Seco — whose image is reproduced in this article. On a poster written by hand on wrinkled paper, in atrocious penmanship, the neighbors were summoned to resort to that sort of mournful collective spell, the so-called “Ratification of the Revolution Concept,” which all Cubans were asked to sign an oath to, after the death of Fidel. The poster reads:
Of course, it is understood that the notice contained information about times and places where the revolutionary mourners should come to shield with their rubrics the “concept” of the spectral utopia (so-called “revolution”) that died decades before its maker finally met his. Which may be “politically correct”, but the poster is linguistically atrocious without a doubt.
Paradoxically, one of the locations mentioned in the notice, the Carlos III Library (incidentally, the first library founded in Cuba, dating as far back as the 1700’s), is — more or less — the official headquarters of The Cuban Academy of the Language, whose functions, far from ensuring its knowledge and protection, are reduced to the eminently bureaucratic-symbolic and, above all, the reception of monetary and other benefits sent from the central headquarters of that international institution, in Spain th Royal Academy of the Spanish Language.
The truth is that people in this country increasingly speak and write worse, given the absolute official indifference of institutions supposedly responsible for watching over the language. What really matters to the authorities is that they remain faithful to the ideology of the Power, the rest is nonsense.
Meanwhile, the lack of freedoms impoverishes thinking, and along with it, language, its material casing and an essential part of cultural identity, is also ruined. Although the official media, the international organizations and many bargain–basement pimps insist on parroting that Cubans are one of the most educated peoples on the Planet.
Translated by Norma Whiting