Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

Me and You April 23, 2009

Filed under: Language — Jen @ 12:17 pm

Yesterday I was saying something to a colleague about how he and I would go somewhere together. I said, “Você e eu, nos vamos…” (“You and I, we are going to…”). He started laughing and said that “você e eu” sounded really funny. He explained that you say, “Eu e você…”, putting I first. Another native-English speaking colleague and I explained that in English we always put everyone else before I.

I thought about it for a bit then commented to J that our language usage explains a lot about our different cultures. As much as we romanticize the communal nature of African society, Mozambican culture is actually very much a “Me first” society. It’s apparent when getting on chapas, waiting in line at the bank, buying groceries, and driving in a car. It’s apparent on a deeper level by the high level of corruption in society.

The comment about language reflecting culture sparked a conversation in our office about Portuguese versus English colonization. My Mozambican colleagues said that “eu e você” came from the Portuguese and demonstrates how the Portuguese only thought about themselves and didn’t try to develop their colonies at all. Consequently, when they left in the 70s, they left no skilled Mozambicans behind. To this day, Lusophone countries are still among the most undeveloped in Africa. Mozambique is considerably less developed than all its bordering countries (South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania). My colleagues commented on how English colonizers put others first and thought about the people they colonized and trained them so that they were left with skills. Therefore, former English colonies are more developed now than Portuguese colonies.

I don’t agree with the statement that English colonizers put others first, but I do think there is some truth to how the British and Portuguese colonized Africa. Having never been to Portugal, I cannot comment on Portuguese culture, but the language-reflecting-culture topic is an interesting one to explore.

Those of you who speak other languages, do you have similar examples of differences between English language/culture and other language/culture?


2 Responses to “Me and You”

  1. Israel Keys Says:

    There’s a school of thought in anthropology that the form and vocabulary of the language you speak deeply affects how you think – called the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis.

    There was a book I read once that explained an African’s view of time by looking at the vocabulary of traditional African languages. The author showed that most of the words used described the past – both near and far – but relatively few words described the future. I can’t remember the name of the book, but interesting stuff…

  2. Elizabeth Wright Says:

    Geoff was in Eritrea years ago and the comment from there was the same about the Italians as you say about the Portuguese – they left no trained nationals when they left.

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