I have studied Spanish for quite some time, starting back in high school and then for a while in college. In more recent years, I’ve taken an interest again. First, because I think it’s a beautiful language. Also it’s practical. I have many patients who speak Spanish. Though I use an interpreter in session, because I am far from fluent, they seem to appreciate it when I try to use what Spanish I have to communicate with them. I feel we bond better as a team when I make the attempt.
When I was in graduate school for speech-language pathology, I learned a great deal about language differences. From a linguist’s perspective, this is primarily in regard to syntax and vocabulary. From the speech-language pathologist’s perspective, however, it has more to do with what a language says about the way in which a person’s thoughts are organized and the perspective they have about the world. This is important to be able to parse out, especially when one is trying to decide whether a person is language disordered or whether they just have insufficient knowledge of the English language and/or mainstream American culture.
In this context, I started thinking about the fact that Spanish has two words for the verb “to be” - “ser” and “ester”. The web site studyspanish.com describes the difference as being one of “condition” versus “essence”. This is to say that “ser” refers to an essential state of being. “Estar” refers to a condition, or a transient state. For example, the sentence “the apple is green” can have two meanings. Either the apple is transiently green on its way to being ripe, or the apple is meant to be green when it is ripe. In the first case, one would use the verb “estar” to indicate that the green state will be changing. In the latter case, one would use the verb “ser” to indicate that the green state is a permanent essential part of the apple.
In terms of using language to indicate one’s mental perspective on the world, this differentiation creates an interesting conundrum for a Buddhist. After all, our fundamental perspective is that nothing is permanent and nothing has an essential substance. Perhaps we should just speak of relative terms then? Relatively permanent? In this corner of the space-time continuum permanent? Permanent when not meditating? Permanent when one hand is not clapping? Katz!
It probably doesn’t matter that much any way - at least for me. My Spanish grammar is thoroughly underwhelming when I’m trying to speak. For now, I’ll just focus on the kind of mental permanence that allows me to retrieve any Spanish words at all when I need them and let the interpreter try to sort it out when the patient gets that “huh?” face.
Now buy the Book!