Lesson 38 - Translation and Closed Questions

In the firm belief that at least a half a dozen people have attempted to translate my little text last month, here is my version in English. I say 'my version' because translating is never quite as hard and fast as people think and there can often be alternative ways of expressing the same idea.

"Hello.
How are you? What have you done since last week? I have rested a little, at last! I went to the city of Almeria for two days, including New Year's Eve. It is a small, quiet city but it has some (its) interesting things. It has an enormous castle called La Alcazaba which dominates the city. It also has a subterranean refuge from the civil war which is unique in Spain. As I like history a lot I found it very interesting (it was very interesting for me).

My daughters have rested as well. One has been (went) with a group of friends to a village near Albacete. She says it is a very pretty area.

My other daughter has visited her friends in Asturias. She has travelled from Alicante to Gijón by train and has seen (saw) a lot of snow along the way.

My cat has rested a lot as well. Now we are all at home again to start what the Spanish call "the uphill struggle of January".

Time for a change of subject
I promised a look at 'closed' and 'open' questions, so here it comes:

There are basically two different kinds of questions in a language and in Spanish we have to deal with them in two different ways.

A 'closed' question is one that leads to a "yes" or "no" answer. For example, if I asked you: "Are you English?" or "Do you like cheese?", you could make several comments in reply, but the most immediate and obvious response is simply "yes" or "no".

This is in contrast with an 'open' question which requires us to give information; for example "Where are you from?" or "What food do you like?" It is meaningless to answer these questions with a "yes" or a "no". To make sense, we have to give some information as a response such as: "Ireland" or "spaghetti bolognese".

In Spanish these two kinds of questions are formed very differently.
The easiest type to construct is the closed or "yes/no" question. To do this all we have to do is make a statement sound like a question by the change of tone in our voice. For example: "Tienes hijos." means "You have children." To make this into a closed, question all we have to do is change our intonation and when writing we place question marks on either side: ¿Tienes hijos? "You have children?" or in correct English: "Do you have children?" The initial answer to this is "yes" or "no", which we would say before we go on to give any more information.

For those of us who are native English speakers, it is worth sparing a thought here for the difficulty foreigners have when learning such constructions in English as we add extra words and we change our word order.

First of all the word 'do' appears out of nowhere for no apparent reason – "Do you have any children?" not to mention the word 'any' – why is that there?

Even worse is that we can ask exactly the same question in a completely different way: "Have you got any children?" instead of "Do you have ..." What's all that about?

Basically when we start questions with 'Do', 'Can', 'Will', 'Would', 'Have', 'Does', 'Did', 'Has' and so on in English, we are forming closed questions. In Spanish, when we see something that looks like an ordinary sentence with the upside down question mark in front and, without a "question word" such as "Dónde" or "Cuándo" we are looking at a closed question.

I've run out of space to write about open questions and they are rather more complicated, so they will have to wait until next month. In the meantime, have a practice at turning statements into closed questions and see how you get on.
"¿Está bien?" - "Sí"
¿Has entendido todo? - "Sí"
"¿Vas a olvidarlo?" - "¡No!"

¡Hasta la mes que viene!

Jane Cronin's "Step by Step Spanish"
articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane's "Step by Step Internet Spanish"
course.