Love, metaphors and prepositions

One fairly common mistake made by English speaker Spanish students is to use the preposition “con” after the verb “enamorarse”. The reason is obvious: “to fall in love” requires the preposition “with” in English but not in Spanish. The question I’m interested in, though, is why would the same meaning require two different prepositions. And the answer is pretty simple: it’s actually not the same meaning.

This can be explained thanks to a nerdly beautiful masterpiece of cognitive linguistics called Metaphors We Live By, a book that makes evident that metaphors are far from being a stylistic device owned by poets but rather they are an attribute of every human being. Examples can be given by thousands, I will just give a few.

Thinking an argument as a war allows us to say things like:
You disagree? Okay, shoot!
He attacked every weak point in my argument.

Thinking of time as money allows us to say:
You’re wasting my time.
I’ve invested a lot of time in her.

And so on.

What are the metaphors, then, underlying both “to fall in love with” and “enamorarse de”? Well, in English the metaphor is apparent: loving is falling. That´s why you can “fall with”, meaning “in someone else’s company” or sometimes just “along with someone” if that other person is falling happily by themselves and you decide to go after them and try to catch them. In English, a fall is a good thing when it comes to romantic thinking, it’s what you have to do. See this song here by Green Day:

I had a dream that I kissed your lips / And it felt so true / Then I woke up as a nervous wreck / And I fell for you

Or this other one:

[…] So I locked my heart away / Built up my wall / Nobody could figure me Out at all […] So I just jumped for you / I jumped with no parachute / Cause you took away all / All my fear of flying / And I just jumped for you

A literal translation to Spanish would have little if no sense. Because in Spanish loving is hanging. You hang from someone else´s hand. I mean, for the ones who don´t speak Spanish yet, there is nothing in the verb “enamorarse” suggesting the idea of “hanging”. It´s the preposition “de” (one of its meanings being “from”) and the metaphors you can make with it what suggests it. In Spanish, falling in romantic terms is a bad thing. You can see that in the following reggaeton song:

Tú me dejaste caer / pero ella me levantó
You let me fall / but she helped me up

Meaning that his girlfriend broke with him but the love of another girl helped him in his moments of distress.

Or this other phrase I found on internet:

Justo cuando estabas logrando sacarme de ese agujero, me soltaste la mano, me dejaste caer y me dejaste sola.
It was precisely when you were managing to take me out of that hole that you “unheld” my hand, you let me fall and left me alone.

The fact that in both languages loving could be related to a movement downwards creates some interfaces between them, but it doesn’t really mean the same.

As I explained in a former post regarding the word fiesta, dictionaries easily offer a translation for a word without going deeper in its real meaning, as if two languages were but same ideas with different vocab. This is not the case. Languages are much more interesting than that. Don´t lose your chance to learn one in depth to experience how the world transforms in front of your very eyes.

LYNNE MURPHY – American and British Politeness

Neophytes in second languages trend to think that learning a new language is like a transplant from one cluster of words to another one. We all wish that! However, what turns out to be true after a while is that not only vocabulary and grammar differ, but also the way to conceive the world and to relate with each other, including the manners.

“Whose the rudest? Wrong question”

In this video, Lynne Murphy explains us why. Even when she talks about the differences between Britain and the United States, her reflections could easily apply to the differences between Spanish and English, whether this last one refers to British English, American English or any other dialect.

I hope it helps to illustrate how complexly beautiful languages are.

LYNNE MURPHY is Senior Lecturer in Linguistics in the School of English, University of Sussex. Her research concerns what we know when we know words, and stretches to how non-linguistic knowledge and behaviour affect our use of words. Raised and educated in the US, Murphy lived in South Africa in the 1990s and has been in England since 2000. Her observations on the Englishes of these places (and the linguistics behind them) are chronicled in the blog Separated by a Common Language. Her books include Semantic Relations and the Lexicon and Lexical Meaning, both published by Cambridge University Press.