Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Definite or Indefinite Dance Styles?
I just started reading National Rhythms, African Roots: A Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance tonight, and a paragraph from the "A Word on Language" section at the beginning of the book caught my eye:
In Spanish, people always say el tango and la salsa, in Portuguese o samba and a valsa - using definite articles. In English, I have left definite articles off for the sake of consistency. Speakers of contemporary English don't say "the salsa" or "the samba," though we do say "the tango" and "the waltz." In contemporary English, the makes dance names sound exotic or old-fashioned. It also makes them sound, well, too definite, which is unsurprising for a definite article, but also undesirable for dance history. The history of Latin American popular dance is all about fluidity and transformation. So, in this book, I speak of salsa and samba, of tango and waltz, and of all other dance forms - uniformly without definite articles.
It's all in the details, isn't it? Ah, the subtleties of language.

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