“When people in Cuba speak, it sounds like they have a potato in their mouths.” – Cubans in Miami

Ilustration by Onel

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — About a year ago, I wrote something of an anarchist post mocking the school campaigns developed in Cuba to improve spelling in the country.

At the time, I maintained that forcing a person to memorize arbitrary rules was downright stupid – something very much in keeping, to be sure, with practices inherent to totalitarian regimes.

With time, I have come to understand that teaching children respect towards a given order, no matter how absurd, is of vital importance to the maintenance of society. Linguistic sloppiness and social indiscipline, I now see, are intimately linked.

What’s more, I feel the spelling campaign is far too superficial, overly focused on the written word. We need to concentrate more on oral expression, which, ultimately, is the mother of the former. How can anyone be expected to write properly when they don’t even know how to express themselves adequately? What sort of laxness are we encouraging by teaching a language in which graphemes and phonemes have no fixed relationship?

To be fully consistent, to pull this country out of the moral pit it is in and resume our spiritual and economic growth, the State ought to extend its campaign to the field of orthophonics, understood as the art of pronouncing words correctly. The Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) and Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), even the Ministry of the Interior, could lend a hand in this.

Before nationalist patriots lunge for my jugular, I should clarify that I am not calling on people to imitate native Spaniards, for they also make terrible pronunciation mistakes (like confusing the “v” with the “b”). Such ambiguities must be eliminated if we want to have a clean and mature language that promotes mental hygiene, science, development and progress.

That is why I believe schools ought to encourage orthophonics and punish those who commit infractions. Only this way, by instilling people with respect towards the established early on, will we be able to forge the civic virtues we need to pull this country out of the sorry state it’s in – only this way will we confront the new linguistic and social challenges that await us after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

5 thoughts on “An Orthophonic Manifesto for Cuba

  • You’re wife’s grandfather said it best. Cuban men once aspired to be Caballeros (as I would hear my father refer to his friends many a time) Cuba is now a land where “oye Acere!”best describes its inhabitants.

    The Cuban culture that existed before the revolution was destroyed by the Castros, never to come back. For better or worse after the Castros are gone and Cuba rebuilt, a new culture will arise. That culture however will be built by the generation “Y”. This culture may share similarities with the old culture but will be alien to what Cuba was and could have been.

  • You make a good point. My in-laws in Guantanamo are all university-educated professionals. They weigh in on your comment in this way: Pre-revolution Cuba valued education and even though for many Cubans going to University was financially out of reach, nearly all Cubans sought to imitate the image of a well-educated Cuban. The manner of speaking that upper-class Cubans presented to the rest of Cuba was respected. Then the Castro boys took over. After this point, pimps were better off than doctors. Bartenders lived better than engineers. Prostitutes were idolized and teachers often mocked. This twist of logic included how these “professions” spoke. My wife’s grandfather said that Cuban men used to refer to each other as Senor or Caballero. Now it has morphed into Acere.(little monkey). Kids want to talk like their heroes. Ask yourself, who are the heroes to Cuban youth today?

  • The cultural and linguistic desolution of Cuban society over decades as a result of poverty brought about by communism has inserted Erasos’ euphemistic potatoe in the mouth of many a Cuban, and we have the revolution to thank for this. The revolution pulled everyone towards the lowest common divider.

  • and the first lesson? “Tu eres mi jeba” on YouTube!

  • Hahahaha! The first lesson should be to insist that Cubans pronounce all ‘s’. As it is, when you ask a Cuban “Como esta?”, he will respond “Ma o meno” when he means “Mas o menos”. And then he will ask you “Como ta uted”? That would be a good start.

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