The Corner

A Judge of Latinicity of Wisdom of Grammar?

A follow-up of sorts to Heather Mac Donald’s post on Judge Sotomayor’s prose style:

Sotomayor presents herself as a stickler for good grammar.  Here, for example, is part of her advice on effective advocacy (from this speech, p. 8):

Go back and read a couple of basic grammar books. Most people never go back to basic principles of grammar after their first six years in elementary school. Each time I see a split infinitive, an inconsistent tense structure or the unnecessary use of the passive voice, I blister.

Yet, very oddly, Sotomayor has on several occasions given a speech in which she absurdly contends that “in Spanish, we do not have adjectives.”  Here’s the fuller context (from this 1996 speech, page 9):

When my first mid-term paper came back to me my first semester, I found out that my Latina background had created difficulties in my writing that I needed to overcome. For example, in Spanish, we do not have adjectives. A noun is described with a preposition, a cotton shirt in Spanish is a shirt of cotton, una camisa de agodon, no agondon camisa.

Wondering if I was somehow confused on this elementary point, I asked a learned friend of mine who is a native Spanish speaker about Sotomayor’s contention. His response:

The proposition that “in Spanish, we do not have adjectives” is risible in the extreme.  I haven’t counted them, but surely the language has literally thousands of them.  The current (i.e. 22nd) edition of the Dictionary of the Spanish Language (“Diccionario de la Lengua Española”), of the Royal Spanish Academy (“Real Academia Española”) — i.e., the official dictionary of the Spanish language — offers many classifications (with examples) of Spanish-language adjectives under the term “adjetivo.”

Just what part of speech does she think “rojo” (red), “fuerte” (strong), and “pobre” (poor) are?  For that matter, what part of speech does she think “mayor” (larger/greater) is?  (“Soto,” by the way, means “grove” or “thicket” — hence, her surname means “greater grove”).

And, by the way, the Spanish word for “cotton” is “algodón.”

As I was finishing this post, I discovered that John Rosenberg at the blog Discriminations has already nicely addressed the point.


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