Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Interpreting a Foreign Idiomatic Reduplication

I recently watched the Argentine movie The Secret in Their Eyes and I can see why it won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. I absolutely loved it. The reason I mention the movie is a particular line of dialog that intrigued me.

The phrase "pata pata".

I immediately thought of the reduplicative, idiomatic English expression "chop chop", which to me means "hurry up". The way it was used in the movie seemed to go along with my interpretation. Then I looked it up and the confusion set in.

SpanishDict gives the following definitions for pata:
feminine noun

1. leg (pierna de animal)

  • las patas delanteras; the forelegs

  • las patas traseras; the hindlegs

  • pata negra (cooking); = type of top-quality cured ham

2. foot (pie de animal); paw (de perro, gato); hoof (de vaca, caballo)

3. leg (informal) (de persona)

  • a pata; on foot

  • ir a la pata coja; to hop

  • a cuatro patas; on all fours

  • pata de palo; wooden leg

4. leg (de mueble); arm (de gafas)

5. (expresiones) (informal)

  • estirar la pata; to kick the bucket

  • meter la pata; to put one's foot in it

  • poner algo patas arriba (también figurative); to turn something upside down

  • tener mala pata; to be unlucky

  • pata de gallo; hound's-tooth check material (tejido)

  • patas de gallo; crow's feet (arrugas)

And msn encarta Dictionary gives the following for pata pata:
noun South Africa
1. dance sensual dance style: a dance style in which couples feel each other's bodies with their hands
2. music music for sensual dancing: urban South African dance music kwela which people dance to in pata-pata style
3. sex: sexual intercourse ( slang )
[Mid-20th century. < Xhosa and Zuluphatha "feel, touch"]


So apparently the reduplication of a word that appears to primarily reference an animal's foot or leg turns it a type of sexual dancing. Interesting. I welcome any explanations.

P.S. As previously defined here on this blog "reduplication" is a morphological process that occurs in many languages to different degrees and for different purposes. Basically, it is the repetition of all or part of a word.


mandarinis said...

Hi! I'm SO glad you're mentioning an Argentine movie :) :) (...and proud of it. I remember going to the theatre to watch it and absolutely adoring it! And writing down on Facebook "Tienen que nominarla al Oscar" -It has to get nominated for an Academy award-. Not only did it get nominated, but also won! I was... happy! I know, simple word but that was it, pure happiness!)

Now, the pata pata thing. I think they mention it saying sth like 'sigo con la misma dirección de cuando bailaba el pata pata' right? If that's the case, it's the name of a song. So what he's saying is that he's had that same address for wuite some time since that song is from the 60s.
If it gets mentioned elsewhere let me know and I'll give a hand with figuring it out!


PS - 'Pata moment'
I hadn't realized we used the word 'pata' in so many ways!! And we DO use them all!
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, you may also say 'poner *algo* patas PARA arriba' and 'EN cuatro patas' as well.
We use 'pata' as well as a synonym for 'foot' and/or 'leg', but that's very-very informal! Only for friends and family. But it's mainly for animals.
'Hop' here is 'en una pata'
With 'a pata' (on foot) we usually use 'ir~' or 'andar~'
And some other things I can think of that we say is 'olor a pata' for the nasty smell of athlete's foot and 'poner *alguien* de patitas en la calle' as in 'kick sb out'
(These are all used in Buenos Aires at least, I don't know if they're used as well elsewhere in the country or continent)

Laura Payne said...

mandarinis - Thank you, thank you. Very interesting information.

The Ridger, FCD said...

I'm curious: why do you think the Argentines are using a South African expression?

mandarinis said...

You're welcome Laura!

Actually it was the song itself that got popularized. I wasn't born back then so I can't be really sure but my guess is that Argentines didn't even know what the real meaning of the song lyrics were. I don't hehe.

They could have used any other name of any other popular song back then, they used it as a time reference. :)

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