In the middle of the 20th century, the phrase traveled through the cinematograph and established its domicile in Costa Rica. Today, this expression is strongly linked to the national language and culture.
Human beings, from our beginnings as a species, have traveled, migrated and shared with individuals of different groups. On the journey, our way of communicating accompanies us: language migrates with us. The words leave traces of the encounters and clashes between societies, and the borrowed terms become their own. We even forget that they came to us from other communities.
To this linguistic exchange motivated by geographical displacement, we must add inventions such as books, movies, television programs and various technological innovations, among which the internet must be highlighted. Such means have made it possible for people to get to know other cultures and varieties of Spanish without leaving our physical environment.
In relation to this last point, we must emphasize that the Mexican productions of the 20th century left their mark on Costa Rican culture and, of course, on one of its manifestations: the lexicon.
It should be noted, by way of parenthesis, that songs and classic Mexican cinema, in addition to interdialectal loans, probably also influenced other social aspects. For example, in the adoption of models of femininity and masculinity, as well as models of success-failure and beauty-ugliness. In this sense, characters such as Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Carmelita González, José Alfredo Jiménez, María Félix, Cantinflas, Tin Tan, Dolores del Río, Clavillazo (whom we will refer to later), among others, were part of the national imaginary of The time.
Now, going back to the topic that concerns us in this first edition of “Word”, the Golden Age of Mexican cinema inherited expressions that today are considered marks of identity of Costa Ricans. In this writing, we will focus on the pluriverbal unit “pura vida”. During the journey through the origins of the term and its reception in Costa Rican society, the studies of Dr. Víctor Sánchez Corrales, linguist and lexicographer, will guide us.
Before referring to Dr. Sánchez’s analysis, let us recall a few brief facts about the cinematographic text.
‘Pura Vida’, the movie
The film ‘Pura Vida’ was released in 1956. It was directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares and starred by Antonio Espino “Clavillazo”, Maricruz Olivier, Carmelita González and Ramón Valdés. In addition, it had the special participation of the musician José Alfredo Jiménez.
When he participated in the feature film, the main actor, Antonio Espino (1910-1993), was already a recognized comedian, as he had starred in several plays alongside other important figures in Mexican cinema.
Clavillazo plays Melquiades Ledezma, the character who uses the expression “Pura Vida”. From the beginning of the story, the protagonist is characterized as a guy with bad luck, although, to tell the truth, several of his problems originate from his recklessness and not because of chance.
Despite Melquiades’ incidents, the character faces life with optimism. In fact, the first time he enunciates “Pura Vida” is at the beginning of the film, when the president of the town expels him for being the personification of bad luck: “where you tread or grass is born” (2:33). However, even though the president is banishing him, Melquiades sincerely tells him that “you are very kind and you are Pura Vida” (2:10). From there, viewers already glimpse the character of the protagonist and the meaning or positive value that the phrase is going to have.
Subsequently, the character uses the lexia in question 12 times more. He uses it to characterize Lucía on three occasions (the neighbor who, according to him, was his girlfriend), Ferróneo (his cousin), the people of the neighborhood and himself (when he says that the salty has already been removed and is now pure Life). In addition to its use to mark people’s qualities, this expression also qualifies objects (“divine, precious, enchanting earrings are pure life” (1:11:23) and a meal), an event (“The party is pure life ”(25:00)) and situations (when he kissed his neighbor Esperancita“ This is really pure life ”(1:29:36) and at the end of the film“ Pura vida, no más ”(1:30: 18)).
In these statements by Melquiades, we can observe differences between the use that the protagonist gives to the phrase and the function that it fulfills in the Costa Rican dialect. For example, in the film, the expression is not used as an interjection to say hello or say goodbye, a use that is very widespread in Costa Rica. Thus, we see that the interdialectal loan continues its development in his new domicile.
Identity, “Costa Ricanness” and Lexical Emigration
How does a society define itself? What characterizes a group compared to others? How do we, Costa Ricans, assume ourselves and how are we in the eyes of others? At the center of these questions lie the processes of identity construction that, as such, are always in development.
In this regard, Dr. Sánchez indicates that Costa Rica is “a subjective, constructive, dynamic process of symbolic delimitation of the contours of the community that calls itself Costa Rican and that is also recognized by other communities as Costa Rican. This community is accredited and is credited with a series of attributes, in principle differentiating, considered as its own, both by it and by a different one: geographical space, educational system, habits, ways of thinking, social organization, distribution of powers, integration of family, values, etc. These attributes fulfill a transcendental function as a differentiating and contrastive criterion of the Costa Rican community with respect to other human groups. They create group conscience, a sense of belonging and sameness, cohesion in its members, self-recognition in relation to others and hetero-recognition in relation to ourselves” (see note 1). Therefore, the linguist points out that Costa Rica is social and historical and, consequently, “implies creations, recreations and substitutions, uses, disuse, obsolescence and death.”
Dr. Víctor Sánchez Corrales is a philologist, linguist and lexicographer. He was the first director of the Institute of Linguistic Research (INIL) of the UCR and created the research program Hispano-Costa Rican Lexicography Studies (Elexhicós). Photo: Laura Rodríguez Rodríguez.
Within this identity framework, as Dr. Sánchez mentions, our dialect or variety of the Spanish language “constitutes one of the dynamic attributes that contribute to building our Costa Rican identity.”
On the lexical level, Costa Rican Spanish has several types of transfers or “diaintegrative elements” identified by Sánchez: the Spanish heritage, the Indo-American, the African element, the Xenista vocabulary and internal dialect loans, that is, from other varieties of Spanish. American. The adoption of “pura vida” in Costa Rica is an example of the last point.
In terms of Professor Sánchez, that now identity statement (in and out of the country) is a “lexical emigrant”: “to these lexical items, universal or multi-verbal, coming from internal varieties of American Spanish and which have become established in our linguistic use Thanks to their communicative adaptation to the Costa Rican reality, I call them lexical emigrants and lexical emigration to the respective incorporation process”.
From this explanation, we highlight the following: roots of the lexical emigrant is the product of his adaptation to the society to which he arrives. But why did said emigrant stay in Costa Rica and adapt? Dr. Sánchez’s study points to the importance of the Costa Rican ethos or character associated with optimism towards life. In the popular imagination, Costa Rica is happy.
In the words of the researcher, “the lexicon is one of the linguistic components that best reflects the life experience of its speakers and the dialect variation. We can identify words of discourse, universal or multi-verbal, as exponents of our identity, despite a recognized or proven exogenous origin, by virtue of reflecting an ethos that denotes differentiating relevance with respect to other communities that [also] have the Spanish language as element of cohesion and cultural identity”.
This analysis of the ethos and character of “pura vida” as a lexical migrant, carried out by Dr. Sánchez, allows us to think about the complexity and dynamism of the construction of identities in general (not only linguistic), a process where notions about “what is own” and “what is foreign” coexist. In the context of the existence of hostile societies with individuals from other communities, this is a characteristic that is worth making it visible.