Anecdotes from My Spanish Teacher Part 2–Cerrado

When a shop here in the English-speaking world is open, we hang out a sign that says “Open”.  When it’s closed, we turn the sign around to the side that says “Closed”.  Did you notice anything odd?  I didn’t either until my Spanish teacher pointed it out to me.  During business hours we use the adjective, but when it’s time to lock up we switch to the past participle.  This is not the case in Spanish, where you use the past participle forms “Abierto/Cerrado” (c.f. Yo había abierto/cerrado la puerta) for both cases.  So why the asymmetry in English?  Could it be orthographic pressure from the homograph close, meaning “nearby”?

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2 Responses to Anecdotes from My Spanish Teacher Part 2–Cerrado

  1. The Tensor says:

    There is a somewhat uncommon adjective close that means ‘having no openings’, but I think you’re right: if somebody put up a sign with the word CLOSE on it, 90% of people would interpret it as the verb close, which doesn’t really make sense.

    Come to think of it, using the adjective during business hours and the past participle after hours conveys an aspectual distinction. Consider the sign hanging in the window as a communication from the proprietor. During the day, he intends OPEN to convey ‘I am, presently and continuously, open right now’, but at night, he’s gone home, so CLOSED means ‘I shut up shop and left at 5. I’m not even here any more.’.

  2. W.P. McNeill says:

    The aspectual difference squares with the adjective/past participle distinction, though there’s the question of which comes first. I don’t sense anything more inherently stative about a store being closed than open. That is to say, nothing strikes me as odd about the sentence “The store is, presently and continuously, closed right now.”

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