Recently, one of our subscribers wrote into us, alarmed by the following translation:
Caption 7, Café Tacuba - MediodíaPlay Caption
As the literal meaning of Parece mentira is "It seems like a lie," he didn't understand how the translators at Yabla could have so terribly missed the mark. Long story short, translation is not always literal, and there are many occasions on which the same word, expression, or text could be translated in more than one fashion. There are many factors that come into play at the moment of translating, including idiomatic speech, differences in dialects, the format or genre of the translation, and even the audience for which it is intended.
Since much of the art of translation involves making actual choices, rather than simply translating each word literally, the audience for a translation and its intended purpose come into play. For example, someone might hire a translator to translate a legally binding contract into layperson's language if the purpose of the translation is simply for that client to be able to understand what is being said in everyday terms. On the other hand, were that same contract to be presented by a lawyer at a trial in a Spanish-speaking country, the translation would need to match the high register of the original document and contain exact equivalents of its complex legal terminology. This is further complicated by the fact that sometimes the laws of one country are so different from another's that there simply is no equivalent terminology.
On the other hand, literary translation can be quite complicated with genres like poetry or children's stories that employ rhyme. The translator is then faced with the choice between translating the literal meaning of the poem and completely losing this literary element or employing rhyme while inevitably altering the meaning (as little as possible, of course!). Again, either one of these translation styles could be legitimate, depending upon the audience for the translation and/or what the translator considers more important in terms of maintaining the essence of the original literature.
In the case of Yabla, our audience consists of language learners. As our goal is to translate in a way that facilitates language learning, we are basically left with two choices in our aforementioned example: to literally translate the phrase, Parece mentira, as "It seems like a lie," which sounds a bit awkward in English, or to translate the actual meaning of this idiomatic expression, which is indeed utilized to convey the idea that something is "unbelievable," "incredible," or "hard to believe." Over time, Yabla has transitioned from more literal translation to a style that expresses actual meaning and/or the way in which a native speaker would express him or herself whenever possible.
To illustrate a very simple example, the concept of "black and white" (movies, for example) in Spanish is expressed in reverse order as blanco y negro. While in the past, Yabla may have opted to translate this as “white and black” in order not to confuse learners (perhaps leading them to believe that Yabla's translators need to brush up on their colors!), these days, we would most likely go with the more common manner of expressing this in English. This can be seen in the following clip.
Son los vari blanco y negro.
They are the black and white ruffed lemurs.
Caption 34, Animales en familia - Un día en Bioparc: LémuresPlay Caption
Of course, as this is also a proper name, the translator should always choose the real name by which something is known in the target language (in our case, English) rather than the source language (Spanish), even when the literal translation would be completely different:
Bueno, en las costa se pueden, bueno, observar pingüinos, lobos marinos.
Well, at the shore you can see penguins, sea lions (literally "sea wolves").
Caption 49, Buenos Aires - Heladería CumelenPlay Caption
Interestingly, the very same animal, the sea lion, is literally referred to as a "sea wolf" in Spanish. However, translating it in this matter would only serve to confuse English speakers, perhaps causing them to wonder whether the speaker could be referring to some alternative species (or maybe a fantastical creature!). Whenever possible, Yabla also employs brackets to indicate the literal translation in such cases.
To further demonstrate the complex nature of translation, let's examine a few additional examples:
¿Qué te parece San Sebastián, Matías?
What do you think of San Sebastian (literally, "How does San Sebastian seem to you"), Matias?
Caption 29, Clase Aula Azul - El verbo parecerPlay Caption
The literal translation of ¿Qué te parece San Sebastián? is "How does San Sebastian seem to you?" However, although there is nothing grammatically incorrect about that English sentence, the translator must again put him or herself in the shoes of a speaker who, for example, is inquiring about the visitor to a particular city's opinion of it. In this case, "What do you think of San Sebastian?" would be a much more common utterance. Once again, since the intention of this video is to teach Yabla students grammar, you will note that the literal translation has additionally been provided in brackets.
Let's take a look at an example in which two completely different idioms are used to express the same idea in Spanish vs. English:
El arreglo, un ojo de la cara.
The repair, an arm and a leg (literally "an eye off my face").
Caption 19, Confidencial: Asesino al Volante - Capítulo 1Play Caption
Amusingly, to say something costs "an eye off my face" has the same meaning as the English expression, "to cost an arm and a leg," and the translator should thus choose the equivalent idiomatic expression in the target language.
Let's look at one last example:
Sí, gorda, ya lo sé.
Yes, honey, I know that already.
Caption 32, Muñeca Brava - 45 El secretoPlay Caption
As gorda literally means "fatty," the translation "honey" might initially seem off. However, terms such as gordo/a ("fatty"), flaco/a ("skinny'), and negro/negra ("blackie") are frequently employed in many Spanish-speaking countries (regardless of whether the person actually has these physical characteristics!) as terms of endearment equivalent to such English words as "dear," "honey," or "sweetie." This additionally demonstrates how a term deemed perfectly acceptable in one country could, in another, be misunderstood at best and offensive at worst. This becomes extremely important when translating, for example, advertisements targeted at specific audiences.
That's all for today. We hope that these examples have shed some light on a few of the countless challenges and choices that translators face regularly, and don't forget to leave us your comments and suggestions!
In one of Yabla's videos, Spanish veterinarian, Jesús López, uses two interesting and very similar words:
Cualquiera puede traer cualquier animal.
Anyone can bring any animal.Play Caption
The Spanish words, cualquiera (anyone) and cualquier (any), may look very much alike, but their functions happen to be very different. While cualquiera is an indefinite pronoun, cualquier is an indefinite adjective.
For that reason, whenever the adjective, cualquier, is used, it must be accompanied by a noun, e.g. cualquier animal (any animal). Let's take a look at these examples:
En cualquier caso, los datos de España no son nada alentadores.
In any case, the data from Spain is not encouraging at all.
Captions 27-28, 3R - Campaña de reciclajePlay Caption
Mira los niños, juegan con globos de cualquier color
Look at the kids, they play with balloons of any color
Caption 9, Café Tacuba - MediodíaPlay Caption
¿Puede venir cualquier persona aquí? -Sí.
Can any person come here? -Yes.
Caption 5, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricosPlay Caption
On the other hand, the pronoun, cualquiera (anyone), should not be used to accompany a noun, but rather to substitute it, as cualquiera means "anyone." For example, you can use the pronoun, cualquiera, to substitute the phrase, cualquier persona, in the previous example:
¿Puede venir cualquiera aquí? -Sí.
Can anyone come here? -Yes.
Here is another example containing the pronoun, cualquiera:
No cualquiera podía ser caballero. O sea...
Not just anyone could be a knight. I mean...
Caption 17, Antonio Vargas - Artista - ilustraciónPlay Caption
Now, to further complicate the matter, Spanish has a common plural form for both the adjective, cualquier, and the pronoun, cualquiera, which is cualesquiera. Although the use of this plural form for both the adjective and the pronoun is uncommon in everyday speech, let's go ahead and transform the previous examples into their plural forms as an excercise. You will note that their English translations are identical to their singular equivalents.
For the adjective, cualquier:
¿Pueden venir cualesquiera personas aquí? -Sí.*
Can any person come here? -Yes.
For the pronoun, cualquiera:
No cualesquiera podían ser caballeros.
Not just anyone could be a knight.
* As a side note, a shorter version for the adjective, cualesquier, also exists, but this is even less common and can generally only be found in old literature.
Finally, and very interestingly, there is one instance in which the word, cualquiera (and its plural, cualesquiera), can be used as a qualitative adjective meaning "insignificant" or "irrelevant." When used in this manner, the adjective always comes after the noun rather than before it. This use is equivalent to the English expression "any old" or "just any." Let's see an example.
Sólo espera, que hoy no será un día cualquiera
Just wait, because today won't be any old day
Caption 49, Cuarto poder - Aquí no se está jugandoPlay Caption
This adjective is most commonly used in negative phrases:
Este no es un perro cualquiera; es el perro de mi padre. / This is not just any dog. It's my father's dog.
No era un tipo cualquiera; era el jefe de la tribu. / He wasn't just any guy. He was the tribe's chief.
By extension, however unfairly, the expressions, un cualquiera and una cualquiera, can mean "a nobody" and "a prostitute" (or low class or sexually promiscous woman), respectively. You can find an example in our Argentinian telenovela, Muñeca Brava:
Pero a mí no me va a ofender porque yo no soy una cualquiera.
But you're not going to disrespect me because I am not a floozy.
Captions 83-84, Muñeca Brava - 43 La reuniónPlay Caption
This is the end of the lesson. Thank you for reading, and don't forget to send us you comments and suggestions.
Parece mentira que haya tanta vida en este lugar. ¡Qué felicidad!
It's unbelievable that there's so much life in this place. So much happiness!
Captions 11-12, Café Tacuba - MediodíaPlay Caption
One of the first Spanish words we learn is hay, that odd but ever so useful incarnation of the verb haber that means both "there is" and "there are." Hay dos gatos ("there are two cats"), hay una casa ("there is a house"). Wow, what a simple language!
And then somewhere along the line they told us about the subjunctive, where, even though the there's usually no difference in English, the verb in Spanish is completely different if there exists any sense of uncertainty or doubt. Wow, this might be an impossible language!
Well, haya is where our friend hay meets our nemesis, the subjunctive. Like hay, haya also means "there is / there are", but it is used when the subjunctive is called for. Café Tacuba introduces doubt when it begins the lyric above with "It seems impossible" (Parece mentira- literally "It seems like a lie") so that the phrase that follows utilizes haya instead of hay.
"It seems impossible that there is so much life in this place. What happiness!"
In De consumidor a persona we find a discussion of "Fair Trade" commerce in which haya is used to express possibilities (not certainties):
Que no haya explotación infantil, que haya igualdad entre hombres y mujeres...
That there is no child exploitation, that there is equality between men and women...
Captions 36-37, De consumidor a persona - Short Film - Part 5Play Caption