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Perfection in the Translation WorldSeptember 30, 2015
As a translator, you want to create a perfect translation. You want to get as close to the original as possible. However, it’s not as simple as that. Translating a document can take 20 minutes or days. It depends on the target language, length of the document, and so much more.
During my time as a Translation Intern at Bromberg, I was given a training project translating a Generator Manual from English to Spanish. It was quite possibly the hardest translation project I’ve ever received. I worked on it for days, but it just wasn’t working out! Despite all my hard work and research, the translation still turned out terribly.
Instead of sitting there doubting my Spanish translation skills, I should’ve realized that the project was beyond the skills and knowledge I possessed at that time. I should’ve also thought about St. Jerome’s story.
According to the Catholic Church, St. Jerome is considered the Patron Saint of scholars like archeologists, librarians, students, and more. Many consider him the special guardian or advocate for translators as well. I prefer to look to him as a role model for how I translate my projects. Though he may not have lived the perfect life nor behaved in the best of ways, he was an excellent scholar and translator.
St.Jerome spoke Greek, Roman, and eventually Hebrew. He could also read Aramaic, speak Syriac, and knew some Arabic. He was best known for translating the Holy Bible from Hebrew to Latin. It wasn’t an easy task to achieve, especially because he wasn’t fluent in Hebrew when he started. In order to learn the language, he moved to Jerusalem. It took him many years to complete this work.
The translation, however, was not without its errors. One translation snafu he made was “putting horns on Moses”. Because the word in Hebrew for “rays of light” is the same as “horns”, St. Jerome mistranslated the sentence claiming Moses had horns coming out of his head. The mistranslation resulted in many incorrect depictions of Moses, including a statue created by Michelangelo in Rome (Which can still be seen to this day!).
Despite the errors, it is still considered his greatest work of translation. He was the first honoree inducted in the Translator Interpreter Hall of Fame. It wasn’t just his great translation skills which made him the Patron Saint of scholars, but also his humility about his work. He could admit mistakes and ignorance. He would revisit old translations and make corrections where needed. He would also point out that the accuracy of his translations relied on the accuracy of the source text.
While translators can do everything in their power to create the most accurate translation possible, there is still room for error.. Just like St. Jerome’s Biblical mistake, there are often multiple translations in the target language for one word. It’s not always easy to choose the correct word. Different dialects in the target language could disagree about one word versus the other. Translators have a lot to take in and understand while working, but it’s a challenge we accept.
So today, on the International Translation Day, let’s celebrate translators everywhere and appreciate their dedication to the craft, their diligence, and the products that allow us to communicate among languages and cultures.
Special for Bromberg by Patricia Wyza
Chilean SpanishSeptember 25, 2015
Once, when I was finishing up my undergrad in Spanish, a group of fellow language majors got together for a forum on traveling abroad. We had been asked by a professor to talk to younger students about our experiences studying in different countries: dealing with homesickness, what to pack, the cultural differences to expect, etc. I was excited to relate my stories about living in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, and how influential the trip had been in shaping my (hitherto) narrow worldview. A classmate of mine that I had met in a Spanish conversation forum was presenting as well. We had both been in South America at the same time (the Southern Cone, to be more specific), she in Chile and I in Argentina. Knowing this, I greeted her in Spanish. What I wasn’t expecting was her wildly foreign response:
“¿Cómo etai po?”
I did a double take, wondering if I had confused her for a Portuguese student, if I had misheard her, or if she was just insane (the most probable solution). I had anticipated a very common Spanish greeting:
“¿Cómo estás?” ( How are you?)
Instead, she spoke to me in what I assumed was a different language altogether. As she continued, my certainty in that assumption only grew stronger.
“Mi pololo y yo carrateábamo-, pero el weón se puso borracho , tomó diez chelah, ¿cachai?”
Pololo ? I thought. Weón ? Cachai ? She sounded out of breath as well, and where there was supposed to be an ‘s ’ she eliminated the sound completely. Our professor thankfully interrupted us, and told us it was time to begin.
She responded. At the shot ? I thought.
The forum started and we spent the evening retelling our stories. I recounted some of my favorites: the wine tasting in Mendoza, seeing the famed waterfalls of Iguazú, whale watching in Puerto Madryn. Then it was my friend’s turn.
“Chile is such an incredible place, but I have to say, once I got there, I had no idea what anyone was saying.”
That makes two of us, I thought. Then she began to describe what had historically made Chilean Spanish sound like such gibberish (to me anyway).
The Spanish language reached a huge fork in the road around 1492, when good old Chris Columbus sailed that blue ocean of his. Castilian Spanish (Spanish spoken in the Iberian Peninsula), with all of its regional dialects and sister languages, remained in the peninsula. However, in the freshly ‘discovered’ New World, it blended and bred and mixed with the indigenous languages to create what is known today as American Spanish.
American Spanish is further divided into six distinct regions, each with its own sub dialects and unique vocabulary. With a basic idea of world history and geography, it’s quite easy to understand why each region developed distinctly. Mexican Spanish is classified by the huge presence of indigenous tribes adding to its vocabulary and rhythm. Caribbean and Central American Spanish has isolated islands and unique native populations. Andean Pacific Spanish is influenced by the Inca tribes and separated by mountain highlands and dense jungle. Plata River Spanish is heavily influenced by Southern European immigrants. And then, standing alone and apart from its peers: Chilean Spanish. Surprisingly, CS received its very own classification, despite being considered as and compared to its neighbors in Argentina and Uruguay.
Andalusian conquistadores from southern Spain (Sevilla, specifically) brought their own unique form of Spanish, or castellano, to the western edge of South America in the 1500s. From there, it fell into a melting pot with the languages of the indigenous populations then thriving all along the coast, primarily Quechua and Mapudungun, but also with Rapa Nui (on Easter Island), Huilliche, Central Aymara, Kawesqar and Yamana. Traces of Quechua, the language of the Incan Empire, can be seen in many plant and animal names, and has remained in the everyday vernacular of most Chileans. Words such as achuntar, chilla, canco, and callampa all stem from Quechua. Mapudungun, while less extensively used, is also nominally present in words such as luma, cahuín, copihue and culpeo. Lunfardo and Coa, slang developed by the lower classes and criminals of the Southern Cone in the 19th and 20th centuries, left a lasting legacy in Chilean lexicon with words such as bacán (awesome), gil (fool), and echar la foca (literally to throw the seal, but meaning to treat someone severely). Even English contributed to the development of the Chilean dialect, with English words being represented orthographically with Spanish phonetics: jaibón (high born), overol (overalls) and budín (pudding), to name a select few.
But not all word choices can be attributed to outside influences. Some are just pure Chilean, known as chilenismos, or Chilenisms. Po, an interjection inserted at random, has no significant meaning and is added any and everywhere. Expressions such as sí, po¸ and no, po (yes and no, respectively), literally have the same meaning as their equivalents sí and no. Al tiro (at the shot) means right away. Pololo, polola, and pololear (boyfriend, girlfriend, and dating) are pure Chilean at its finest. And the question ¿Cachai?, meaning Do you understand/get it?, remains as Chilean as it gets.
Chilean Spanish is further distinguished by certain grammatical structures and physical features. The use of the formal Spanish pronoun vosotros has worked its way into spoken Chilean Spanish, with the pronoun vos used in place of the 2nd person familiar tú pronoun, and a corresponding change in the verb endings. For example, tú estás (you are) becomes vos estai . Tú sabes, tú vienes and tú hablas (you know, you come and you speak, respectively) are transformed into vos sabís, vos venís, and vos hablái. To further confuse the matter, Chilean Spanish allows its speakers not one, but six distinct ways of saying “you are”. Going from the most informal to the least: vos soi, vos erís, tú soi, tú erís, tú eres, usted es. Word choice and pronunciation are largely indicative of socioeconomic status, as well as geographic location. Spoken Spanish on the Pacific coast is considerably different from population centers near the Andean eastern borders. What’s more, a linguistic phenomenon known as hypercorrection has stratified the Chilean language economically, wherein wealthier parents, in an attempt to ensure their children aren’t perceived as uneducated or from a lower class, relentlessly police their spoken language to the point of altering its original state to something unrecognizable.
After hearing my friend relate all this information to the forum, the fog was (somewhat) lifted, and I started to realize that she wasn’t speaking a different language, but rather a unique version of Spanish, rich with history and geography and beautiful in its singularity. I still can’t understand it.
Special for Bromberg by Sean Sutton
Ten Common Mistakes of German LearnersSeptember 14, 2015
English is a Germanic language, and many students who are learning German for the first time are relieved to find a nearly identical alphabet and similar vocabulary. However, this doesn’t stop a student of German from making mistakes, even at higher levels of language learning. Beyond the challenging cases and adjective endings that are infamous to beginners, numerous false friends and easy-to-make mistranslations are common pitfalls. Here are some common mistakes that even upper-level learners are guilty of making.
1. Ich bin gut vs. Mir geht’s gut: How are you? Many American English speakers reply with the ungrammatical yet understood “I’m good” instead of “I’m well.” German is not so forgiving; reply with “ich bin gut” to “wie geht es dir?” will immediately set you apart as a beginner. Remember that “Ich bin gut” is for proficiencies (as in the equivalent “I am good at baseball”) while “mir geht’s gut” is to describe how you are feeling.
2. Studieren vs. Lernen: Do you know how to reply when someone asks what you’re majoring in? In English, “studying” can be used to both describe a field of study (“I’m studying Psychology”) and a general activity (“I’m studying for a test.”) The German “studieren” is limited to university students to describe location of where they are going to school (in a city or university) and for relating a major of study, though it also describes the act of studying something in detail, such as a document. “Lernen” is the English equivalent of learning, reading, or studying a subject for class.
3. Vor vs. For : You might say “Ich wohne hier vor zwei Jahren” when you mean to say “I’ve lived here for two years.” The German “vor” sounds like the English “for,” but that’s where their similarities end. “Vor zwei Jahren” means “two years ago.” The correct preposition is “seit.”
4. Du vs. Man – It’s common in English to use the “generic you” when discussing an unspecified person rather than the formal “one,” e.g. “That’s what happens when you don’t exercise” vs. “That’s what happens when one doesn’t exercise.” Be careful when translating these types of sentences into German, as using “du” rather than the generic “man” will make the other speaker think you’re talking about them!
5. Possessive Apostrophes: German does not use possessive apostrophes in the same way that English does; Maria’s dog in English is Marias Hund in German. Apostrophes are only used in possession when a noun ends in an s-sound, and rather than ending in ‘s, the possessive form simply ends with an apostrophe, e.g. Hans’ Buch.
6. Noun Gender: One of the most frustrating aspects for English speakers with their cozy catch-all “the,” it’s impossible to go without making any mistakes about the genders of German nouns. That being said, not making an effort to learn them at all will just make you look uneducated to other speakers and can sometimes change the meaning of the noun. Make an effort to memorize the gender with the noun, and look out for predictors of the gender.
7. Du vs. Sie – It baffles me how many students in upper-level classes believe that they can shift between these interchangeably, not because they don’t realize the significance behind them but because English’s lack of formal “you” forms mean that most haven’t had real experiences with changing conjugation to suit who they’re talking to. When it doubt, use Sie (unless you’re talking to a child or animal). It’s always better to be more respectful – and in the present tense, you don’t have to conjugate from the infinitive!
8. Ich will vs. Ich möchte – Beginners find it easier to pronounce “will” and tend to abuse it, though it translates to a more direct “I want” than möchte’s “I would like.” Germans themselves will use “ich will” when they mean “I would like,” so it’s not a big misstep if you use these two more interchangeably, unlike the difference between “du” and “Sie.” Still, knowing the differences between these is importance, and if you are in doubt whicn one to use, it’s better to be on the safe side and use “ich möchte.”
9. Umlauts : Though most beginners of Germans are strangers to umlauts, they are non-negotiable both in spelling and pronunciation and it’s critical for students to remember them when speaking and writing German – it’s the difference between a singular and a plural noun in some cases.
10. Lieben : There are often complaints that English speakers use the term “love” too freely – “I love cake,” “I love this show,” “I loved the book” – and that it makes it lose its meaning. Even if you use “the L word” liberally, it’s important to take advantage of other verbs in German to express appreciation or risk abusing “lieben.” Use gern, genießen , or other similar words to describe what you love to do or things you enjoy.
As you can see, these pitfalls can present a challenge to even the most diligent language learner. Let us know if we can help you master German or another language and get acquainted with the culture of the country where that language is spoken. Contact us with any questions!
Bromberg Author: Jillian Lewczynski