Foreign Languages in English-Language Contexts: Part II

Last week, I presented a few tidbits about the use of French in an English-language context. As many of you know, I work with Spanish—or at least try to do so—in my daily translation and revision activities. That said, I thought that it would be a good idea to present some pointers that could cause English translators, editors, and revisers difficulty when dealing with Spanish. You may notice that some pointers outlined below are identical to those in my previous entry.

Point 1: Maintain diacritics on capital letters. Like French, diacritics on capital letters are mandatory. Thus: Á, É, Ë, Í, Ï, Ó, Ú, Ü, Ñ. In acronyms, however, diacritics are not maintained:

ALCA (Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas)

CEMT (Código Ético Mundial para el Turismo)

OTAN (Organización del Tratado Atlántico Norte)

 Again, like French, diacritics are mandatory when writing abbreviations:

Cía. (compañía)

pág. (página)

 Point 2: Pluralize Spanish nouns as if they were English. This is usually done by adding –s or –es to the singular form: encomienda becomes encomiendas; hacienda becomes haciendas; gauchupín becomes gauchupines; and so on.

Point 3: To use or not to use official translations? Once again, like dealing with French, the short answer to this question is to consider a number of factors, including, but not limited to, context, readership, and organization practices.

a)      Should an English translation accompany a Spanish organization or title, you may use both in a text, or use them separately (e.g. UNESCO = Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura / United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

b)      If no official organization accompanies the Spanish organization or title, use the official Spanish name, e.g. Rincón Español, Real Academia Española. In some cases, you may use an officious translation that may either be offset by a comma or in parentheses e.g., Real Academia Española (Spanish-language academy). Since these translations are officious, generic terms must not be capitalized.

c)       The Spanish language has many political organizations that have no official equivalent in other languages. Some of these include PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español), PCE (Partido Comunista de España), and IU (Izquierda Unida). In a translation context, it may be necessary to adapt the Spanish party names with ideologies or attitudes to realities in another locality or context. Consider the passage below:

Hoy precisamente he leído en la prensa una declaración de Julio Anguita en la que dice que yo me voy al PSOE porque es natural que cada uno se vaya a su sitio. Si Julio Anguita se refiere al decir eso que en mi primera juventud estuve en la Juventud Socialista, le puedo responder que su sitio sería Falange, que es donde él estaba. Estoy seguro que en España hay muchos comunistas que no están en mi partido ni en el PCE, sino en su casa.

Cambio 16, December 3, 1990

 Today, I read a statement by prominent leftist Julio Anguita; according to him, I left Spain’s social democratic left-wing political party because each individual has to go back to their roots. If Anguita is making this statement with regard to my involvement in socialist youth groups, I in turn can say that he belongs to Rivera’s republican fascist party. Nowadays, many Spanish communists are sitting comfortably at home.

(N.B. All bold prints are mine.)

To render the above Spanish text effectively in English, I had to think about Canadian political parties that share the same or similar attitudes to those in Spain. For instance, a suitable equivalent to the PSOE was the New Democratic Party (NDP), a party that has established a social-democratic agenda in the political landscape for the past five decades. In addition, I had to carry out research into the Spaniard political parties. For example, what are the parties’ ideals, values, or beliefs? Do these parties lean more toward the left, centre-left, centre, centre-right, or right?  Once I researched the parties, I felt it was necessary—and only fair—to add extra information in English. Otherwise, potential English-language readers would have been lost.

Point 4: Should we respect Spanish or English capitalization style? Generally speaking, Spanish and English agree with capitalizing all main words of associations, attractions, ministries and departments, and conferences. In both languages, for instance, it is customary to write Real Academia Española—all main words are capitalized. The same can be said for titles of official texts, statutory holidays, and major historical events (e.g. Segunda Guerra Mundial = Second World War).

However, Spanish and English differ with capitalization in the following areas: days of the week, months of the year, generic terms (e.g. Street, River), book or music titles, artistic, socio-cultural, and political doctrines, to name but these. In Spanish, it is customary to write stalinismo, but in English, this doctrine is capitalized (Stalinism). The first word of Spanish-language dictionaries is capitalized, but following words are not: Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española. Should all words of this title be capitalized in English? I cannot stress it enough: consider context, readership, office standards, and organization style guides, if available. As a closing suggestion, you may want to consider the same capitalization options laid out in the Editors’ Association of Canada’s Editing Canadian English. (See previous post for more details.)


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