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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Interpreting  »  Localisms


By Marcia Pinheiro | Published  12/18/2013 | Interpreting | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://www.proz.com/doc/3952
Marcia Pinheiro
English to Portuguese translator
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One thing that usually impresses interpreters and translators is the phenomenon of the localism: That capability of human beings of creating language all the time.

Basically, one could think, when they do not work professionally with language, that things are not that hard, like perhaps we go to the dictionary all the time or we put the dictionary inside of a machine, and there we go (as in a magical trick, all is converted to the language in which we would like to be reading).

Human beings create language all the time however, and it suffices having one of them, obviously meaning one of us, for language to be created.

We visit the dictionary and we check bread, for instance.

Oh, that is easy! the person who does not work with language will say. Bread is the thing that we use in sandwiches.

Right says the linguist. However, as you know, there are several types of bread, ... .

You yourself have reminded me of the sandwich bread, which, by the way, may be of several types, say rye, multigrain, wholemeal, or white.

To the side of complexity, we have, for instance, what they say that Jesus used to eat at least sometimes: The unleavened bread (Crossway Bibles, 2001).

Besides, there are groups of people who live together, in particular pieces of land on earth, and share a secret code, something like a pocket dictionary that they wrote themselves.

For instance, there is a place called Rio Grande (Broad River) in the South of Brazil, where they have decided to call our Australian rolls pao particular (pao means bread in Portuguese).

The rest of the Country, however, thinks that particular means private, and, since private bread does not make much sense to them, they would be lost in the bakeries of Rio Grande until some local told them what pao particular is somehow.

Of course, if they said the usual for Rio de Janeiro (January River) instead, cacetinho, and they said that inside of a bakery in Rio Grande, the baker/seller would be lost in the same manner, since cacetinho is also a localism.

In fact, cacetinho, for those who have not yet lived in Rio de Janeiro, means little dick or little baton, and it is actually the diminutive of cacete, which means dick or baton most of the time.

Cacete, the word in its original form, may mean boring as well, just to mention one possibility that we have not yet mentioned here.

When people take this all out of context therefore, and really think about it, they start believing that true communication, in human kind, can only be a random process of luck, like if it ever happens that the person who receives our message understands what we mean, like what we had in our mind to be translated into human discourse before trying to pass our message to them, then God was by there… .


Crossway Bibles. (2001). Unleavened Bread. Retrieved December 13 2013 from http://www.openbible.info/topics/unleavened_bread

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