Translation and the Fly in the Glass of Milk

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 »  Articles Overview  »  Language Specific  »  Spanish  »  Translation and the Fly in the Glass of Milk
 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translator Education  »  Translation and the Fly in the Glass of Milk

Translation and the Fly in the Glass of Milk

By Adriana Adarve (X) | Published  04/1/2015 | Spanish , Translator Education | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://www.proz.com/doc/4124
After the break-up of the Roman Empire, the Latin language slowly evolved first into dialects and then into language systems that later came to be called Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and other “Romance Languages.” These dialects each coalesced into distinct languages. Eventually these languages became the codified linguistic edifices that we recognize in the formal academies, royal and federal authorities that today specify what is correct and not correct in many Romance Languages.

Romance Languages have linguistic authorities who set chapter and verse. English is not a Romance Language, has no linguistic authority that sets chapter and verse, so Common Usage does it instead.

Once upon a time, the printed word codified language by the very act of printing it, and people were motivated to become literate. In modern times, with the coming of the internet, language is changing at a more rapid pace than ever before, far faster than after the advent of the printing press.

Nonetheless, when changes in languages are not determined by their respective linguistic authorities, but by the non-selective imitation of other language conventions, Donnamarie says that I have a bee in my bonnet because I found “a fly in the glass of milk.” But what does she mean by that?

A fly in a glass of milk in any language is something yucky that shouldn’t be there, something that stands out immediately. It is also something that causes concern. Indeed, flaws in a translated language are more than a “fly in a glass of milk" because language is more than just a means of communication. Language influences our culture and even our thought processes. It is a reflection of who we are and where we stand in the world.

When documents translated into Spanish, for example, include initial capitals for all titles in their texts, contrary to codified Spanish practice, capital letters after colons, capitalized bullet lists, incorrect word order, just to mention a few of the issues carelessly imposed on the Spanish language nowadays, I—and many others—are concerned that linguistic standards are being eroded by the willy-nilly exchange of rules and codes from language to language. Codes that do not respect the to-and-from rules that must guide a professional translator when making a correct translation between two languages—especially when one is dealing with sensitive material such as medical needs, legal depositions and other technical, factual documents that will become a part of permanent records of all concerned.

Especially now that new languages are emerging, and indigenous languages are being saved and revitalized so that we can all communicate our cultural richness and essence, I find it to be very important to continue expressing and honoring the different Romance Cultures by the correct use of our Romance Languages—and their corresponding rules.

Caring about the correct use of the Spanish language in written documents goes beyond rejecting the “fly in my glass of milk.” It goes beyond being vexed by the wishy-washy language produced carelessly by unscrupulous individuals who don’t care about the impact a badly translated document will have on the reader.

Caring about the correct use of the Spanish language in written documents—originals or translations—is a matter of honoring our roots, our way of life, our value system, our own cultural individuality.


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