“Mathematicians are like Frenchmen: whatever you say to them they translate into their own language and forthwith it is something entirely different.” This is the view put forth by the famous German poet and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The French are not the only ones to have a rather “conservative” – if not “nationalist” – approach to language. The Spanish share a similar outlook.
Spain has a royal institution called the Real Academia Española that is responsible for overseeing and protecting the Spanish language. It has always fought to prevent Anglicisms from being introduced into Castilian. Some languages – such as Italian – freely borrow English terms in a wide range of semantic fields, such as computer, mouse, offshore, crowdfunding, car sharing and start-up. In contrast, the Spanish prefer to translate words and expressions into their own language.
If you take a trip to Spain, you might hear words such as ordenador (computer), ratón (computer mouse), vaqueros (jeans), niñera (babysitter) and empresas emergentes (start-ups).
If you go to the cinema, you will see a película rather than a film, and the title will almost certainly have been translated into Spanish: “Twilight” became “Crepúsculo”, while “Sex and the City” was known as “Sexo en Nueva York”. The names of numerous American TV series have also been translated: “Grey’s Anatomy” is called “Anatomía de Grey” in Spanish and “Lost” became “Perdidos”.
If a foreign word has to be used for copyright reasons, its pronunciation will be hispanized. For example, children in Valencia and Madrid refer to the legendary “Spiderman” as “Espiderman”. In addition, the names of great historical figures are translated into Spanish: Christopher Columbus is known as Cristóbal Colón and Michelangelo is called Miguel Ángel. Even the most famous abbreviations that are now used almost uniformally across the globe are translated and adapted: NATO is referred to as OTAN (Organización del Tratado del Atlántico Norte) and the USA is known as EE.UU. (Estados Unidos).
It all adds a dash of delightful character to the language. For instance, in order to avoid the English term “hot dog”, our Iberian friends have created the name “perrito caliente”, which literally means “hot little dog”.
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