There is no shortage of political or diplomatic incidents in international archives caused by mistranslations, often due to false friends. Some blunders, however, are comical rather than harmful.
One such example is cited in John Coleman-Holmes’s book Mâcher du Coton. As a Spanish speaker once started to address the delegates of a conference by saying “Please excuse me, I have a cold”, the French side suddenly burst into laughter. Curious as to the cause of this hubbub, the rest of the delegation tuned into the French channel, looking towards the interpreters’ booths. In a lapse of concentration, the Spanish-to-French interpreter had translated “Estoy constipado, perdónadme” as “Excuse me, I’m constipated”.
Mistakes (and painful embarrassment) happen to us all…
The Latino population in the States (originating mainly from Mexico) has doubled in the past 20 years. Miami in particular seems to have turned into a Hispanic metropolis, with some shops advertising “English spoken here” in their windows. This southern wave is seen by some white English-speaking Americans as a threat, and the US government is going ahead of the duel over linguistic supremacy by passing a new law to “declare English as the official language of the United States”. This new tension is rather ironic for a country built on immigration. Can there really be such a debate between two non-native languages?
Meanwhile, a few hundred Native American languages are dying while their cultures and peoples are conveniently forgotten, dispossessed of their land and confined to reserves, just like wild animals – with the difference that animals benefit from reserves. But of course this is not about legitimacy or fairness; it’s about evolution. Migrations have always occurred and attempts at putting barriers to the Spanish tide over the States will intensify tensions without stopping it.
Photos: lotus.org, mozart.sandhills.edu