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11 January 2010 @ 03:37 pm
What's that you say?  
One of the things that fascinates me about my experience of nonnative language is how literal my understanding of things people say in Spanish is. It doesn't make me pause to hear someone in conversation in English say, "Oh, I was so angry I could have killed him!" I understand that to be figurative at a very unconscious level. But when someone says the same thing in Spanish, my gut reaction is utter shock at the violence of it. I presume that if I spent more time deeply immersed in a Spanish speaking culture with lots of this kind of colloquialism, I would develop more of an instinctive understanding of what those things mean.

This makes it hard to read some kinds of stories in Spanish, even though I'd like to.

Today, I ran into a slightly parallel problem, which is that I'm most accustomed to hearing the word for "heart" in poetic and romantic contexts: popular music, movies, etc. But I'm translating a piece for work in which "heart" refers to the organ. In Spanish, as in English, the word is the same, but it just feels wrong!
Jadiajadia on January 11th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
Only somewhat relatedly...
I'm kind of a native speaker of two languages, Mandarin and English, and one of the most interesting things I've discovered just recently is that a literal translation, even though correct, can be absolutely wrong because the words have very different connotations in the two languages. Even though the translation is actually entirely correct. It was very strange because I only think about some things in Mandarin, and to hear them translated over to English brings with it very different connotations when I think about them in Mandarin!

But I thought this was cool in a kind of similar way so I thought I'd mention it. :-)
ruthless compassion: cheersaroraborealis on January 11th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Only somewhat relatedly...
Yes! That's true in Spanish-English, too, and they're at least largely related. I was practicing translating poetry for a while because that relies so heavily on connotation, not simply denotation.
Rowan: Ravenmzrowan on January 11th, 2010 08:52 pm (UTC)
I totally have that problem in French with "ventre", which literally means "belly" and/or "womb", but gets used in erotica to mean something more like "vagina" -- so you get sentences that translate in my mind as "he thrust deeply into her belly". Um, ouch!
unintentionally intimidatingcoraline on January 11th, 2010 09:29 pm (UTC)

...and i've seen people say that phrase in english, and i now wonder if they are native french speakers, or of some other language which uses the same sort of vocabulary...
lazyzlazyz on January 12th, 2010 05:19 am (UTC)
We live near a mountain range named the 'Gros Ventre'. I never knew it could be something other than belly. Verrrrry interesting.
Doug Orleansdougo on January 12th, 2010 01:07 am (UTC)
I read somewhere that "Death to America" in Arabic is actually milder than it sounds, more like "Down with America".
Coscos on January 12th, 2010 03:29 am (UTC)
Oh, huh, yeah, I don't know that I've ever heard "corazon" refer to the organ, and your post makes me realize that I'd find it really weird. And I don't even know Spanish.
Boring Nerd: you're a kitty!signsoflife on January 12th, 2010 04:48 am (UTC)
I feel like I've run across that, possibly in a hospital setting. I don't actually speak Spanish, but I remember it giving me a moment.
Boring Nerdsignsoflife on January 12th, 2010 01:04 pm (UTC)
. . . it was watching "All about my mother", the Pedro Almodovar film. The protagonist oversees organ transplants.
vito_excalibur on January 12th, 2010 05:22 am (UTC)
Interestingly, I had a conversation with my mom this past visit home where she said basically the same thing but in reverse, her first language being Spanish. Apparently it took her a long time to figure out that when people said they hated someone they didn't actually mean they were planning to kill them!