Some FAQs, and a welcome to folks coming from TheOlivePress.es

... which caught me the other day after an extremely heavy lunch but manages to make me sound pretty coherent.

A couple of people have suggested over the past couple of years that this blog is Hispanophobe, part of a venerable Anglo-Saxon plot against the Catholic Monarchs, or something. My original nom de plume makes clear that this is not so--"Alfonso el Idiota" is an ironic reference to the extraordinary efforts made at the court of Alfonso X el Sabio to translate classics from Arabic into the vernacular--and my target is more limited: large private and public bodies which had the resources to promote themselves and their products or people in a professional fashion; to build a decent education system; to reform the labour market to make opportunities available to the most able instead of to friends and family; but which, evidently unaware of what happened to Marie Antoinette even before Sophie Coppola got hold of her, preferred to waste those resources on pomps and prides.

Most of my translation work involves things resembling Dutch and French--more info here--but my main business is running the guided walking tour network, FollowTheBaldie.com. I can provide contact details for anyone who wishes to get in touch with the excellent Justin Roberts, mentioned in the piece.


Brave potatoes

Served at Café & Té in Plaça Kennedy, Barcelona. More over at Peter Harvey.


Garzón, and what Franco said to Jay Allen before Spanish translators and historians got involved

I think this is the first intended mistranslation I've dealt with here. At the tail end of the bizarre campaign to  save the skin of socialist magistrate Garzón by portraying fellow-socialist magistrate Varela as a crypto-fascist, Ignacio Escolar has attacked the Falange for claiming that Garzón buttressed his case with mistranslations of an interview conducted by Jay Allen for the Chicago Tribune in late July 1936. The full passage in question in the original reads:
[Franco] "The revolution of 1931 was artificial. Zamora ... promised a republic of priests and monks. But the republicans cannot make a bourgeois revolution. Their masses want a red revolution," the general said.
"In the name of liberty there was frightful license. The constitution was a unilateral affair. Half of Spain was persecuted."
[Allen] "Then no truce, no compromise is possible?"
"No. No, decidedly, no. We are fighting for Spain. They are fighting against Spain. We will go on at whatever cost."
"You will have to shoot half of Spain," I said.
He shook his head, smiled and then looking at me steadily: "I said whatever the cost."
Garzón, via his sources, renders it thus:
-    “Nosotros luchamos por España. Ellos luchan contra España. Estamos resueltos a seguir adelante a cualquier precio.” (Citado por Secundino Serrano en “Génesis del Conflicto: La represión de los huidos. Dentro del libro Federación Guerrillera de León-Galicia. El último Frente. Resistencia Armada Antifranquista en España 1939-1952”, de José Arostegui y Jorge Marco (Eds). Editorial Catarata, 2008.)
-    Allen: “Tendrá que matar a media España”, dije.
Entonces giró la cabeza, sonrió y mirándome firmemente dijo:
-    “He dicho que al precio que sea”.
Es decir –afirma Allen- que “estaba dispuesto a acabar con la mitad de los españoles si ello era necesario para pacificar el país”. (Santos Juliá. Víctimas de la Guerra Civil, Madrid, Temas de Hoy. 1999. Página 25.)
Escolar writes that from this
it is clear that the translation quoted by Garzón is pretty reasonable. Like all translations, it is open to nuance. You can argue about whether ... "You will have to shoot half of Spain" would [have been more accurate than] "kill half of Spain." But I don't think that that changes the meaning of the sentences much.
However, by pointing out a minor error Escolar distracts our attention from three important distortions, the second of which confirms the Falange's claims of mistranslation and the first and third of which suggest a straightforward intention to mislead.

First, in the original Allen's "You will have to shoot half of Spain" is clearly a hyperbolic response to Franco's hyperbolic "Half of Spain was persecuted." The entire fragment is an exchange about reciprocal justice, but the omission in Garzón document of Franco's original absurdity makes it appear that Allen is accusing Franco of violent unilateralism. The difference is between that of the rational albeit loathsome concept of an eye for an eye and the bloody irrationality of Cain.

Second, as Jose M Guardia points out, in the original text Franco's initial reaction to being asked the question is to shake his head. There are perfectly adequate Spanish translations of head-shaking available, but we are told incorrectly in Spanish that "he turned his head." Shaking one's head can indicate a wide variety of reactions, including sorrow and denial, but they are precluded by the mistranslation, thus reinforcing the Cainite thesis.

Third, nowhere in his piece does "Allen state that Franco was prepared to finish off half of the Spanish if that were to be necessary to pacify the country." In fact I think he's engaging in the classic political strategy of neither ruling out massacres nor ruling them in. For comparison, here complaining of massive injustice in another potentially massively fratricidal situation is Malcolm X:
We have formed an organization known as the Organization of Afro-American Unity which has the same aim and objective to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary. That's our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.
You may suspect the worst, but there's nothing in there that will hang him in a decent court.

If the misrepresentation of evidence in this morsel of Garzón's case is anything to go by, then God help him, and maybe it's time to reëxamine some of his previous work--the mass detention and alleged torture of Catalan nationalists to prevent disruptions to the 1992 Olympics seems to be springing to minds with which, like the Falange, I have little else in common.


Ash cloud already in Asia, says the Spanish press

Malaprensa has from JMNoticias a stupendous English-Spanish cockup. Reuters put out a story in English explaining that the chaos caused in Europe by ash from Eyjafjallajökull was leading to knock-on problems for Asian airports forced to deal with thousands of stranded passengers. The Spanish news agency Europa Press mistranslated this as the ash cloud itself having arrived in Asia, and the story was adopted without question or reference to a map across the Spanish media.

The other day Albert Boadella had lunch with the wife of the French ambassador, who asked him for a trait common to all Spaniards. "Fanaticism," he replied, but after considering the people of the Atlantic seaboard concluded that a lack of common sense would be closer to the mark. Josu comes to a similar conclusion:
Here is proof once more that Spanish journalism, so often divided between left and right, between Spanish and Catalan nationalists, is capable of finding common ground in shoddy work,  in copy-paste, in a lack of common sense. What a relief.
Rush Limbaugh meanwhile says it's all Obama's fault. (Via)



It's turning out to be more complicated than I thought: post first, correction below, clarification bottom.

Esperanza Aguirre's Madrid appears to have made impressive advances in implementing bilingual (Spanish-English) education in the region. Unfortunately it didn't bother to check that Adsolut, the creative agency on the system's new ad campaign, had included a translator in its €127,600 budget. And so, as El País reports, "want" becomes an intransitive verb and the administration looks like a bunch of amateurish wuzzocks. Here's an alternative scenario:
- Hi, Adsolut here, we heard you're a decent translator and we wanted to run something past you. Is 'Yes we want' good English?
- No. And public flogging is being introduced for crap Obama ripoffs.
- OK, we'll get back to you.
- Thanks, I've billed you at my base tariff of 60€.
Anyone got a picture of the ad? What's bilingual education in Madrid really like? Is David Blundell talking out of his posterior end when he says that it's not a good idea to mix Spanish and English in marcoms? How long will it take Adsolut to emerge from hiding (for an adman in a storm, any pub is a good pub) and announce that this so-called mistake is in fact a cunning way of attracting massive attention for bilingualism in Madrid?


Someone has kindly sent in grabs of the screens of the Flash animation, from which it is clear that unless you think font colour has a determining influence over grammar Adsolut's work contains adsolutely no linguistic error, as was claimed by Mariann Larsen Pehrzon of the Facultad de Filología of the Complutense, Caridad Baena, President of the Asociación de Profesores de Escuelas de Idiomas de Madrid, translator Leonie Woodin and other authorities quoted by El País' reporter, Elena Sevillano:

So, while the campaign may not be terribly graceful or creative, my apologies to Adsolut and the Comunidad de Madrid. And a raspberry to El País, who surely weren't looking for any old stick with which to beat dear old Espe...

Correction corrected

See Peter's comments and this photo. Here from El Mundo is another screen grab someone sent in:

I think it's like this minor disaster from Barcelona Council: professional conception, amateurish execution.


"The stranger wore short trousers and a cloak of the same colour"

Someone kindly sent in an example of bad translation into Spanish which is thus officially off-topic but so interesting and amusing that it deserves inclusion. It's from La copa de Verlaine, a collection of Madrilenian sketches by fellow-decadent Emilio Carrere, discovered and described at "Bremaneur"'s excellent Biblioteca fantasma. In "Elegía de un hombre inverosímil" we meet Forondo, a “dire translator” with a “thick multicolour beard” who fails to appreciate the gravity of the author's Bohemian representations and whose translations, presumably from the French, apparently include such gems as
  • “El pobre pequeño niño sacó su muestrecita. Eran once horas sonadas”; and
  • “El desconocido llevaba un pantalón corto y una capa del mismo color”.
The latter is straightforward, but the wit of the former eludes me. Any ideas?



Cash-starved governments all over Europe are busy rediscovering VAT, and it seems that their inspiration may have come from that hitherto little recognised hive of intellect and invention, Malaga Airport:

Please remember that you must show the items in the V.A.T. refound office before checking them.


El defensor de la traducción

Over on Facebook.

My inbox is full of suggestions, for which thanks & to which I'll return when this Easter thing gets bored and goes away.