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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

Spanish quotes in english books

This is some­thing I run in­to of­ten, and it re­al­ly is a way to ru­in read­ing. It's jar­ring.

Ba­si­cal­ly: no book in eng­lish ev­er gets quotes in span­ish right.

For example, I was reading The Eldorado Network which is a silly but amusing spy-thriller book with subpar pseudo-Heinlein dialog, when out of the blue, I read this: "viva el muerte".

The book's first half is set on civ­il war Spain, and "vi­va el muerte" is said to be the mot­to of a com­pa­ny of moor­ish ri­fle­men or what­ev­er.

Ob­vi­ous­ly:

  • Noone who speaks span­ish has ev­er proof­read this book

  • That is not any­one's mot­­to

  • It took me 5 min­utes to stop feel­ing an­noyed at the care­­less­­ness of the pub­­lish­ers and the writ­er.

You see, in span­ish, al­most ev­ery word has a gen­der, and you have to keep what's called "con­cor­dan­cia de género", let's call it gen­der agree­men­t.

What does it mean? That when you use a word of fem­i­nie gen­der, you use fem­i­nine pro­noun­s, ar­ti­cles, ad­jec­tives, etc.

So, well, muerte is fem­i­nine, and el is mas­cu­line. So, it dis­agrees, and it's a mis­take no span­ish-s­peak­er could ev­er made, not on­ce, not drunk, not drugged, not asleep.

Sure, there are ex­cep­tion­s, buth to avoid un­pleas­ant sound­s.

For ex­am­ple, agua (wa­ter) is f., so it would have to be "la agua" but that sounds ug­ly, so it's "el agua", just like in eng­lish you use "an" some­times in­stead of "a".

So, it would have to be "vi­va la muerte".

There is a weird cor­ner case in which "vi­va el muerte" would be cor­rec­t, if there was a guy whose nick­name was "muerte", since he's a dude, if you cheered for him you would say "vi­va el muerte", but that's un­like­ly.

And this hap­pens in ev­ery damn book that has quotes from al­leged­ly span­ish-s­peak­ing char­ac­ter­s, and 9 out of ev­ery 10 times, it's the same mis­take, be­cause eng­lish lacks the con­cep­t.

An­noy­ing as all hel­l.

Shulai / 2006-04-03 05:50:



Well, I guess this doesn't happen just with Spanish quotes. I read a long time ago a book that has a German quote. I didn't remember it well, and my German knowledge is almost zero, but I have a strong feeling the quote is plain wrong.

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