Last week, we took on a translation puzzle: how to render the English noun fish into Spanish. It turned out that in that language, it matters whether the creature is alive and kicking, so to speak, in the water (in which case it’s a pez), or lying on a dinner plate (pescado).
That distinction is absent in English, where a fish is a fish is a fish. But a quick review of a series of other words showed us that neither language should be thought more subtle than the other: for every case likepez/pescado, there’s another where it’s English that makes the distinction (fingers and toes are both dedos in Spanish).
Let’s consider another puzzle: how to translate into English the expression“¡Dios me la bendiga!” Without the indirect object pronoun me, the phrase would be rendered simply as “God bless you!” (spoken to a woman).
But that little pronoun me certainly complicates things.
In a similar expression, like “Se me murió el perro”, me expresses how personally affected the speaker is by the death of his or her dog. Informal English can convey this with “on me”: “The dog died on me”.
But in the invocation to divine blessing, that phrasing wouldn’t exactly fit. Here the Spanish me is almost untranslatable. But we can convey something of it by rephrasing to something like: “My prayer is that God bless you”.
Copyright 2013 by Pablo Julián Davis. All Rights Reserved. A version of this essay was originally written for the March 24-30, 2013 issue of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee), as part of the “Mysteries and Enigmas of Translation” weekly, bilingual column. Pablo Julián Davis (www.interfluency.com) is an ATA Certified Translator as well as a Tennessee Supreme Court Certified Court Interpreter for Spanish.