Last week, we saw how the English expression “Congratulations!” is separated by Spanish into “Felicitaciones!” for a success vs. “¡Felicidades!” on life passages (marriage, birth of a child, New Year).
Similarly, Spanish ser and estar distinguish essence (Es mi hija, She is my daughter) from state (Está ansiosa por algo, She is anxious about something); English has only “to be”. You “know” 3×3=9 and you “know” someone: Spanish saber and conocer, respectively. A “fish” is pez in the water but pescado on your plate.
In Spanish, educación can mean two things, represented by the photographs above. English “education” only pertains to the left side. Photo on left, photographer unknown, from Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de las Revoluciones Mexicanas (www.inehrm.gob.mx); photo on right, origin unknown. Both appear to be from the 1950′s.
But it isn’t always the language of Cervantes that makes the finer distinctions; in other cases, it’s Shakespeare’s that does so.
Take Spanish educación. Like English “education”., it can mean formal study. But it’s also what parents strive to inculcate in their children—in surface matters (saying “thank you” and “please”) and deeper ones (respect, gratitude, kindness). Manners and values: what English expresses by the word “upbringing” or, more popularly, “raising”.
To be called maleducado (literally: badly educated) is to be thought ill-mannered, disrespectful, selfish, or vulgar.
This second meaning of educación is probably the more important one in Spanish. To hear the expression “un hombre educado” (literally, an educated man) is chiefly to think of manners, values, character.
“Education starts in the home” is a widely shared view these days. In some ways, we can say that the Spanish wordeducación already contains this idea.
Copyright ©2013 Pablo J. Davis. All Rights Reserved. This essay was originally written for the January 13, 2013 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee), as part of the weekly bilingual column Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation/Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción.