It’s something yours truly will do in a few minutes, you will likely do more than once today… and forgetting to do it can sometimes bring real headaches.
We’re talking about one of the most common, ordinary acts of contemporary life: preserving what you’ve written or changed in a computer document: “saving a file”. This term has no single, accepted Spanish translation; rather, there are various options.
When you stop to think about it, “file” is a strange noun to use for a single document; its ordinary, non-computing meanings are a device, drawer, or piece of furniture where documents are kept; or a folder holding papers on a matter or topic. The computing sense of “file” is usually rendered as Spanish documento or archivo, with the latter increasingly dominant.
Archivo, whose standard meanings include a cabinet or archive (a room or building where many documents are held), is also a curious thing to call a letter or other simple document.
And “to save”? Here, also, there are two main possibilities: salvar or guardar. The first directly translates “save”, but with a discordant connotation of rescue that the English word can shed. The second conveys well the notion of preserving, but with the added sense of putting away—which doesn’t quite fit, as we “save a file” frequently while working on it.
Both languages struggle with the novelty of computing: what we do when we “save a file” has no exact analogy in the world of pen and paper, or even typewriter.
Copyright © 2013 by Pablo Julián Davis. All rights reserved. A version of this essay was originally written for the 5-11 May 2013 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee) as part of the weekly bilingual column “Mysteries and Enigmas of Translation. Pablo Julián Davis (www.interfluency.com) is an ATA Certified Translator (Eng>Spa) and a Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Court Interpreter (Eng<>Spa).