Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation: To translate or not to translate – DREAMers


Dear readers,

The 2012 presidential election underscored the active influence of people of Latin American origin on the political, not to mention the social, cultural, and economic life, of the United States.

Against this backdrop, a social movement has been born: young Hispanics/Latinos, brought to the US as children via informal immigration (to persist in calling it “illegal” flies in the face of logic, not to mention basic decency), now dream of college study, work, and access to all the possibilities of a full life.

Signs at a march in favor of the DREAM Act. Note the verbatim allusion in the middle sign to the famous phrase pronounced by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 Poor People’s March on Washington.

Why do they call themselves “Dreamers” and not the Spanish Soñadores?

All languages import foreign words. English “passport” comes from French, “hoosegow” from Spanish juzgado. Thinking of the recent hurricane, “levee” is French in origin, “dike” Dutch.

Spanish took English input, French menú, Arabic  alcohol, Náhuatl tomate (the last three entered English, too).

They’re “loan words” but, oddly, are never returned!

Some linguists classify loans either as legitimate, supplying a void in the borrowing language (English had no way to say “alcohol” other than to use the Arabic word, and Spanish likewise), or as “barbarisms” made unnecessary by the prior existence of an equivalent word or words (why use chauffeur when we already had “driver”?). But the foreign word, far from being unnecessary, tends to offer, usefully, a different tone or connotation.

This helps us understand “Dreamers”. First, the movement seeks passage of the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act; that name, with its patriotic undertones, makes sense on petitions and protest signs.

And what could be more natural for a generation growing up in the US and steeped in its culture, than to tap the inspiration and emotional power of the term “American Dream”— not to mention the echoes of Dr. King’s immortal phrase.  The logic underlying this use of “Dreamers” is compelling. Sometimes, we translate best by not translating.

¡Buenas palabras!


Copyright ©2012 Pablo J. Davis. All Rights Reserved.


A version of this essay, together with its English-language version, was originally written for La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee), appearing in the 9 Sept. 2012 edition. It was part of the weekly column entitled Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation/Misterios y Enigmas de la Traduccion.


About Pablo Julián Davis
Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, ATA Certified Translator (Engl>Span) and Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Interpreter (EnglSpan), offers world-class Spanish/English language services including translation, interpreting, copywriting, and editing in both languages. His specialties are legal, business, medical, and humanities/education; he has wide experience in other fields as well. Also offered: interactive and transformative cultural-awareness training for companies, non-profits, communities, government agencies, institutions of faith, and other audiences. (See just a small sampling of testimonials from happy and satisfied clients: The ability to move effectively from language to language - which necessarily also means moving between cultures - has likely never been at a greater premium than it is in today's world. That ability is what we mean by Interfluency TM.

One Response to Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation: To translate or not to translate – DREAMers

  1. Pingback: Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción: “Dreamers” y soñadores « Interfluency: Translation+Culture

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