A small square located next to my house has been named after the great football manager Luis Aragonés, who passed away not too long ago and whose politically incorrect, open language was always very well received by journalists, and generated a lot of controversy, even at an international level. Many of you will remember when he called the French footballer Thierry Henry “negro” and, as a result, the entire international press branded him as a racist. Of course, Luis Aragonés was not a racist, but he always used a type of colloquial language that could lead to misunderstanding.
At a press conference that he maintained with the media for explaining this controversy, he said he was not a racist and had a lot of friends of all kinds of races and all kinds of cultures and, as an example, he mentioned the case of a Japanese friend of his who worked as a chicken sexer. At this point, the interpreter in charge of doing the translation had to stop and seek clarification from Luis as he could not understand very well what he was talking about. Then, the football coach provided the appropriate explanations joking around with some nerve and making all Spanish journalists laugh.
Reflecting on this issue, l really think that, as translator or interpreter, translating colloquial language or slang, or translating or interpreting someone that expresses with very specific or local phrases or by means of street language, as that used by the fantastic Spanish football manager, entails a real challenge for the translator or interpreter, as this one may find things difficult to understand and know how to translate them into the target language. Learning a language at a formal level with the language one finds in books is different from learning a language with that used in the streets. The former requires reading and studying, the latter, doing a lot of street life and social relationships.
In addition, translating slang is very difficult because it can vary a lot, not only at country level, that is, a colloquial expression will differ greatly between Spain and, for example, Mexico, but also at a city level and, even at a neighborhood level. For instance, in Spain, someone from Madrid will refer to another (in a colloquial manner) as “tío”, whereas someone from Cadiz will do it as “pisha”, or someone from Málaga, as “quillo”. To complicate things even more, in a big city like, for example, Madrid, the slang used in the neighborhood of Vallecas has nothing to do with that used in the neighborhood of Salamanca. And this is also the case in every single country.
When facing a translation that contains colloquial expressions, how do you solve them? If you know the target place of the corresponding document, one may try to find someone from that area and seek advice. But if that place is unknown or that target place is, for example, the entire Spanish-speaking community, maybe the best solution can be using expressions as much neutral as possible that may not be as accurate as the original ones, but at least are understood by everyone.
Therefore, following the same examples mentioned above, if one had to translate into Spanish the English term “body” or “dude” and the translated document is intended to be used in Madrid, “tío” may work, as well as “quillo” in Málaga, or in the case of other countries, “güey” may also work in Mexico or “pana” in Venezuela and other Caribbean countries. But if the final translated document is intended to be used in all Spanish-speaking countries, maybe one should resort to something like “amigo”, which is clearly understood everywhere, but lacks the grace of the different local expressions. It’s some sort of quid pro quo.