Thursday, August 31, 2006

False Friend Alert: comunicación

A publicity feature about an airline begins with the subtitle “Respondiendo a las necesidades de comunicación,” and the first sentence reads: “NNNN es el año en el que comienza una nueva época en la aviación en México al crearse el Consorcio XXXX, S.A. de C.V., una empresa dedicada a satisfacer las necesidades de comunicación del estado de YYY.”

It wasn't clear from the title alone, but the first sentence showed that it would have been a mistake to translate “comunicación” by “communication.” It's clear that the meaning intended here is #4 in the RAE: “4. f. Unión que se establece entre ciertas cosas, tales como mares, pueblos, casas o habitaciones, mediante pasos, crujías, escaleras, vías, canales, cables y otros recursos.” Does this meaning exist in English for “communication”? Only partially, according to The American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, which more or less agree that communication can be “a network of routes for sending messages and transporting troops and supplies” and “a system of routes for moving troops, supplies, and vehicles” respectively. Implicitly, communication as routes for transport seems to be limited to military usage, and even so, it is a sub-meaning of communication as sending information.

Now, let’s look at some bilingual dictionaries. The Oxford Spanish Dictionary gives “link” as the first meaning (1a) for comunicación, and uses “road communications” in the example sentence that illustrates this meaning. Meanings (b) and (c) refer to transfer of information, and (d) can be either transfer of information or transport links ("comunicaciones, por carretera, teléfono, etc.").
The Gran Larousse puts the transfer-of-information meaning first, with an extensive breakdown of submeanings, but this is followed by a short entry indicating the other meaning of links between two locations, though still translating it by the English word “communications.”

In summary, it is necessary to be careful when translating comunicación, because if it refers to links between places rather than the transfer of information, “communication” is probably not an accurate translation. In the example that started this entry, it would have been downright misleading, for it would have suggested a company with quite a different business than passenger and cargo transport.

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