Thursday, August 16, 2007

Translating "su" and "important"

Ace blogger Mimi Smartypants was bemused to compare the instructions for a feminine product in French and Spanish with the English ones. She writes
The maxi-pad box was labeled in many languages [...], and I really enjoyed how a "heavy" flow turns into an "important" flow in French and an "abundant" flow in Spanish. Also how the Spanish claims to protect against "loss" rather than the English "leakage," and how the adhesive strip, in Spanish, holds the pad firmly in "your" place (rather than just "in place.") Hold me firmly in my place, I have an important flow.

Her reflections lead to some interesting observations on false and deceptive friends, and translation traps. Here the French "important" does actually mean "big," and not what English speakers would define as "important".

The Spanish was no doubt something like
Esto permite que la toalla se mantenga mejor en su lugar, dando a la consumidora mayor seguridad.

and here "su lugar" isn't "your place" but "its place," which does make more sense. An easy confusion to fall into, when you consider that su can mean "his," "her," "its," "your" or "their." Danger zone for the sleepy translator!

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