The language you choose, the solutions you find

– Hey, there are more
and more flying animals
– Even money is becoming
more and more volatile.

I came across this cartoon by Argentine author Fernando Rocchia and faced a surprising translation challenge.
A bit of context: “mosquito” is the insect, while “mosca”, besides referring to the fly, can also mean cash, as in this case (hence, the author put the word in quotation marks). So, on the one hand, we have the natural context, and on the other, the financial one.
The translation I chose, while maintaining the reference to these two contexts, set aside the names of the two insects, and opted for a generalisation. In fact, “flying animals” is a hypernym because it includes both mosquitoes and flies. At the same time, market volatility is a financial term, making it suitable to reflect the second meaning of “mosca”.
Therefore, at least in English, this strategy works well as it manages to convey the double meaning of the original words. If the cartoon were to be translated into another language, different challenges might arise, thus requiring alternative solutions.

Interlingual subtitling: a matter of accuracy and linguistic correspondence

When it comes to subtitling translation, not only is a text translated, but also there has to be a correspondence with the image and the original audio. In other words, subtitles must have the same duration as the dialogue. In order to facilitate the reading process, the most that can be done is to extend their duration about half a second more, right after the actor’s line.

Moreover, especially when the viewer is familiar with the language of audio and with that of subtitles, we must be faithful to the original text. In fact, if subtitles are used as support to better understand the original dialogue, even more so they have to strictly respect this faithfulness.

For example, let’s take the case of a viewer who chooses to watch a subtitled, not dubbed, movie in order to learn the language in which the movie was shot (in jargon, this new language is called L2, in contrast with L1, that is the native language). This occurs very frequently, which is why subtitles cannot go too far from the original dialogue.

In the light of these considerations, I happened to bump into this clip on YouTube. It’s a short scene from the movie “Now is good” with the English original audio and the Spanish subtitles. Too bad that the latter have errors. Let’s have a look at them together.

The first subtitle (“Tessa.”) comes in beforehand. This may happen when there is a scene change, but that’s not the case here. This subtitle’s flaw clashes very much with what goes on in the video and confuses the viewer. So pay attention to synchronisation: subtitles have to match the speech.

Then the protagonists say:
– What’s the worst thing that can happen?
– It’ll hurt.
– It already hurts.

The relative Spanish subtitles are:
– ยฟQuรฉ es lo peor que podrรญa pasar?
– No lo sรฉ.
– Estoy lista.

For the sake of clarity, I’m translating the Spanish subtitles:
– What’s the worst thing that can happen?
– I don’t know.
– I’m ready.

As you can easily see, subtitles don’t respect what’s being said in the original dialogue. Of course, they are coherent with the initial question, but unfortunately they are not faithful to the dialogue and, as I explained above, this could be a problem and lead the viewer to confusion. In fact, when I first saw the clip, I was bewildered too: knowing well both English and Spanish, this failed linguistic correspondence caught me off guard.

To wrap up, when it comes to subtitling, we have to bear in mind that the final audience may also know the audio’s original language. So, in conclusion of this article, I’d like to launch a catchphrase to all subtitlers: utmost faithfulnessstrict accuracy!

Translation between hidden meanings and search for equivalents

– Dear, guess
the surprise the kid brought you from her holidays.
– Mmm…
Stuffed doughnuts?

This is the second time I use a cartoon by the Argentinian author Fernando Rocchia for my blog. This time I will illustrate not only two other peculiarities of Latin American Spanish, but also how to translate a culinary product.

Firstly, let’s focus on the word “viejo“, which literally means “old”. I had already talked about it in my previous article where I said that it may mean “friend”, but in this cartoon we come across another meaning. In fact, it can be used to get someone’s attention; here, the woman uses it to address her husband. So, given that the protagonists are a married couple, I’ve chosen to translate it as “dear”. Moral of the story: always pay close attention to words translation, as it can be misleading, not only depending on the context, but also on the country we are in.

Secondly, “nena” is a โ€“ let’s say almost universal in the Spanish-speaking world โ€“ word to refer to a young and dear person affectionately and colloquially. This is why I’ve translated it as “kid”, a word used by English people to speak of a family member, be it a daughter or a granddaughter (even when she is already an adult ?).

Last but not least, the alfajores. These are sweets made of two biscuits joined by a sweet filling (usually dulce de leche, a sweet cream made with milk and sugar). Since they are typical of South America, it is difficult to translate them into another language. However, in the UK doughnuts and cream puffs are very similar to alfajores, if not in taste, at least in being sweets filled with cream. Before choosing how to translate this word, we also have to take into account the image of the daughter with child. Obviously dad hasn’t seen she’s back pregnant yet, but it’s clear that alfajores allude to her daughter’s roundness and her belly’s bulge ?. Consequently, I believe that stuffed doughnuts are an excellent equivalent to convey these features of the pregnant woman.

The Spanish language in the world

– Look, bro!
  Today the flag is purple…
   What does it mean?

– That you’re wearing

Contrary to what one might think, Spanish is not an easy language to learn. Even for an Italian person it can be difficult, although Italian and Spanish are very similar. In addition, we must bear in mind that Castilian Spanish is the generally studied variant. There are actually many more variants worldwide. Among them there are considerable differences mainly in vocabulary, but also in morphosyntax in some cases.

Let’s take as an example this Fernando Rocchia’s cartoon that I’ve already translated into Italian and published on my Instagram account (@zanessis_traduzioni). In Standard Spanish “viejo” means “old”. However, by travelling to different Latin American countries, different meanings of the same word are discovered. So in Argentina and Peru it is used to refer to dad affectionately, whereas in Mexico it means “bro”, as an informal meaning of “friend”.

In morphosyntactical terms, too, we are able to notice a big difference. Rocchia, an Argentinian author, writes “tenรฉs puestos”. “Tenรฉs” is the second person singular present indicative form of the verb “tener”, but only in Latin America since in Castilian Spanish it is “tienes”. Therefore, the ending -รฉs is used in the second person singular present indicative form of all verbs, but only in the Latin American variants of Spanish. Similarly, the Castilian Spanish “tรบ” is replaced with “vos” throughout Latin America.

So you see that Spanish variants of the American continent would require, on their own, a very thorough study…


Humour is one of translation’s most complex fields. Think about puns or culture-bound elements (i.e. specific to a language and a culture). Both of them are very difficult to convey to another language. For this reason there are different strategies to translate them, depending on each case.

In order to show these difficulties, I have an account on Instagram (@zanessis_traduzioni) where I publish my Italian translated version of different jokes. However, there are jokes that cannot be translated because in the transposition into English some important elements get lost, therefore cancelling the comic effect. So in this area I want to illustrate some of the cases in which this happens in order to better understand where translation difficulties may arise.