Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Death of Craigslist

There are times when you realize that something is over. Like when you notice that there are signs everywhere (literally—actual signs) saying "Disco sucks!" Or the day that you realize that spending 30-60 minutes a day signing back onto the AOL dial-up connection, after repeatedly getting kicked off, is costing you far more (10-20 hours per month, times your hourly rate) than it would cost to just get DSL, even though DSL was $50 a month, and AOL was $20. Or when you see that the only people who take Facebook seriously are the narcissists in your life, who want you to admire their carefully curated virtual "life" and just applaud. "Yay you! : )" No real two-way conversation from you needed, nor even desired.

And now, just like disco, AOL, and Facebook before it, craigslist has earned the boot from my life. In the last few weeks, as I wrote in the previous post, all translation ads were getting flagged off of the Seattle craigslist translation section. Not only that, but all ads in the writing/editing/translation section were being flagged off every day or two, in Seattle—and in Portland, too. There is no other explanation for this other than foul play. There is no evidence to be had that craigslist, despite being alerted to the disappearing translation ads, did anything effective against it.

In theory, community flagging sounds like a great idea. In theory, communism sounds like a great idea. In practice, though, human nature being what it is, neither works well in actual practice for long.

It wouldn't take much for craigslist to hire a few truly customer-service oriented people to curate the ads in each city. Anyone with investigative skills can quickly tell which ads are legit or not, and which ads are overposted or miscategorized. Community flagging, though, should go the way of communism generally; not because it is a bad idea, but because it

Until that happens, and it won't, craiglist will just keep alienating legitimate advertisers, leaving only the scammers and the scum. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

R.I.P., craigslist.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ALL Translation Ads on Seattle Craigslist Being Flagged

I posted this to Craigslist at 7:10 a.m. on Tuesday, November 12, 2013. I also wrote to Craigslist and received their usual, and unhelpful, autoresponse.

Really?? Seattle's translation section on Craigslist used to regularly support 15-20 Spanish translators, and 8-10 translators of other languages, and now suddenly all of us are flagged off for violating the terms of use that we have not been violating? Messages to Craigslist just get an autoresponse suggesting posting in a forum where bullies heap abuse on anyone who asks what happened to their ad. Nowadays, though, it's usually nothing posters did wrong. Posting a single ad in the correct section of Craigslist offering services in one's own geographical area is not a TOU violation; it is legitimate people trying to make a legitimate living. I am thankful my living does not depend entirely on Craigslist, but I am concerned for those who have little other option.

It may be time for us to get together and set up something better.

If you agree with this post, please flag it above for best of craigslist. If enough good people will do that, maybe that will finally get the head office's attention to this problem. Thank you.

And if you are spending all your time being a destructive force in other people's lives to feel good about yourself, then I suggest that when you are old enough (probably next year; I believe you can be working in Washington at 14 or 14 1/2), you try working at an ice cream store instead. You will be doing something productive and positive for yourself and for others, customers are happy when they come in, and they are happy when they leave, and you will feel good about yourself, this time for real.

It does get better. It does.

Spanish Pronto

PS Please flag for best of craiglist if you agree. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Discourse on the freedom of thought, speech, and the press

This essay by José María Luis Mora is a defense of the freedom of speech and of the press that deserves to be much more widely known. One way to accomplish that, in this world of ours, is to translate it into English, which I have finally had time to do. It would have been possible to phrase things differently than how Mora phrased them, perhaps even to simplify the language for the modern English reader (who doesn't really read), but it would have meant losing the flavor and the force of Mora's arguments.

A dictionary of American idioms I looked at once had the entry "Jesus boots" and the example "Hey, man. I really dig your Jesus boots," which was translated for the reader as "Hi, friend. I really like your sandals." Sometimes the original form of expression, even if it requires a bit more effort to understand, is just better.

For the reader in a hurry, here are some quotes from this essay:

"Governments, without excepting any but very few among those who call themselves free, have always been on the alert against anything that might reduce their powers and reveal their excesses. That is why they spare no means to put thought in chains, raising to the status of crimes opinions that are not agreeable, and calling those who profess them delinquents."

"If some authority were to be granted the power to regulate [opinions], it would very soon abuse such power. And whom would be put in charge of prohibiting us from erring? Him who is exempt from it? But governments do not find themselves in this category."

"Moreover, if governments were authorized to prohibit all errors and to punish the stupid, the world would very soon be missing a great number of its men, the rest being reduced to eternal silence. We will be told that not all opinions must fall under the inspection of the authorities, but if one opinion is subjected to it, the rest are not secure..."

"Indeed, if one wishes to lend credence to a doctrine, he need do nothing more than ban it. Men will of course suppose, and in this they are not mistaken, that it cannot be combated by reason if it is being attacked by force."

So that's the gist, but if you are a friend of the First Amendment or a foe of repressive governments anywhere and their attacks on the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press (any government attacking these is, by definition, repressive), you will find much more here to enjoy.

Discourse on the freedom of thought, speech, and the press

Discurso sobre la libertad de pensar, hablar y escribir

by José María Luis Mora por José María Luis Mora
"An extraordinarily happy age in which one is allowed to think what he wishes, and to say what he thinks."

...rara temporum felicitate, ubi sentire quae velis, et quae sentias dicere, licet.

– Tacitus, Histories, Book I, i, 4

"Época extraordinariamente feliz en que es lícito 
pensar como se quiera, y decir lo que se piensa."

Rara temporum felicitate, ubi sentire quae velis, et quae sentias dicere, licet.

– TACIT., Hist. Lib. I.

If, in Tacitus’s time, the right to think what one wished and say what one thought was a rare happiness, then in our time it would be an utter disgrace, and hardly a favorable sign for our nation and institutions, if some attempt were made to put limits on the freedom of thought, speech, and the press. That writer and his fellow citizens found themselves, after all, under the rule of a lord, whereas we are under the leadership of a government, which owes its existence to such freedom, which will not be able to survive except because of it, and whose laws and institutions have afforded that freedom as wide a berth and latitude as it is capable of, with no means spared in guaranteeing to the citizen this precious and invaluable right. Si en los tiempos de Tácito era una felicidad rara la facultad de pensar como se quería y hablar como se pensaba, en los nuestros sería una desgracia suma, y un indicio poco favorable a nuestra nación e instituciones, se tratase de poner límites a la libertad de pensar, hablar y escribir. Aquel escritor y sus conciudadanos se hallaban al fin bajo el régimen de un señor, cuando nosotros estamos bajo la dirección de un gobierno, que debe su existencia a semejante libertad, que no podrá conservarse sino por ella, y cuyas leyes e instituciones la han dado todo el ensanche y latitud de que es susceptible, no perdonando medio para garantir al ciudadano este precioso e inestimable derecho.
To as great a degree as we have managed to be persuasive in our first issue about the importance and necessity of scrupulous, faithful, and prompt compliance with the law, we will attempt in this one to lay the foundation for complete and absolute freedom for opinions; just as laws should be obeyed down to their finest points, opinions should be free of any censorship preceding or following their publication, because one cannot justly demand that laws be faithfully observed if the freedom to point out their disadvantages is not found to be perfectly and totally guaranteed. Tanto cuanto hemos procurado persuadir en nuestro primer número la importancia y necesidad de la escrupulosa, fiel y puntual observancia de las leyes, nos esforzaremos en este para zanjar la libertad entera y absoluta en las opiniones; así como aquellas deben cumplirse hasta sus últimos ápices, estas deben estar libres de toda censura que preceda o siga a su publicación, pues no se puede exigir con justicia que las leyes sean fielmente observadas, si la libertad de manifestar sus inconvenientes no se halla perfecta y totalmente garantida.
It is not possible to place limits on the ability to think; it is not doable, just, nor advantageous to block the oral or written expression of what is thought. No es posible poner límites a la facultad de pensar; no es asequible, justo ni conveniente impedir se exprese de palabra o por escrito lo que se piensa.
Precisely because acts of understanding are metaphysically necessary, they should be free from all political assault or coercion. Human understanding is as necessary a power as vision; it does not really have the ability to decide on one doctrine or the other, to refrain from drawing legitimate or erroneous conclusions, or even to adopt true or false principles. It can, at most, be applied to examining objects deliberately and judiciously, or quickly and carelessly, to delving more or less deeply into matters, and to considering them from all or just one of their sides, but the result of all these preliminaries will always be an act as necessary as the act of seeing clearly and confusedly, or with greater or lesser perfection, the object that we have a certain distance before us. Indeed, an analysis of the verb to know [conocer], and of the complex idea it expresses, must lead us to this result. Precisamente porque los actos del entendimiento son necesarios en el orden metafísico, deben ser libres de toda violencia y coacción en el orden político. El entendimiento humano es una potencia tan necesaria como la vista, no tiene realmente facultad para determinarse por esta o por la otra doctrina, para dejar de deducir consecuencias legítimas o erradas, ni para adoptar principios ciertos o falsos. Podrá enhorabuena aplicarse a examinar los objetos con detención y madurez, o con ligereza y descuido; a profundizar las cuestiones más o menos, y a considerarlas en todos o solamente bajo alguno de sus aspectos; pero el resultado de todos estos preliminares siempre será un acto tan necesario, como lo es el de ver clara y confusamente, o con más o menos perfección el objeto que tenemos a distancia proporcionada. En efecto, el análisis de la palabra conocer, y el de la idea compleja que designa, no puede menos de darnos este resultado.
Knowledge is to the soul what vision is to the body, and just as each individual of the human species has, according to the unique construction of his visual organs, a necessary way of seeing things, and does so without choice, in the same way he has, according to the uniqueness of his intellectual faculties, a necessary way of knowing them. It is true that both of these powers may be perfected and enhanced; it is true that their errors can be corrected or prevented, the sphere in which they operate can be widened, and greater activity or intention can be given to the actions typical of each of them; there is not just one way, but many and infinitely varied ways of achieving this. One, many, or all of them can be put into effect, and they will, in turn, produce perfect results, medium results, or perhaps none at all, but it will always be true that choice will not have played any part in these results, nor should it be counted among the possible ways of obtaining them. El conocimiento en el alma es lo que la vista en el cuerpo, y así como cada individuo de la especie humana tiene según la diversa construcción de sus órganos visuales, un modo necesario de ver las cosas, y lo hace sin elección; de la misma manera según la diversidad de sus facultades intelectuales lo tiene de conocerlas. Es verdad que ambas potencias son susceptibles de perfección y de aumento; es verdad que se pueden corregir o precaver sus extravíos, ensanchar la esfera dentro de que obran, y dar más actividad o intención a los actos que les son propios; no es uno, sino muchos e infinitamente variados los medios de conseguirlo: uno, muchos o todos se podrán poner en acción, darán a su vez resultados perfectos, medianos, y acaso ningunos, pero siempre será cierto que la elección no ha tenido parte alguna en ellos, ni debe contarse en el orden de los medios de obtenerlos.
Men would be very happy, or at least not so unhappy, if their acts of understanding were part of a free choice; then the bitter and painful memories of the past would not come back to renew sufferings that had ceased to exist, and which do not emerge from the void except to torment us; then the envisioning of future events would not have us foreseeing a thousand sorrows, presenting us ahead of time with people, events, and circumstances that will either not come to pass, or if they should, prematurely causing an indefinite lengthening of our sufferings; then, finally, we would not think of, nor delve into through reflection, the causes and circumstances of our present suffering, nor would we, by so doing, increase its intolerable weight. There is certainly not a single man who would not wish to keep far away from him all those things that could upset him and make him unhappy; and at the same time there is not, has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone who has not suffered greatly because of such things. And what does this prove? That it is not possible for him to place limits on his thoughts, that he is necessarily and irresistibly led to the knowledge of things, whether well or poorly, perfectly or imperfectly apprehended; that one’s own choice, or another’s, plays no role in the actions of one's mental faculties, and that, consequently, our understanding is not, metaphysically speaking, free. Los hombres serían muy felices, o a lo menos no tan desgraciados, si los actos de su entendimiento fuesen parte de una elección libre; entonces los recuerdos amargos y dolorosos de lo pasado no vendrían a renovar males que dejaron de existir, y no salen de la nada sino para atormentarnos; entonces la previsión de lo futuro no nos anticiparía mil pesares, presentándonos antes de tiempo personas, hechos y circunstancias, que, o no llegarán a existir, o si así fuere, dan anticipadamente una extensión indefinida a nuestros padecimientos; entonces finalmente, no pensaríamos ni profundizaríamos por medio de la reflexión, las causas y circunstancias del mal presente, ni agravaríamos con ella su peso intolerable. No hay ciertamente un solo hombre que no desee alejar de sí todo aquello que pueda causarle disgusto y hacerlo desgraciado; y al mismo tiempo no hay, ha habido ni habrá alguno que no haya padecido mucho por semejantes consideraciones. ¿Y esto qué prueba? Que no le es posible poner límites a sus pensamientos, que necesaria e irresistiblemente es conducido al conocimiento de los objetos, bien o mal, perfecta o defectuosamente aprendidos; que la elección propia o ajena no tiene parte ninguna en los actos de las facultades mentales, y que de consiguiente el entendimiento no es libre considerado en el orden metafísico.
How, then, can one impose rules on a faculty that is not subject to them? How can one try to effect a change, in that which is most independent in man, by availing oneself of violence and coercion? How, finally, can one place in the category of crimes and assign penalties to an activity that, by its nature, is incapable of goodness and of malice? Man can make his actions and speech not conform to his opinions; he can hide his thoughts by his conduct or language, but it will be impossible for him to disregard them or to rid himself of them because of an external assault, a means which is inappropriate and, at the same time, tyrannical and illegal. ¿Cómo, pues, imponer preceptos a una facultad que no es susceptible de ellos? ¿Cómo intentar se cause un cambio en lo más independiente del hombre, valiéndose de la violencia y la coacción? ¿Cómo finalmente colocar en la clase de los crímenes y asignar penas a un acto que por su esencia es incapaz de bondad y de malicia? El hombre podrá no conformar sus acciones y discursos con sus opiniones; podrá desmentir sus pensamientos con su conducta o lenguaje; pero le será imposible prescindir ni deshacerse de ellos por la violencia exterior. Este medio es desproporcionado y al mismo tiempo tiránico e ilegal.
Whenever one tries to achieve some end, no matter what it might be, prudence and natural reason dictate that the means that are employed to accomplish it be naturally appropriate to the task; otherwise, the plan will be frustrated, the nature of things being stronger than the whim of the actor. Such would be the stupidity of him who would try to attack firearms with water, and to prevent the crossing of a moat by filling it with shrapnel. When it comes, then, to changing our ideas and thoughts, or to inspiring new ones in us, and to do this someone makes use of rules, prohibitions, and punishments, the natural effect is that those who suffer such an assault will adhere more tenaciously to their opinion and deny their oppressor the satisfaction that could have been his in victory. Persecution makes opinions take on a doomed aspect without managing to extinguish them, because that is not possible. Human understanding is as noble, in and of itself, as it is wretched for the ease with which it is stirred up by all manner of passions. The first principles that are undeniable for everyone are few in number, but the consequences that are derived from them are as diverse as they are multiplied, because the way in which their interrelationships are learned is infinitely varied. The habits and customs that our education has inspired in us, the lifestyle we have adopted, the objects that surround us and, above all, the people with whom we interact, all contribute, even without our noticing it, to the formation of our judgments, modifying in a thousand ways our perception of objects, and making them appear to take on perhaps a thousand forms, excepting their natural and genuine one. So we see that what is obvious and simple for one person is obscure and complicated for another; that not all men can acquire or dedicate themselves to the same kinds of knowledge, nor excel in them; that some are suited for the sciences, others for erudition, many for the humanities, and some for nothing; that a single person, as he ages, varies his opinion, even considering absurd what he had previously considered proven; and that no one, while he lives, is firm and unvarying in his opinions, nor in the idea he has formed about things. Just as man's intellectual faculty does not have a precise and exact measure of the vigor with which it carries out its operations, neither is there such a measure of the amount of light it needs in order to perform them. To expect, in other words, that the rest will be convinced by the judgment of another, even when it is the judgment of the authorities, is to insist, says the celebrated Spedalieri, on them seeing and hearing through eyes and ears that are not their own; it is to force them to allow themselves to be led blindly and without any other reason than the force they are unable to resist; it is, to put it succinctly, to dry up all the sources of public enlightenment and to destroy, radically and prematurely, the improvements that could have been made in the future. Siempre que se pretenda conseguir un fin, sea de la clase que fuere, la prudencia y la razón natural dictan, que los medios de que se hace uso para obtenerlo le sean naturalmente proporcionados; de lo contrario se frustrará el designio pudiendo más la naturaleza de las cosas que el capricho del agente. Tal sería la insensatez del que pretendiese atacar las armas de fuego con agua, e impedir el paso de un foso llenándolo de metralla. Cuando se trata, pues, de cambiar nuestras ideas y pensamientos, o de inspirarnos otras nuevas, y para esto se hace uso de preceptos, prohibiciones y penas, el efecto natural es, que los que sufren semejante violencia, se adhieran más tenazmente a su opinión, y nieguen a su opresor la satisfacción que pudiera caberle en la victoria. La persecución hace tomar un carácter funesto a las opiniones sin conseguir extinguirlas, porque esto no es posible. El entendimiento humano es tan noble en sí mismo, como miserable por la facilidad con que es ofuscado por toda clase de pasiones. Los primeros principios innegables para todos, son pocos en número, pero las consecuencias que de ellos se derivan, son tan diversas como multiplicadas, porque es infinitamente variado el modo con que se aprenden sus relaciones. Los hábitos y costumbres que nos ha inspirado la educación, el género de vida que hemos adoptado, los objetos que nos rodean, y sobre todo las personas con que tratamos, contribuyen, sin que ni aun podamos percibirlo, a la formación de nuestros juicios, modificando de mil modos la percepción de los objetos, y haciendo aparezcan revestidos tal vez de mil formas, menos de la natural y genuina. Así vemos que para este es evidente y sencillo lo que para otro es oscuro y complicado; que no todos los hombres pueden adquirir o dedicarse a la misma clase de conocimientos, ni sobresalir en ellos; que unos son aptos para las ciencias, otros para la erudición, muchos para las humanidades, y algunos para nada; que una misma persona, con la edad varía de opinión, hasta tener por absurdo lo que antes reputaba demostrado; y que nadie mientras vive es firme e invariable en sus opiniones, ni en el concepto que ha formado de las cosas. Como la facultad intelectual del hombre no tiene una medida precisa y exacta del vigor con que desempeña sus operaciones, tampoco la hay de la cantidad de luz que necesita para ejercerlas. Pretender, pues, que los demás se convenzan por el juicio de otro, aun cuando este sea el de la autoridad, es empeñarse, dice el célebre Spedalieri, en que vean y oigan por ojos y oídos ajenos; es obligarlos a que se dejen llevar a ciegas y sin más razón que la fuerza a que no pueden resistir; es, para decirlo en pocas palabras, secar todas las fuentes de la ilustración pública y destruir anticipada y radicalmente las mejoras que pudieran hacerse en lo sucesivo.
Indeed, what would become of us, and of all of mankind, if someone had granted the wishes of those who have wanted to put understanding in chains and to place limits on the freedom of thought? What advances would we have achieved in the arts and sciences, in improvements to governments, and in the condition of men in the social state? What would become, particularly, of the fate of our nation? Thanks, not to the efforts of the extraordinary geniuses who in every age have known how to shake the chains that were attempted to be imposed on thought, societies, even without having reached the highest degree of perfection, have made considerable advances. Governments, without excepting any but very few among those who call themselves free, have always been on the alert against anything that might reduce their powers and reveal their excesses. That is why they spare no means to put thought in chains, raising to the status of crimes opinions that are not agreeable, and calling those who profess them delinquents. But were they within their rights? Did they proceed legally when they availed themselves of these means? Or, rather, have they run roughshod over the sacred rights of man, arrogating powers which no one wanted to give them and they could not receive? That is the point that we are going to examine. En efecto; ¿qué sería de nosotros y de todo el género humano, si se hubieran cumplido los votos de los que han querido atar el entendimiento y poner límites a la libertad de pensar? ¿Cuáles habrían sido los adelantos de las artes y ciencias, las mejoras de los gobiernos, y de la condición de los hombres en el estado social? ¿Cuál sería en particular la suerte de nuestra nación? Merced, no a los esfuerzos de los genios extraordinarios que en todo tiempo han sabido sacudir las cadenas que se han querido imponer al pensamiento, las sociedades, aunque sin haber llegado al último grado de perfección, han tenido adelantos considerables. Los gobiernos, sin exceptuar sino muy pocos entre los que se llaman libres, siempre han estado alerta contra todo lo que es disminuir sus facultades y hacer patentes sus excesos. De aquí es que no pierden medio para encadenar el pensamiento, erigiendo en crímenes las opiniones que no acomodan, y llamando delincuentes a los que las profesan. ¿Mas han tenido derecho para tanto? ¿Han procedido con legalidad cuando se han valido de estos medios? O más bien ¿han atropellado los derechos sagrados del hombre arrogándose facultades que nadie les quiso dar ni ellos pudieron recibir? Este es el punto que vamos a examinar.
Governments have been established precisely to maintain public order, guaranteeing each individual the exercise of his rights and the possession of his goods, in the manner and form that has been prescribed to them by the laws, and in no other way. Their powers are necessarily determined in the compacts or agreements that we call constitutional charters, and they are the result of the national will. The ones who created these charters, and those on whose behalf they acted, were not able to write into them provisions which, by the nature of things, were beyond their powers, such as condemning an innocent, or raising to the status of crimes actions which are truly laudable, such as paternal love; nor could they possibly subject to laws actions that are by their nature incapable of morality, such as the circulation of the blood, the movement of the lungs, etc. Hence it is that, for a legislative, executive, or judicial measure to be just, legal and equitable, it is not enough that it be passed by the authority having jurisdiction; it is also necessary that it be inherently possible, and indispensable for maintaining public order. Let us see, then, whether the measures that have been passed, or that they are trying to pass, against the freedom of thought are of this kind. Los gobiernos han sido establecidos precisamente para conservar el orden público, asegurando a cada uno de los particulares el ejercicio de sus derechos y la posesión de sus bienes, en el modo y forma que les ha sido prescrito por las leyes, y no de otra manera. Sus facultades están necesariamente determinadas en los pactos o convenios que llamamos cartas constitucionales, y son el resultado de la voluntad nacional; los que las formaron y sus comitentes no pudieron consignar en ellas disposiciones, que por la naturaleza de las cosas estaban fuera de sus poderes, tales como la condenación de un inocente, el erigir en crímenes acciones verdaderamente laudables como el amor paternal; ni mucho menos sujetar a las leyes acciones por su naturaleza incapaces de moralidad, como la circulación de la sangre, el movimiento de los pulmones, etc. De aquí es que para que una providencia legislativa, ejecutiva o judicial sea justa, legal y equitativa, no basta que sea dictada por la autoridad competente, sino que es también necesario que ella sea posible en sí misma, e indispensable para conservar el orden público. Veamos, pues, si son de esta clase las que se han dictado o pretendan dictarse contra la libertad del pensamiento.
Up to this point we have demonstrated that opinions are not freely chosen and, therefore, are incapable of morality; all that remains for us is to show that opinions can never disturb the public order, and especially not under the representative system. Indeed, the public order is maintained by the conscientious and faithful observance of the laws, and this observance is very compatible with the absolute and total freedom of opinions. There is nothing more common than seeing men who dislike the laws and whose ideas are contrary to them, but who at the same time not only observe them religiously, but are intimately convinced of the need to do so. To say this law is bad, it has these disadvantages and these others, is not to say it should neither be obeyed nor complied with; the first is an opinion, the second is an action; the opinion is independent of all human power, the action must be subjected to the authority having jurisdiction. Men have the right to make laws or, put another way, to order that things be done this way or that, but not to raise doctrines to the status of dogmas, nor to compel others to believe in them. This absurd right would require either the need for a symbol or comprehensive body of doctrine containing all truths, or the existence of an infallible authority whose decisions should be complied with. There is nothing, however, more baseless than suppositions of this kind. Que las opiniones no sean libres y de consiguiente incapaces de moralidad, lo hemos demostrado hasta aquí; réstanos solo hacer ver que jamás pueden trastornar el orden público, y mucho menos en el sistema representativo. En efecto, el orden público se mantiene por la puntual y fiel observancia de las leyes, y esta es muy compatible con la libertad total y absoluta de las opiniones. No hay cosa más frecuente que ver hombres a quienes desagradan las leyes y cuyas ideas les son contrarias; pero que al mismo tiempo no solo las observan religiosamente, sino que están íntimamente convencidos de la necesidad de hacerlo. Decir esta ley es mala, tiene estos y los otros inconvenientes, no es decir, no se obedezca ni se cumpla; la primera es una opinión, la segunda es una acción; aquella es independiente de todo poder humano, esta debe sujetarse a la autoridad competente. Los hombres tienen derecho para hacer leyes, o lo que es lo mismo, para mandar que se obre de este o del otro modo; pero no para erigir las doctrinas en dogmas, ni obligar a los demás a su creencia. Este absurdo derecho supondría o la necesidad de un símbolo o cuerpo de doctrina comprensivo de todas las verdades, o la existencia de una autoridad infalible a cuyas decisiones debería estarse. Nada hay, sin embargo, más ajeno de fundamento que semejantes suposiciones.
But how could the former have been created, and who would be so presumptuous and bold as to dare arrogate the latter? "A body of doctrine," says the celebrated Daunou, "supposes that human understanding has made all the progress that is possible, it prohibits all the possible progress that remains, it draws a circle around all the knowledge acquired, it inevitably encloses within it many errors, it opposes the development of the sciences, of the arts, and of all kinds of industry." And who would have been able to create it? Even if, for such an unattainable project, the most celebrated men of the universe had come together, nothing would have been accomplished; if you do not believe it, just look at their writings, and they will be found to be full of errors on the way to a few truths with which they have contributed to the enlightenment of the public. The daily and continuing improvement that can be seen in all human works is conclusive evidence that the perfectibility of their powers has no end, and of how much would have been lost by halting its march, if that had been possible. Mas ¿cómo podría haberse formado el primero, ni quién sería tan presuntuoso y audaz que se atreviese a arrogarse lo segundo? "Un cuerpo de doctrina", dice el célebre Daunou, "supone que el entendimiento humano ha hecho todos los progresos posibles, le prohíbe todos los que le restan, traza un círculo alrededor de todos los conocimientos adquiridos, encierra inevitablemente muchos errores, se opone al desarrollo de las ciencias, de las artes y de todo género de industria". Ni ¿quién sería capaz de haberlo formado? Aun cuando para tan inasequible proyecto se hubiesen reunido los hombres más célebres del universo, nada se habría conseguido; regístrense si no sus escritos, y se hallarán llenos de errores a vuelta de algunas verdades con que han contribuido a la ilustración pública. La mejora diaria y progresiva que se advierte en todas las obras humanas, es una prueba demostrativa de que la perfectibilidad de sus potencias no tiene término, y de lo mucho que se habría perdido en detener su marcha, si esto hubiera sido posible.
We are persuaded that none of the current governments will boast of its inability to err. They and the peoples entrusted to their leadership are too enlightened for them to be able to aspire to or grant themselves any such prerogatives. But if governments are composed of men who are just as fallible as the others, by which principle of justice, or on what legal basis, do they rush to prescribe or prohibit doctrines? How do they dare to point out the opinions we should follow, and the ones that we are not allowed to profess? Is this not an act of aggression, without attainable effect, which nothing can justify? Without a doubt. This, however, is common, and it almost always serves as a pretext for classifying citizens and persecuting them straightaway. They are held responsible for the opinions that they have, or that they are believed to have, and those become a reason for hatred and loathing. This is how factions are perpetuated, for the winning dogma is one day overthrown, and then it becomes a crime to profess it. This is how nations are demoralized, and a forced trade in lies is established which forces the weak to hide their thoughts, and makes those who have a strong soul the target of the bullets of persecution. Estamos persuadidos que ninguno de los gobiernos actuales hará alarde de su incapacidad de errar. Ellos y los pueblos confiados a su dirección están demasiado ilustrados para que puedan pretenderse y acordarse semejantes prerrogativas. Mas si los gobiernos están compuestos de hombres tan falibles como los otros, ¿por qué principio de justicia, o con qué título legal se adelantan a prescribir o prohibir doctrinas? ¿Cómo se atreven a señalarnos las opiniones que debemos seguir, y las que no nos es permitido profesar? ¿No es este un acto de agresión de efecto inasequible y que nada puede justificarlo? Sin duda. Él sin embargo es común, y casi siempre sirve de pretexto para clasificar los ciudadanos y perseguirlos en seguida. Se les hace cargo de las opiniones que tienen o se les suponen; y estas se convierten en un motivo de odio y detestación. De este modo se perpetúan las facciones, puesto que el dogma triunfante algún día llega a ser derrocado, y entonces pasa a ser crimen el profesarlo. Así es como se desmoralizan las naciones, y se establece un comercio forzado de mentiras que obliga a los débiles a disimular su conceptos, y a los que tienen alma fuerte los hace el blanco de los tiros de la persecución.
What! Will it be allowable to express all opinions? Do the authorities not have the right to prohibit the expression of some of them? Many of them which necessarily must be in error, will they not be harmful? Yes, we say it resolutely: Opinions about doctrines should be absolutely free. No one doubts that the surest way, or rather the only way, to arrive at knowledge of the truth is the examination produced by free discussion; then one has in front of him not just one's own reflections, but also those of others, and it has happened thousands of times that from the correction and perhaps from the error or impertinent observation of some person has hung the fate of a nation. There is no understanding, however vast and universal it might be considered to be, that can take in everything, nor exhaust any subject; that is why everyone, and in all subjects, especially those that have to do with government, needs help from others, which he will certainly not obtain if freedom of speech and the press is not guaranteed, shielding opinions and their authors from all attacks which might be attempted against them by those who do not profess those views. The government, in other words, should not ban, nor grant protection to, any doctrine. That is foreign to its purpose; it is in place only to observe, and to make its subjects observe, the law. Pues qué ¿será lícito manifestar todas las opiniones? ¿No tiene la autoridad derecho para prohibir la enunciación de algunas? ¿Muchas de ellas que necesariamente deben ser erradas no serán perjudiciales? Sí, lo decimos resueltamente, las opiniones sobre doctrinas deben ser del todo libres. Nadie duda que el medio más seguro, o por mejor decir el único, para llegar al conocimiento de la verdad, es el examen que produce una discusión libre; entonces se tienen presentes no solo las propias reflexiones sino también las ajenas, y mil veces ha sucedido que del reparo y tal vez del error u observación impertinente de alguno, ha pendido la suerte de una nación. No hay entendimiento por vasto y universal que se suponga, que pueda abrazarlo todo ni agotar materia alguna; de aquí es que todos y en todas materias, especialmente las que versan sobre gobierno, necesitan del auxilio de los demás, que no obtendrán ciertamente, si no se asegura la libertad de hablar y escribir, poniendo las opiniones y sus autores a cubierto de toda agresión que pueda intentarse contra ellos por los que no las profesan. El gobierno pues no debe proscribir ni dispensar protección a ninguna doctrina; esto es ajeno de su instituto, él está solamente puesto para observar y hacer que sus súbditos observen las leyes.
It is true that among opinions there are, and there must be, many erroneous ones; it is equally true that every error, in any line, and under any aspect that it might be considered, is pernicious in the extreme, but it is no less true that prohibitions are not the means for remedying this; the free circulation of ideas, and the contrast that results from opposition, is the only thing that can rectify opinions. If some authority were to be granted the power to regulate them, it would very soon abuse such power. And whom would be put in charge of prohibiting us from erring? Him who is exempt from it? But governments do not find themselves in this category. Quite the contrary, when the causes are sought which have done most to spread error and contribute to perpetuating it, they are always found in prohibitive institutions. Moreover, if governments were authorized to prohibit all errors and to punish the stupid, the world would very soon be missing a great number of its men, the rest being reduced to eternal silence. We will be told that not all opinions must fall under the inspection of the authorities, but if one opinion is subjected to it, the rest are not secure; laws cannot make a precise classification, nor an exact enumeration, of all of them. Thus, such a power is necessarily arbitrary, and in most cases will become a reason for persecution. These are not unfounded suspicions; look back to the barbarous centuries and you will see universities, parliaments, chancelleries, and kings and queens determined to banish the wise who were making some discoveries in physics, and who were attacking the doctrines of Aristotle. Petrus Ramus, Johannes Trithemius, Galileo Galilei, and other luminaries, would go on to suffer what would not be believed if we did not possess solid proof of it. And what were the fruits of such proceedings? Did governments achieve what they intended? Not at all. The number of proselytes grew day after day, perhaps because of that very persecution. Es verdad que entre las opiniones hay y debe haber muchas erróneas, lo es igualmente que todo error en cualquiera línea y bajo cualquier aspecto que se le considere es perniciosísimo; pero no lo es menos que las prohibiciones no son medios de remediarlo; la libre circulación de ideas, y el contraste que resulta de la oposición, es lo único que puede rectificar las opiniones. Si a alguna autoridad se concediese la facultad de reglarlas, esta abusaría bien pronto de semejante poder; ¿Y a quién se encargaría el prohibirnos el error? ¿Al que está exento de él? mas los gobiernos no se hallan en esta categoría; muy al contrario; cuando se buscan las causas que más lo han propagado y contribuido a perpetuarlo, se encuentran siempre en las instituciones prohibitivas. Por otra parte, si los gobiernos estuviesen autorizados para prohibir todos los errores y castigar a los necios, bien pronto faltaría del mundo una gran parte de los hombres, quedando reducidos los demás a eterno silencio. Se nos dirá que no todas las opiniones deben estar bajo la inspección de la autoridad; pero si una se sujeta, las demás no están seguras; las leyes no pueden hacer clasificación precisa ni enumeración exacta de todas ellas. Así es que semejante poder es necesariamente arbitrario y se convertirá las más veces en un motivo de persecución. Estas no son sospechas infundadas; vuélvanse los ojos a los siglos bárbaros, y se verá a las universidades, a los parlamentos, a las cancillerías y a los reyes empeñados en proscribir a los sabios que hacían algunos descubrimientos físicos, y atacaban las doctrinas de Aristóteles. Pedro Ramos Tritemío, Galilei y otros infinitos, padecieren lo que no sería creíble a no constarnos de un modo indudable. ¿Y cuál fue el fruto de semejantes procedimientos? ¿Consiguieron los gobiernos lo que intentaban? nada menos. Los prosélitos se aumentaban de día en día, acaso por la misma persecución.
Indeed, if one wishes to lend credence to a doctrine, he need do nothing more than ban it. Men will of course suppose, and in this they are not mistaken, that it cannot be combated by reason if it is being attacked by force. As the spirit of novelty, and of making a public spectacle of oneself, attracting the attention of everyone, is such a strong desire, great geniuses and even-tempered souls adhere to banned doctrines more out of vanity than out of conviction, and the final result is that a piece of nonsense, which might have remained buried in the corner of a house, because of the importance given to it by persecution, devolves into a sect that may even make the columns of the social edifice wobble. En efecto, si se quiere dar crédito a una doctrina, no se necesita otra cosa que proscribirla. Los hombres desde luego suponen, y en esto no se engañan, que no se puede combatirla por el raciocinio, cuando es atacada por la fuerza. Como el espíritu de novedad, y el hacerse objeto de la expectación pública, llamando la atención de todos, es una pasión tan viva, los genios fuertes y las almas de buen temple, se adhieren a las doctrinas proscritas más por vanidad que por convicción, y en último resultado un despropósito, que tal vez habría quedado sumido en el rincón de una casa, por la importancia que le da la persecución, declina en secta que hace tal vez vacilar las columnas del edificio social.
But does discrediting laws not make them contemptible, and encourage men to break them, depriving the laws of their prestige? And is this not the result of the free criticism that is made of them? When laws have been passed calmly and deliberately, when they are the product of free discussion, and when the spirit of partisanship and the fears that it instills in legislators have not contributed to their creation, causing the general interest to be subordinated to private interests for reasons that are extraneous to it, the fear of such results is very remote, but to guard against it governments must be very alert and not lose sight of public opinion, seconding it in everything. Public opinion is not formed except through free discussion, which cannot be had when the government or some faction takes control of the press and condemns, without any kind of shame, everyone who challenges the dogmas of the sect, or who sheds light on its excesses and offenses. On the other hand, when we proceed without prejudice and in good faith, when we listen attentively and impartially to everything that is said or written in favor of or against the laws, we must certainly be on the road to getting it right. We will never tire of repeating it: The freedom of opinions about doctrine has never been fatal to any people, but all the events of modern history substantiate, down to the last piece of evidence, the dangers and risks that nations have run when some faction has succeeded in taking control of the press, has dominated the government, and by taking advantage of this, has silenced through terror those who could have enlightened it. ¿Pero el descrédito de las leyes no las hace despreciables, y anima a los hombres a infringirlas privándolas de su prestigio? ¿Y no es este el resultado de la crítica libre que se hace de ellas? Cuando las leyes se han dictado con calma y detención; cuando son el efecto de una discusión libre, y cuando el espíritu de partido y los temores que él infunde en los legisladores no han contribuido a su confección, haciendo se pospongan los intereses generales a los privados por motivos que les son extrínsecos; es muy remoto el temor de semejantes resultados; mas para precaverlo los gobiernos deben estar muy alerta, y no perder de vista la opinión pública, secundándola en todo. Esta no se forma sino por una discusión libre, que no puede sostenerse cuando el gobierno o alguna facción se apoderan de la imprenta, y condenan sin ningún género de pudor a todos los que impugnan los dogmas de la secta, o ponen en claro sus excesos y atentados. Por el contrario cuando se procede sin prevención y de buena fe, cuando se escucha con atención e imparcialidad, todo lo que se dice o escribe a favor o en contra de las leyes, se está ciertamente en el camino de acertar. Jamás nos cansaremos de repetirlo, la libertad de opiniones sobre la doctrina nunca ha sido funesta a ningún pueblo; pero todos los sucesos de la historia moderna acreditan hasta la última evidencia los peligros y riesgos que han corrido las naciones, cuando alguna facción ha llegado a apoderarse de la imprenta, ha dominado el gobierno, y valiéndose de él, ha hecho callar por el terror a los que podían ilustrarlo.
But governments never learn, in spite of so many repeated examples. Always stuck in the present moment, they neglect the future. Their main error consists in believing they can do it all, and that it is enough for them to hint at their will for it to be quickly and faithfully obeyed. Perhaps they will reconsider when there is no longer anything that can be done, when they have discredited themselves and thrown the nation into a pit of misfortune. Pero los gobiernos no escarmientan a pesar de tan repetidos ejemplos. Siempre fijos en el momento presente descuidan del porvenir. Su principal error consiste en creer que todo lo pueden, y que basta insinuar su voluntad para que sea pronta y fielmente obedecida. Tal vez vuelvan sobre sí cuando no hay remedio, cuando se han desconceptuado y precipitado a la nación en un abismo de males.
We conclude our reflections then, recommending to those entrusted with power that they be persuaded that, when they raise opinions to the status of crimes, they open themselves to punishing talents and virtues, to losing their way, and to making illustrious the memory of their victims. Concluimos pues nuestras reflexiones recomendando a los depositarios del poder se persuadan, que cuando erigen las opiniones en crímenes, se exponen a castigar los talentos y virtudes, a perder el concepto, y a hacer ilustre la memoria de sus víctimas.
El Observador. Mexico City. June 13, 1827. Obras sueltas. [Collected works.] Paris. 1837.

English translation copyright 2013 by Chris Marquardt, CT.

El Observador. México. 13 de junio de 1827. Obras sueltas. París. 1837.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Understanding Google Translate

A small case study in how Google Translate fails to deliver your intended message clearly, unambiguously, and professionally.

Whether you are using machine translation to understand someone else, or to get them to understand you, it makes it more likely that the message will be poorly understood, misunderstood, and unprofessionally presented.

Consider what it has done to the following three sentences originally written in Spanish:

Sentence 1:

Google Translate translation: “About 12 million Mexicans -15% of the workforce in Mexico-legally or illegally residing in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center.”

First off, where is the verb?! It seems to have vanished.

If these Mexicans are “residing in the U.S.,” how are they also “in Mexico”?

Are they “in Mexico—legally or illegally” or are they “legally or illegally residing in the U.S.”?

Original sentence: “Cerca de 12 millones de mexicanos -15% de la fuerza laboral de México- residen legal o ilegalmente en EU, según el Centro Hispano Pew.”

Real (human) translation (i.e., the true original meaning): “About 12 million Mexicans—15% of Mexico’s work force—reside, legally or illegally, in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center.”

Sentence 2:

Google Translate: “Remittances sent by Mexicans from the United States has grown from 3.700 million in 1995 to a high of 25,000 million dollars in 2007, according to The Washington Post in 2012.”

Were remittances sent “by Mexicans from the United States” or “from the United States by Mexicans”?

Who says “remittances...has grown”?

Why the inconsistency of “3.700” for “3,700” early in the sentence, followed by “25,000” (and not “25.000”) later on?

How many U.S. readers describe anything in terms of “thousand millions” or even know what “thousand millions” are?

Original sentence: “Las remesas enviadas por los mexicanos desde Estados Unidos han crecido de 3,700 millones de dólares en 1995 a un máximo de 25,000 millones de dólares en el 2007, según informó The Washington Post en el 2012.”

Real, human translation: “Remittances sent from the United States by Mexicans have grown from $3.7 billion in 1995 to a high of $25 billion in 2007, according to reporting by The Washington Post in 2012.”

Sentence 3:

Google Translate: “The figure of 25,000 million represents about 3% of gross domestic product of Mexico.”

This is less ambiguous and has fewer errors, but it is still not expressed in properly written English. Yes, it is understandable, but this Tarzan English is not the kind you would want representing your company. (Tarzan Spanish doesn’t sound any better.)

Original text: “La cifra de 25,000 millones de dólares representa aproximadamente 3% del Producto Interno Bruto de México.”

Real translation: “The $25 billion figure represents about 3% of Mexico’s GDP.” (That's better.)


Although I would like to think this would dissuade someone from using Google Translate or other machine translation programs, I have learned that this is what happens instead: You see the errors here, you understand how machine translation has mangled this message in ways that mean the user of the translation is not getting the correct message, and that that message is not being delivered in a professional way, and time you want to "know what this says" or "translate this into Spanish," you just go and do it again.

It's like the "pointy-haired boss" phenomenon in Dilbert. The boss goes by your cubicle, sees the Dilbert comic featuring the stupid, pointy-haired boss, maybe even reads it and laughs out loud, but never seems to understand that the joke is really about him (or her)! And that's probably a good thing for you; otherwise, you might get fired. But the point is, even though what I have shown you here applies to the effects of machine translation on this specific message, it also applies to any message and, yes, it also applies to your message.

I know I can't stop you, but I try. It may take some major miscommunication that does some major damage before it really sinks in how important clear, unambiguous, professional communication can be—whether that is for your business or your personal life. Like the case of the business owner whose "Spanish-speaking" employee saw the word "celebrar" in the fax from the major client and thought that meant it was announcing a party, and therefore not anything important, when in fact what was being "held" (one meaning of "celebrar") was a crucial meeting that the business owner should have gone to!

Then again, maybe, just maybe, you are one of those wise people who can learn things the easy way ("A buen entendedor, pocas palabras."), and you will know, from this day forward, that machine translation may give you an idea of what is being said, but it virtually always gives you wrong ideas.

If it is important to communicate correctly, it is important to use a skilled human translator, and not a machine that does not understand what it is reading, and even less what it is saying.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

I went out to find different Spanish translations of Barack Obama's Second Inaugural Address. At this early stage, the day after, there are not a lot of them out there, but I did find these:

Obama's thesis: "All men are created equal."

Equality does not mean we are all the same. Each and every one of us can be unique, special in our own way, completely different from anyone else, and still be considered equal under the law and (equally) deserving of equal rights. None of this equality means that we are equal in our talents and abilities, or that it would be correct, politically or otherwise, to pretend that we are.

Similar arguments can be made about translations, and translators. Each is unique. Some are in certain ways demonstrably better, some worse. Any attempt to judge them, however, ultimately may come down to questions of personal preference and taste:

Sobre los gustos no hay nada escrito. There is no accounting for taste.

Before getting very far into these translations, I was struck by their different handling of these famous words from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Here are the translations (quoted here, and already thoroughly compared for you below):

Official White House translation: "Sostenemos que estas verdades son evidentes por sí mismas; que todos los hombres son creados iguales; que son dotados por su Creador de ciertos derechos inalienables, que entre ellos están la vida, la libertad, y la búsqueda de la felicidad".

Voice of America translation: "Sostenemos estas verdades para que sean evidentes por sí solas, que todos los hombres son creados iguales, que son bendecidos por el Creador con ciertos derechos inalienables, que entre esos están la Vida, la Libertad y la búsqueda de la Felicidad".

El Periódico translation: "Sostenemos que estas verdades son auto-evidentes, que todos los hombres son creados igualmente y son dotados por su creador con ciertos derechos inalienables, como lo son la vida, la libertad y la búsqueda de la felicidad".

They all begin with "Sostenemos," and then they begin to diverge.

They agree on "estas verdades" and "evidentes." Also on "que todos los hombres son creados," "por," "Creador/creador," and "ciertos derechos inalienables." Finally, they agree on "la vida, la libertad y la búsqueda de la felicidad."

"We hold...these truths...evident....that all men are certain unalienable, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (Disagreement, then, on "to be self-...equal, that they are endowed...their...that among these are...".)

The White House translation reads as follows: "We hold that these truths are evident by themselves; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

VOA: "We hold these truths so that they will be evident on their own, that all men are created equal, that they are blessed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness".

El Periódico: "We hold that these truths are self-evident *, that all men are created equally and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, such as are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

* "Auto-evidente" is not Spanish you would find anywhere else other than in a translation of the English "self-evident." In short, it is not Spanish, so it really should not be used in a translation into Spanish.

"Sostener" (support or defend a proposition) is where I begin to part company. Yes, word one. To my ears all three translations try too hard to follow the syntax of the original English. The problem with that is that the resulting translation does not sound natural in Spanish. And the problem with that is that the Spanish-speaking reader (or listener) can't help but to focus on the awkward construction of the sentence. That, too, is a problem, because when the focus is on the awkwardness, the focus is off of that most important aspect of the translation: the MEANING!

As tempting as it is, our goal in translating this should not be to convey fully into Spanish all the awkwardness modern American readers feel when reading this late 18th century English. (There may be times when that should be the goal of a translation, but here the goal is for the Spanish-speaking public around the world to fully understand what Barack Obama is saying—not to give them a lesson on the variations in American English syntax through the ages.)

"We hold these truths to be self-evident." Without denying the poetry, and historical interest, of the phrasing, ask yourself, what does this mean?

Really, before continuing, think of another way to express this exact meaning in a way that sounds more natural to you...

The meaning I get is that we are of the belief that these things are true, so true as to be obvious to everyone.

"Consideramos evidentes las siguientes verdades:" (We believe the following truths to be obvious:)

"Evidente," in Spanish, is officially defined as "Cierto, claro, patente y sin la menor duda," i.e., "True, clear, patently obvious, and without the slightest doubt." In other words, not just true, but so obviously true to anyone that there can be no doubt. Self-evident.

Because "evidente" already means "self-evident," there is no reason to add words in the Spanish translation to translate the "self-" part. That meaning is already there! No need to say "self-evident by themselves," "self-evident on their own," or "self-self-evident." "Evidente" is enough.

"...todas las personas son creadas iguales..." (...all people are created equal...)

Just as the other translations adhere unnecessarily tightly to the construction of the original sentence, they also stick unnecessarily close to the original vocabulary. True, Jefferson said "all men," but in an age where when you said "men" you meant everyone. Well, everyone who was allowed to participate in politics, or business, or to be counted in history, anyway.

Nowadays, although we can still understand "man" and "mankind" to mean everyone, regardless of gender, we find it clearer, less confusing, and more in keeping with our times, to speak of people, humans, or humankind. Similar considerations apply in Spanish, too, so it makes more sense, for a clear communication of Obama's understanding of its meaning, and of his intended meaning in quoting it, to be modern about it, and say "all people" where Jefferson had felt just as inclusive saying "all men."

" Creador las dota de ciertos derechos que nadie les puede quitar..." ("...their Creator endows them with certain rights that no one can take from them...")

The passive voice with agent ("The ball was caught by the dog.") is not very common in Spanish. If the agent (doer of the action) is mentioned, the active voice is much more common ("The dog caught the ball."). For a more natural sounding translation, it is better to use the active voice here, if our purpose is to make the meaning as clear as possible.

"Inalienables" does exist in Spanish, and means "unalienable" (or "inalienable": see the Wiktionary page for "inalienable" for an interesting discussion of its history and usage). It is not a term I have ever run across in Spanish, that I can remember, and most instances of its use are alongside other equally "legalese"-sounding Spanish terms. This strongly suggests that most Spanish speakers will not find its meaning immediately clear, so for the sake of clarity I have again translated the meaning and not the word.

"...entre estos se encuentran el derecho a la vida, el derecho a la libertad y el derecho a buscar la felicidad." (...included among these are the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to pursue happiness.)

I could have left this as "[certain unalienable rights; that] among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Maybe I should have. This is more a case of personal preference than anything, and my preference is for readers to not lose track of the fact that we are not talking here about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in and of themselves, but of everyone's rights to each of these things.

Having made the decision to repeat "the right to" each time, it seems overly clunky to say "the right to the pursuit of happiness" instead of "the right to pursue happiness."

My version: "Consideramos evidentes las siguientes verdades: todas las personas son creadas iguales; su Creador las dota de ciertos derechos que nadie les puede quitar; entre estos se encuentran el derecho a la vida, el derecho a la libertad y el derecho a buscar la felicidad."

On page 35 of "Historia contemporánea de América" (A Contemporary History of the Americas), by Joan del Alcàzar, Antoni Marimon, Josep Miquel Santacreu Soler, and Nuria Tabanera García, they quote a translation, by "Nevins et al., 1994" that reads as follows:

Consideramos evidentes las siguientes verdades: que todos los hombres fueron creados iguales; que su Creador los ha dotado de ciertos derechos inalienables; que entre éstos están los de la vida, la libertad y la búsqueda de la felicidad.

Without going into more detailed analysis, I'll just leave you with an English rendering of this one: "We believe the following truths to be obvious: that all men were created equal; that their Creator has endowed them with certain unalienable rights; that among these are those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Predictably, I like this translation better than the first three. I differ with it in its use of "all men" for "all people," but do find it reassuring on those points where it confirms some of my other choices.

Which translation you prefer, though, well, that's really down to your tastes, and up to you.

(And if you are reading this closely enough to notice that I didn't put an accent on "estos" while the last translation wrote it as "éstos," just know that the rules for Spanish spelling were different in 1994 than they are now, post-2010.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

"You know, all those dictionaries aren't going to do you any good."

The translator was entering the university classroom, not to take a class, but to take a grueling, three-hour, pencil-and-paper translation exam. She was wheeling in some of her dictionaries behind her. Her husband (or very dedicated boyfriend) was carrying the rest, a box of dictionaries which, I would have reason to know later, must have weighed in at 50 or 60 pounds.

As she was heading to the back of the classroom to take her seat and settle in, the exam proctor felt compelled to say, "You know, all those dictionaries aren't going to do you any good." (It's a hazard of the profession that I can't be sure anymore that those were his exact words, but that I am certain that that was his meaning!) I thought it was a cruel thing to say, especially to someone about to take an exam. He might as well have said, "You know you're probably going to fail, right?" That comment, too, would just as easily have passed the "Is it true?" test, and still scored similarly poorly on the question of "Is it kind?"

It is even more common to see other candidates sitting with perhaps two thin dictionaries that, together, are not even close to being complete; the kind of dictionaries that, for every word, will translate two or three of its meanings for you, but not all twelve—or fifteen, or twenty. These are the kind of dictionaries that are far more likely to get you into a jam than to get you out of one. You wonder, "Are these people fools?", "Are they not translators?" (not meaning at all to imply here that being a fool and being a translator are, in any way, mutually exclusive), "What are they planning to do on the business/legal or medical/technical section?!"

Dictionaries are useful, and helpful, and the best ones truly will get you out of jam after jam. When it comes to translation tests, and translation in general, the proctor was right, they aren't going to do you any good. More accurately, they aren't going to magically enable you to translate if you haven't learned how already.

In the popular imagination, by which I mean in the imagination of people who speak only one language fluently, the difference between languages comes down to a difference in words. That is, if there is a word for something in your own language, there must be an equivalent word for it in every other language. When those bricks came tumbling down on the Tower of Babel, and none of the workers could understand each other any more, it was because God filled each of their heads with different words for the same things. Instead of one word for "dog," now there are thousands. And if you want to say "dog" in a different language, you just need to find a bilingual dictionary, look up "dog" and say whatever you see written next to it.

Up to that point, often enough, that is true, except when it isn't. The real error, though, is the belief that you can do the same thing with phrases or entire sentences. Take the simple case of "My name is _____." As you might recall from your high school Spanish class, the Spanish sentence is "Me llamo _____." I can't tell you the number of times that I have heard people say, and proudly too, "Mi llamo es _____." Inwardly I shudder, outwardly I smile. They are trying. They are saying "My I call it is ____." It sounds wonderful in Spanish. Really. In Spanish, "me" doesn't mean "my," and "llamo" doesn't mean "name." "Me llamo" means "I call myself" or "I am called."

The truth is, and I hinted at this earlier, translation has almost nothing to do with words, anyway. It has everything to do with meaning.

A translator, a capable one, does not look at the words of a sentence and set out to find meanings for each of them. He looks at the sentence, thinks about what it means, thinks about the effect it produces on the reader, about the intention of the author, the purpose the translation is trying to accomplish, then ignores the words, ignores the sentence structure, mentally explodes that sentence to smithereens, forgetting about it. Then he takes everything he just thought about and creates a brand new sentence that, for a native speaker of that language, will convey the same meaning and achieve the same purposes as the original sentence.

There will be plenty of opportunities to explore that idea later. For now, just know that all those dictionaries aren't going to do you any good.