Límite llama 3 minutos

As I pointed out in the article about oleoducto in April of this year, because Texas has many Spanish-speaking residents, government agencies and other institutions here frequently post bilingual signs. The problem is that the Spanish version maddeningly often seems to get translated from the English version by someone who doesn’t known Spanish well, or maybe at all. As evidence of that, take the title of today’s post, which was the Spanish text on a sign I saw next to a public telephone in a hospital waiting room last week; the English version, which I find faultless, said: “Limit your call to 3 minutes.”

We can guess what happened. The English limit is the imperative of a verb, but the presumably English-speaking person who made the sign apparently turned to someone who knows Spanish and asked: “How do you say limit in Spanish?” With no context, the person who answered came back with the noun límite. What happened to your (and later to) isn’t clear; perhaps they were lost due to recent budget cutting. The English call is a noun, but instead of getting translated to the Spanish noun llamada, it got garbled into the conjugated verb form llama. But in a spirit of magnanimity, we’ll give credit for the impeccable translation of 3 to 3 and minutes to minutos.

And that brings us to our real subject for today, the verb llamar ‘to call.’ It evolved from Latin clamare ‘to call, shout out, cry out.’ Spanish has borrowed the Latin original as the learned doublet clamar ‘to clamor,’ whose English counterpart, though with a different meaning, is French-derived claim. Spanish and English show the Latin root not only in the noun clamor but also in various compound verbs like aclamar/acclaim, declamar/declaim, exclamar/exclaim, and proclamar/proclaim.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lexiekahn
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 14:23:25

    Those word-by-word translations into Spanish remind me of a recent attempt to give Spanish names to hiking trails here in Southern California. The committee wanted to name a trail for the coastal sage scrub habitat and also to name a scenic overlook. Apparently someone just looked up a few words in a bilingual dictionary. The “Sage Trail” almost got named “Sabio Trail” and the overlook “Dejar Pasar.” Of course they meant “salvia,” the sage plant, not “sabio,” the sage (wise) man and “mirador,” the ‘viewpoint’ kind of overlook, not “dejar pasar,” the ‘ignore’ or ‘let it go’ kind of overlook.


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 15:00:03

    Those are great examples. You’d think, in states like California and Texas, with millions of truly bilingual speakers, the authorities could find somebody to do decent translations for them.


  3. Trackback: Here we go again « Spanish-English Word Connections
  4. Trackback: Estancia en la aceta « Spanish-English Word Connections
  5. dearrosie
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 20:31:54

    Hi Steve,
    This is so interesting. I’m glad you found my blog so I could find you. I’m also fascinated to read lexiekahn’s comment. My god how could someone get a translation job if she/he doesn’t know the difference because sage the herb and sage, a wise man?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 16, 2011 @ 20:55:44

      Glad you found this, Rosie. My guess is that when sign makers need a translation they just ask around, with the kinds of results we’ve seen. I suspect that in most cases the institutions involved don’t want to pay another salary, and so no one actually has a dedicated job doing translations. In any case, the errors give me plenty to write about.


    • dearrosie
      Dec 16, 2011 @ 21:27:36

      oops … that should read know the difference “between” sage the herb, and sage a wise man.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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