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Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Who are our neighbors?

On my way through town the other day I noticed that several yards contained the same sign, with a message in Spanish, English, and Arabic. Now, I happen to be proficient in all of these languages, so I was able to discern some differences in the translations.

First of all, it was obvious that the English version was the original one. It read, "No matter where you're from, we're glad you're our neighbors."

Now, all three of these language have the capability to address someone in either a formal or a familiar way; as it happens, the familiar is obsolete in English, so the original is in what would have earlier been considered the formal construction, but is now the only way of expressing such a sentiment. However, the formal construction is rarely so used in Arabic--as is the familiar in Spanish. So one would not expect the two translations to have the same construction. They don't; but ironically, the Arabic uses the rare formal construction, and the Spanish the rare familiar. Thus the Arabic is more a formal equivalency translation than the Spanish.

But ironically, given that English no longer distinguishes between number in the second person, the Spanish version is an exactly literal translation of the English, while the Arabic version is more of a paraphrase. It would literally read, "It doesn't matter where your country [is], but we're glad that you're our neighbors."

I wonder if the owners of these signs first looked up the online database of registered violent and sexual offenders to see how many had moved into their neighborhood, before so welcoming them.

ETA: I just realized why the Arabic is in the plural. In Arabic, one has to distinguish between male and female in the singular (not so in Spanish); this construction is the only possible way to translate in a gender-neutral manner. Thus the Spanish and Arabic separately convey different nuances of the English.

1 comment:

  1. The Old and New Testaments have two words that we confuse. One would be "neighbor". I consider that to be the fellow travelers on the road of life and we are told to love them as ourselves. Good enough for starters.

    The second one is "brothers" and by inference, "sisters". These are the people of faith who are part of the immediate family of God.

    I think the Bible demands that we treat neighbors with courtesy but it also gives a priority to brothers.

    Grace and peace.


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