Sunday, November 4, 2007


observatorio: watch

Observatorio de racismo, observatorio de genero y justicia, observatorio de inmigracion ... there are tons of them here in Colombia, and all over Latin America and Spain. I've seen this translated into English as observatory, but it seems like a false cognate to me. We don't normally use that term for anything like that in English. We do however have several similar organizations that use the term watch, most notably the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) and Amazon Watch (both of which I interpret or translate for). I think the connotation in Spanish is a bit more academic, that is to say that a lot of the observatorios are associated with universities - but observatorios certainly do plenty of lobbying as well, based on the documentation work at the heart of these organizations, both North and South.

Thanks to Andrea for helping me think this through, and my compas on the SOAW interpretation working group. Ojo que some SOA activists have used observadores, but I've been lobbying for observatorio. Not only is it the closer equivalent, but observadores y observadoras de la escuela de las americas is a mouthful.


Raul said...


Dan Feder said...

Hmmm... I have always translated as observatory and this got me thinking. Did I really never see it used this way in English before coming into contact with the Latin NGO world? Like a lot of multilingual people I think my memory becomes a bit revisionist sometimes about these things but I am pretty sure I did. Looking around a bit I see:

Trade Observatory, which seems to be an English-only, U.S.-based group.

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which I don't see as Spanish/Latin-based either.

...and others. Of course, maybe it was a false cognate at one point but I feel like the term has evolved and become accepted even in English-only circles. "Observatorio" is probably the best English-to-Spanish translation of "Watch", but I think the two words in English have different connotations. An "observatory" brings to mind an academic or U.N.-type institution, while "watch," to me, suggests a more popular/activist orientation.

Mago said...

Actually, "watchdog" is used, isn't it? E.g. racism watchdog, justice watchdog, gender watchdog, etc.

Dan Feder said...

That's used often to describe groups in the press, but I've never heard of a group that used it in their own name.

Robert C Thompson said...

"Observatory" refers to, either, an astronomical or nature observation site.
Another possible translation is "Monitoring Center", as in a place to study the effects, or causes, of a sociological bent.