Monday, December 26, 2011

great resource for organizations

if you work with or for an organization that wants to be more multilingual,
check out this fantastic resource by my friend Alice.

if the link above doesn't get you a pdf go here and scroll down to 'interpretation'

Saturday, December 17, 2011

social justice translation by Holdren and Touza

if you were impressed by the translator's notes by them that I posted, you might enjoy reading the full translator's preface and the actual translation

19 & 20: Notes for a New Social Protagonism (available entirely online here)
Colectivo Situaciones
Translated by Nate Holdren & Sebastián Touza
Introductions by Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri

An 18th Brumaire for the 21st Century: militant research on the December 19th and 20th, 2001 uprisings in Argentina

In the heat of an economic and political crisis, people in Argentina took to the streets on December 19th, 2001, shouting “¡Qué se vayan todos!” These words – “All of them out!” – hurled by thousands banging pots and pans, struck at every politician, economist, and journalist. These events opened a period of intense social unrest and political creativity that led to the collapse of government after government. Neighborhoods organized themselves into hundreds of popular assemblies across the country, the unemployed workers movement acquired a new visibility, workers took over factories and businesses. These events marked a sea change, a before and an after for Argentina that resonated around the world.

Colectivo Situaciones wrote this book in the heat of that December’s aftermath. As radicals immersed within the long process of reflection and experimentation with forms of counterpower that Argentines practiced in shadow of neoliberal rule, Colectivo Situaciones knew that the novelty of the events of December 19th and 20th demanded new forms of thinking and research. This book attempts to read those struggles from within. Ten years have passed, yet the book remains as relevant and as fresh as the day it came out. Multitudes of citizens from different countries have learned their own ways to chant ¡Qué se vayan todos!, from Iceland to Tunisia, from Spain to Greece, from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park. Colectivo Situactiones’ practice of engaging with movements’ own thought processes resonates with everyone seeking to think current events and movements, and through that to build a new world in the shell of the old.

“If the insurrection in Argentina that began in December 2001 was our Paris Commune, then Colectivo Situaciones fits well in the position of Karl Marx. As Friedrich Engels was fond of saying, one of Marx’s many talents was to analyze the historical importance of political events as they took place. This book by Colectivo Situaciones, written in the heat of action, certainly demonstrates that same talent in full, delving into the complexity of concrete events while simultaneously stepping back to recognize how our political reality has changed.” – Michael Hardt, from the Introduction

Bio: Colectivo Situaciones is a collective of militant researchers based in Buenos Aires. They have participated in numerous grassroots co-research activities with unemployed workers, peasant movements, neighborhood assemblies, and alternative education experiments.

Monday, December 12, 2011

poder o potencia?

from part two of that fabulous translators intro by Nate Holdren and Sebastián Touza (part one here):

... This brings us to a second translation difficulty. Two Spanish words translate as the English word “power”: poder and potencia. Generally speaking, we could say that poder defines power as “power over” (the sense it has, for instance, when it refers to state or sovereign power) and potencia defines “power to,” the type of capacity expressed in the statement “I can.”[2] To continue with the generalization, it is possible to say that poder refers to static forms of power, while potencia refers to its dynamic forms. Potencia always exists in the “here and now” of its exercise; it coincides with the act in which it is effected. This is because potencia is inseparable from our capacity—indeed, our bodies’ capacity—to be affected. This capacity cannot be detached from the moment, place, and concrete social relations in which potencia manifests itself. This is the reason for arguing, in the article we are introducing, that anything said about potencia is an abstraction of the results. Whatever is said or communicated about it can never be the potencia itself. Research militancy is concerned with the expansion of potencia. For that reason, a descriptive presentation of its techniques would necessarily lead to an abstraction. Such a description might produce a “method” in which all the richness of the potencia of research militancy in the situation is trimmed off to leave only that part whose utilitarian value make it transferrable to other situations.

The thought of practices is thought with the body, because bodies encounter each other in acts that immediately define their mutual capacities to be affected. History can only be the history of contingency, a sequence of moments with their own non-detachable intensities. Miguel Benasayag argues that act and state—to which correspond potencia and poder—are two levels of thought and life.[3] None of them can be subsumed under the other. Either one takes the side of potencia or the side of the poder (or of the desire for poder, as expressed in militants who want to “take power,” build The Party, construct hegemonies, etc.).

Potencias found in different forms of resistance are the foundation of counterpower, but both terms are not the same. Counterpower indicates a point of irreversibility in the development of resistance, a moment when the principal task becomes to develop and secure what has been achieved by the struggle (Benasayag & Sztulwark 213). Counterpower is diffuse and multiple. It displaces the question of power from the centrality it has historically enjoyed, because its struggle is “against the powers such as they act in our situations” (MTD of Solano and Colectivo Situaciones, Hipótesis 891 104). To be on the side of potencia is to recognize that the state and the market originate at the level of the values we embrace and the bonds that connect us to others.

Potencia defines the material dimension of the encounter of bodies, while poder is a level characterized by idealization, representation, and normalization. Colectivo Situaciones avoid a name to define their political identity, which would freeze the fluid material multiplicity of militant research by subordinating it to the one-dimensional nature of idealizations. “We are not ‘autonomists’, ‘situationists’, or anything ending with ‘-ist’” they once told us. Identities have normalizing effects: they establish models, they place multiplicity under control, they reduce the multiple dimensions of life to the one dimension of an idealization. They make an exception with Guevarism, because Che Guevara clearly preferred to stay on the side of potencia and opposed those who calmed down concrete struggles in the name of ideal recipes on how to achieve a communist society.[4]

An investigation into the forms of potencia and the social relations that produce it can only be done from a standpoint that systematically embraces doubt and ignorance. If we recognize that the practical thought of struggles is an activity of bodies, we have to recognize as well—with Spinoza—that nobody knows what a body can do. To do research in the realm of potencia—to investigate that which is alive and multiple—militant researchers have to abandon their previous certainties, their desire to encounter pure subjects, and the drive to recuperate their practice as an ideal of coherence and consistency. In this regard, one might say that Colectivo Situaciones seek to concretely embody two Zapatista slogans: “asking we walk,” and “we make the road by walking,” such that, the act of questioning and collective reflection is part of the process of constructing power.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

improve your skills

check out tons of fantastic interpreter training resources here

such as how to take notes for consecutive - something not enough activist interpreters do!

my number one tip: ALWAYS have a notepad on you - you never know when you will have to jump into interpreting in social change settings.

number one sign of an amateur interpreter: they're doing consecutive without a notepad in hand.

(ok, maybe number two after someone saying "she said ...")

Monday, November 28, 2011


conejo: loophole

Que vivan los estudiantes!

"On November 9, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos seemed to retreat in the face of a massive nationwide student strike that has lasted since October 12. Santos offered to withdraw his “educational reform” bill from the Colombian congress and sit down to negotiate with the student movement.

Students responded with a massive demonstration today that closed all of the major thoroughfares of the city. (See photos from El Tiempo, the main newspaper of Colombia.)

Speaking at the main demonstration in the Plaza Bolivar, surrounded by the Presidential Palace and the Capitol, former senator Piedad Cordoba warned students, “The proposal of Santos has a loophole. Students must continue their national strike … this mobilisation is a victory for mothers and fathers of families, for campesinos and for victims of the state.” (“La propuesta de Santos tiene conejo. Los estudiantes deben continuar el paro nacional … esta movilización es una victoria de madres y padres de familia, de campesinos y víctimas del Estado”, El Espectador, November 11)."

read the rest of this article here

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


ally: aliado

this is an obvious one, but what may not be obvious is how the term gets used in movements in the US and Canada (and the UK?) to mean "people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on."

if you have a sense that your listeners or readers do not understand this movement use of the term, it is worth explaining.

(this definition of ally is from this article on tips for white allies in the occupy movement)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

why interpreters matter

great way to promote the use of professional interps, way to go Texas Association of Healthcare Interpreters and Translators!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

fun ten minute animated history of the English language

This is the first of 10 one minute videos - the next in the series should pop up when this finishes playing or you can open it in youtube and they appear as links on the right.

Friday, October 21, 2011

mainstream media

mainstream media: los grandes medios
(corporate media: medios corporativos)

any thoughts on how to render the slogan "be the media"?

for a fun critique of the mainstream media coverage of the occupy movement see the video below

Sunday, October 16, 2011

militancia de investigación

due to dissertation deadlines this week I am reposting part one of this brilliant translators introduction by By Nate Holdren and Sebastián Touza:

The translation of this significant article, a fundamental piece insofar as it lays bare the values and principles Colectivo Situaciones invoke in their definition of themselves as militants, calls for a reflection on our role as translators. It is our hope that this English version of the article will find resonances among those who practice a politics that is unseparable from thinking in their own situation. But we feel that it is important to share with the reader our urge to dispel any mythical (mis)understanding of the transparency of language. We share with Colectivo Situaciones the conviction that the abstraction involved in the attempt to communicate inevitably impoverishes experience. Translation adds one more layer of abstraction. In this sense, we assume the full significance of the Italian adage traduttore, tradittore. Not because we intend to betray anybody, but because the acknowledgement that every translation is a betrayal is our attempt to keep faith with the concrete situation in which the experience being communicated unfolds.

In this introduction, we would like to go through some of the difficulties we had in doing the translation. We hope that explaining the decisions we made will provide some steps toward bringing the reader closer to the work of Colectivo Situaciones.

We faced our first difficulty when trying to translate the title. We were unsure how to translate the term militancia de investigación. This phrase can be rendered into English as either ‘research militancy’ or ‘militant research’. At the risk of taking words too seriously (always a risk in translation), it may be useful to spend some time on these two possible translations. ‘Militant research’ implies a continuity with other examples of militant research, those presented in other parts of this volume and elsewhere. ‘Research militancy’ may sound strange to the English speaker’s ear and it is less immediately clear what the term means.

The grammatical difference between these two phrases is a matter of which word defines the activity and which word qualifies it, which word will be the predicate of the other. The difference seems to be one of emphasis. Does the Spanish phrase refer to knowledge production which happens to be radical in some way (militant research)? Or does it refer to radical activism which happens to take the form of knowledge production (research militancy)?

Our indecision brought us to ask Colectivo Situaciones which one of the two expressions they felt more comfortable with. To our surprise—or perhaps not—the response was “with both.” “We think of our practice as a double movement: to create ways of being militants that escape the political certainties established a priori and embrace politics as research (in this case, it would be ‘research militancy’), and, at the same time, to invent forms of thinking and producing concepts that reject academic procedures, breaking away from the image of an object to be known and putting at the centre subjective experience (in this case, it would be ‘militant research’).”

Situaciones came together as a collective in the late 1990s. Previously they had been involved in El Mate, a student group notable for creating the Che Guevara Free Lecturership, an experiment oriented to recuperating the memory of the generation of Argentinean and Latin American revolutionaries of the 1960s and 1970s that began at the faculty of social sciences of the University of Buenos Aires and quickly spread throughout several universities in Argentina and abroad. The Argentinean social landscape in which the men and women of Situaciones forged their ideas was a desert swept by neoliberal winds, in which only a few movements of resistance could stand up by themselves. Those were times in which dilettante postmodern thinkers had come to the conclusion that social change was a relic from the past and in which people involved in politics could only see their activity through rarely questioned models.

Research militancy was the response to the need to rebuild the links between thought and the new forms of political involvement that were rapidly becoming part of the Argentinean reality. In the prologue “On Method” of the book Colectivo Situaciones wrote together with the unemployed workers’ movement of Solano, the authors distinguish research militancy from three other relations to knowledge.[1] On the one hand, academic research inevitably reifies those it constructs as objects. Academics cannot help leaving outside the scope of their investigation the function of attributing meaning, values, interests, and rationalities of the subject who does the research. On the other hand, traditional political activists—those involved in parties or party-like organizations—usually hold that their commitment and involvement makes their relation to knowledge more advanced than the work done by academics. But their activity is not less objectifying, in the sense that it always approaches the struggles from a previously constituted knowledge framework. Struggles are thus regarded not for their value in themselves, but rather in terms of their contribution to something other than themselves—the socialist or communist society awaiting at the end of the road. A third figure, the humanitarian activist, also relates to others in an instrumental fashion—in the justification and funding of NGOs (non-governmental organizations)—and takes the world as static, not subject to being changed radically (thus, the best one can hope for is the alleviation of the worst abuses).

Research militancy does not distinguish between thinking and doing politics. For, insofar as we reserve the notion of thought for the thinking/doing activity that deposes the logic by which existing models acquire meaning, thinking is immediately political. On the other hand, if we reserve the concept of politics for the struggle for freedom and justice, all politics involves thinking, because there are forms of thinking against established models implicit in every radical practice—a thought people carry out with their bodies. ....

full article is here

of course the easy way to render this term if you're in a rush, is with the more common in English term "activist research" - but what a treat to take the time to think it through like this! by the way, see my previous post about the term militante

Monday, October 10, 2011


resguardo: indigenous collective property

I have been rendering this term as reservation, but I like this, especially since they don't have the same history, legal status, or politics as US reservations. This term is how it was translated in the article

M. Chaves and M. Zambrano, “From blanqueamiento to reindigenización: Paradoxes of mestizaje and multiculturalism in contemporary Colombia,” Revista Europea de estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 80 (2006): 5–23.

Most of the current resguardos in Colombia were only recently recognized. After the passage of the new constitution in 1991
31.3 million hectares, over a quarter of the country’s total territory, was legally granted and titled as resguardos (Chaves and Zambrano, p. 9).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

moving video in need of subtitles

watch this gorgeous video, it will leave you inspired. maybe even inspired to subtitle?

Many thanks to Michael Joseph for the translation below - it would be great if someone were inspired to put this up as subtitles! good volunteer experience if you've never done it before. instructions here Let us know if you do it!

Soy, soy lo que dejaron, Soy las sobras de lo que te robaron,
Un pueblo escondido en la cima, Mi piel es de cuero por eso aguata cualquier clima,
Soy una fábrica de humo, Mano de obra campesina para tu consumo,
En el medio del verano, El amor en los tiempos del cólera,
Mi hermano!

I am, I am what was left behind, I am the leftovers of what they stole from you,

I am a town hidden on the peak, My skin is leather so it can handle any climate,

I am a smoke factory, Peasant labor for your consumption,

In the middle of the summer, Love in the time of cholera,

My brother!

Soy el que nace y el día que muere, Con los mejores atardeceres,
Soy el desarrollo en carne viva, Un discurso sin saliva,
Las caras más bonitas que he conocido, Soy la fotografía de un desaparecido,
La sangre dentro de tus venas, Soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena,
Una canasta con frijoles.

I am the one who is born and the day that dies, With the best sunsets,

I am development in flesh and blood, A speech with no saliva,

The prettiest faces I have ever known, I am a photograph of a disappeared person,

The blood in your veins, I am a plot of land that is worth it,

A basket full of beans.

Soy Maradona contra Inglaterra Anotándole dos goles.
Soy lo que sostiene mi bandera, La espina dorsal de mi planeta, en mi cordillera.
Soy lo que me enseño mi padre, El que no quiere a su patria no quiere a su madre.
Soy América Latina un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina.

I am Maradona against England, Scoring two goals,

I am what holds up my flag, The spine of my planet, along my mountain range

I am what my father taught me, S/he who does not love their country does not love their mother

I am Latin America, a people without legs but who walk

Tú no puedes comprar al viento,
Tú no puedes comprar al sol
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia,
Tú no puedes comprar al calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes,
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría,
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.


You can’t buy the wind,

You can’t buy the sun,

You can’t buy the rain,

You can’t buy the heat.

You can’t buy the clouds,

You can’t buy my happiness,

You can’t buy my pain.


Tengo los lagos, tengo los ríos, Tengo mis dientes pa cuando me sonrío,
La nieve que maquilla mis montañas, Tengo el sol que me seca y la lluvia que me baña,
Un desierto embriagado con peyote, Un trago de pulque para cantar con los coyotes,
Todo lo que necesito!

I have the lakes, I have the rivers, I have my teeth for when I smile,

The snow that adorns my mountains, I have the sun that dries me and the rain that bathes me,

A desert drunk on peyote, a shot of pulque to sing with the coyotes,

All I need!

Tengo a mis pulmones respirando azul clarito,
La altura que sofoca, Soy las muelas de mi boca mascando coca,
El otoño con sus hojas desmayadas, Los versos escritos bajo las noches estrelladas,
Una viña repleta de uvas, Un cañaveral bajo el sol en cuba,
Soy el mar Caribe que vigila las casitas, Haciendo rituales de agua bendita,
El viento que peina mi cabello, Soy todos los santos que cuelgan de mi cuello,
El jugo de mi lucha no es artificial porque el abono de mi tierra es natural.

I have my lungs that are breathing clear blue,

The altitude that smothers, I am my jaws chewing coca,

The autumn with its fainted leaves, Verses written under starry skies,

A vineyard full of grapes, a sugarcane field under the sun in Cuba,

I am the Caribbean sea watching over the little houses, Doing rituals of holy water,

The wind that combs my hair, I am all the saints that hang from my neck,

The juice of my struggle is not artificial because my land’s fertilizer is natural.

We are walking, we are drawing the way!

[Chorus in Spanish and Portuguese]

Trabajo bruto pero con orgullo, Aquí se comparte lo mío es tuyo,
Este pueblo no se ahoga con maruyos, Y si se derrumba yo lo reconstruyo,
Tampoco pestañeo cuando te miro, Para que te recuerdes de mi apellido,
La operación cóndor invadiendo mi nido, Perdono pero nunca olvido, oye!

Brute work but with pride, Here we share, what’s mine is yours,

These people don’t drown in the waves, And if it collapses I’ll rebuild it,

I don’t blink when I look at you either, So that you’ll remember my last name,

Operation Condor invading my nest, I forgive but I’ll never forget!

Vamos caminado, aquí se respira lucha.
Vamos caminando, yo canto porque se escucha.
Vamos caminando, aquí estamos de pie.
Que viva Latinoamérica.
No puedes comprar mi vida!

We are walking, here we breathe struggle,

We are walking, I sing because you listen,

We are walking, here we are standing up,

Long live Latin America.

You can’t buy my life!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Translators get a bad rap as traitors. Quite the opposite, to translate is to be an ally.

As social justice interpreters in particular we amplify the voices of those less likely to be heard. (no, not the voiceless thank you)

We interpret not so that some can 'listen in' but so that everyone can more fully participate, because we are stronger as a movement when we bring together our multiple perspectives and different knowledges.

Multilingual movements are stronger movements.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

do no harm

do no harm: acción sin daño

Not quite literal, but this is how folks in Colombia who are working with Mary Anderson's framework are translating the term. Her book is titled "Do no harm: how aid can support peace - or war". A free handbook with the seven steps she suggests to ensure you do no harm is available at

Her *entire* book, translated into Spanish (as Accion sin daño), is available here.

Many thanks to my friend Ricardo Chaparro who teaches at the especilización en Acción Sin Daño de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia and who writes, "La página web de la especialización, para quien le interese, es:

Dicho enlace [book above] hace parte de la Biblioteca Digital en Violencia Sociopolitica, Acción Sin Daño y Construcción de Paz "Bivipas", que es la biblioteca que intentamos construir desde la Universidad Nacional de Colombia, y cuyo link es el siguiente:"

Gracias Ricardo!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


The movement to close the US Army's School of the Americas has come up with this great neologism - see their description of it at the bottom of this plug, reposted from here

Become an Activante* with SOA Watch in Latin America or Washington, DC

Youth leadership in the SOA Watch movement is growing and getting things done. It is the youth of our movement who led the effective Adios Uribe campaign, facilitated the South-North Encuentro that brought together activists from 19 countries, directed the soon-to-be released SOA Watch film, and organized delegations to Honduras. It is the youth who carry the weight in organizing the upcoming massive SOA Watch November Vigil at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia (Nov.18-20, 2011).

Young people have also brought our movement to see the necessity of working from both sides of the border to confront militarization. And, of the importance of crossing over borders to be effective in resisting militarization and promoting a culture of peace.

And, in doing so, their own lives have been forever changed, shaped into global citizens who recognize their own powerful potential as they work together with others.

We would like to invite others to join in this rich experience of becoming an SOA Watch activante* in one of four locations in the Americas. (read on here for further description)

* The term activante was coined by our first international team of young activists, who did not identify with the term "intern." They flipped the Spanish version of the word, pasante – associated to the Spanish pasivo, passive – to its opposite: activante. This term is a good reflection of what the role calls for: energy, leadership, initiative, dynamism, and creativity.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

vanishing point

vanishing point: punto de fuga

see Derek Gregory's fantastic chapter on “Vanishing points” in Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror, and Political Violence (2007): 205–236.

Friday, August 19, 2011

personas notorias

well known - not notorious!

This is not particularly a social movement term, but I have herd it rendered with the false cognate several times by volunteer inexperienced interpreters and in a social movement context it can easily take a conversation down an unfortunate track.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


burnout: sindrome del quemado

(what August vacations are good for)

Wikipedia en español lo tiene como sindrome del burnout but that seems like needless Spanglish to me - she says in Spanglish.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

vereda (Colombia)

It's true - I'm obsessed with this term. I said I would stop blogging different options for it but I just can't resist - in Bettina Ng'weno's great book Turf Wars: Territory and Citizenship in the Contemporary State (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2007) she renders it as "smallest administrative unit" (p. 115). Not a term that trips off the tongue like 'hamlet,' but nice and clear.

Friday, July 29, 2011


hollaback: atrevete

The hollaback movement against street harassment has spread to Latin America and is growing. Atrevete is obviously not a direct translation, but is what they are using for the movement. Not what I would have chosen, but hey, it's what I'll use. Check out the Buenos Aires site.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

accion de tutela (Col)

accion de tutela (Colombia): writ for the protection of constitutional rights

segun wikipedia: La Acción de Tutela es un mecanismo creado por la Constitución de Colombia de 1991 , inspirado en recursos similares que existen en otros mecanismos de similar finalidad como el Recurso de Amparo que busca proteger los Derechos fundamentales de los individuos al no haber otro recurso para hacerlos cumplir o en el caso de que exista peligro inminente. Por ejemplo una Acción de Tutela para que le sean suministrados medicamentos a un niño que de no recibirlos moriría.

Según la Corte Constitucional (Sentencia T-451 de julio 10 de 1992), el que un derecho sea fundamental no se puede determinar sino en cada caso en concreto, según la relación que dicho caso tenga con uno u otro derecho fundamental; es decir, la Constitución no determina de una manera clara cuáles son los derechos fundamentales, de tal manera que como tales no se puede considerar únicamente a los que la Constitución de 1991 enuncia en el Capítulo I del Título II.

Monday, July 11, 2011

interpreter orgs

I added the International Medical Interpreters Association to my list of interp orgs to know about in the left sidebar.

Friday, June 24, 2011


feminicidio, rather than femicidio

As a feminist activist in Colombia explained it to me, in Colombia femicidio is understood to mean just the homicide of a woman, whereas feminicidio is when she is killed for being a woman. But in English many people seem to use femicide to mean the latter, though I translated many of the essays in the powerful book Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas, which does use the cognate of the way it seems to be more commonly said in Spanish.

Friday, June 17, 2011

todo para todos

I love this pic of the white overalls but what, was that machine translation? It's everything for everybody.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

translation tip: the glossaries and dictionaries I use most

When I stumble on a word I turn to my own glossary first, because often I've stumbled on it before. After that I go to wordref in my firefox search bar (see my previous post about how to set that up). Next I often go sideways in the single language dictionaries that I have in the search bar, especially the RAE, looking for synonyms in the source language. After that I turn to the glossaries in proz.

I also have reverso in the search bar, but lately I haven't been as impressed by it.

Others I use at times include

termium, a newly free one from Canada



and I keep forgetting to use google dictionary but when I do I'm often pleasantly suprised. Set the tab to Sp<>Eng.

These days I'll admit I rarely turn to my large collection of specialized hard copy dictionaries. How fast things change!

Friday, June 3, 2011


Should we avoid using (or translating into) words with little known racist etymologies? I avoid the word 'gyp'' in English, even though most people no longer associate it with or consider it derogatory towards gypsies. But what about the other words in this interesting post on 8 racist words you are likely to hear every day. The other seven are:
hip hip hooray
and picnic.

Know the racist origins of ANY of those? Then does it matter if you use them?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

resources for legal 'terps

A big thanks to Claudia Johnson at the very cool LawHelp Interactive who pointed me to a bunch of great resources.

The Sacramento Courts have one of the best legal glossaries in multiple languages.

She also pointed to the online interviews being created across the country for people who can not afford lawyers that are beind made available in English/Spanish. As she says "There is a huge movement to get the courts in the US to provide language services for all cases." Hallelujah! It's about time! This was one of the things that drove me out of court interpreting it drove me so crazy. She says:

Some of the forms have audio in Spanish: An example can be found here.

Some of the forms have “pop ups” where if the person clicks Espanol the interview proceeds side by side in English and Spanish: NYC Tenant Affidavit to Vacate a Default Judgment Program

And most of their interviews allow people to request printing the instructions in English and Spanish so that they know what do after they assemble the forms, like this

Many legal aid groups are working on making this type of service available, including Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Kansas, etc and it is a very good move forward in the area of access to justice."

I'll say! Thanks Claudia!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

clarify with your colleagues how you want to team interpret together

I was reminded by my fab compa Jeremy of the importance of sending something like this, so I just modified Jeremy's version and sent this to the compas I'm interpreting with this week. I know most of it is obvious, but especially when working outside of a booth and with folks who are newer at this, it's best to have clarity. I've worked even with professionals who have just wandered away from me when they weren't on! so this is what I sent, feel free to modify and use:

Lets switch off every 15-20 minutes. During the speakers this will mean every speaker, during discussion, keep an eye on the clock. The person not interpreting can be responsible for this and point to their wrist when it's time, but the person interpreting then waits for a good time to hand off, don't feel like you have to hand off the mike right that minute.

The person not interpreting is not off. You can go to the bathroom of course, but generally your job is to listen, and if your colleague seems to be struggling to find a term my preference is that you write it down and point to it. Let me know if you want that, or want me to whisper it to you, or just wait until after to tell you. Also please notice if we're using different terms and during break lets agree on one to be consistent. Please also write down any sticky or problematic terms to discuss during break, or other feedback.

If I'm interpreting and get up to walk around so I can see the face of the speaker more clearly follow me. Please stand close enough so that you can hear and so that you could help if I get stuck.

If you miss a phrase or two and start to falter, there is no shame in quickly passing the microphone. Better to give yourself a break and regain concentration than to push through por cabezón.

At the end of a session, or at the end of the day, let’s evaluate how everything went and how we can improve next time

Gracias compas!
looking foward to working together

Monday, May 9, 2011

translating theory in the world

A book-length translation of the work of Mexican feminist activist and social critic Marta Lamas has just come out, translated by John Pluecker, a reader of this blog. To quote John's blog directly

"The book is the first in a series called Theory in the World edited by Gayatri Spivak and Hosam Aboul-Ela, dedicated to translating, publishing and disseminating theory from the Global South. As the info page about the series states:

Despite the flurry of interest in translation studies, markedly less emphasis has been placed on the process of translating theoretical texts, especially those originating outside of Europe and the U.S. This series breaks new ground by translating book-length theoretical works and taking up the issue of the doubly marginalized text. Theory in the World asks a scandalous question: is “theory” different when produced in the postcolonial world? Has globalization changed the picture? Has localization, touching on transnational gender roles, embodiment, non-Western poetics, reading practice, and canon-formation survived? Finally, it asks how the classical questions of translation studies become altered in this previously ignored geopolitical context and looks at the ways literature and the pedagogy of the humanities take account of these alterations."

So cool! Congratulations John!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

why do people insist on using 'translator' when they mean 'interpreter'?

Interpretation is oral, translation is written. I must have said this one sentence out loud over a thousand times by now. My friends and family are sick of hearing it, but still get it wrong. Sign language interpreters never get called translators - why do we? I had great hopes that after the mainstream movie 'The Interpreter' came out (see it if you haven't!) people would be more likely to get this right. Ha.

I think people are reluctant to use the term ‘interpreter’ due to a common conflation of two different denotations of the term interpret (1: oral rendition from one language to another and 2: analysis of the meaning of a text). Again and again people have told me that they believe interpreters change the meaning and translators go word to word. Argh!!

It is true that untrained interpreters are more likely to change the meaning of what is spoken in the source language, simply because they do not have the skills and ethics training to avoid this while trying to keep up with fast speech. Untrained interpreters are also much more likely to mis-name themselves 'translators' - so actually, if someone calls themselves a 'translator' when they're actually talking about interpreting, I take it as a bad sign that they are likely to distort meaning when they interpret.

If just repeating interpretation is oral and translation is written over and over again does not get through to folks, what is a more effective and catchy educational one liner? Any suggestions?

Thursday, April 28, 2011



as in racism, but, as I understand it, particularly discrimination within communities of color of people with darker skin. I heard this term used by Beverly Mullings on a bridging -isms panel at the US geographers (AAG) conference in 2009 and I love it, but I'm stumped as to a Spanish version. hue is tinte o tono o matiz o color, maybe colorismo? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


primordial: fundamental

As in, 'su apoyo ha sido primordial para nosotros'. This is another one of those that sounds really funny if you slip and do the cognate. Kudos to Melissa for getting this and so many other tricky subtitles right in this great little video

Monday, April 18, 2011

in good standing

good standing: cumplimiento y constancia

as in, member in good standing - miembro cumplido y constante
or, for example, "Miembros de pleno derecho y miembros asociados tendrán un plazo indeterminado, siempre y cuando hayan demostrado cumplimiento y constancia respecto a sus obligaciones."

thanks to Veronika for this one!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

language can build solidarity

"Language and the human spirit are inextricably intertwined. We interpret the world through language. We express ourselves through language. Language is powerful. Language can bring us together or set us apart. It can be used to include — to bridge barriers between cultures, religions, worldviews — at the same time as it can be used to exclude by inflaming xenophobia and racism. Language can establish community and solidarity at the same time as it can be used to erect boundaries and divide communities. More often than not, when we turn on the TV we see language used to occlude — to hide reality — to deceive, to spin, to distract, to disempower, to reinforce us versus them conceptions of humanity. Language is no longer innocent. We can no longer conceptualize language as some kind of neutral code that can be taught in classrooms in splendid isolation from its intersection with issues of power, identity, and spirituality." – Jim Cummins, Language and the Human Spirit (2003)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

palabras que nos cambiaron

es es titulo de una exposición lindisima que ví en Bogotá. Acabo de encontrar el glosario de la exposicion enlinea aca, la recomiendo altamente.

Por ejemplo definen colonialismo como:
A fines del siglo XVIII el término colonialismo comenzó a adquirir una connotación negativa. Las primeras veces que se utilizó desde la perspectiva de la América española fue en las quejas de las elites criollas que cuestionaron los intereses de centralización política y explotación mercantil de los Borbones, en el contexto de una creciente tendencia al libre comercio en el Atlántico. Luego, durante la invasión napoleónica de la península, los mismos criollos denunciaron la desproporción en la representación de América en las cortes, con mayoría de peninsulares. En una época en que se valoraba la participación política, el espacio mínimo que se otorgó a las Américas reflejaba una injusta y desigual relación de poder.

Los territorios americanos, “Las Indias”, se habían integrado a la Monarquía como reinos y no como colonias. Y la relativa calma que perduró durante tres siglos dentro de la misma revela que, políticamente, el mundo hispano era estable. Esto nos obliga a pensar la historia de la Monarquía por fuera de supuestos (contemporáneos) de dominación, que le adjudican a la variedad de súbditos americanos una constante o natural pretensión “anticolonial”. Así pues, si utilizamos el concepto de “colonial” o “historia colonial” para demarcar el periodo durante el cual América y España estuvieron vinculadas dentro de una misma estructura monárquica o imperio, es necesario evadir perspectivas teleológicas que impiden comprender cómo se producían las identidades imperiales hispanas.

Los movimientos independentistas hispanoamericanos reinventaron el pasado negativamente y aprovecharon el potencial revolucionario del anticolonialismo en una época de rápido cambio político y volatilidad simbólica. Paradójicamente, al inventar las estructuras políticas y legales nacionales, las elites vencedoras revelaron ser portadoras del impulso centralista y colonialista (a menor escala) que le habían cuestionado a la Madre España.

Marcela Echeverri

sere un nerd academica total, pero me parece fascinante - y la version virtual tiene arte grafico al estilo "colonial" que me encanta

Saturday, April 2, 2011


minga: minga (collective work action)

la minga llega a Bogota

The above are photos I took of the Colombian minga at the end of their long march, as it was coming in to the heart of Bogotá in November of 2008.

I have posted before about the term minga, so forgive me for going off about it again, but I continue to be frustrated that a lot of interps and translators are just leaving minga as minga into English, which I think will not make sense to most readers and loses some of its power. Yes, it is a powerful and complex enough word that we should work on importing it (like we have campesino) and educating English only listeners as to what a minga is, but to do that you have to add a quick simplified definition when you use it. I propose adding collective work action the first few times you use it.

In the Jan/Feb issue of NACLA there is a great article by Deborah Poole about the Colombian minga, in which she explains that:

"Minga is a Quechua word meaning “collective work” with wide currency among popular and poor sectors, both indigenous and mestizo, of the Andean republics. The Cauca-based minga of 2008 was grounded in the territorial and cultural demands of Colombia’s indigenous peoples, yet it is a movement that now extends across the Andes, engaging indigenous and non-indigenous sectors in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru (see “Against the Law of the Jungle"). Minga, however, is a concept that has traveled not only because of the “natural” cultural solidarities that run through indigenous ideals of community life, but also because Andean authorities long ago found in the minga a useful means to organize corvée labor, first in colonial mines and then later for the roads and public works that would provide evidence for the state’s presence in their nations’ otherwise forgotten indigenous territories. Thus the ACIN’s call to join in minga, as a name for a collective action that is at once local and international, gains force from both its cultural and historical references to a shared experience of subjugation. By calling their movement a minga, the indigenous participants call attention to both the work that must go into politics and the idea that that work must be collective. They also, of course, reclaim it from long histories of state-led attempts to organize and control collective politics and community organization."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Interpreters do it

… in two languages
… with their tongues
… with their mouth open

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

environmental security

environmental security: seguridad ecológica

See Simon Dalby's book by this name. I'm not sure Simon would include the breaking nuclear disaster but it has me thinking about this again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

no fly zone

no fly zone: zona de exclusión aérea

though this editorial in the Guardian argues that it's a euphemism for war

Thursday, March 3, 2011

machine translation

Spanish...¿Cómo como como? Como como como!!

English equivalent...what do you mean how I eat? I eat the way I eat!

Try this with ANY machine and tell me what you get.

(Thanks to Ed Zaldibar for this one)

That said, I had always said before don't bother starting with machine translation and trying to clean it up, it will just get you going down the wrong track - BUT if you do this inside a good translation memory system (I like AND you've got a document with a lot of standard UN terminology, I've found that it CAN save you time looking up names of UN departments, etc. now that all UN translations are in google translate. But then, my poor editor has had to do a lot more clean up for me than normal when I use that crutch so .... I guess I'm still torn.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

tip: keep a glossary

I haven't been good at keeping up my promise to offer tips for becoming a better interpreter on this blog, but here is one that will painfully obvious for the pros who read this, so forgive me. For those of you who are activists who get thrust into interpreting, let me suggest that if you don't already, you keep your own constantly growing glossary.

In my ideal world all solidarity orgs would have an organizational glossary of their key terms and put it online. But then, our soawatch one is out of date and we don't do a good job of sticking to it, so who am I to say. The USSF interpreters developed a great one which is online here.

My personal system for my own glossary is that when I'm interpreting and run across a word I either stumble on or think aha! that's a good rendition, I circle it in my notes (ojo, I always interpret with a notepad in hand, even when doing simultaneous - this one of the first rules you learn in any professional interpreting training and one far too few activist interpreters follow). When I'm done I go back through and write those down either in a glossary notebook or just straight into my excell glossary. I also keep track of social change related words that I hear other interpreters trip up on or render in less that stellar ways. I always have a little notebook in my purse and when I'm in conversations, listening to the radio, reading, etc - if a good term comes up I write it down and then move these to my excell file on Fridays. I am not as good at regularly importing that file into my translation memory glossary, which I usually build up as I'm working on written translations (I use the free online translation memory program at which compares remarkably well to the super expensive programs).

Al glosario compas!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

yellow dog union

yellow dog union/ company union/ false-front union:
sindicato charro (Mx), sindicato proteccionista (Mx), sindicato corporativizado (Mx), sindicato patronalista (Col), la patronal (just Mx?), and the safest, for being widely understood in a mixed audience: sindicato falso

You don't hear yellow dog union too often in the US, but more in Canada, as I was reminded today. It comes from the term yellow dog contract.