Spanglish, Chinglish and Konglish: There’s a name for that.

80sBoatppleScanAn interpreter or translator can be easily tripped up by distinctive wordings that appear to be a mix of both the source and the target language. These wordings are based on the speaker or author merging his or her grasp of two languages and using a term from one language as if it were a component of the other. Our flow can be interrupted when the speaker or text author uses the vocabulary learned in their single language household or social group.
There is a name for this! It is called Second Language Acquisition. In fact it is an entire component of the field of linguistics. I taught a graduate class on this subject for a University of Houston program for Bilingual Educators. Translators and interpreters should take a look at these elements of communication because you will be seeing it in documents and you will hear it spoken.
A professional interpreter or translator never passes judgment on the speaker or author by labeling their language as correct or incorrect. It is our job to learn all the different ways a person may choose to communicate so that we perform in accordance to the highest professional standards.
Second language acquisition elements can dominate the communication patterns of dual language speakers in certain geographic regions. Interpreters in Houston are used to hearing the English term for feeder road used interchangeably in Spanish and English as “la feeder” or ”feeder”. I have seen it in Spanish source texts written as fider. East coast Spanish interpreters hear La Gua Gua for bus because of the predominance of the Puerto Rican use of this term. I invite you, dear readers, to comment and report examples in other languages.
In industrial employment settings, sub groups also demonstrate transference patterns. Names of tools, equipment, materials, employer titles or specific places on a job site (lunch tent) may have very different version that have no resemblance to the dictionary translation.
Job duties and procedures can be expressed by converting the English name (noun) for the equipment into a verb and using that word for their job title or description.
These are examples of Second Language Acquisition Transference.
transfer: influence of similarities and differences between the TL (target language) and a SL (source language) that has been previously (perhaps imperfectly) acquired.
Here are some problems that transference causes which impede the LEP from successfully acquiring the second language:

negative transfer (interference): cross-linguistic influences resulting in errors.
underproduction: learner produces few or no examples of the second language. This is often caused by conscious avoidance of difficult wordings in the second language.
overproduction: learner develops a habit of repeating a transference wording more so than native speakers of the second language.
miscomprehension/misinterpretation: When relying on native language transference the second language is not thoroughly comprehended nor used correctly resulting in production errors:
Why is the linguistic explanation important to Judicial T&I professionals? Because it defines how the speaker or author came to use this untranslatable term. Lawyers and Judges benefit from knowing these elements of the communication process. Lawyers can better represent their client when they know how their witness communicates naturally. Judges benefit from knowing that the testimony is intact and not altered by mistranslated evidence or misinterpreted testimony. Translators can use Second Language Acquisition elements in their translator’s notes.
I will follow up with specific suggested procedures to follow when you face SLA elements in your work. Look for the post: What To Do: Spanglish, Chinglish and Konglish.

8 thoughts on “Spanglish, Chinglish and Konglish: There’s a name for that.”

  1. I recall the first time an immigration judge heard rentamos. He did not know what Spanglish was, but was really glad he would be retiring in just a few months…

    And, as usual, you are absolutely right in stating that we, T&I professionals, need to be able to properly identify these linguistic events. Knowledge empowers us, causes others to respect our opinions. If not for that alone, in the end it all converts into recognition, which converts into more jobs, which translates into more money.

  2. One of the characteristics of Japanese is that it readily accepts “loanwords” but this can be a source of considerable headaches for translators because often these loanwords have only some of the meaning that these terms have in the language that they are “borrowed” from, and sometimes the meaning is actually different. Except in relation to patents, the English term “claim” is used in loanword form (meaning that it is simply pronounced with a heavy Japanese accent) to mean “complain” or “complaint.” This means that just because it is written in the katakana syllabary (a writing system generally reserved for loanwords and onomatopoeic terms), translating it as “claim” may not correct if the English ends up sounding as if it is “claim” in the sense of “assertion.” There are also some terms that have ended up with a uniquely “Jap-lish” (some prefer “Japan-glish”) meaning. “Cunning” is one such term. As a loanword, it means “to cheat”. Thus when used together with the word for paper or sheet, it means what we would call a “crib sheet” in English.
    There is the problem of loanwords from languages other than English. Over 90% of the loanwords in Japanese are from English but that still leaves the 10% from other languages (predominantly German, French, Dutch and Portuguese). What we call a cathode ray tube (or CRT) in English is a loanword from the German; it is called a “Braun tube” for the German inventor – Karl Ferdinand Braun.
    There are loanword terms that mix words from different languages. I have seen what we would call a “gastric tube” in English be referred to in loanword form as “Magen tube” (the German term “Magen” plus the English term “tube”) and “gastric Zonde” (the English term “gastric” plus the German term “Zonde.” My favorite was written using the Latin alphabet in a document that was mainly in Japanese – Grossmother. The author mixed up the German term “Großmutter” and the English term “grandmother.”
    There are some loanwords that are used in Japanese in ways that can result in a strange translation if directly “transferred.” Recently, in Japan, the English terms “hearing” and “get” have become very popular in loanword form. “Hearing” is used to mean “to ask”; it is sometimes used in a construction that would lend itself to being translated as “conduct a hearing” (instead of “conduct an inquiry”) but in English that tends to bring on images of a formal meeting such as that of the US House Un-American Activities Committee. The loanword form of “get” is often used in contexts that would lend themselves more to “obtain” or “acquire” and where “get” in English might result in confusion vis-à-vis “get” in the sense of “to understand.”
    There are also some loanwords that are written differently from the way the term is pronounced in the original language. “Valet” as in “valet parking” is one such term. It is written and pronounced in Japanese so that it rhymes with “pallet” (the “t” is pronounced).
    • Y Kashiwagi Interpreter/Translator

  3. This type of situation frequently takes place on a daily basis for people who live in polyglot environments within countries which have 3, 5, 10 or more national languages and often 1 trade language (locally-derived or major international language). Language = Who + What + Where + When + Why + How

    Change any of the variables to the right of the equal sign and it changes the type of language/variety/register on the left
    Jeff Allen , Key Expert Advisor , Engineering

  4. One of my all-time favourites in Japanese mash-up loanwords is: シュークリーム
    (Romanized spelling: shu-kurimu and pronounced like: “shoe cream” with an additional “u” at the end). This is not –as the newcomer to Japan might well assume– a Japanese loan word for “shoe cream” (a type of “shoe polish” ). That in Japanese would be: くつずみ [Romanized spelling: kutsuzumi]).

    Rather, it is actually a mash-up of the 1st word from the French name for cream-puff “chou à la crème” and the English word “cream”.

    Anyhow, my simple/straightforward answer to the question Diane posed:
    as with most not directly-translatable/localizable uni-lingual words, I try to find the closest equivalent in the target language. For example, “condo” or ”condominium” for the Japanese “manshon”, instead of “mansion” (from which the Japanese word originally derived) and “complete medical checkup” or “comprehensive medical/physical examination” for “人間ドック” instead of “human dock” (or “human drydock”) like the “Japan Academy of Oral Human Dock” (Nihon Shika Ningen Dokku Gakkai []) does 😉

    When one can absolutely not think of any (even roughly) comparable word one can either resort directly to an explanation, or put in the conditional adjective “literally” and formulate a literal translation AND THEN include an explanation (in parentheses), e.g. to use above “ningen dokku” as an example:
    ….”literally ‘human (dry) dock’ (translator’s note: the Japanese like to draw an analogy between a dry dock overhaul of a marine vessel and a full physical checkup of a patient, esp. since “dock” and “doc” are homophones). Andreas Boettcher International Communications Director at Media Art League L.C.

  5. • In France, “le franglais” and “globish” are all over the place. One key to keep in mind is that the words may be borrowed as-is (as-are?) from English, but can have a different, or nuanced, meaning when used in the French context, e.g. “un feeling”, closer to something like a sense, or intuition, or “une startup”, often used for a youngish or small IT company, IT being the operative concept. Jean-Paul Nerriere, author of Le Globish, actually promotes the concept of simplified English for global communication! It’s out there and it won’t go away. I have found, in the speedy flow of interpreting, that the greatest difficulty is sometimes actually catching the word as pronounced by the non-English speaker, what with the stresses all over the place and one’s ear being attuned to the specific music of French… the first time I heard “naulèdgmanèdgmèntte”, I had a nano-linguistic-seizure! 🙂
    Alexandra Schmidt, Translator, and Conference Interpreter.

  6. Nobody seems to have mentioned that it is largely dependent on the audience and the client. We recently had a job which used a technical term, which was fairly common in the UK but not elsewhere in Europe. While the term or equivalent existed in most countries it was mainly related to weapons, so we decided to use a less technical term where there was one that suited because the “audience”, in this case the potential buyers, were household cooks. It’s a difficult call and ultimately the buyer has the decision, guided by the translator, again not an easy task even if this is an option.

    As always though, it depends… William Charlton. etyMonda

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