Translations - What to do when a word doesn't exist
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There are a lot of opinions when
it comes to English words that cannot be translated
by using an "accepted-by-Real-Academia-Española
(RAE)" word, and yet we as translators have
to come up with a solution and most definitely a
word, whether it is in the RAE dictionary or not.
The English language is always changing and new
words are being coined all the time. How does Spanish,
or any other language, keep up with those changes?
By doing the same the English does—coining new words.
What can translators do to come up with the right
nuance, meaning and, finally, the right translation
that keeps true to the source? We either create
new words by consensus among various translators
and/or entities, or use words that other people
have already coined and are being widely used already,
whether they are included in RAE or not.
How do we come up with such words? The way I do
it is by searching every dictionary I can get my
hands on, talking to other translators, and finally,
when everything has been exhausted and yet there
is no word, by searching in google.
What terms do I use in my search? I try to come
up with what I think might be the Spanish word and
search that way with the English word in parenthesis,
or use the English word if it could be a Spanish
word itself; whatever method I use, I always do
an advanced search and request pages only in Spanish.
An example is the English word "incremental” which
doesn't appear in the RAE dictionary or in their
When you do a google search, and then do an advanced
search and select Spanish as the language of the
pages to be returned, you will get 50,900 hits,
which tells me I can use that word and keep its
English meaning. Actually, a month ago that number
was 47,300!!! This means that the use of "incremental”
is growing exponentially, confirming my decision
to use that word in translations.
I know that some of you out there might think that
doing this goes against everything we were taught
in school and against the purity of the language.
I know some of you will disagree with my approach.
As linguists and translators we have to be flexible
to the changes that usage generates. Not using a
word because RAE hasn’t approved its use, when google
tells you that Spanish-speaking people are using
it all over the world is not only ludicrous, but
not fair to the client that wants the Spanish translation
to reflect the English.
When we coin a new word, because of use, in a few
years it becomes accepted by everyone and eventually
makes it to the famous RAE dictionary, so that all
of you that might criticize my approach, three or
four years later will no doubt be using the same
word that I have been using all along. I just gave
my client an edge by being proactive and using a
new word. Earlier in my career, I was involved in
the creation of a word: recycle and its derivates.
There was no word to say recycle because no one
even understood its concept in the Spanish-speaking
world, let alone do it or have a word for it. So,
I contacted RAE and got nowhere. Because it was
a U.S. issue, I contacted the U.S.-Hispanic Chamber
of Commerce in Washington, D.C., and asked if something
had already been created. Nothing existed that they
were aware of, so right there and then I suggested
a word and together we created the word "reciclar".
Today, this word is in the RAE dictionary.
All the time I hear translators say that they can't
use this or that word because "it doesn't exist
in Spanish", and I hear them criticize other translators
that use a word that according to them "doesn't
exist in Spanish". What they are really trying to
say is that the word is not in the RAE
dictionary. If people all over the world are using
a word, to me that word does exist.
So, before we decide not to use a word because we
are concerned that it is not accepted or it “doesn't
exist in Spanish”, let’s remember and apply what
RAE itself says about the subject: “Las lenguas
cambian de continuo, y lo hacen de modo especial
en su componente léxico. Por ello los diccionarios
nunca están terminados: son una obra viva
que se esfuerza en reflejar la evolución
registrando nuevas formas y atendiendo a las mutaciones
"Languages are constantly changing, and their lexical
components do it in a special way. That is why dictionaries
are never finished: they are works in progress
that are trying to reflect the evolution by registering
new forms and taking into consideration the meaning
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