Posted by: janecronin | May 21, 2017

Culturally specific terms

All language learners at some point have to come to grips with the fact that there are words and concepts in one language that simply do not have an equivalent in another.  Sometimes these gaps seem quite inexplicable, for example the Spanish don´t have a word for “shallow”, they say “poco profundo” (not very deep).  Neither is there a word in Spanish for the verb “to drop”, they say instead “dejar caer” (to let fall).  Similarly, there are many words in Spanish that have no translation in English.  These are often more abstract words which are hard to replicate in our more pragmatic language. “Reivindicar” is one that constantly gives me problems in translations.  It sort of means “to claim” but not quite; it’s similar to “assert”  and linked to the idea of “vindicate”, but the truth is that there is no exact equivalent in English for something that a lot of Spanish people, at least the ones I know, do all the time.

There are other words that are untranslatable because they refer to things that are specific to a particular culture.  We all know what a “siesta” is, and we have adopted the word into English, but the only real equivalent for us is “afternoon nap”.  However, we have no concept of “la hora de la siesta” that hour or two in the middle of the afternoon when we are supposed to be quiet and allow other people to rest.  Another period during the day which we lack in English is “la hora del vermut”.  This is usually on a Sunday, before the main midday meal, when people go out to bars with their friends and family and have an aperitif, often vermouth or perhaps something a little less potent.

Another typically Spanish time period is what is called the “sobremesa”.  This is the time spent at the table talking after a meal has finished.  If you have observed groups of Spaniards in restaurants you may be aware that this can go on as long as the meal, or even longer.  My Spanish friends tell me that the “sobremesa” is no longer a reality on a day to day basis, but the fact remains that in English we don´t even have a word for it!

Finally, another time related concept – “el puente” (the bridge).  Successive governments have talked about ending this tradition, but it is showing no signs of disappearing at the moment.  The “puente” refers to the day that falls between a weekend and a national bank holiday.  Exact dates are kept to religiously, so if a fiesta falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, then many institutions such as schools and offices take the intervening Monday or Friday off as a holiday as well, thus creating a nice four day break in the middle of a period of work.  It’s one of those traditions that I think will be hard to break.




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