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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Techniques  »  Origins and the Recovery of Common Sense

Origins and the Recovery of Common Sense

By Marcia Pinheiro | Published  01/22/2013 | Translation Techniques | Recommendation:
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Marcia Pinheiro
angielski > portugalski translator
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Have you noticed that at least sometimes the words of the English language, as they are seen in the English language (spelling and meaning), are found in other languages?

This happens with the word massacre and the Portuguese language.

Interesting enough, however, is noticing that one must stress (main stress) the second syllable (see Harper Collins) when saying this word in the Portuguese language and stress the first syllable when saying it in English (see Longman).

I then tried to come up with some sort of explanation for that and decided that perhaps the Germans, through the Anglo-Saxon migration to the UK, have played a major role there, as for the way the word is said in the English language, and the Spanish, through their imperialist actions, have done the same job in what regards this word and the Portuguese language, that is, I decided that this word must have first appeared in Brazil, as for history of development of the Portuguese language, and in the UK, as for history of development of the English language.

I thought of the so few words that I knew in German and Spanish to reach such a conclusion. For instance, we say Hallo in German and Hello in English: Not only both words are almost identical in their spelling, but their meaning is the same. The stress lies in the second syllable in both cases (see Longman and Collins). We say Heiraten in German and Marry in English, but we say Casar in both Portuguese and Spanish. The first syllable of the word gets the oral stress in German (see Collins) and English (see Longman) and the second syllable of the word gets the stress in Portuguese (see Harper Collins) and Spanish (see BARRON’S).

Once more, however, there are words that will break ‘the imagined rule’. For instance, we say Frau in German, Madam in English, Dona in Portuguese, and Senora in Spanish. Now, English (see Longman), and Portuguese get ‘the same sort of stress’, German (see Collins) ‘is not looking precisely the same in those regards’, but is still looking similar somehow to English, and this time also to Portuguese (see Harper Collins), and Spanish (see BARRON’S) is the only one completely ‘out of the pack’.

What happens now in my imagination? Well, there is some chance that the same people added Heiraten to the German lexicon and Marry to the English lexicon, say the Anglo-Saxons. Another people probably (with high probability) added Casar both to the Portuguese and to the Spanish lexicon, say the own Spanish.

It is then possible that we can determine the origins of groups of words through analyzing details, such as stress patterns. We can also then argue with the etymological lexicons writers using those studies in case we find any discrepancy there, is it not? It seems that we do have scientific grounds to win there now… .

In those regards, I currently have a ‘little thing’ bothering me quite a lot.

I always thought that Hitler was an impressive figure in all regards. I then watched quite a few movies about the Nazis. I did notice that, when they showed things in Brazil about them on TV, the soldiers usually said ‘Hi, Hitler’. I cannot tell what they actually said in the American movies, like originally, because all those that I have watched on Hitler I watched in Brazil, where they usually do ‘voice-overs’ in the movies.

When looking for that on the Internet, I found conflicting information. It seems that ‘everyone agrees’ that the soldiers of Hitler used to say ‘Heil Hitler!’ to him. People translated Heil into Ave in Portuguese (Ave Maria for Hail Mary) and Hail (Hail Mary) in English. The problem that I have with all that is that Hitler is always portrayed as one of the most important figures in human history, a person who is absolutely venerated by his soldiers and people. Since they all made that very uncomfortable gesture when saying ‘Heil Hitler!’, it seems to me that the expression has to mean adoration of some sort for Hitler, so that it could not simply be the case that they were saying ‘Hi, Hitler!’, which is a quite informal way of directing ourselves to others. Ave and Hail appear in Ave Maria and Hail Mary, that is, in a very formal Catholic prayer, what then means that Ave and Hail mean maximum veneration for Mary, the mother of Jesus. I can only imagine that Ave then, in its most disrespectful usage, is something that closely relates to Salve in Portuguese since we also have Salve Rainha (Hail, Holy Queen) as part of a Catholic prayer that is usually seen associated with Ave Maria. Salve basically means ‘save’, but can also mean ‘relatively elegant greeting’, that is, never ‘hi’, but something like ‘long live’. Ave is seen in movies about the Romans, Ave Caesar being the expression that first comes to my mind. Because Caesar was adored by the Romans, I can only imagine that Ave Caesar is something like ‘Save the Great Caesar’ or ‘Long live Caesar’ or ‘Long life to Caesar’ or ‘Our kingdom is for you, Caesar’ or ‘All blessings to you, Caesar’ or ‘We praise you, Caesar’. In some etymological dictionaries, we see the term Hail being associated with both farewell and hi, and I therefore conclude that it must be ‘all blessings to you’ or ‘we praise you’. If things are such, then we do have a huge problem ‘in translation’ here (as well), is it not? Yet, Hitler is such an important historical figure and this sentence has been around for ages… .

This sadly makes me conclude that ‘one of our arts’, ‘one of the most important of our arts’, Translation, is actually way behind in terms of excellence.

I think that we definitely need more ‘places’ like PROz, many more, so that we can improve our ‘rate of success’, that is, our standards. I still sadly remember having read a translated version of a book by Simone de Beauvoir, Tous les Hommes Sont Mortels, and having had the impression that there was a mistake in translation. In the book in Brazilian Portuguese that I read, the main character, who is a male who basically ‘lasts forever’, simply dies in one chapter and appears completely alive in the next chapter without us ever being given any explanation for that (in the text). Yet, that far, I was ‘with the author’, I reckon… .

If there is one thing that we can never do, as professional translators, is depreciating a text with our service provision.

I think that at least sometimes we can improve the texts, however, like the ethical guidelines cannot be applied at all times because there are cases in which clarity is a must (for instance, in cases involving important documents, such as birth certificates).

We must transmit the text in the other language ‘as it is’ in the original language, also in what regards style (linguistic competency of the writer), but at least sometimes things cannot be precisely this way. For instance, what is the point in keeping the style of a text written by an authority for law and order of a Country if that implies reproducing basic mistakes in the writing in the target-language? Whenever possible, we mention the original text in our notes, at the end of our pages, therefore the improper use of the language by that government/individual, but we fix the text as we translate it in terms of style, if you understand me.

Notice that the notes play a major role in terms of improving the accuracy of our work (in Translation). I can never get enough of them… .

The point is however that we should really dedicate ourselves to what we do and therefore consider studying the origins of the expressions we translate, for instance, in order to select the best match in the target-language.


Some of the sources for this text:

• Harper Collins Portuguese Dictionary: English – Portuguese, ISBN 006-273489-X, 1997
• Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, ISBN 1-405-80673-7, 2005
• Collins German Dictionary & Grammar, ISBN 978-0-00-732316-6, 2010
• BARRON’S Foreign Language Guides Spanish-English, ISBN-10 0-7641-3329-2, 2006

(The first five websites were seen on the 12th of January of 2013 and the fifth was seen on the 22nd of January of 2013)

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