David Lauman

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

What’s in a sign?

In Mistranslated signs on April 13, 2012 at 9:14 AM

By David L Lauman, M.A. in Translation and Interpretation

20/20 Translations

If there were no signs on roads and in public places, our lives would be much more chaotic.

Signs help save lives, enforce laws, provide directions, and maintain order, to name just a few essential functions.

Creating a clear message for a sign is not an easy task because although there is limited context and space, it must be understood immediately. However, the complexity involved in ensuring that the same sign is clearly understood in one or more foreign languages is often underestimated.  In both Mexico and the United States, I have seen many mistranslated signs.

While some mistranslated signs are funny, such as “Brake glass in case of fire” which I saw at a hotel in Mexico, other mistranslations can cause concern.  Take, for example, the following notice that I recently saw at a restaurant in Texas:

When this Spanish message is translated back into English it says: “BETRAYAL NOTICE-Loading weapons with or without a license here is a betrayal with a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.”

Even though felony and felonía look very similar, their meanings are drastically different: the equivalent of felony in Spanish is delito, while in Spanish felonía means betrayal. Furthermore, in a Spanish-speaking country, portar armas (possession of weapons) is generally prohibited in public places, but it would certainly cause alarm if somebody were to cargar armas (load weapons) in public.

While a picture says 1000 words, if a caption is required the message must be clearly transmitted no matter what language it is in.

© David Lauman, 2012.  All rights reserved.

Don’t let the language barrier get in the way of effective spoken communication with Spanish speakers here in the USA or on the opposite side of the globe.  You are invited to visit 20/20 Translations and contact David Lauman at david(at)2020translations.com for further inquiries.