sábado, junio 03, 2006


I was talking the other to my girlfriend about cultural identity (yeah, what? I can be my own kind of freak) and we realized something. It's something silly which you never think about cause it's like wondering about why the sun comes up in the morning.
We talked about words and their meaning within a cultural context. I'll explain myself.
We, as translators, learn a foreign language and then use it as a work tool. When you learn a foreign language, you learn the words, a few ones that you shouldn't learn, you might even have a favourite one cause you like the sound of it or whatever. But we never think about their "cultural meaning".
All of this was because I watched a Conan show (The late show with Conan O'Brien) in which he went to Finland and went to an underwear exhibition. He asked the guide guy how did they refer to underwear. Did they say "underwear" or "underpants"? When Conan said "underpants", he giggled. He said it reminded him of when he was 8 and he couldn't stop giggling when he heard the word.
Then I wonder, are we aware of that kind of "burden" words have when we speak a foreign language? I guess we do to a certain extent, but there are always words (like that one, cause it's simple and we don't use it regularly) we don't know the "cultural meaning" of.
From there, we passed to more "serious" stuff, like the word "nigga". As far as I could find out, it is only acceptable when one black person uses it to refer to another, but it is not when a white person uses it to refer to a black person.
We concluded then that words "metamorphose". They start as normal, regular words and then, with a turn of fate, they become flying and cutting weapons. An apparently simple word can be very harmful in some situations. But it always depends on who says it and whom says it to. What hurts you can even make me laugh. Which leads me to think, how much can a word you don't care about hurt you? or, how much can a simple and nice word hurt you when somebody uses it viciously?
As a friend of mine says, "words are loaded guns", and that's why I think it's very important learning how to use 'em well.
When you think about something that could guarantee your salvation o that could stop the world from imploding, words don't seem to come too handy. But in the world we live in, we can't stop communicating with each other and we need to know how to use our language for that.
We'll talk some other day about languages in Spain, which is a subject that interests me and enrages me in equal parts.
Till then, I'll leave you thinking about this: Do you use well the words you use? how many times you use a word to hurt or to heal? do words have more power that we think?

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