November 26, 2013 § 1 Comment
On Thursday the people of the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving: the most American of all holidays. Christmas is also a very big day in America, but unlike Christmas that is only observed by Christians, Thanksgiving is a holiday for all Americans regardless of religion, ethnicity, or ideology. There are no presents, and every year during this fourth Thursday in November, people travel extensively to be with their loved ones and eat the same meal: a turkey dinner.
It is important to distinguish between the religious act of thanking God for the good fortune and the American holiday called Thanksgiving Day. The former was held by many Europeans all over the new world as they gave thanks for setting foot again on dry land. Explorers and conquistadors observed these religious ceremonies in places like Virginia, Florida, Texas, and New Mexico. There are documented ceremonies held on (at the time) Spanish territory as early as the 16th. Century by Vázquez de Coronado, and we have records of the festivities that took place in Jamestown, Virginia during 1610.
The first Thanksgiving holiday that we presently observe can be traced to a celebration that took place at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. The settlers had a bad winter followed by a successful harvest in 1621. During that crude winter survival was possible thanks to the help of the local residents: The Wampanoag tribe. Massasoit, who was the tribe leader, donated food to the English when the food they brought from England proved to be insufficient. Cooperation between Native-Americans and Europeans included agriculture, hunting, and fishing lessons. The settlers were taught how to catch eel and grow corn, and were briefed on the geography and weather conditions of the region. This partnership took place because of the good disposition of all those who participated; however, trust had to be established and communication had to be developed. The Europeans and Native-Americans spoke different languages and had very little in common. The English settlers were very fortunate as they had among them a Patuxent Native-American who had lived in Europe, first in England and Spain as a slave, and later in England as a free man. During his years in Europe, this man learned English and had the ability to communicate in both languages: English and the one spoken by the Wampanoag tribe. His name was Squanto (also known as Tisquantum), and he played an essential role in this unprecedented cooperation between both cultures. He was very important during the adaptation and learning process. His services were extremely valuable to settle disputes and misunderstandings between natives and settlers. There are accounts of Squanto’s ability and skill. He was embraced by the settlers until his dead. In fact, his work as an interpreter and cultural broker made it possible for two very different peoples to sit down and share a meal and a celebration when on that first Thanksgiving, the settlers held a harvest feast that lasted three days. As many as ninety Native-Americans, including King Massasoit attended the event. They ate fish, fowl, and corn that the English settlers furnished for the celebration, and they had five deer that the Wampanoag took to the feast. Although it is not documented, it is possible that they also had some wild turkeys as they existed in the region. Undoubtedly Squanto must have worked hard during those three days facilitating the communication between hosts and guests.
We now celebrate this all-American holiday every year. It has been observed since President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday; and it has been observed on the fourth Thursday of November since President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that it should be observed on that Thursday instead of the last one of the month as sometimes November has five Thursdays. Thanksgiving is also the most American of all holidays because we celebrate family, football and the start of the best retail season of the year: Christmas. We now have Black Friday and Cyber-Monday. We travel by plane, car, and train to go home for this turkey dinner, and we all gather around the TV set to watch football and parades. This Thanksgiving as you are carving the turkey, pause for a moment and remember the interpreter who helped make this all possible: Squanto the Patuxent Native-American. Happy turkey day!
November 19, 2013 § 4 Comments
As interpreters and translators we have been gathering for decades in workshops, conferences, and professional associations. We are lucky to have so many places where we can improve our skills, enhance our knowledge, and do networking with others. We have the fortune to have excellent organizations that are international and very big like ATA and FIT; others that are regional and smaller, some that are specific to a particular field like NAJIT and IMIA, and we even have separate organizations exclusively for interpreters or translators. All these professional groups are very important and useful to our profession. They all serve different purposes, and we need them all. A few years ago we witnessed the birth of InterpretAmerica, another forum for all interpreters to talk to each other as professionals, and to directly address the other players in our industry: equipment providers, government contractors, the big language agencies, academic institutions, international organisms, and others.
We had all these resources to thrive in our profession but something was missing: We had no outlet to talk to each other as individual professional interpreters and translators; a place where we could talk about the business side of our work. A forum where we could address the recent changes brought to our work by the globalization movement; the disparity and often times ruthless competition that we face as freelancers in a world where new technology and gigantic language service providers are driving the professional fees down; and in some cases the quality of the service even lower.
We all know of the court interpreting crisis that has developed in the United Kingdom. Many of you know that, unlike the U.S. federal court system where you find the best court interpreters because it pays the highest fees, American immigration courts pay very little under less than ideal working conditions, and for the most part do not use the services of top tier interpreters. Of course, it is common knowledge that big language service providers are paying incredibly low fees to good translators based in developing countries, and it is no secret that every day more businesses turn to machine translation to solve their most common communication problems.
What most interpreters and translators do not know, is that there are other countries in the world who want to emulate the United Kingdom’s model; that there are government agencies who outsource the authority to “certify” or “qualify” individuals as interpreters or translators in order to comply with legal mandates and to meet the demand for these services, at least on paper.
A few weeks ago I attended in London the first congress of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) an event where hundreds of well-known veteran interpreters and translators from all over the world met with the most talented new generation of professional interpreters and translators I have ever seen in my life. The reason for this event: to discuss all these developments and issues that we currently face in our profession, in order to be better prepared and armed with skill and knowledge to embrace technology and face globalization as freelancers. The organization and the conference are for individual translators and interpreters. No corporate memberships. No big language service providers. It was refreshing to attend presentations that dealt with issues such as how to protect your market, defend the quality of your work, and honor the real value of your work so you never give in to those who want you to work for less than a fair fee. It was wonderful to see so many colleagues taking note of the business side of the profession so they can do better when competing for the good client in the real world. I salute the brains, heart and soul of this much needed type of professional association: Aurora Humarán and Lorena Andrea Vicente, President and Vice-president of IAPTI respectively.
Dear colleagues, in this new global economy, where we are all competing in the same world market, we need all the professional associations we have. They are all useful.
I invite all of my freelance interpreter and translator friends and colleagues who want to thrive in this new economy to acquire the necessary tools and resources to win. IAPTI is an essential resource. I encourage you all to submit a membership application and to attend next year’s conference. I can assure you that you will be inspired by the talent and energy of this new group of young interpreters and translators. As a member of IAPTI you will be in a better position to flourish in our industry. You will love the atmosphere of a IAPTI conference where everybody is like you: an individual translator or interpreter trying to deliver an excellent product in exchange for an excellent pay. I invite our friends and colleagues who are part of IAPTI, and those who were in London for the conference, to share their comments with the rest of us.
November 11, 2013 § 7 Comments
In the past we have discussed professional and ethical issues in the blog, but I don’t believe we have ever tackled anything as serious as the situation I will share with you today. This happened to me many years ago and made me think about my professional and ethical boundaries as a court interpreter.
It all started when I was hired by an attorney to interpret during a final decree of dissolution of marriage hearing. In other words, I was retained to interpret in court for a person who was getting a divorce. I had never worked with this attorney before (or since) but I had seen him many times at different courthouses running from one courtroom to the next. He was a general practitioner who spoke Spanish, advertised on TV, and had a lot of cases. He called me, we agreed on my fee, and we made an appointment to meet at the courthouse right outside the courtroom some thirty minutes before the hearing. I arrived first and about ten or fifteen minutes later the attorney showed up accompanied by his client. Again, keep in mind that the attorney spoke Spanish. After the introductions, I asked the client the standard questions I am sure you all ask when you just met the non-English speaker: full name (for spelling purposes because there are no grammar rules when it comes to a person’s name) country of origin (for accent, regional expressions, and general vocabulary) academic background (to assess the individual’s mastery of the target language) and general health-related questions (in case the person may have a special request due to hearing problems for example) He answered all these questions to my satisfaction, and added that he “…had already discussed everything with (his) lawyer…(and) …everything was clear and in order…” The attorney, who was present during the exchange, confirmed in Spanish everything his client said. It was going to be an easy assignment.
When it was time for the hearing all three of us went inside the courtroom. As soon as I came in I noticed the court clerk, the court reporter, and the bailiff. I didn’t see the other party or her attorney. I asked my client about it, and he informed me that the other party was not going to appear. That she had been given notice by publication because she wasn’t at her last known address anymore, and that his client would probably be awarded sole custody of the children born to the marriage despite the fact that they were with the mother at an unknown location. This happens often, and I wasn’t complaining. The hearing was going to be even shorter. Boy I was glad I had successfully negotiated a generous minimum fee.
Next the judge came out and took the bench. The hearing started. After the bailiff called the caption of the case and my client and I entered our appearance on the record, the judge placed the Spanish speaker petitioner under oath and began questioning him. To my surprise, the petitioner told the judge that he and his wife had never lived together as a married couple in the United States. In fact, he told the court that his wife had never been to the U.S.
I looked at the judge and I saw that I wasn’t the only one in the courtroom that was shocked by the answers. The judge also learned that the petitioner had never paid child support to his children. Next the judge asked the petitioner when the last time he had known the respondent’s address was. The Spanish speaker said, and I interpreted, that although he didn’t know where his wife lived, he was pretty sure he could find out because her parents still lived at the same address they had lived at for over twenty years.
With that, the judge shook his head. Looked at the attorney for a long time, and then said: “…I hereby dismiss this petition for dissolution of marriage due to lack of jurisdiction. For this court to be able to hear this case, at some point in time the parties had to live within the judicial district as a married couple; unless without having lived within the jurisdiction, both parties voluntarily consent to the jurisdiction of this court. None of these circumstances happened in this case…” As if this wasn’t enough, addressing the petitioner, the judge added: “…Sir, I have no doubt that your attorney will explain to you what just happened. He will also explain to you the following order: It is the order of the court that petitioner pay child support to his minor children according to the schedule applicable to this district. The child support payment will be retroactive to the time when petitioner ceased to live with the minors. I find that I have jurisdiction to enter this order because petitioner is a resident of the judicial district. Good luck Sir…” The judge got up and exited the courtroom. There was absolute silence. The Spanish speaker turned to his attorney and asked him what had just happened. He even remarked: “…I don’t think I am divorced yet…” His attorney asked him to step outside the courtroom. We all did.
As we were leaving the courtroom, the attorney approached me and whispered to my ear in English: “…We better get your money from him right away. He won’t be a happy camper once he learns what just happened…” Once we were outside, the attorney told his client: “…Well, it didn’t go as we planned it, but we can fix it. I will explain everything when we get to my office…but first let’s pay the interpreter so he can go…” The Spanish speaker pulled out some cash and with no hesitation he paid me right at the steps of the courthouse. This was a first for me, but I had done my job, so I took my fee, gave him a receipt, and said goodbye. That was the last I heard about that case. To this date, more than twenty years later, I still don’t know what happened.
Now, for me to arrive to the conclusion that I should get paid for my services was a no-brainer. I did my job. The part of this situation that I had to debate in my head before I said my goodbyes was about the lawyer’s conduct and the damages caused to the petitioner by this apparent negligence. This is how I made my decision: First, I didn’t know all the facts. I had no way to know if the attorney and his client knew that a dismissal was a possibility, but what they were really trying to do was to avoid a long and costly divorce proceeding. It could be expensive to look for the spouse back in their home country. This could have been a strategy. Maybe the lawyer really spaced out and didn’t consider the possibility of a lack of jurisdiction; maybe they were going to regroup at the office and try to either find the spouse and get her to consent to the jurisdiction of the court, or to file a divorce petition in their country. Maybe the attorney was going to tell him that a child support order from this judge would be unenforceable back in his country, and that a child support ordered by a judge back home would involve a lesser amount that would be more in synch with the economy of the country of his children. Or maybe he was just going to apologize and refund the attorney’s fees. The thing is that I didn’t know and I had no reason to think the worst. Not many lawyers are willing to lose their license and reputation for a case that small. He was a big shot with TV ads and lots of clients. Moreover, that was not my role. I had no legal, professional, or ethical grounds to do anything other than to take my money and leave. There are legal channels for people who want to redress a controversy. The petitioner had to be the one to decide to do that, not me. The fact that he did not speak English did not mean that he was incapable to defend himself, and it certainly didn’t give me the right to get involved in a situation that was not my business. The judge didn’t get involved. He even said that he had no doubt that the attorney would explain everything to his client. So you see, I defeated that impulse that many colleagues have to become super heroes, and I stayed out of it. Of course, if subpoenaed, I would have testified to what I saw and heard, but that is different. To this day I believe that I did the right thing and I would like to hear from you to see if you agree or disagree. I also invite you to share with all of us other situations where you have faced ethical or professional issues and the way you resolved them.
November 4, 2013 § 15 Comments
Every time I write about some issue that involves consecutive interpretation in court, I get a considerable number of comments arguing for the disappearance of this mode of interpretation. Whether it is because of how difficult it is to render it, or due to some legal issue, the fact is that the number of interpreters, and courts, moving away from consecutive interpretation from the witness stand is growing every day.
Currently, there are many courthouses in the United States where the interpretation of a witness’ testimony is done consecutaneously: The attorney’s question is interpreted simultaneously by an interpreter sitting (or standing) next to the witness and the answer is rendered consecutively by the same interpreter. Other courthouses are using one interpreter for the simultaneous interpretation of the question, with the help of interpretation equipment, and a second interpreter, sitting (or standing) next to the witness, who renders the answers consecutively. The feedback from both systems, as far as I have heard, is positive. Apparently this approach solves the problems presented by the way cross-examination is phrased, keeps the jury focused on the witness, and not on the interpreter, and eliminates the unfair advantage that some witnesses have in cases when they speak some English, but prefer to employ the services of an interpreter, thus having an opportunity to reflect on their answer to a question while they “listen” to the interpreter’s rendition of said question. It is also true that this is not a “bulletproof” solution. Consecutaneous interpretation from the witness stand can be confusing to some lay witnesses; and in the case of different interpreters for questions and answers, it could present a problem when both, the question interpreter and the answer interpreter interpret correctly but using a different term. For what I hear, judges and court administrators love consecutaneous interpretation because it saves a lot of trial time, as the time for the consecutive rendition is eliminated altogether.
I must confess that for a long time I was a “purist” who opposed consecutaneous interpretation in the courtroom. Although I still dislike consecutaneous interpretation, I have changed my mind. Now I believe that in this world full of technology, where we go to the booth with nothing but an iPad, where we can do a word search in seconds, where we can interpret remotely from a different continent, we need to take advantage of everything that exists out there. The technology for simultaneous interpretation of a witness testimony already exists. I dislike consecutaneous interpretation not because I want to keep the consecutive mode for the witness stand. I dislike it because I think that we interpreters deserve better, the court deserves better, and the witness deserves the best possible access to the source language: simultaneous interpretation. Real time interpretation of everything that happens during the hearing or trial. Let us leave consecutive interpretation where it is needed: escort interpretation, jail visits, and some aspects of medical and community interpreting.
In an era where many hearings are held with the defendant appearing remotely by video, and attorneys file their pleadings electronically, there is no excuse to keep interpreting back in the Stone Age. There is no reason why the witness, judge, attorneys and jury cannot have access to a headset to hear in their native language the questions and answers. The argument that it is too complicated, that these people will be distracted by the equipment, is absurd. We are talking about the same people who drove themselves to court while listening to the radio or talking to their kids on the back seat of the car. We are talking about the same people who talk and text, walk and surf the net at the same time. Learning how to switch a button on and off is not brain surgery; moreover, they can just remove the headset when they don’t need to use it. By the way, this would also eliminate the distraction of having the interpreter next to the witness. It would remove the distraction of the interpreter’s whispering from the courtroom as we could be working from a booth like in all other venues where we render our services, and it would ensure more accuracy as we will be able to hear everything better from the booth. Will this cost money? Yes it will. Will these changes take time? Of course they will. It is all true, but at some point in time we have to start. Maybe if we start now the new courthouses will be designed and built with a booth. In new colleges and universities classrooms are built this way. Perhaps it will be other court systems that take the first steps towards this best solution. Many countries are switching over to the oral proceedings. They are building new courthouses. Maybe they can be the pioneers. Maybe the European courts will be the frontrunners now that they are implementing their new court interpreter system.
The point is, dear colleagues, it is clear that we need to move towards full simultaneous interpretation of all court proceedings. All that remains to be decided is when we start and where we take the first steps. Please share your comments and opinions on this issue.
October 29, 2013 § 1 Comment
Every year the Halloween season reaches more countries, adapts to its people, and becomes part of their culture. In the United States, a country where the decorations of our homes for this event are only second to Christmas, the main activity is called “trick or treating.” Americans decorate their homes with fake spider webs, plastic monsters, and Jack-O’-Lanterns. That evening in every city and town in the United States children of all ages dressed as scary creatures, fantastic heroes, and beautiful princesses, go door to door asking the same question: “trick or treat?” The adults answering the door respond by giving away candy to the little monsters.
Much of the American Halloween comes from old English and Irish traditions. Much is one hundred percent American. Something is American (as from the United States) when it comes from somewhere else, it is accepted, it is assimilated, and then it is molded to the American taste and culture. That is exactly what happened to our very own Halloween. Let’s take the term Jack-O’-Lantern for example: It comes from East Anglia’s “foolish fire” known as “will-o’-the-wisp” or “Will-of-the-torch.” Will was replaced by Jack and it became “Jack of the lantern.” “Trick or treating” comes from the old country’s “guising.” Back in Great Britain and Ireland during All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, children and the poor would go “souling”: Singing and paying for the dead in exchange for cakes.
Since the 1950s on October 31 American kids go trick or treating from around 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm. This tradition has been exported to some countries. Kids in Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland also “trick or treat.” Kids in many parts of Mexico ask for their “calaverita.”
The Halloween tradition in the United States includes costumes of some very American creatures whose job is to scare our kids all year long. Of course, universal monsters also show their face on Halloween. Although Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the wolf man and the mummy are popular characters, we have our home-grown, and sometimes home-adopted, favorites. These are some of our monsters:
The ghoul: A folkloric monster or spirit that roams in graveyards and eats human flesh.
The boogeyman: A mythical creature with no specific aspect that was created by adults to frighten children.
Matchemonedo: An invisible bear-god that congeals the plasma of those who are unlucky enough to run into this beast in downtown Chicago where it lives.
The headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow: the ghost of a Hessian trooper whose head was shot off by a cannonball during the American War of Independence. A creation of Washington Irving, this creature rides tirelessly in search of his head.
Michael Myers: A hellish creature created by filmmaker John Carpenter. As a child, Michael killed his older sister and now every Halloween he returns home to murder more teenagers.
El cucuy: A mythical ghost-monster from Hispanic heritage that hides in closets and under beds and eats children that misbehave or refuse to go to bed when they are told to do so.
The creature from the Black Lagoon: An American-conceived amphibious humanoid that lives in a lagoon of the Amazon Jungle where time has stopped. He preys on pretty young woman who dare to swim in his pond.
La llorona: A Mexican legend of a weeping female specter trapped in between the living world and the spirit world that ceaselessly looks for the children that she drowned. She takes those kids who resemble her dead children and those who disobey their parents. La llorona is now a very well known creature and her tale is shared with all kids in the United States’ southwest.
These are some of the most popular characters who will undoubtedly show up on your driveway on Halloween asking for some candy. I now invite you to have some fun and tell us about your favorite Halloween creatures from the United States or anywhere else in the world… unless you are afraid to do so…
October 23, 2013 § 15 Comments
I am sure that the title to this article immediately brought some memories to each one of you. A speaker’s heavy accent is one of the most common, yet toughest, problems that a professional interpreter has to overcome in order to provide a high quality service.
A few years ago I was hired to interpret for a medical conference where the main speaker was a very well-known scientist whose research had put him on the run for a Nobel Prize. The topic was complex and the event was very important. Several hundred physicians, chemists, nurses, and other health professionals had paid a hefty ticket to attend this presentation. Going by the book, the moment I took the assignment I began my research and studied for the assignment. I worked alone and I worked with the colleague who was going to be my partner in the booth for this job. I should mention that my partner was also a very good and experienced conference interpreter.
The date of the conference finally arrived and I traveled to the city where it was going to take place. The presentation was going to be on a Monday starting early in the morning, and there was a scheduled reception for all attendees on Sunday evening. One of the perks of the job is that sometimes you get invited to these events, so my colleague and I went to the reception. It is hard to pass on champagne and good caviar!
The following morning I got to the booth with plenty of time to check the equipment and put out any fires if any. My colleague arrived at the same time I did. Everything seemed to be alright. This was before the I-pad/ laptop days and the booths were upstairs in a mezzanine above the conference floor. We had to carry all of our materials upstairs.
The program started and the president of the professional association hosting the workshop came on stage to welcome everybody and introduce the main speaker: Dr. John Doe (real name withheld for obvious reasons) I started the interpretation session that morning, so by the time Dr. Doe was due to appear on stage it was time to switch in the booth. My colleague took over, and as he was adjusting his headphones we saw an oriental man walk on the stage. This was Dr. Doe! “…But…it can be…” I said. He has an American western name. Well, that was he. As some of you may know, in the United States anybody can change his name to any name he chooses, and as long as you don’t defraud your creditors, from that point on you are that person. We had studied the speaker’s research work, academic history, every single piece of paper that had his name on it. There was nothing about his place of birth anywhere. There was no way we could have known that he was not a native speaker; and frankly, we never even thought of that possibility.
Dr. Doe took the microphone and started to speak. You couldn’t understand a thing of what he was saying!!! Absolutely nothing!!! His accent was that thick. My colleague turned towards me and gestured that he didn’t understand any of Dr. Doe’s speech. I didn’t either.
To this day I don’t know why, but at that point I looked into the conference room as if looking for I don’t know what, and I saw this blonde woman sitting to the side in the very back of the auditorium. I immediately remembered that I had seen her the night before at the reception next to the oriental man now known to me as Dr. Doe. I figured that she had to be his wife, girlfriend, assistant, agent, or something similar. In other words, I thought that she must understand his English. I signaled to my colleague, who was struggling with the rendition, that I would be right back and I left the booth.
When I approached the blonde lady and I explained our predicament she laughed really hard. I learned that she was Dr. Doe’s wife, she was American by birth, spoke English clearly, and she was able to understand her husband’s English. I asked for her help.
I went back to the booth accompanied by Mrs. John Doe. We put a third chair in the booth so she could have a seat. Because of the size of the both we had to leave the door open. We gave her a set of headphones and asked her to repeat everything her husband said. In fact we asked her to interpret from her husband’s English into regular English. We did relay interpreting from her English into Spanish. We also used her rendition for the other booths (Portuguese and French as I recall) Very soon the only people who couldn’t understand Dr. Doe were the English speakers as they didn’t have the benefit of a booth. It was funny to see those English speakers looking around and realizing that everybody else was getting the presentation but them. After much suffering, at the end of the day the Spanish booth was the “hero” that saved the day. Of course, it was due to my experience and ability to think quickly and to solve a problem. Had I not attended the reception the day before, or had I not remembered the blonde lady by Dr. Doe’s side, we would have had a very difficult experience instead of an anecdote that has been repeated hundreds of times. I would love to hear some of your stories telling us how you were able to overcome an obstacle during a rendition.
October 20, 2013 § 4 Comments
Hace unas semanas visité la exposición que se presenta en la Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid con motivo de los trescientos años de la Real Academia Española de la Lengua (RAE) y que permanecerá abierta al público hasta el 26 de enero de 2014. Esta riquísima exposición es, sin duda, algo que todo amante del español debe celebrar y de ser posible visitar. Se trata de la historia, de los orígenes de todo aquello que se comunica en nuestra lengua por casi quinientos millones de personas hispanohablantes en todo el mundo. En mi caso, siendo intérprete y traductor en los Estados Unidos, un país donde casi treinta y cuatro millones de personas tienen al español como su primer idioma a pesar de no ser el idioma más empleado, visitar la exposición tuvo un significado importantísimo.
Como profesionales del idioma en los Estados Unidos, los intérpretes, traductores y transcripcionistas que trabajamos con el español como una de nuestras lenguas, enfrentamos cotidianamente una cultura en la que nuestra lengua de trabajo es frecuentemente considerada inferior y poco culta debido a un gran número de los hispanohablantes que viven en los Estados Unidos y requieren de nuestros servicios, especialmente en áreas del sector público como las interpretaciones judicial, médica y comunitaria, y la traducción de documentos y avisos gubernamentales básicos. En más de una ocasión se me ha pedido que ‘…traduzca un documento del inglés al español, pero (a diferencia de mis colegas a quienes se les ha pedido la misma traducción pero a otros idiomas) utilizando un vocabulario menos sofisticado que el empleado en el texto original para que lo entiendan los hispanohablantes…’ Son muchas las veces en mi vida profesional que se me ha felicitado por ‘… trabajar al español a pesar de que el hispanoparlante no entiende tan fácilmente como los otros extranjeros…’ Francamente es difícil no hartarse de escuchar el ‘español’ que se utiliza en los medios de comunicación estadounidenses y no frustrarse cuando ves cómo periodistas y políticos norteamericanos elogian y aclaman a los políticos que ‘hablan español’ como el ex-alcalde de Los Ángeles: Antonio Villaraigosa, que la verdad habla un español deplorable.
Desde luego, cabe aclarar que viven en los Estados Unidos y viajan a este país muchísimas personas de habla hispana, poseedoras de una cultura y conocimientos académicos envidiables, a quienes les interpretamos en conferencias científicas, encuentros diplomáticos y negociaciones comerciales, pero la mayoría de los habitantes del país desconoce esta circunstancia, y desgraciadamente la mayoría de los intérpretes normalmente no tratan con individuos a este nivel.
Por eso, cuando me encontraba planeando mi viaje a Toledo para asistir al Congreso de Asetrad X (del que trataré en otro artículo por separado) decidí incluir una breve estancia en Madrid para visitar la exposición: ‘La lengua y la palabra’ en la Biblioteca Nacional.
Inicié mi jornada dirigiéndome a pie a la biblioteca ya que primero quería, como aperitivo, disfrutar de la Feria de otoño del libro viejo y antiguo que se presentaba en esas fechas sobre el Paseo del Prado. Ahí pude recrearme con títulos y ediciones interesantes de todo tipo de libros escritos en español y traducidos a este, mientras platicaba con vendedores que habían llegado de toda España y con compradores jóvenes y viejos que buscaban un libro en especial o que simplemente exploraban los puestos para ver si algo les apetecía.
Al llegar al final de los puestos de las librerías, seguí caminando hasta llegar a la biblioteca donde varios cartelones anunciaban la exposición y ondeaban junto a las eternas estatuas, entre otras, de Alfonso X el sabio y de Machado con la conmovedora inscripción: ‘se hace camino al andar.’
En vez de entrar a la biblioteca por la puerta principal, seguí los letreros que me llevaron a una puerta en la planta baja donde comienza la exposición. Al ingresar, el visitante es inmediatamente recibido por el árbol de las lenguas indo-europeas y por citas de los gigantes de la lengua: Gabriel García Márquez y Octavio Paz. Me pareció interesante y muy significativo que la bienvenida a la academia corra a cargo de un colombiano y un mexicano que con su palabra escrita nos recuerdan que el español es un idioma mundial. Una vez dentro de la exhibición puede verse la historia de la academia desde su fundación por cédula real de Felipe V, cuando los fundadores encabezados por el primer director: don Juan Manuel Fernández Pacheco, marqués de Villena, ya tenían casi un año de reunirse en su primer inmueble en la Plaza de las Descalzas, donde ahora se encuentra la Caja de Ahorro de Madrid y el Monte de Piedad. Ahí pude ver el acta constitutiva de la RAE fechada 3 de agosto de 1713, la cédula real de Felipe V, los estatutos originales y la oración agradeciendo al rey por la cédula real. Durante mi recorrido por esta magnífica colección de arte y documentos pude leer en las paredes los nombres de todos los académicos pasados y presentes. A cada paso surgen nombres como Niceto Alcalá Zamora, Menéndez Pidal, Vargas Llosa, José Zorrilla, Unamuno y Benito Pérez Galdós.
Las magníficas pinturas de grandes maestros españoles están por doquier. Desde un cuadro inédito de doña María Isidra Quintana de Guzmán quien a los 17 años de edad se convirtiera en la primera mujer académica, hasta la pintura: ‘Mis amigos’ donde Ignacio Zuloaga inmortalizó a la famosa generación del 27, pasando por obras maestras de Goya como su retrato del poeta Juan Antonio Meléndez Valdés y los dibujos de Antonio Mingote. A mí me interesó mucho un dibujo en tinta de Goya donde plasma el alfabeto de señas ya que en lo personal desconocía su existencia. El visitante se pasará un buen rato admirando este y muchos otros retratos y mapas que se encuentran por toda la exhibición. Pero lo principal era ver los libros.
Desde luego impacta ver el primer diccionario de la RAE creado gracias a decreto de Felipe V en 1723 y ejemplares de los primeros diccionarios de las academias francesa e italiana. Se puede admirar la primera edición del Quijote en español, francés e italiano, la primera edición del primer diccionario bilingüe que fue español-latín. También pude apreciar valiosísimos manuscritos como el Tenorio de Zorrilla, el Libro del Buen Amor de Juan Ruíz arcipreste de Hita; las siete partidas de Alfonso X el sabio, el Conde Lucanor de puño y letra de don Juan Manuel, así como varios manuscritos de Lope de Vega y Rubén Darío. Debo mencionar el sitio importantísimo que tienen en la exposición los manuscritos y diccionarios de los pueblos mesoamericanos como los aztecas y mayas entre otros. También las academias de toda Latinoamérica están representadas con una exhibición de sus respectivos medallones comenzando con Colombia que fue la primera academia fuera de España. Aquí se encuentra el diccionario de español-español latinoamericano, así como manuscritos de misioneros españoles con dibujos de ceremonias religiosas y vida cotidiana de los aztecas.
La exposición dedica un pabellón a María Moliner, la académica sin sillón o número que fue rechazada por la RAE en 1972 simplemente por ser mujer. La muestra describe claramente el esfuerzo enorme de Moliner para escribir su diccionario de uso del español, mismo que le llevó 15 años de su vida durante los que tuvo que trabajar por las noches, sola y en su casa después de llegar de su trabajo regular necesario para poder ganarse la vida. Un testimonio a la calidad de su obra y a su tenacidad se evidencia en los videos y fotografías de las sesiones de los académicos, pues se puede apreciar el diccionario de uso del español en todos los escritorios.
La muestra también incluye videos de la historia de España y el mundo durante los 300 años de la academia; desde su fundación hasta llegar al franquismo, y del franquismo al rey. Por lo que toca al futuro de la RAE, queda claro que la modernización es clave. El nuevo diccionario que se publicará en este mes seguramente será el último que se publique en papel. La exhibición nos muestra los ficheros de la antigüedad (en los que algunos de nosotros estudiamos todavía) y los nuevos ficheros digitales. Asimismo, pueden verse videos de las sesiones de la RAE donde se observan los libros y diccionarios que cada académico tiene frente a su sillón; y uno puede contemplar de cerca varios premios Nobel con sus respectivas medallas, entre ellos el de Vargas Llosa, y también varios premios Príncipe de Asturias.
La exhibición concluye con las palabras de Unamuno en ‘La sangre de mi espíritu’ que despiden al visitante a un costado de la puerta de salida:
‘La sangre de mi espíritu es mi lengua,
y mi patria es allí donde resuene
soberano su verbo, que no amengua
su voz por mucho que ambos mundos llene.
Ya Séneca la preludió aún no nacida
y en su austero latín ella se encierra;
Alfonso a Europa dio con ella vida.
Colón con ella redobló la Tierra.
Y esta mi lengua flota como el arca
de cien pueblos contrarios y distantes,
que las flores en ella hallaron brote,
de Juárez y Rizal, pues ella abarca
legión de razas, lengua en que a Cervantes
Dios le dio el evangelio del Quijote.’
Queridos colegas y amigos, si es posible, les invito a que visiten esta exhibición y que confirmen o recuperen, según sea el caso, su compromiso con el buen español a pesar del lugar donde vivan o trabajen. Igualmente me gustaría pedirles a quienes han visitado esta exposición que compartan su experiencia con nosotros, o que comenten alguna otra experiencia similar que les haya ayudado a fortalecer su compromiso con el buen idioma.