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Bad Spanish Translations

[A talk by Ángel F. Sánchez-Escobar of Seville, Spain, to a Fellowship group at the International Conference in Colorado. Angel teaches English at the University of Seville. He has a doctorate in English from Vanderbuilt.]

"This translation . . . lost its beauty, its harmony, its coherence, its cohesion and many prospective readers and believers of its teachings. It seriously misrepresents the original ideas and concepts of the Book."

"Full of Mistakes"

The First Spanish Translation

Good morning. I'd like to thank the Fellowship for giving me the opportunity of talking about the Spanish translation of the Urantia book, a very polemic and sensitive issue.

This translation of The Urantia Book has had a very long and unfortunate history and some action needs to be taken. It's first printing was in 1993, thirty eight years later than the English one. In 1982, the Urantia Foundation decided to translate the book into Spanish. They studied the possibility of using an already existing Spanish translation made in Mexico, but, for legal reasons they finally chose not to do that. They thought that the translation should be made in the USA, by professional translators who were American citizens. They were trying to avoid all the legal problems they had had with Jacques Weiss, the French translator, regarding the copyright.

In 1986, after some planning, the Foundation signed a contract with Euroamerica for the total amount of 350.000 (three hundred and fifty thousand dollars). Seven translators, none of them Urantia readers, were to work full time. After a short time, they started to receive the first papers translated. They were sent to readers in Spain, the United States and South America for their evaluation. They generally agreed that the translation was quite faulty, full of mistakes at all linguistic levels. Some of them sent letters of complaint suggesting to stop the translation, but the Foundation would not do it. Nevertheless, they decided to hire someone to revise the whole text.

Yet, he did not improve the text much. The first Spanish translation of the book was a word by word rendering of the Papers, as I said, full of mistakes at the word, phrase, sentence and paragraph levels. Logically, a word by word translation, besides incorrect syntactical, semantic and pragmatic constructions, generates an unnatural text with many incomprehensible passages. There were mistakes in rhythm, punctuation, graphic stress, capitalization, spelling. There were anachronisms, unnecessary neologisms; inaccurate use of verbal tenses, nouns, articles, conjunctions, adverbs. There were lexical and morphological improprieties (agreement, gender); incorrect expressions, redundancies, colloquialisms, lack of parallelism, excessive concision, wrong word order, etc, etc. Key terms such as personality, Thought Adjuster or bestowal had also been improperly translated.

But this literal, unprofessional translation had an additional problem, a very serious one when dealing with the polemic improvement of races on Urantia. Among the many mistranslations, they used, for example, the Spanish term "defectuosos" to translate "defectives" (585), which in Spanish it is only applied to objects; "inepto" to translate "unfit", whose first meaning in Spanish is "stupid" or "brainless"; "eliminación" to translate "elimination", which Spanish readers generally identify as "extermination". With such renderings, the Spanish reader ends up with a very distorted conception of race improvement.

In short, with this translation, unintentionally, The Urantia Book had lost its beauty, its harmony, its coherence, its cohesion and many prospective readers and believers of its teachings. It seriously misrepresents the original ideas and concepts of the Book.

The Revised Spanish Translation

In 1993, as a member of the Seville's study group, I sent a fax to the Foundation with a list of all the mistakes I found, and they decided to make a revision/re-translation of the text. After some time and circumstances, they gave the re-translation to a member of this study group, a long-time reader and a very dedicated Urantian, He is quite acquainted with the Book, but only has a superficial reading knowledge of English, yet he knows French very well, from which language he mainly translates the book into Spanish. I must have to add that he does not have any formal training or academic background, which I consider crucial.

This translator made the decision of first translating Part IV, "The life and teachings of Jesus", along with the Foreword, which were included in the 1999 Spanish edition of the Book. I must confess that I haven't deeply analyzed this Part IV, but, in spite of what I consider some mistakes, I believe he has improved it a lot. Generally it has the Spanish rhythm and naturalness we look for in a translation. Yet the Foreword continues with what I believe are serious mistakes in the translation of words such as "personality/personalites", "bestowal", "unqualified", pattern, "associate" or "coordinate", which is translated as "coordinated". Thus you have a "coordinated Creator" instead of a "Coordinate Creator", when referring to the Son. Also "Thought Adjuster" has been translated as "Ajustador", but in Spanish "Ajustador" is a professional who deals with mechanical things, it refers to somebody who assembles pieces of machinery, thus implying that the Thought Adjuster, oblivious of human's will, "forces" us to act. It is the same with the word "control", which cannot be translated literally as controlar, without meaning "imposing by force". And so on.

The Mish-Mash Spanish Translation

But problems don't stop here. As I a said, he or most likely the Foundation, included both Part IV and the Foreword in the Book along with the previous three parts of the faulty translation made by Euroamerica, without the modifications done in these two sections. This means that, for example, he translated the term bestowal, as in Michael's bestowals as "donaciones" (donations, 1325), but did not change the term in the other three parts of the book, which continue with the unnatural translation of "autotorgamiento" (1250). This could have very well been avoided.

There is a need for a new Spanish translation, which the Fellowship needs to take into immediate consideration. In my opinion two Spanish professional translators, both independent and Urantian, should collaborate in the translation of the Book. People in the reviser team should also be experts in English, Spanish, science, philosophy, and theology. University teachers/researchers can also be used as an external help. Then, the translation or individual papers should be placed on the internet and discussed in study groups in order to receive suggestions from the regular reader. Also a consensus should be reached in order to have a text that meets the socio-linguistic expectations of both South American and Peninsular Spanish. Spanish readers do deserve a responsible, high quality translation of the Urantia Papers.

Thank you for allowing me to present these ideas.

Angel Sanchez-Escobar

[URANTIAGATE NOTE: All headings here have been added to Señor Sánchez-Escobar's speech.]

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