Understanding Translation

Last week, we discussed this article by María R. Scharrón-del Río and Alan A. Aja at Latino Rebels and how intersectionality plays a significant role in the use of the term “Latinx”. Something I briefly touched on but did not write too much about was the linguistical aspect of the situation. I think another important thing to factor in to one’s consideration of this topic or any topic like this is that languages don’t all work the same way.

It is recognized that the term “Latinx” is mostly used in the United States as an identifying term, and identifying terms change from region to region, for better or worse. For example, the term “Statesian” or “Statesman” is an alternative for “American” (in its use to refer to one from the United States), and they’re alternatives I tend to use with the understanding that “American” is a much more broad term that does not specify the United States, similar to how saying “European” is much broader than saying “German”.

Despite being Cantonese and Malaysian, the closest thing to a second language I speak is Norwegian (Bokmål form). Regardless, I know enough about Norwegian to explain how not everything can be exactly translated and, therefore, should not be expected. And, just so you don’t read through this whole post with no idea where I’m going with this, I am pointing out that language is far too vast and unwieldly and ever-changing for a language tradition to be a reasonable factor in whether or not a new word should be accepted.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not fluent in Norwegian. The examples I use are meant to be demonstrative, not educational.

You know how when we pretend to speak Old English, we might say, “I like not this man” instead of “I do not like this man”? In Norwegian, the direct translation would be “I like not this man” (Jeg liker ikke denne mannen). However, if you were to type each word of that sentence into a translator individually, this is what you’d get:

Jeg = I

liker = like

ikke = not

denne = this (used to describe feminine/masculine nouns. “Dette” is used to describe neuter nouns.)

mannen = the man

So, if we were to exactly translate this sentence without consideration of the differences in sentence structure between languages, we would be saying, “I like not this the man.” With that being said, I think it is agreed upon that the context given by a full sentence is important, and the need for context in a sentence varies language to language. By this logic, it could then be suggested that the use of “Latinx” is used in a certain context that, even if not necessarily written out in a grammar book anywhere, warrants its use. Once you learn to stop trying to make another language fit another’s structure, your ability to learn and understand that language grows.

Though Guerra and Orbea may read that last sentence and say, “exactly,” they would be ignoring “Latinx”‘s heavy use by English speakers. It is not used by English speakers trying to speak Spanish, but rather English speakers adapting a word to fit within English. Because the word “Latino/Latina” doesn’t work for everyone in an English context, the word is adapted so that it is not forced. It is not an attempt to change Spanish, it is an attempt to translate “Latino/Latina” into what is deemed an acceptable opposite. More specifically, it is an attempt to translate within/in respect to the non-binary community. We all know that different communities have different forms of language. Just because something is not “traditional” language does not make it incorrect or disrespectful to said “traditional” language. It is an adaptation within a community in the same way that creoles and pidgins are.


Aja, Alan A. and Scharrón-del Río, Maria. “The Case FOR ‘Latinx’: Why Intersectionality Is Not

a Choice.” Latino Rebels, 15 Dec. 2015. https://www.latinorebels.com/2015/12/05/the-


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