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Take this sentence in English:

Society disapproved of Profumo’s actions—and this undoubtedly contributed to the ensuing public storm—but this does not fully explain the fallout from the affair.

A native, professional Spanish translator gave the translation as:

La sociedad desaprobó los actos de Profumo y ello contribuyó sin duda a avivar la tormenta. Sin embargo, este motivo no es el único para explicar los efectos colaterales del caso.

Note that the Spanish has two sentences compared to one in English.

My question: is it reasonable to expect that English can always map to Spanish on a sentence-by-sentence basis or do linguistic differences mean that what can be expressed in one sentence in one language may take more in another?

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  • Besides the particular case, the question touches the point of what is a good translation. There is always a trade-off between being faithful to the original language's nuances and making the translated text sound natural in the destination language. E.g., Spanish tends to use more conjunctions and connectors. At times you can even guess a text is a translation for its lack of naturality. In an extreme case, Classical Latin allows intricate, recursive relative clauses in a sentence that are (arguably) untranslatable to English or Spanish as one single sentence.
    – Rafael
    Oct 14, 2016 at 14:40

1 Answer 1

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The direct translation to your sentence would be something like:

La sociedad desaprobó (...) —y ello contribuyó (...)— pero este motivo (...).

Instead of the current:

La sociedad desaprobó (...) y ello contribuyó (...). Sin embargo, este motivo (...).

However, the translator may have thought that splitting into two sentences makes the whole text more understandable. Both sound fine to me, since they respect the meaning and keep the focus on the same aspects.


You then ask:

is it reasonable to expect that English can always map to Spanish on a sentence-by-sentence basis or do linguistic differences mean that what can be expressed in one sentence in one language may take more in another?

This is difficult to say in a generic way. In many cases, it is true: you can express the same idea in a sentence.
However, it is important to note that Spanish sentences tend to be longer than those in English by about 1/5 to 1/4. This means that there may be an inclination to split those that become too long for Spanish, while they are still "short" in English. May this be because English idioms make the language more terse, I don't know.

As a side note: I once was translating my cv from Spanish into English and a girl who had a better knowledge of English than me said: Hey, fedorqui, just use short sentences. So I ended up splitting long Spanish sentences into smaller ones in English. But, still, I have the feeling that my English sentences are way longer than the ones native speakers write.

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  • definitely my experience after writing many papers in Spanish. My English style got way too long and convoluted, both because Spanish definitely lends itself to longer sentences without losing clarity and because Spanish gives me much more freedom in sentence order than English (which causes me to use lots of parenthetical statements, m-dashes, etc to get the same idea across). Oct 14, 2016 at 14:09
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    @guifa still, I think German people speaking English are even "worse": I used to have a colleague for whom I suffered, since his sentences were so long that his breath was almost over by the time he reached the last words :)
    – fedorqui
    Oct 14, 2016 at 14:19
  • We don't actually use the - that much as separators inside a sentence, and the English one would get way too long in Spanish - I think it was a good call to reformat it. I myself write with different styles in English or Spanish - the hyphens read really awkward in Spanish. Oct 14, 2016 at 18:57
  • @mgarciaisaia In fact, we don't use dashes as separators in Spanish. They must be replaced by commas, colons or semicolons or eliminated altogether, depending on the context, when translating.
    – JMVanPelt
    Oct 15, 2016 at 3:15
  • @JMVanPelt not sure if we don't use them. The Diccionario panhispánico de dudas on raya says: Para encerrar aclaraciones o incisos (...) Para esto pueden utilizarse también las comas o los paréntesis (...) Los incisos entre rayas suponen un aislamiento mayor con respecto al texto en el que se insertan que los que se escriben entre comas, pero menor que los que se escriben entre paréntesis. I don't use them normally, but I see them quite often in literature.
    – fedorqui
    Oct 15, 2016 at 19:00

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