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I've been trying to learn Spanish, mostly from apps and Pimsleur tapes, so far.

Now I'm trying to work my way through my first book - a Spanish translation of The Hobbit.

I'm using Moon+Reader on Android, so I have fast access to Google Translate.

The second paragraph starts with "Tenía una puerta redonda, perfecta como un ojo de buey, pintada de verde, con una manilla de bronce dorada y brillante, justo en el medio."

Much of that I could follow, but "como un ojo de buey?"

Like an eye of a what? Google translates "buey" as "ox". And then "ojo de buey" as "bullseye", which makes sense. But it translate "como un ojo de buey" as "like a porthole". Which is Tolkien's original English text.

Now I can see how a translator might give "like a bullseye" for "like a porthole", if there wasn't a good word for "porthole". But would any Spanish speaker read "como un ojo de buey" as "like a porthole", or would they see it as "like a bullseye", and Google's algorithms treated this specific match as being more general than it should have?

  • @murderofcrows that sounds like an answer to me if you were to expand on it a bit ;) – Brian H. Oct 5 '18 at 6:56
  • If you are on-line you can always do an image search for ojo de buey which gives lots of results of circular windows. – mdewey Oct 5 '18 at 12:30
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An "ojo de buey" is just a circular window in Spanish. So I guess the translation should be something like "perfectamente redonda cual ojo de buey".

Meanwhile, I can say that you should absolutely not rely on Google translations to learn Spanish. Yes, I am quite often amazed with the quality of the translations that service provides, but if you do not know both languages perfectly, you will not know when the service is fooling you.

By the way, the more text you specify as input for Google translator, the better it works:

Original: It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle.

Automatic translation: Tenía una puerta perfectamente redonda como un ojo de buey, pintado de verde, con un pomo de latón amarillo brillante en el centro exacto.

What I would have written: Tenía una puerta perfectamente redonda cual ojo de buey, pintada de verde, con un pomo amarillo de latón brillante justo en el centro.

There are some minor differences, which I explain:

  • "Como un ojo"/"cual ojo": "como un" sounds more modern while "cual" sounds more archaic.
  • "Puerta" is a feminine word, so it should be "pintada" instead of "pintado".
  • In my opinion "yellow" relates to the color of the knob and not of the brass, while "shiny" does relate to the brass, so that's why I say "pomo amarillo de latón brillante".
  • "En el centro exacto" sounds somewhat mathematical to me, so I'd rather say "justo en el centro".

And here is what the official Spanish translation by Manuel Figueroa says:

Tenía una puerta redonda, perfecta como un ojo de buey, pintada de verde, con una manilla de bronce dorada y brillante, justo en el medio.

So the "redonda, perfecta como un ojo de buey" part was the official translation after all...

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  • The English version might have said just in the middle, but maybe Tolkien chose in the exact middle to provide this mathematical precision. – Gorpik Oct 5 '18 at 8:12
  • @Gorpik agreed, but "justo en el centro" also provides this mathematical precision without sounding too mathematical. Tolkien does use "middle" instead of "centre" so he also does not sound too mathematical. – Charlie Oct 5 '18 at 8:15
  • True. Tolkien was, as you surely know, a philologist who prided in his choice of words. Translating him is not easy because it is really difficult to find exact equivalents that convey all the nuances he sought. Even for a simple looking sentence like this. – Gorpik Oct 5 '18 at 8:23
  • @Gorpik totally agreed. It's simply amazing how such simple sentences can hide so much debate regarding their possible translations. – Charlie Oct 5 '18 at 8:26
  • Tolkien did provide instructions and hints for his would-be translators, though mostly centered on how they should render proper personal and place names. – pablodf76 Oct 5 '18 at 15:05
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According to the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, "ojo de buey" can have four very different meanings, but without doubt the most common is "circular window", like the usual windows in hulls of ships and exploration submarines, that almost always are of this form because is structurally much more resistant. Clearly their origin is a simile, but so common that any Spanish speaker will not "visualize" mentally that expression as an "animal eye" but directly as a "circular window".

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    An English speaker, reading the word "bullseye" visualizes the center circle of a target, and nothing else. – Jeff Dege Oct 5 '18 at 17:33

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