Salvador Dali's painting 'La Persistencia de la Memoria' usually has its title translated into English as 'The Persistence of Memory' (and sometimes even just as 'Persistence of Memory', e.g. in Phaidon's 10,000 Years of Art). However, as a non-Spanish speaker, it looks to me as though a literal translation should be 'The Persistence of the Memory', with the second 'the' coming from the second 'la' in the Spanish title.

To me, the phrases 'The Persistence of Memory', 'Persistence of Memory' and 'The Persistence of the Memory' all have distinct meanings. Which of these (if any) is the most accurate translation of the Spanish title, and why?

If it isn't 'The Persistence of Memory', why is this translation so commonly used? And if it is, how would one say 'The Persistence of the Memory' in Spanish?

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    It looks to me like this is more a question about the use of the article "the" in English and its connotations when used than a question about Spanish, since you understand the title of Dali's artwork. I think you answered your own question about how would one say 'The Persistence of the Memory' in Spanish and to discuss 'The Persistence of Memory' vs 'Persistence of Memory' vs 'The Persistence of the Memory' you might want to post in an English-related stack.
    – Diego
    Apr 20 '20 at 12:58
  • This is absolutely a question about Spanish (I'm essentially asking for the meaning of a Spanish phrase), and I don't understand why you would think otherwise. I certainly didn't answer my own question, and nor do I understand the title of Dali's artwork.
    – Tomassu
    Apr 21 '20 at 16:28
  • I agree with @Diego's comment. Note that you ask "Which of these [English sentences] (if any) is the most accurate translation of the Spanish title, and why?", hence making this question more related to the English language than to the Spanish language, as you are asking for an English translation. This is not something bad, it's just that we are not experts in the English language. You can still get good answers, as the one posted by pablodf76.
    – Charlie
    Apr 22 '20 at 14:26
  • Ok, I understand a little more though, but I disagree and think the context is important here. If a native Spanish speaker asked for an English translation to help them communicate in English, then this would be a question about English. But I am a native English speaker asking for a translation to help with my understanding of Spanish. This difference in context is genuinely important, because the same question would require a different answer in each case. Also, I could just have asked what the meaning of the phrase is, but the answer would have to be in English for me to understand it.
    – Tomassu
    Apr 22 '20 at 15:21

In the title of the painting, the word memoria is, or appears to refer to, a singular uncountable abstract noun; its meaning is #1 in its DLE entry: "Facultad psíquica por medio de la cual se retiene y recuerda el pasado." That is, "memory" in the sense of "the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained" (M-W). What persists is this power, and by implication, the store of these things that have been learned and retained.

This English memory as a faculty of learning and recalling is also a singular uncountable abstract noun, and these don't typically employ an article in English, except in some particular contexts. "The Persistence of the Memory" would imply a particular, definite act of recall. This doesn't seem to be the meaning of the title; in any case, in Spanish you cannot know, except by context, whether la memoria refers to memory as a faculty or to a specific memory (act of learning and/or recall), but most native speakers would choose the former, especially because such a specific memorized thing and its recall are not commonly called una memoria in Spanish, but un recuerdo.

  • Under this same reasoning, wouldn't "Persistence" also be an uncountable abstract noun?
    – Kuku
    Apr 21 '20 at 11:22
  • Yes, but some other rules might be at work there. That's more a question about English.
    – pablodf76
    Apr 21 '20 at 12:14
  • Thanks! When you say "This doesn't seem to be the meaning of the title", do you have any further justification for that that you haven't mentioned e.g. a deeper understanding of the content of the painting that I don't have? (Maybe this is going off the topic of language a bit...)
    – Tomassu
    Apr 21 '20 at 16:26
  • No, I don't know what the painting means, but I don't think it can mean a different thing.
    – pablodf76
    Apr 21 '20 at 19:22

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