Call me back

So I was speaking to a spanish-speaker on the phone yesterday, and he asked if I could call him back. But what he said was, “puedes marcarme para atrás”. The correct way of saying “call me back” in Spanish is “me puedes marcar más tarde”, or maybe even “me llamas después, no?”

call me = marcarme

back = atrás


What mistake did the caller make?

The phrase he used is grammatically correct in Spanish, but is a marked collocation, which is “an unusual combination of words, one that challenges our expectations as hearers or readers” (51, Mona Baker). An example in English would be to say, “Peace broke out in the middle east, after years of intense negotiations”.

I guess you could say that he borrowed an English expression, and back-translated it into Spanish. Back-translation means translating something as literally as possible, in order to understand the syntax, morphology, and lexicology of the unknown language.

But why did he use the word atrás for back, instead of using espalda?

espalda = back (body part)


What he should have said

Call my back right now, it hurts and needs some IcyHot.

Call me “Back”, as in Back to the Future. Is that Marty McFly’s nickname: Back? My name is Back, and I’m Back from the future (kind of like Phil of the future, but Back).


What he did

By applying an English expression to Spanish, he unknowingly perpetuated a “new network of lexical relations”(Baker, 207).

“Without our being aware of it, each occurrence of a lexical item carries with it its own textual history, a particular collocational environment that has been built up in the course of the creation of the text and that will provide the context within which the item will be incarnated on this particular occasion” (Baker, 205).

In other words, dude, if I say dude in the middle of the sentence, then it might change how it’s used in the future. Dude, but if I use it at the beginning of the sentence, then dude, we can use it everywhere! Dude, how did you know I was from California? Oh yeah, it’s in my textual history.


Why he doesn’t make sense

Because if he said that in Mexico City, they would think he’s a Gringo. Additionally, the phrase “puedes marcarme para atrás” has no macro text reliability, that is, it doesn’t fit with what’s been written and spoken in the Spanish language. However, the phrase does have micro text reliability, because it makes sense grammatically.

His phrase may or may not be coherent, depending on where he lives.

“The coherence of a text is a result of the interaction between knowledge presented in the text and the reader’s own knowledge and experience of the world…” (Baker, 219)

So if my Latino friend uses the phrase with other people, and they understand him, then the phrase is coherent for those speaking Spanish in Arizona.


Fun Terminology

See my wicked powerpoint Prezi about different types of translation.

Metaphrase Translation or translation by dictionary: Looking up each word, one at a time. “Turning an author word by word, and line by line, from one language into another” (Bassnet, 64).

Paraphrase Translation, or sense for sense translation: Not tying yourself to the grammar of the source text, but focusing on conveying the same meaning. “Translation with latitude, the Ciceronian ‘sense for sense’ view of translation” (Bassnet, 64).

Imitation Translation, or propaganda translation: useful for oppressing conquered cultures, or for poetry. “Where the translator can abandon the text of the original as he sees fit” (Bassnet, 64).

Cohesion: network of surface relations which link words and expressions. Stretches of language are connected to each other by virtue of lexical and grammatical dependencies (Baker, 218).

Coherence: network of relations which organize and create a text. Underlying semantic relations which establish continuity ofsense (Baker, 218, 219).

Marked Collocation– an unusual combination of words, one that challenges our expectations as hearers or readers” (51, Baker)


Cited Books

In Other Words, a Coursebook on Translation, by Mona Baker

Translation Studies by Susan Bassnet, third edition.


Additional info from a friend of mine:

I might also add that “para atrás” is also used in other regional dialects of Spanish… Florida, Caribbean islands, U.S. Mexican border, Spanish in NYC area, CA… It’s still prescriptively incorrect grammar in Spanish according to Real Academic Española I think, but it has become accepted grammar in the descriptive view.


Next topic: how to say “I’ll follow up with you” in Spanish.