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.


You speak Yiddish, you just don’t know it.


So after work I headed to the library to study, but decided to distract myself with a book before diving into my studies. Oy, was I distracted.


I ran into a book called Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of its Moods, by Michael Wex. I learned about the biblical origins of kvetching, the Talmud, and why I’m a shmuk for not having already added Yiddish to my list of languages. 


In Yiddish, kvetch means to complain, and the Israelites kvetched quite a bit. They kvetched about being led to the Red Sea, about being sent manna, and about their leaders.


Wex explains the importance of kvetching, which is a way to remember the uniqueness of the Jewish culture. “If we stop kvetching, how will we know that life isn’t supposed to be like this? If we don’t keep kvetching we’ll forget who we really are. Kvetching lets us remember that we’ve got nowhere to go because we’re so special. Kvetching lets us know that we’re in exile, that the Jew, and hence the ‘Jewish’, is out of place everywhere, all the time” (6).


The Talmud is composed of the Mishna, and the Gemara(or Talmud). The Mishna consists of “a direct investigation of the text of the bible and is divided into sixty-three different tractates…” (10) The Gemara is a discussion of the intricacies of halokhe, or Jewish law, without ever settling on the correct answer. Perhaps the study of the Talmud has enabled the Jewish culture to produce such excellent lawyers.


Shmuk is a word I often heard growing up amongst my teenage friends. It basically means “jerk” in Yiddish, but it’s a lot stronger in Yiddish than in English.


I’m just verklempft that you took the time to read this post.

La Michoacana, Ice Cream Translation

(Yes, Michoacana, you’re natural, but translating to English doesn’t come naturally)

P.O. Box 1335

Ceres, CA 95307



To Whom It May Concern:


I recently purchased a Michoacana ice cream bar, and upon reading the label, was surprised to find such a poor translation into English.


I decided to offer La Michoacana a pro bono translation of the label, in order to increase the marketability and professional image of your company.


The product was a premium ice cream bar of 4 fl oz, and happened to be strawberry flavored.


I will include the original text of your label, along with suggestions, and then I will include a translated version for your benefit.


The authenticity in which we produce our products with natural fruits has always been a tradition that La Michoacana has kept since it’s origen.


We envite you to discover and enjoy our line of ice cream, bolis, paletas.


The Flavor of La Michoacana is The Flavor of Mexico!


1) Information Flow

The flow of information differs greatly between English and Spanish. In Spanish, writing tends to be deductive, meaning that the details are explained first, which then explain the big picture. This is similar to the methods of Sherlock Holmes, who gathered together clues, which led him to the big picture. However, in English, we like to know the big picture first, and then hear about the details. In summary, English writing tends to explain things from macro to micro, whereas, Spanish writing tends to go from micro to macro.


Example: the main idea in your paragraph is to assert the Michoacana tradition of using real fruit.  The tradition is the main idea. In the Spanish paragraph, there is  a long sentence leading up to the mention of “tradition”. “La autenticidad en la elaboración de nuestros productos, hechos con frutos naturales, es la tradición  que La Michoacana…”


Your translation mirrors this deductive method, which makes for an awkward sounding English translation. For an accurate translation, some rearrangement of the paragraph is necessary.


2) Dynamic Equivalence

a) “frutas naturales” – the bilingual dictionary says that natural means natural in Spanish, and frutas means fruit. However, the dynamic equivalence of the word “natural” in English is very different than its Spanish counterpart. In order to have the same effect in English, the use of the word “real” should be used to describe the fruit.

“real fruit”


b) “Origen” – English has other words that carry the same meaning as the word “origin”.  Origin may work in other circumstances, but is better adapted for scientific or informational purposes.

“Since we opened doors”, “From our small beginning in 1952”



Final Translation



From the very beginning, we have crafted our authentic Mexican helados with real fruit, a long-lasting tradition that continues to this day.


We invite you to savor and enjoy our wide variety of ice cream bars and frozen treats.


The Flavor of La Michoacana is the Flavor of Mèxico!








Ryan Hartwig


MultiConsult LLC

Mesa, Arizona