Thursday, February 9, 2012

Found in Translation

The local park guards are the sincerest guys I know here. After awhile I came to realize that we have a mutual appreciation, and a similar viewpoint about the work we're all doing. People like them have kept me going when things seem pointless.

A few months ago I got a formal request from them, typed, printed, and addressed in an envelope, which was hand delivered to me. These are not guys who are exactly computer saavy or into writing things down, so it was pretty touching that they took me so seriously, even if it was a request for money (basically).

I'll share it just to give you a taste of the culture here, and the formality used in written communications:

[my name here]
Peace Corps Volunteer
Municipality of [my site here]

By means of the present receive the warmest greetings on the part of the park guards of [my site here], at the same time we wish to desire you every type of success in your daily labor.

WE THE BELOW SIGNED all majority of age, Guatemalans, holding the title of Municipal Park Guards of the municipality of [my site here] of the department of [my department here], BEFORE YOU RESPECTFULLY direct ourselves in order to expound the following: FIRST: That it is of your knowledge that our work is practiced in the communal forest of the municipality in order to maintain and watch over the forests of our municipality, for which it is necessary to carry mountain backpacks in order to carry medicines for first aid and others. SECOND: For the reasons written above, and with all the respect that you deserve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the municipality of [my site, department], at the same time we solicit to your good person and willingness that you would help us by donating three mountain backpacks.

Without anything else to add for you, we thank your fine attention and understanding.


[names and signatures of 3 park guards] me it sounds pretty funny translated nearly literally into English! I've realized that my spoken Spanish is also quite a bit more formal than I speak in English, basically it´s natural to be a sponge and repeat whatever style of language you hear.

We could speculate on why written language, and even public spoken discourse, are so formal here ... vestiges of Spanish colonialism? acquisition of Spanish as a second language used mostly to speak with strangers and write formal documents? influence on Spanish from the local Mayan language? It's so interesting to reflect on the way that culture influences language -- and hey, vice versa, right?!

(And if you're wondering, I found a local outfitter: one backpack will cost $65, approximately 1/4 of their monthly salaries. I´m trying to convince them to solicit the bags from the new mayor, because I think it´s important people rely on their local systems when possible - and our town hall is in pretty good shape. But if they decide not to, it´s going to be hard to say no to such an earnest request!)

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