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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translator Education  »  Cultural and Language Boundaries: Once Upon a time…in Pamplona – Colombia

Cultural and Language Boundaries: Once Upon a time…in Pamplona – Colombia

By cjaimes1 | Published  09/29/2013 | Translator Education | Recommendation:
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Cultural and Language Boundaries: Once Upon a time…in Pamplona – Colombia. By: PhD(c) Carlos Alberto Jaimes Guerrero.
E-mail: [email protected]

The most common meaning of culture, as suggested, is that of large groups of people and how their lifestyles and beliefs differ; this is where cultural differences come in. In the words of Stuart Hall, ‘culture’ is “both the means and values which arise among distinctive social groups and classes, on the basis of their given historical conditions and relationship, through which they ‘handle’ and respond to the conditions of existence” (Hall, 1990).
Therefore, cultural differences are the variations in the way of life beliefs and traditions between different countries. We as Colombians may tease and joke with the best of us, but we always have a wicked grin or a flash in our generally dark eyes. We rarely use those familiar clipped, smile-free comments or the sharp yet inside criticisms that need a few seconds to take effect.
On the other hand, cross- cultural is not simply the differences between nations; there can be differences within communities within your own back yard. Youth culture for instance has given birth to a vast array of vernacular and new definitions to common words.

Here in Pamplona our University had the opportunity during the last four years to have British Assistants (John Hills, Paul Finnerty, Frances Wyld and Danica). They were immediately in touch with a few of Colombian Spanish speakers and they started hearing unknown words for them because they were traveling around Spain, so, they knew only the Castilian variant. For that reason, they sometimes were confused and had cognitive problems to understand (Gutt, 2006).
This realization forced me to look at other Colombianisms they have unknowingly absorbed – all of which will no doubt contribute to their cultural nakedness in their bloody country.
According to my experiences with them, here below are some words/phrases/expressions that I think are difficult to translate directly from Spanish into English due to their different meanings, cultural and pragmatics aspects:

Estar amañado (“estar a gusto” in Castilian) - to adapt to, like a place maybe even to fall in love with a person.

Colombian expressions and facial gestures – from ‘Ay’ and ‘Uff’ for that comical nose wrinkling: a gesture that asks another person if he is okay.

Querido/querida- a term of endearment used all the time. “honey/darling”

Que Juicioso - hardworking (but is that “trabajador” in Castilian)

Creido – ( “presuntuoso” in Castilian) no direct adjective translation, just "He's superior”.

Phrases with “se me .......”, like: "se me ha olvidado" (I have forgotten) - confusing for native speakers.

Recocha – (“algarabia” in Castilian) - banter

Trasnochar - "stay up late or into the early hours"

Videobeam - (“cañon” in Castilian)"overhead projector"

Friolento - no direct adjective translation, I'd say "He gets cold really easily."

¿Cómo te ha ido? - Obviously this is "How have you been?", but it doesn't literally translate.

Cerveza Michelada - "Special beer with salt and lemon" This doesn't exist in England and Spain.

Mono – “Rubio” in Colombia - Light skinned or blond hair (whereas in Castilian mono is only used to refer to monkey or someone cute)

Guayabo - Hangover (“resaca” in Castilian)

Carro - Car (“coche” in Castillian)

"Extrañar" as opposed to "echar de menos"-

Plata – “dinero” in Castilian

Papa - (the “patata”! in Castilian) -potatoes

Camión - When used for bus instead of lorry or truck

Medias - Socks (“calcetines” in Castilian for men only and “medias panty or panties” for women)

Bacano/ Chévere (nice, cool, fit or chosty in Bristol Area used by young people)

Guacala- (“hacer ascos” in Castilian) expression when something tastes bad.

Bandeja Paisa- A typical food from Medellin (rice, beans, avocado, “arepa”, and “chicharron”)

Paisa- a person from Medellin

Costeño- a person from the coast Area

Rolo- a person from Bogotá

Jokes about people from Pasto (in the UK we use the same type of jokes for people from Ireland)

Sancocho- a mix soup with everything in

"¿Qué pena con usted, me regala...?" when asking someone to lend you something

Pilas - (“espavilarse” in Castilian) watch out/ be careful

¡Que pila! – (“inteligente” in Castilian)- smart

Listo - Para decir "ok" ("inteligente" in Castilian)

Rico / (“delicioso” in Castilian) not only to say rich, but also something taste good

Maestro (“profesor” in Castilian)

I strongly believe that contrary to low context communication, in high-context cultures, language alone does not carry one hundred per cent of the meaning of a discourse. High context communication relies heavily on nonverbal, contextual and shared cultural meanings, on ‘how’ things are said, rather than ‘what’ is said. Language is playing an important role in shaping our sentences and thoughts.

Finally, I think that the ways of describing the world lead speakers of different countries and languages to have different ways of thinking about the world. Although language is a powerful tool in shaping thoughts and one’s native language plays a role in shaping habitual thought (how we tend to think about) it does not completely determine thought in the strong Whorfian sense, since one can always learn a new way of talking, and with it, a new way of thinking.


Gutt, Ernst-August, author (2006) "Approaches to translation: relevance theory." In Encyclopedia of language and linguistics, second edition, volume 1, Keith Brown (ed.). pages 416-420. Oxford: Elsevier.

Gutt, Ernst-August, author (2006) "Aspects of “cultural literacy”. Relevant to Bible translation." Journal of Translation 2(1): 1-16.

Hall, E.T., and M.R, Hall (1990) Understanding Cultural Differences. Intercultural Press.

Newmark, P. (1995) A Textbook of Translation, New York/ London/ Toronto/ Sydney/ Tokyo/ Singapore: Phoenix.

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