Four Influential Hispanic Interpreters and Translators
Did you know? September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month! Established in 1988, it commemorates the contributions, cultures, and heritage of Hispanic Americans. In honor of this occasion, we’re highlighting the works of influential Latin American interpreters and translators throughout history.
Marina “La Malinche” (c. 1500 – 1529)
A Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf coast, Marina served as an interpreter, advisor, and negotiator for the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. She was given to the Spanish by the Tabasco Indians, and would go on to play a vital role in the conquest of the Aztec Empire.
Born Malintzin, she was later baptized as a Catholic and named Marina. She also gave birth to Cortés’s first son, making her the symbolic mother of Mexico. To this day, she remains a controversial figure as both a victim of conquest and a traitor to her homeland.
Gaspar Antonio Chi (c. 1531 – 1610)
Also known as Gaspar Antonio de Herrera, Gaspar Antonio Chi was a Mayan noble and interpreter for King Charles V of Spain. He primarily interpreted between Spanish and Mayan languages, but also understood Latin.
During his sessions with Charles V, he recounted life under colonial rule and provided vital information about geography, the Mayan people, and cultures in the Yucatan. Chi also served as a primary source for Diego de Lana’s book Relacíon de las cosas Yucatan, which catalogued Mayan words, phrases, and hieroglyphics.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986)
Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentinian fiction writer, poet, essayist, and translator. He is best known for his short story collections, which helped introduce Argentinian literature and culture to the wider world.
A gifted translator, Borges translated “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde into Spanish when he was just nine years old. He went on to translate the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, and Virginia Woolf, among other authors.
Gregory Rabassa (1922 – 2016)
Born to Cuban emigres in Yorkers, New York, Gregory Rabassa was a literary translator and university professor. He translated both Spanish and Portuguese literature into English.
Rabassa is best known for translating works by major Latin American novelists such as Julio Cortázar, José Amado, and Gabriel García Márquez—including his seminal novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. He received a PEN Translation Prize in 1977 and the PEN/Ralph Manheim Translation Prize in 1982.
He also taught at Columbia University and Queens College in New York City for many years.
Are there any Hispanic linguists you’d like to celebrate this month? Let us know in the comments!