Translating Spanish Prepositions for Finnish Speakers

Translation has to sound natural, as if it were written directly in the reader’s native language. How do we do this when translating from Spanish to Finnish?

Spanish prepositions are equivalent to cases in the Finnish language. Learning the right prepositions is basically done by memorizing. One has to learn which case in Finnish is equivalent to which preposition in Spanish. What sometimes makes the task more complicated are the different standpoints of Finnish and Spanish speakers; this dilemma provides an example of how our native language(s) can affect the way we think.

In many cases a Finnish translator can find completely rational equivalents to Spanish prepositional phrases, but there are also some situations that a Finnish speaker finds illogical. I will illustrate a couple of the trickiest ones here.

The prepositions in these examples have more meanings than the ones mentioned here, depending on the context.

Preposition a:

Generally denotes “to”, “at”, “in”, “into”, “towards”, etc. In this example the preposition a is used as a special preposition called the “personal a,” which precedes direct objects that refer to people.

Example 1

SP: Comprar productos a los fabricantes chinos. FIN: Ostaa tuotteita kiinalaisilta valmistajilta. (EN: To buy products from Chinese manufacturers.)

From a Finnish speaker’s point of view the preposition a connotes approaching someone or something, giving something to someone and so on. Since one buys “from” somewhere or someone in Finnish (suffixes -sta and -sta in the example), the incorrect Spanish preposition a Finnish speaker would use in this case is de instead of a.

Preposition en:

Generally denotes “in”, “on”, “at”, etc. In these examples it primarily denotes “at.”

Example 1

SP: Compré estos pantalones en el centro comercial. FIN: Ostin nämä housut ostoskeskuksesta. (EN: I bought these trousers at the mall.)

A Finnish speaker buys something “from” (suffix -sta in the example) somewhere, which is why a common mistake is to use the preposition de instead of en.

Example 2

SP: Se me olvidaron las llaves en casa. FIN: Unohdin avaimet kotiin. (EN: I left my keys at home.)

Literally speaking, a Finnish speaker leaves the keys “to” home (suffix -in in the example), which can tempt her/him to use the incorrect Spanish preposition a instead of en.

Preposition con:

Generally denotes “with,” but denotes “of” in this example.

Example 1

SP: Construir con madera. FIN: Rakentaa puusta. (EN: To build of wood.)

The Spanish prepositional phrase meaning to build “with something” seems illogical to a Finnish speaker who builds “of something” (suffix -sta in the example). This often leads to the use of incorrect preposition de instead of con.

Preposition por:

Generally denotes “for” in the most senses. In this example denotes moving or going somewhere.

Example 1:

SP: Dimos un paseo por el parque. FIN: Kävimme kävelyllä puistossa. (EN: We went for a walk in the park.)

A Finnish speaker walks “in the park” (suffix -ssa in the example), and is thus prone to using the preposition en instead of por.

These are just a few examples of the challenges of translation. Sometimes it is not enough to learn things by heart; you also have to try to experience things from the perspectives of foreign language speakers in order to assimilate the logic of the language in question and make it sound natural, to provide the best possible translation.