Resolving Sentence Structure Differences When Translating from Spanish into Finnish

Finnish and Spanish are two very different languages that belong to different language families, Spanish to the Romance languages and Finnish to the Uralic languages. This is to say that a native Spanish speaker cannot understand Finnish by any means with the help of her/his mother tongue, and naturally the same is true of the native Finnish speaker.

Resolving sentence structure differences when translating from Spanish into Finnish is tricky. The translator faces many challenges and runs the risk of losing the flow of the text if s/he does not take the different logic behind the two languages into account.

Written Spanish has a tendency to use long, meandering sentences that contain various subordinate or co-ordinate sentences as well as nonfinite clauses, appositions and consecutive prepositional modifiers. In contrast, written Finnish has a tendency towards short and linear sentence structure.

In other words, several Finnish sentences are typically equivalent to one Spanish sentence. If one translates a long Spanish sentence into Finnish as it is, the result from a native Finnish speaker’s perspective is rather awkward and clumsy. Short Finnish sentences can likewise seem rather fragmented when translated into Spanish.

When one translates from Finnish to Spanish it is important to try to avoid the fragmentary structure by using different kinds of subordinate and co-ordinate clauses, whereas when one translates from Spanish to Finnish, long Spanish sentences often need to be divided into several Finnish sentences to make the original Spanish sentence clearer and more straightforward for a Finnish speaker.

For instance, take this single normal Spanish sentence from a newspaper:

“Ninguna de esas condiciones han cumplido los ingleses, que han ocupado la mitad del istmo nunca cedido, han construido allí un aeropuerto, reclaman la mitad de la Bahía de Algeciras, expanden la superficie del Peñón con rellenos y pasan a España, cuando les da la gana, como los gibraltarenos, que tras vivir 300 años del contrabando, se dedican ahora al lavado de dinero negro.¹”

In Finnish, it would have to be translated into 2-3 sentences to sound natural:

Englantilaiset eivät ole noudattaneet ehtoja. He hallisevat puolta kannaksesta, jonne he ovat rakentaneet lentokentän, vaativat puolta Algesiran lahdesta, täyttävät Peñonaa saadakseen lisää tilaa ja käyvät Espanjassa mielivaltaisesti. Samoin toimivat gibraltarilaiset, jotka harjoitettuaan 300 vuotta salakuljetusta keskittyvät nyt rahanpesuun.

Another factor that the translation process has to take into account is the fact that the number of words in the text increases when one translates from Finnish to Spanish and decreases when translated in the other direction. This is due to the fact that Spanish uses prepositions whereas Finnish uses modification and inflection on nouns for case and employs agglutination extensively.

This is a classic example of the cornerstone of translation: that a professional translator should always try to translate the content according to the logic and requirements of the target language and strictly avoid the trap of translating sentence by sentence.

1. Carrascal, J. M. (2013) Gibraltar, pasado, presente, futuro, ABC, 13 July 2013: p. 3.