Professor Leonardo Felix lets out a hoot. He shakes his head.
He turns another page.
"Es ridculo," he says. He is reading the official Spanish version of the Arizona Driver's License manual, which is supposed to inform monolingual Spanish speakers of state traffic laws so they can pass their driver's license tests.
In just a few short minutes, Felix, a professor of economics at the University of Sonora in Hermosillo, Mexico, has learned that his field of expertise--the complicated North American Free Trade Agreement--is easier to figure out than the traffic regulations in the Spanish-version driver's manual. Among other things, the Arizona Motor Vehicles Division document says:
Drivers must attend the funeral wakes of children.
Drivers who have donated their eyes, hearts and other organs may ask to have their organs returned to them at any time.
Drivers murdered in their vehicles will suffer automatic revocation of their driver's licenses.
Drivers pulling loads of excellent quality must tie red flags to their vehicles.
Drivers must ensure that infants are constructed to certain specifications.
Drivers must equip all vehicles with lights that are used in police interrogations.
Drivers who speed will be forced to stand up by police officers.
"Es irracional," says Professor Felix.
It's irrational, all right.
But the state has provided this manual to Spanish-speaking people since 1986.
It was only last year, after the department logged several complaints from residents who blamed the Spanish manual for their failure to pass the driver's license test, that transportation officials even knew there was a problem, says Lupe Garcia, manager of the customer-service program of the Motor Vehicle Division.
The manual "has a lot of mistakes," she admits. "The usage is wrong. There are sections in there that don't make any sense."
For example, the rule about police-interrogation lights is supposed to say that automobiles must have headlights. The passage about child-construction specifications should relate to infant seats, not their occupants. The sentence about speeding drivers being stood up by police officers should warn that drivers will be pulled over.
No one at the division has any idea who is responsible for the old translation, says Garcia.
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But the good news is that a new translation has been completed, is at the print shop and should be ready for drivers in a few weeks, says Garcia. This time the translator was a court interpreter named Alicia Nieto Jacobs. Unfortunately, the driver's manual isn't the only example of incomprehensible translations distributed by state agencies, says Jacobs.
"The State of Arizona is notorious for trying to use 'bilingual' employees within agencies to do translating," says Jacobs, who grew up in Mexico City. Jacobs says agencies don't want to spend the money to hire qualified interpreters. So they ask employees who learned Spanish at home to translate complicated documents. Oftentimes, the translators use the wrong words or simply make them up, she says. Like the word deposicin, which unsophisticated translators think means "deposition." They're wrong.
In Spanish, the word deposicin can also mean "bowel movement," says Jacobs.
Stunned by the poor quality of many Spanish-version state documents, Jacobs and other qualified interpreters plan to ask legislators to pass a law that would require translators who work for the state to meet rigid certification requirements.
So what did Jacobs think of the driver's manual?
"I just ignored the Spanish completely and began translating from the English," she says. "The Spanish version is really stupid.