Many translators who work with Spanish and English may already be familiar with the Diccionario de coloquialismos y términos dialectales del español, the website www.jergasdehablahispana.org, and the Facebook forum Taller de Coloquialismos, but how did each of those resources get created and who is the creator? Believe it or not, it is just one woman, Roxana Fitch.
Born in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Roxana Fitch earned a B.A. in Italian from UCLA and an M.A. in Linguistics from the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro. She has worked as a translator (English-Spanish-Italian) and translation and language professor. Fitch is the creator and webmaster of www.jergasdehablahispana.org, as well as the editor of Diccionario de coloquialismos y términos dialectales del español, a dictionary of Spanish slang from Spain and Latin America, published by Arco Libros (Madrid) in 2011. Fitch is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. course in Spanish Philology at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona.
SM: What was the impetus for creating the Jegas de habla hispana project and later the Diccionario de coloquialismos y términos dialectales del español?
RF: Back in the days when folks had no access to the Internet, I had a Spanish pen pal who loved to watch Mexican soap operas; however, she didn’t understand all of what was being said, and since she couldn’t find those words and expressions in any dictionary, she’d write me and ask about them. In the end, I made her a small glossary of Mexican-Spanish dialectal and slang vocabulary. I had forgotten I had it, but it came in handy years later when I started entering online chat rooms for Spanish speakers, back in the mid-90’s. I was living in Bologna, Italy then, working as a Spanish-English-Italian translator and I needed to keep Spanish fresh in my mind. However, the people I encountered in those chat rooms were rarely Mexicans: there were Spaniards, Colombians, Cubans, Uruguayans and Argentinians. Once the ice was broken and we relaxed a bit, our own varieties of Spanish slipped out, and that’s when misunderstandings became the order of the day. I realized I could offer my glossary to others, so they could understand me, but I needed glossaries of their Spanish dialects as well! There was no dictionary to consult for all those varieties of Spanish, so that’s when I began the Jergas de habla hispana project.
SM: How did you get started collecting and defining slang vocabulary and, more importantly, sharing it?
RF: I began collecting slang from other Spanish dialects and knew that I had to find an easy way to share it and to get more help and vocabulary for all those other varieties of Spanish I didn’t have yet. I taught myself html so I could create my own website. That’s where I posted my glossaries, and encouraged visitors to the website to participate and suggest missing vocabulary. Slowly but surely, a small group of trusted collaborators emerged. They would supply the vocabulary, explain its meaning, and I would try to find printed documentation on it, create definitions and find or create good usage examples. Then I would “submit” my entries to my helpers to make sure the definitions were adequate and to verify if the examples needed any changes to make them sound more natural to the speakers of that dialect.
SM: When did you open the website and how did it transition into the dictionary?
RF: It was a long process: the website was officially opened on October 11, 1997, and I got my own domain in 2002. By 2006, when the first version of the dictionary was published under the title Jergas de habla hispana, I had also collected a series of slangy song lyrics, a set of audio recordings of people speaking in slang, and other oddities having to do with colloquialisms. I attended a linguistics convention in Spain where I presented the project, and lexicographers there gave me valuable tips to improve my work. In 2010, I signed a contract to get the new version of the dictionary published, and it was ready in 2011 with the title Diccionario de coloquialismos y términos dialectales del español. The project itself is still ongoing and the website gets occasional updates and corrections.
SM: What are some of your favorite words or expressions in Spanish? Why?
RF: This is a tough one! I have lots and lots of favorites. I prefer those that strike me as absurd, or perhaps sound funny or have a particularly hilarious meaning (the type that makes you think, “How could someone ever make up a term specifically for this?”). Getting this idea across into English is tough, so I’ll just mention one of my Mexican favorites:
PÁJARO NALGÓN (namely, big-assed bird): this is a noun phrase meaning “a person who is all talk, no action.” They may promise something and never come through or brag about something that is unrealistic (or just a bluff).
SM: Tell us about your Facebook forum and the people who participate. Do a lot of translators participate? Linguists? Just everyday people who love Spanish?
RF: The Facebook forum, Taller de Coloquialismos (Slang Workshop) was created in 2012. There are over three thousand members but less than 100 actually have an active role and participate regularly in the discussions. I am the one who posts 90% of the content, which is all lexical. Yes, there are a lot of translators, interpreters and linguists in the group, lots of Spanish teachers too, but also a lot of folks who simply love Spanish in its more informal version.
SM: What are you up to now? Do you have any plans for a new project or dictionary?
RF: I’m currently in my second year in a Spanish Philology Ph.D. program. I am focusing on phraseology– specifically, slangy Mexican idioms. I would like my dissertation to be a sort of instruction manual to build the first Mexican Spanish phraseological dictionary. So yes, that would be the next dictionary I would like to create after I finish with the Ph.D. And of course, the ongoing Jergas de Habla Hispana project cannot be left by the wayside. There’s so much vocabulary to work on still! A new version of the Coloquialismos dictionary should come out before 2020.
SM: Where can people purchase your dictionary?
SM: Thank you so much for your time and creating such amazing tools. They are obviously a labor of love for Spanish as it is spoken all over the globe. I’ve seen so many great conversations on Taller de Coloquialismos and always learn something new. I look forward to a new version of the dictionary before 2020.
Readers, what are some online dictionaries you use regularly? Are there any online discussion groups, Facebook pages, or websites you recommend for certain language pairs? Have you ever used Roxana’s resources? What do you think of them? We’d love to hear!
Stacy McKenna received her MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College in Oakland, California. Her translations have appeared in The Other Poetry of Barcelona, Códols in New York, 580 Split, Cerise Press, and Río Grande Review. She has taught English and ESL throughout the Bay Area and worked at several nonprofit organizations including the Center for the Art of Translation. She has recently returned to the Bay Area after teaching literary translation and English at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro in Querétaro, Mexico.