Benevolent Confusion

I love the parody of a taxonomy Borges created in The Analytical Language of John Wilkins. In it, all animals are divided into:

a. belonging to the Emperor
b. embalmed
c. trained
d. pigs
e. sirens
f. fabulous
g. stray dogs
h. included in this classification
i. trembling like crazy
j. innumerable
k. drawn with a very fine camelhair brush
l. et cetera
m. just broke the vase
n. from a distance look like flies

The translations are all, to my untrained eye, plausible. But what of the name of the fictitious encyclopedia containing this taxonomy? The Spanish is Emporio celestial de conocimientos benévolos. Celestial is clear enough; that’s “celestial.” So is benévolos, which I take to be “benevolent.” I know incredibly little Spanish, but what little grammar I have is enough to tell me that emporio is a singular noun and conocimentos is a plural noun. Here, the consensus ends.

“Empire” for emporio is a plausible translation. It’s rendered thusly in Schott’s Original Miscellany. “Plausible” is sometimes a synonym for “wrong.” Quick online searching reveals that the Spanish word for “empire” is not emporio but imperio. We are dealing, then, either with a mistranslation or a transcription error in the original Spanish text.

Wikipedia appears to believe that the former is the case. The relevant but redundant entries translate emporio as “emporium.” This translation accords with the one in the bilingual text above, as well as Yahoo’s dictionary entry.

It’s not wholly clear why an encyclopedia would be a marketplace, even metaphorically. Perhaps the idea is that one can find anything in it. “Celestial Empire,” on the other hand, is a familiar phrase, especially when discussing things Chinese. That seems intuitively plausible as an original meaning—but then again, it also seems eminently plausible as a false attractor leading to a mistranslation.

Turning to conocimientos, things turn out to be a little clearer-cut. Google and Yahoo agree that it should be translated as “knowledge,” a perfectly sensible meaning in context. (The singular-plural issue I will just let slide as one of those subtleties I’m not going to get completely without much more detailed study. Knowledge is a sensible enough mass noun.) Wikipedia, on the other hand, insists that it’s “recognition” in one of the two redundant articles on the subject. That’s just bizzare, although the elusive (and allusive) quality of the word is just such that I wouldn’t completely put it past Borges.

Going to the online language tools, though, puts “recognition” in a coffin and nails it shut. The Spanish for “recognition” is not conocimiento but reconocimiento. I’d chalk up the errant Wikipedia rendition to a single mistranslation somewhere upstream; it doesn’t seem to have been replicated in too many other places. Wikiquote, for one, uses “knowledge”, as does the other Wikipedia page

And now, since this is the web, and Wikipedia is a collaborative site, it’s time for me to go fix matters. Environmentalism, online and off, means always leaving things better than you found them. I’ll suggest merging the pages. That should deal with the redundancy and resolve the translation question in favor of what seems to be the most correct version.