Translation as a fundamental tool in the English Asiento (1713-1750)

Lía de Luxán Hernández (Spain)

In this presentation I will analyse the role of translation in the English Asiento in the context of the development of a translation profession in Spain and with particular emphasis on translation issues on the Spanish side. The Asiento was a contract signed between the Spanish and the English at the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession (1713) that gave the English South Sea Company monopolistic rights over the slave trade from Africa to the Spanish colonies for over 30 years.
Translation played a significant role in establishing relations between the Spanish and the British Crown. English, Spanish, Latin and French were the languages in use in this scenario. Normally both English and Spanish were used in internal correspondence between the parties. External correspondence between both contractors was almost always in French, however, given its status as the language of diplomacy and the fact that the two English kings of the time (George I and George II), of Germanic origin, did not master English. Latin was reserved for certain written documents such as treaties, formal letters, certificates of great importance, etc. Encoded documents also played a fundamental role in the Asiento, as the British wanted to use this contract as a means of introducing contraband into the Spanish Americas; the interception of letters was therefore a common practice and explains why diplomats tried to keep the content of their letters secret making use of an encoded language.
Identifying who was responsible for translating texts in the Asiento is not easy as translations were not normally signed. However, clues existed that indicated that many translations were by diplomats and other officers overseeing the interests of the Spanish Crown in London, with translators working for the Secretaría de Interpretación de Lenguas, the Consejo de Indias and the Consejo de Hacienda almost certainly in charge of some of them. Thomas Fitzgerald (known as Geraldino), the Spanish ambassador to London, who was a fluent speaker of Spanish and English with a good knowledge of French, played an important role as a direct and indirect translator; that is, he was at least a supervisor of the translated documents he sent to Spain, if not the direct translator.
Lía de Luxán Hernández graduated in Translation and Interpreting Studies (2007) and in Law (2010) from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, from where she also obtained a PhD (European Mention) in Translation and Interpreting Studies in 2012.  She has also qualified as a sworn German-Spanish translator. She was a visiting research scholar at the University of Limerick, Ireland in 2010 and at the University of Leeds, England, in 2011. She is a former Research and Teaching Assistant in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and currently works as a lawyer in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

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