IYOM2023 in Spanish: ¿Los mijos?

3rd in series on translation & the International Year of Millets

The Spanish version of the name of the planned 2023 International Year of Millets (IYOM) in the UN General Assembly resolution uses the singular: Año Internacional del Mijo instead of Año Internacional de los Mijos. The Spanish version of the 2019 FAO planning document mentioned in the previous post about French also uses the singular instead of the plural in the name of the Year. On the other hand, some older FAO documents have used the plural mijos in various contexts (such as a 1990 document on tropical crops).

In a response to my raising this issue on Twitter in late October, Luigi Guarino suggested that “It may well be that ‘mijo’ in Spanish, for example, is a generic term covering all the various species involved that doesn’t easily take a plural….” But is Spanish that much different in this respect than say English or French, where the plural forms coexist with a collective (uncountable, or “mass noun“) sense of the singular form?

Having no depth in Spanish (only can read somewhat), I don’t know how (un)common the use of mijos (millets), the plural of mijo, may be today. However, judging from a simple web search that turned up its use in varrous books and articles (searched “los mijos” with first “millets” and then “grano” [grain]), mijos does not seem at all unusual. Some more digging came up with several examples of usage, including in print and dating back some years, which I explored in a follow up Twitter thread:

So why wouldn’t translators of the IYM2023 resolution have simply mirrored the use of “millets” in English with “mijos” in Spanish?

Might a complicating factor be other meanings of mijo? One notes, for example, corn (maize) as an alternative meaning (per the authoritative DLE), and, a homonym from a totally different etymology (contraction of mi hijo, my son) with colloquial meanings like friend, guy, and darling (per Wiktionary). While it may be unlikely that people hearing mijos would be confused into thinking that corn is included, were translators concerned that people might hear the colloquial sense, making Año Internacional de los Mijos sound a bit silly?

Here again, we may have a language-specific issue with respect to discussing millets in the plural. If so, could there be a way to turn it to advantage in messaging? Perhaps playing on the homonym by casting millets as allies in the quest for healthier diets and diversified agriculture?

Image source: Smart Food, https://www.smartfood.org/international-year-of-millets-2023/

(The image above is one used in at least two versions by Smart Food, an initiative of ICRISAT – the major international millets research institute. It appears in their English-language materials, and not in Spanish, and without regard to any argument put forth in this blog post. Nevertheless it seems to capture, in an odd sort of way, two meanings of mijos discussed above.)

¿Los panizos?

An unexpected find in my internet searches on mijos mentioned above was another Spanish word for millet – panizo – which adds another language-specific issue to this discussion. Like mijo, panizo is descended from a Latin term, and it also appears in plural form. It seems to be used primarily in reference to foxtail millet (which, judging by what one sees in web searches, is not infrequently translated literally as mijo [de] cola de zorro), but appears in some alternative common names for other millets as well. For example mijo perla (pearl millet) apparently can also be called panizo de Daimiel or panizo negro.

So, recalling the suggestion to consider two names for millets with complementary meanings in the French name for IYM2023, could one actually talk of Año Internacional de los Mijos y Panizos in Spanish?

Whatever the case, if one accepts that the plurality of millets is fundamental to IYM2023, then use of the plural of the relevant word (or words) in the title of the Year is one easy way to establish that message from the outset, and thus an element in making the most of the window of opportunity represented by a UN international year.


Posts in this “IYOM2023 & translation” series:

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