Arrested Development #25
Narrator: Michael Bluth always rode his bike to work.
Spanish Translation: Michael Bluth iba a trabajar en bicicleta.
ISSUE #1: TO GO = TO RIDE
In English, the narrator said, “Michael Bluth always RODE his bike to work.” But in Spanish, they constructed the sentence differently. And the Spanish version doesn’t include “rode” or “ride” or [the Spanish word for it in this context] “montar” (to mount).
The translators went with “iba” instead, which comes from “ir” or “to go”.
Michael Bluth always RODE his bike to work
= Michael Bluth always WENT to work by bike
= Michael Bluth IBA a trabajar en bicicleta
This different sentence construction doesn’t change the meaning or vibe of the sentence much, if at all. When you “ride” somewhere--that’s a specialized form of “going” there, right? Plus, they still mention the “bike” later in the sentence.
ISSUE #2: “ALWAYS” IN THE PAST - IMPERFECT
Words don’t mean words. When I say that, I mean, they don’t have set meanings. A word gets its meaning from its context. From the words that come before and after it--from the sentence it’s in!
But sentences don’t mean words or have set meanings either! A sentence gets its meaning from ITS context. From the sentences that come before and after it.
And this scene from Arrested Development is a perfect example: Michael Bluth IBA a trabajar en bicicleta.
This sentence is completely lacking context. It’s the first line in the episode, so nothing came before it. And when we first hear or see it, we don’t know what’s going to happen next.
And when a sentence doesn’t have context (within itself or from its neighboring sentences) its meaning is still up in the air. We’ll either never know what it meant, or we won’t know until we have context--until we know what happens next.
“Michael IBA a trabajar en bicicleta...”
“Iba” comes from “ir”--it’s the imperfect tense. The imperfect tense is used to describe HOW THINGS WERE. Then the preterite tense is used to describe WHAT HAPPENED.
So look at both these examples. The first part of both is the same and matches our original example. Then I made up two different endings to illustrate my point.
Michael IBA a trabajar en bicicleta... cuando vio a un amigo.
= Michael WAS GOING to work by bike... when he saw a friend.
= [ONE DAY] Michael was going to work by bike... when he saw a friend.
The image in my mind for this one is: ONE DAY, Michael was going to work by bike. WHAT HAPPENED (he saw a friend) only affected HOW THINGS WERE that one day. So “iba” means “he was going” one day.
Michael IBA a trabajar en bicicleta... y ayer decidió no quería seguir así, quería comprar un carro.
= Michael WAS GOING to work by bike... and yesterday he decided he didn’t want to continue, he wanted to buy a car.
= Michael [HABITUALLY] went to work by bike... and yesterday he decided he didn’t want to continue, he wanted to buy a car.
The image in my mind for this one is: HABITUALLY, Michael went to work by bike, then yesterday he made a big life decision. Now WHAT HAPPENED affected HOW THINGS WERE everyday going forward--Michael decided not to ride his bike anymore. So “iba” means “he used to go” every day or said another way, “he ALWAYS went”.
The imperfect tense is used for habits (which are how things were) and “always” is just another way to say “habitually”!
Do you see how the second part of the sentence (what happened) defined the first part of the sentence (how things were)?
And spoiler alert, there’s a heatwave! Michael can’t take the heat anymore, so he’s looking for alternative transportation methods. Which means, the real context (which comes from subsequent scenes) matches Example #2 almost exactly. BOOM!
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Michael Bluth iba a trabajar en bicicleta
= Michael Bluth was going (or) habitually went to work on bike
= Michael Bluth habitually went to work by bike (only can know from subsequent scenes)
= Michael Bluth always rode his bike to work