Tuesday, August 08, 2006

You're (not) welcome: Lost in translation

I just caught this disturbing post from the CBC's David Common. He's currently embedded with Canadian Forces in southern Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this "embed" process bars CBC from bringing along their own "fixers" or translators...and the journos have to rely on the military's instead:
We asked one villager what he thought of the opportunity to see a doctor. The translator translated the question from English. The man responded. With one word. Maybe two. No more. But when that answer was translated back into English, it suddenly became something like: "Oh, this is wonderful. The Canadians are wonderful. We haven't seen a doctor in many years. The closest one is more than 20 kilometres away. We have been given treatment and medicine and our children have been examined."
So, either this language is REALLY advanced and one word says all that, or the translating is doing something more than translating.
This is not a rare occurrence but, when it happens, it's usually blatantly obvious like the example above.
Sometimes translators "translate" what they think you want to hear. This is obviously bad.
Yeah. I'd have to agree with that, Mr. Common. This is obviously bad! In fact, it reminds me of something that an American soldier/historian had to say about post-invasion Iraq. Notice the comparison between two WaPo embeds, Thomas Ricks and Anthony Shadid. Hint: Shadid actually speaks & understands Arabic!
In the first weeks of the American occupation of Iraq, two reporters from the Washington Post joined a U.S. Army patrol as it walked through a neighborhood in Baghdad. The first reporter, Thomas Ricks, stayed with the infantry squad throughout the two-hour patrol. The soldiers told Ricks that the morning patrol was going well; they "considered themselves a welcome presence in a friendly land," and guessed that the neighborhood was "ninety-five percent friendly." One soldier declared that "everybody likes us."
The second reporter, Anthony Shadid, trailed the patrol. "I followed fifty meters behind," he later wrote. "There were a few waves from the residents. Most just stared." As Shadid (who speaks Arabic) talked to people in the neighborhood, some expressed cautious support, hoping the the soldiers "would provide a measure of security after weeks of looting." But the more common reaction came from the "many" in the neighborhood who "expressed ambivalence or outright anger as the troops walked by." Supportive statements tended to be less than warm: "An American dog is better than Saddam and his gangs." Hostile statements tended to be stronger: The presence of American troops was termed "despicable" by Iraqis who declared themselves "one thousand percent" against the occupation. "They're walking over my heart," one man told Shadid.
The American infantrymen -- certain their patrol was going well, and seeking to further demonstrate their good will -- left the streets and entered a school, leaving behind a "group of young men standing outside" to go and interact with the students and female teachers inside.
The men on the sidwalk clustered around in front of the school, announcing their suspicion that the soldiers "were having sex with the women inside, a statement as ludicrous as it was suggestive. To these men, the American presence was utterly vile and their intentions base; they would compete with each other in devising the darkest scenarios." The patrol eventually walked out of the school, past the group of men standing on the sidewalk who stood speculating feverishly about what they were really up to, and walked cheerfully on their way. "They love us," a second soldier concluded.


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