Howlers in the translations for a long time have been attracting the attention both of the translators themselves being for them a source of well-known stories, and literary critics, masking the lack of skills in professional criticism of translations by looking for translation errors. It is high time to try to understand and explain the nature of these errors, to think about their prevention. This is the attempt, which makes Alexey Alexandrovich Streltsov, a Candidate of Pedagogic Sciences, senior lecturer of the translation and informatics department of the Pedagogical Institute of the Southern Federal University (Rostov-on-Don).

Alexey Streltsov “Lost in translation: from error to absurd”

The ancient Romans recognized that “To err is human.” No matter how blandly it sounds, the translators are people too, and sometimes they commit errors that lead to very serious consequences. Thus, speaking at a press conference, Iranian President Ahmadinejad said, “We believe that all countries have the right to develop nuclear technology.“ However, the translator on CNN instead of the word “technology” said “weapons.” Considering the cautious attitude of the international community to the nuclear program of the Islamic state, the consequences of such a “Freudian slip” could be very serious. Nothing happened, the result was a temporary ban on television reporters of CNN working in the country’s territory.

In one of his speeches, Donald Rumsfeld suddenly announced that “in the summer of this year, Spain will be one of the countries, against which the Islamist terrorists will arrange the attacks.” The authorities of the country did not know about that, and such a statement could indicate the incompetence of the security services. In fact, in the speech of the U.S. Secretary of Defense it was noted that “the level of threat of Islamist attacks is great not only in the USA, but, as the example of Spain and many other countries shows, in most of the Western countries.” In this case too liberal translation provoked strained relations between Madrid and Washington.

Another time, an uneducated American translator who is not named, saw in a Chinese text something that was not there – an indication of a possible revaluation of the yuan. That was a false alarm, but due to the rumors markets were on wires.

However, sometimes you can only laugh at translation blunders. The new book “Undiplomatic activities” by Richard Woolcott, who headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Australia for four years, describes what pitfalls await translators. For example, an Australian diplomat in France, addressing the French, wanted to say that, looking back on his career, he believed that it was divided into two phases – boredom in all countries where he had worked before, and life in Paris. According to Woolcott, the diplomat expressed his thought in this way: “Looking back on my ass, I see that it consists of two parts.” Woolcott recalls how he made a speech during a visit to Palembang shortly after he began working at the Australian Embassy in Indonesia. “Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of myself and my wife, I want to say that we are happy to be in Palembang,” – he said in English. The interpreter used the phrase that had nothing to do with the saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, sitting on the face of my wife, I’m happy to be in Palembang,” [1].

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