Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lost in Translation

It is funny how meanings of words can get lost in translation. There were two articles on the ‘net in the last couple of weeks that are great examples of how statements can be innocently mistranslated, or even intentionally used to mislead.

The first example is from an article posted on a Polish news website about purported statements made by Rick Santorum during his campaign in New Hampshire. I would not have known about the Polish article if a Polish friend had not pointed it out. So here’s how it went:

[Scene: Lunch room in typical American white-collar workplace. Polish friend runs in and plops down in front of me]

Me: Hello, Polish friend, what’s up?

Polish friend: So, who is this Santorum guy?

Me: He is running for the Republican Presidential nomination. Umm, why do you ask?
[hoping to direct PF to Commentarama for a more in-depth discussion without breaking any politically correct workplace rules]

PF: I just heard from a friend of mine in Poland who said that it was reported by a Norwegian journalist that Rick Santorum said in New Hampshire that the greatest threats to the world right now are Iran, Islamic terrorists, and Poland!

Me: Poland?? Are you sure he said Poland? I can’t imagine anyone would think that Poland was a threat to anyone? I will do some research and get back to you.


End scene.

I went back to my desk to do a quick search. I figured that if Santorum had actual said that Poland was one of the greatest threats to the world that someone in the US press corps would pick it up and exploit it. (Yes, Huffington Post, I mean you!). Instead, I found nothing. I went back to my PF and asked her to show me the article. It was a 5-line article from a Polish language website which she kindly translated for me. Since I have no reason to doubt my friend's translation, I was surprised that a sitting Senator could make such a stupid blunder. But then I remembered that the then-Senator Obama stated during his 2008 campaign that there were at least 57 US states, so it could be true. But I still could not find any evidence in English.

Well, it took about 24 hours, but, to my surprise, I finally found an article on the New York Times blog reporting on Santorum's statement. Not a translation of the original statement as reported by the Norwegian journalist, but a clarification from Santorum. When asked by an unknown reporter if he really said that Poland was a threat, Santorum stated:

“I said the Obama administration stuck it to Poland by not putting a missile defense system there...I listed a bunch of countries that the Obama administration has messed up.

So, it was nothing against Poland?” the reporter asked.

Oh, I love Poland,” Mr. Santorum assured him. “Are you kidding me? It’s one of my favorite countries in the world.”


As my friend and I discussed, it is possible that someone heard "threat" and "Poland" in the same sentence and jumped to a mistranslated conclusion. Who knows, but it is safe to say that between my friend and I, we just save the world from of an international "whisper-down-the lane" game that went from English to Norwegian to Polish to possible war!

Now, I said there were two examples. The second was an article titled “GM to call back 8,000 Chevy Volts” published last week. You remember the Chevy Volt. It’s the General Motors electric car touted by the Obama Administration as the green solution to the American auto industry’s financial problems.

It was reported that The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration informed GM that, following extensive crash tests, they discovered that up to three weeks after a crash, the batteries in the Volt would catch fire. The following is a short performance art piece of how I perceive this conversation went:

[Scene: Telephone rings. Someone picks up receiver]

NHTSA: Hello, GM? Yeah, umm...did you know that up to three weeks after a crash, the Volt battery tends to catch on fire and explode?

GM: Umm, well, ummm...errr...yes, we did. Oops, did we forget to tell everyone that the Volt’s batteries needed to be drained after a crash? Sorry, my bad.

NHTSA: Not a problem. Just fix it and all will be forgotten...er forgiven.

GM: Do we need to issue a recall?

NHTSA: Heavens NO! Let's just say that you are "calling them back" and leave it at that. No reason to needlessly embarrass ourselves and you-know-who. You are going to voluntarily fix it anyway, right?

GM: Oh, yeah, riiiight.


End scene.

So GM issued a "call back" of their vehicle and as the article stresses, “GM’s move is considered a step below a recall, which would have been]issued by a car company and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration". It further reports that GM agreed to voluntarily fix the problem voluntarily. This is unlike, say, when Toyota was publicly pilloried and whose management was dragged before Congress to explain after their 2010 Prius "recall" which they had already agreed to voluntarily fix voluntarily too.

So in conclusion, to my Polish friends - beware of Norwegian reporters. From the bottom of my heart, both Santorum and I think that you are not a threat and, hopefully, you will never be a threat to the good people of Earth.

And to the taxpayers-slash-shareholders of the United States of America - beware the Obama Administration and a sympathetic press corps who will continue to mislead us about any of this Administration’s investments gone sour. They are mounting up, aren't they?

Addendum: I hereby revise my statement about the Polish after my "friend" made disparaging remarks about people over 40 being "that old?". They may be a real threat after all.

61 comments:

tryanmax said...

Sheesh! I get twisted in knots when the media abuses the English language. The thought of twisting the facts through several languages makes me want to wrap my head in duct tape.

BevfromNYC said...

Tryanmax - Though I have to say, to the great credit of the MSM (and you won't hear me say this often), they didn't report on it. They could have. Maybe they didn't because Santorum was so far behind in the polls in NH. If it had been Romney or Paul, I think they would have.

Tennessee Jed said...

I wonder if any lost in translation items ever hurt Democrats. What, Jed are you that jaded? Well, uh, yes; yes I am

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Temporary break in the football game so I thought I would chime in. Nice article. Translation is a problem to begin with, but it's very irresponsible to assume a quote this inflammatory is true and report it without double-checking. And frankly, I can't imagine anyone who wasn't looking to cause problems would think that any American would lump Poland with the other two.

In other words, this sounds a lot like something someone wanted to push rather being something genuine.

Back to football... will check in later.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: There was an old party game that I think was called "Telegraph." Everyone formed a line, with each person just out of the hearing of the person in front of him. Then one person would whisper something newsworthy into the first person's ear. That was repeated through each person at the party until you got to the last person. That last person would tell the story aloud as it had been mis-told through all the others. The final story rarely had any serious resemblance to the original. And everybody there was speaking English. Imagine if they'd had to translate into other languages as well.

Now when it comes to the English-Arabic/Arabic-English translations on Al Jazeera, the difference between the two versions is totally intentional.

DUQ said...

Bev, I have to say though that I have no sympathy for Rick because he was one of the people piling on everyone else whenever there was a scandal.

DUQ said...

Andrew, Things don't look good for the Saints right now. Do you think the Broncos will win today?

And Bev, are you rooting for the Giants?

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ -- Bronco... no. They'll lose. But the season is still a huge success.

Saints will win this, just wait.


Santorum, yeah, it's hard to care about a guy who didn't stand up for Cain or Perry or anyone else when the smears came.

BevfromNYC said...

DUQ -

A. Good point. It wasn't so much about a smear of Santorum as how an innocent mistranslation can lead to a misunderstanding. But since I couldn't find the original article nor can I understand Norwegian, it's possible he said it.

B. No, I'm rooting for the Broncos!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Glad to hear you're onboard! :) It's going to be an interesting game tonight.

Good point about this not being a smear per se, but I do think there's a little more "intent" here than just a mistranslation. This strikes me as something they had to know was wrong and should have checked out before running with it.

DUQ said...

Bev and Andrew, I've been converted to the Broncos too this season. :)

Sorry to hijack your thread.

Kelly said...

We should invade Poland to teach them a lesson about misinterpreting us. Where is Poland anyway? ;D

AndrewPrice said...

While we're on the topic of Ricky, I see that he's getting crushed in the polls in South Carolina. And even many evangelicals are talking about switching to Gingrich.

BevfromNYC said...

Hey Kelly! I kind of agree, but then maybe it would be safer to just overrun them with bad jokes! But then again it's kind of hard to make fun of people who can speak many more languages I can.

Kelly said...

Are you suggesting we tell Polish jokes until they surrender? :D

Tennessee Jed said...

adios

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Is that Polish? I thought it was something else... Texan or something. LOL!

BevfromNYC said...

Jed - Is it something we said? I was just kidding about the jokes!

Though, Kelly, it might just work. A joke as a secret weapon! It worked on Monty Python!

AndrewPrice said...

Wow, this is a heck of a finish to the Saints game!

Tam said...

Boo Patriots! or is it Boo-hoo Broncos? I guess they still have time to make it interesting. It's early yet and all that.

AndrewPrice said...

Ditto.

Sadly, the Broncos don't have a good defense. They're like second to last in the league in every meaningful measure.

AndrewPrice said...

Wooooo hoooooo!

Tam said...

YES YES YES!!!! Capitalize, guys!

AndrewPrice said...

Wooooooooooooooooooooooooo
Hooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

This is truly exciting!

Tam said...

and.....flag. grr.

Tam said...

nevermind! Wooo-Hooo!!!

AndrewPrice said...

Nice work Tom. Excellent series. Keep it up.

Tam said...

Darn.

Tam said...

How long before the usual suspects are up in arms over that Focus on the Family commercial?

AndrewPrice said...

I was wondering if anyone else saw that?

I'm sure they're already calling their Senators and getting another Tebow doll to burn in effigy.

I have to say though, that was pretty funny -- the girl at the end "wow!" LOL!

Tam said...

Ugh. TD right before the half. Not a good way to go into the locker room. I just hope they come back enough not to be completely embarrassed. These Broncos really do remind me of the old Broncos.

AndrewPrice said...

Arg.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, They do don't they? Only Tebow can't throw 4 TDs to catch up as Elway could... except in the Superbowls.

Tam said...

Super Bowls were Elway's nemesis for a long time. Tebow has a way to go.

AndrewPrice said...

True, but give him time. He's got a lot of potential. I think he'll be noticeably better even by next year now that they can spend the off season working with him.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I recall all the Elway Superbowls and how they always started well and then just collapsed someone around the second quarter. What a mess those were.

But Elway had the same problem -- horrid defenses.

DUQ said...

This is disappointing.

AndrewPrice said...

But it's not unexpected.

AndrewPrice said...

Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

DUQ said...

I should also add I hate Phil Simms as much as Tom Brady.

T-Rav said...

Bev, I think you, your Polish friend, and humanity in general should just steer clear of anything Scandinavian. Exhibit A: Norwegian reporters. Exhibit B: Lutefisk. Exhibit C: "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

T-Rav said...

Oh, and we should start looking for a way to blame the New England Patriots on Scandinavia as well. Screw Tom Brady and his perfect @#$%ing hair.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I don't know what to blame Tom Brady on, but there's got to be something. I despise the Cheatriots and their rotten QB. Grrr.

LawHawkRFD said...

Much as I admire Tim Tebow and am rooting for the Broncos, I think Dan Marino got it right during the halftime report. The only way Denver is going to win this game is for Brady to switch sides. One of the guys pointed out that all the publicity recently was about Tebow, but no mention of the three time Super Bowl, two-time MVP Brady. That might have been an unfortunately strong motivation for Brady to want to be at the top of his game.

Tam said...

There are a lot of people hoping and praying, I assume, for Tebow and the Broncos to win, but if those people (including me) are realistic they know it is not likely. It doesn't stop one from hoping for the best, but it does make it less disappointing I suppose.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, That's me too. I was (am) hoping they would win it, but I knew it wasn't going to happen. Denver just doesn't have what they need to beat the Patriots.

Their defense has made even average quarterbacks look great all year and Brady (no matter how much I despise him) is not an average quarterback. I think Denver is a year or two away from having what they need to really be ready for the playoffs.

Also, while I think Tebow has tremendous potential, he doesn't have the consistency yet to win week after week. I do think that will come, but he's not there yet. And let's not forget, he's basically a rookie -- 13 games played so far.

Tam said...

Another touchdown...yep, just like the old days. Whimper, sigh.

Well Tebow, thanks for the ride.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, You know the drill from the Elway era.... "it's been a good year, we'll get 'em next year." :(

BevfromNYC said...

T-Rav - I agree. Never trust a Norwegian. Swedes and Scots have known that for generations!

And I agree about the Broncos. I want them to win, but sometimes evil wins in the form of the Patriots...

Not to change the subject from whatever we have digressed to, but with all the advanced technology today, how is it possible for a ship especially a fancy modern cruise ship run aground?

AndrewPrice said...

Good question Bev. I would call that captain-error. And it sounds like they're going to charge the captain with manslaughter.


As for Brady... yeah, if evil was going to take a human form, he would be it.

T-Rav said...

Bev, isn't the captain suspected of doing it deliberately or something? I haven't fully read up on it yet, but as much technology as we have, if you set out to deliberately wreck something, you're gonna wreck it.

LawHawkRFD said...

On the other hand, much to my surprise and delight, my 49ers beat the Demons, er, Saints in a truly wild fourth quarter playoff at Candlestick Park.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That was a really good game and an amazing finish. It actually reminds me of "the Catch" when SF took the reins from Dallas the new powerhouse in the NFC.

AndrewPrice said...

My bad, this is his 16the game. That still makes him a rookie, especially since they didn't even have an off season this year.

BevfromNYC said...

T-Rav - I have only heard that they've taken the Captain into custody. There are still 40 people missing. It's like the Titanic, but worse because there was absolutely no reason for this to happen except on purpose.

So, now that I no longer must root for the Broncos, I will turn my attention to the Texans. My hope is that the Texans can at least get to the Superbowl so that Jerry Jones' head will explode...

T-Rav said...

Just to reiterate: the Patriots are a wretched team.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, That would be funny. I'm on the anybody-but-the-Patriots bandwagon.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, verily.


P.S. There are debates on Monday and Thursday this week.

BevfromNYC said...

Oh please say it ain't so! Please...2 debates next week!?! AAAAGGGHHHH!!!

Okay, I'm better now...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I'm starting to think this is a plot to demoralize Republicans. :(

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I'll never forget that game. Joe Montana never even saw the reception. He was blocked by the linebackers then knocked to the ground by Too Tall Jones. And it really did forecast the rise of the 49ers and the decline of the Cowboys. Maybe I'm seeing that repeating itself. But they'd better make it soon. Once the Niners move to San Jose, they've lost my loyalty forever and they should be required to change the name of the team. What does the name Forty-Niners have to do with a city that was nothing but a few adobe huts in 1849? If they want an historical name that matches their location, they ought to call the team The Silicon Chips.

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