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A second source claims CNN mistranslated Iranian President's comments

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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 03:30
Japanese to English
+ ...
Well Sep 27, 2013

A CNN source told Business Insider that the translator who worked on the interview was "hired by the Iranians", and the interview was "re-voiced/dubbed exactly as she translated."


This makes me wonder if this was one of the $0.03/word translation jobs that appear so often.


 

Kuochoe Nikoi  Identity Verified
Ghana
Local time: 18:30
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
What are you trying to say? Sep 27, 2013

"Finally, we have to wonder why all these interviews are being conducted in Farsi anyway. Rouhani completed a Ph.D at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. He is reportedly fluent in English."

Gee, Anglo-centric much? If anyone has the right to speak the language of a nation, it's the elected representative of that nation.

[Edited at 2013-09-27 20:02 GMT]


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:30
Russian to English
+ ...
I doubt it Sep 28, 2013

Orrin Cummins wrote:

A CNN source told Business Insider that the translator who worked on the interview was "hired by the Iranians", and the interview was "re-voiced/dubbed exactly as she translated."


This makes me wonder if this was one of the $0.03/word translation jobs that appear so often.


Most governments pay really well for translation and they don't let outsourcing companies handle it. Maybe the person just did not know English well enough, or Farsi, or something was very ambiguous in his speech.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 02:30
Chinese to English
A politician equivocates?! Sep 28, 2013

Surely not, sir!

It's hardly news that a politician would pick his words very carefully to try to appease two separate constituencies - his home audience and the Americans watching CNN.

And I'm not sure that claims from the Iranian state press and the Wall Street Journal, two of the world's most ideologically rigid publishers, are really going to change anyone's views.


 

Rossana Triaca  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 15:30
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
LOL Sep 28, 2013

Most governments pay really well for translation and they don't let outsourcing companies handle it.


I snorted coffee through my nose when I read this! I'm glad if this is the case in the US, but I can assure you in most of the world the opposite is exactly true: outsourced and badly paid.

There's a current scandal in the UK with outsourced court interpreters; the company that holds that contract has been frequently in the news for, ummh, let's say dubious practices (e.g., having such a stringent admission criteria that a cat and a rabbit were signed-up and pre-approved to be court interpreters, I kid you not!).


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:30
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
On three hands and a foot Sep 28, 2013

On the first hand:

Although Mr Rouhani never said the word "Holocaust", his words were in reply to a question about the Holocaust. Therefore, if he had used a pronoun in his reply, it would have been acceptable for the translator to translate it with the noun that the pronoun refers to, if she knows what noun it refers to.

If the interviewer asks "What do you think about cats?" and the interviewee answers "I don't like them", then the translator can translate it as "I don't like cats" even though the interviewee never mentioned the word "cats".

In the case of this interview, the interviewer's question is: One of the things your predecessor used to do from this very platform was deny the Holocaust and pretend that it was a myth. I want to know you, your position on the Holocaust. Do you accept what it was? And what was it?

Mr Rouhani then answered the question, and the question we should ask ourselves is whether it is fair for us to assume that his answer would have anything to do with the question or not.

On the second hand:

Perhaps the interpreter should have known that when political leaders and opinion makers are being interviewed about a topic, they often don't answer the questions put to them, but instead use those questions as a pretext to say something about a similar topic. All politicians from all countries do this.

Therefore, perhaps the interpreter should have translated more literally and less comprehensively.

On the third hand:

If you look at the CNN translation (interpreter's translation) against the FARS translation (which is a translator's translation), this is what you'll find:

Some of what the interpreter said can be excused as weasel words that interpreters use when trying to translate and explain a complex statement while trying not to miss out on any subsequent statements (particularly the first part of the translation is similar to what was actually said, but with more weasel wording).

However, the last part of what Mr Rouhani said (according to the interpreter) is pure fiction. I think that this is what the interpreter thought that Mr Rouhani is likely to say in this situation, and because she heard Mr Rouhani say similar words, she thought that her guess was accurate and she proceeded by giving that translation, not realising her blunder (or: realising it, but being unable to do anything about it except wait for the shit to hit the fan).

I'm not sure if we can fault the interpreter, though. I don't think the interpreter of a live or semi-live television interview has the luxury of backpedalling and clarifying a translation.

==

At first, the interpreter remains quite closely to what Mr Rouhani actually said:

What Mr Rouhani said: [In answer to your question about the Holocaust,] I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events.

What the interpreter said: I've said before that I am not a historian and then, when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it.

Then, although she's still close to what was actually said, the interpreter flounders and starts weaseling:

What Mr Rouhani said: But generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews.

What the interpreter said: But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn, the taking of human life is contemptible.

By this time, the interpreter is so flustered that she forgets the English word for "any nation and any religion" and interprets it with a loose paraphrase:

What Mr Rouhani said: The same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide.

What the interpreter said: It makes no difference whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim, for us it is the same, but taking the human life is something our religion rejects.

Now the interpreter is running on automatic and simply ends the answer with that which she believes Mr Rouhani is likely to have said if he hadn't been there anyway:

What Mr Rouhani said: Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, but the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.

What the interpreter said: But this doesn’t mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crime against a group now therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an even-handed discussion.



[Edited at 2013-09-28 12:32 GMT]


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:30
Russian to English
+ ...
Outrageous Sep 28, 2013

Rossana Triaca wrote:

Most governments pay really well for translation and they don't let outsourcing companies handle it.


I snorted coffee through my nose when I read this! I'm glad if this is the case in the US, but I can assure you in most of the world the opposite is exactly true: outsourced and badly paid.

There's a current scandal in the UK with outsourced court interpreters; the company that holds that contract has been frequently in the news for, ummh, let's say dubious practices (e.g., having such a stringent admission criteria that a cat and a rabbit were signed-up and pre-approved to be court interpreters, I kid you not!).

Yes, I agree. This is really a scandal, or even more than that, if there is a word for it. It is almost like outsourcing The Metropolitan Opera Tenors. Sometimes agencies have to be used for some very rare languages, but then, in the US, the interpreter still gets the same or more as working through the courts directly -- it is just that the court has to pay much more for a particular assignment. I don't think this is the case in the UK.

As to the interpretation of what the Iranian President said -- I think, it looks like it, that the interpreter had the speech before she started live interpreting, translated by someone who most likely wanted to make the speech better, or more politically correct, but in practice they did quite the opposite. She must have memorized some sentences from the translation, and then when she heard the beginning of a sentence pronounced by the President of Iran, she simply recited the memorized sentence. It does not look like live interpreting at all. Many interpreters do it, if some high profile speakers prepare their speeches beforehand. The only problem is that they often change what they planned to say, initially.

[Edited at 2013-09-28 12:59 GMT]


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:30
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Not a speech but an interview Sep 28, 2013

LilianBNekipelo wrote:
As to the interpretation of what the Iranian President said -- I think, it looks like it, that the interpreter had the speech before she started live interpreting...


Although you may be right, I must point out that this wasn't a speech but an interview. I can't tell from the transcript whether Mr Rouhani knew what the questions would be and have had answers prepared (he was possibly warned beforehand what kinds of questions would be asked), but the interview does not seem "forced" or "artificial" as it would have been if both people were simply repeating stuff that they've memorised.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:30
Russian to English
+ ...
Sometimes the interviewed person gets the exact questions beforehand Sep 28, 2013

It is hard to imagine that the interpreter would come up with such answers by herself. They really sound like something prepared in advance.

 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 03:30
Japanese to English
+ ...
I'm not positive... Sep 28, 2013

...but I'm pretty sure that most of these super-high-profile interviews don't go down without the interviewee getting a list of prepared questions beforehand. It doesn't mean that the interviewer will ask all of them, but it gives the interviewee's camp time to prepare safe answers so that he or she doesn't get caught unawares and blunder into saying something embarrassing or damaging. This might not be true for all interviews but I think it happens for the majority of them.

I do kind of agree with the question of why have the interview in Arabic at all. It doesn't matter that both parties speak Arabic; the intended audience of the show doesn't, which makes necessary the use of an interpreter. I don't think it's being so much Anglo-centric as it is practical. If the interview was conducted in English, there would be no danger of a third party interjecting their own opinions or thoughts into what the audience will hear. I'd personally rather hear somewhat-broken English directly from the interviewee than listen to an interpreter - and it doesn't sound like Rouhani speaks poor English, anyways.

If the interview took place in Tehran and was broadcast on Al Jazeera, then it makes sense to conduct it in Farsi.


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 19:30
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Arabic????? Sep 29, 2013

Orrin Cummins wrote:

...but I'm pretty sure that most of these super-high-profile interviews don't go down without the interviewee getting a list of prepared questions beforehand. It doesn't mean that the interviewer will ask all of them, but it gives the interviewee's camp time to prepare safe answers so that he or she doesn't get caught unawares and blunder into saying something embarrassing or damaging. This might not be true for all interviews but I think it happens for the majority of them.

I do kind of agree with the question of why have the interview in Arabic at all. It doesn't matter that both parties speak Arabic; the intended audience of the show doesn't, which makes necessary the use of an interpreter. I don't think it's being so much Anglo-centric as it is practical. If the interview was conducted in English, there would be no danger of a third party interjecting their own opinions or thoughts into what the audience will hear. I'd personally rather hear somewhat-broken English directly from the interviewee than listen to an interpreter - and it doesn't sound like Rouhani speaks poor English, anyways.

If the interview took place in Tehran and was broadcast on Al Jazeera, then it makes sense to conduct it in Farsi.


Isn't Iranian (also referred to as Farsi) Iran's official language?


 

Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Jordan
Arabic to English
+ ...
Arabic vs. Farsi Sep 29, 2013

I do kind of agree with the question of why have the interview in Arabic at all. It doesn't matter that both parties speak Arabic; the intended audience of the show doesn't, which makes necessary the use of an interpreter. I don't think it's being so much Anglo-centric as it is practical. If the interview was conducted in English, there would be no danger of a third party interjecting their own opinions or thoughts into what the audience will hear. I'd personally rather hear somewhat-broken English directly from the interviewee than listen to an interpreter - and it doesn't sound like Rouhani speaks poor English, anyways.

If the interview took place in Tehran and was broadcast on Al Jazeera, then it makes sense to conduct it in Farsi.



Orrin,
I think you are confusing between Arabic and Farsi. As I think you probably realize, they speak Farsi in Iran, not Arabic. Also, Al Jazeera has channels in both Arabic and English, and Arabic speakers do not understand Farsi as the two languages are not related, except for the fact that Farsi uses the Arabic alphabet and has also borrowed many words from Arabic. Other than that, though, Farsi is an Indo-European language that is more closely related to English than it is to Arabic. So, if the interview were conducted in Farsi for Al Jazeera, it would need to be translated into Arabic for the people who watch the Arabic channel.

Regarding whether the president should speak English or his native language in such an interview, I think there are strong cases for both. King Abdullah of Jordan almost always gives interviews in English (he is actually a native speaker of English), which I believe helps contribute to his very positive reputation in the West. On the other hand, this may result in people in Jordan (who speak Arabic) not getting the whole story when he gives such interviews. These interviews have to be translated back into Arabic for the local population, and this presents the opportunity for mistakes to occur as a journalist or other entity could potentially spin his words or pick and choose certain statements that do not accurately reflect all of his ideas. I personally love the fact that King Abdullah is so articulate in English, but I also understand why a foreign leader would play it safe and speak in the language of his people. No matter his intended audience, at the end of the day, he must answer to his people and not to a foreign entity.

[Edited at 2013-09-29 08:13 GMT]


 

Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Jordan
Arabic to English
+ ...
Persian or Farsi Sep 29, 2013

Isn't Iranian (also referred to as Farsi) Iran's official language?


Teresa,
When talking about the official language of Iran, it is called either Persian or Farsi, but not Iranian.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:30
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Language is power Sep 29, 2013

Orrin Cummins wrote:
If the interview was conducted in English, there would be no danger of a third party interjecting their own opinions or thoughts into what the audience will hear.


Well, there is the power issue. Even if the interviewee is "pretty good" at English, he'd still be at a disadvantage (from a power point of view) when the interviewer is a native speaker of English. Any person is usually most powerful in his native language. If a person speaks a foreign language, he is less at ease.

The fact that a person is "fluent" in English doesn't mean he can speak with ease on any topic in English. The usual language of politics in Iran is not English, so you can't expect Mr Rouhani to be as fluent on political matters in English as he is in the language of his country.

If the South African president were interviewed, you can bet that he'll speak English and not his native language, because English is the language of politics in South Africa. But English is not the language of politics or indeed the language of anything in Iran.

I recall watching an interview with a Dutch politician who went to the US. He thought that he could speak English fluently (and he was pretty fluent), but he was unable to think on his feet quite as smartly as he could in Dutch, and if it wasn't for his celebrity status, people would have though of him as a complete dunce... because he chose to speak a foreign language in which he was "fluent".


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:30
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Lost in translation Sep 29, 2013

It seems to have become a common trick to claim that Iranian leaders are not being correctly translated by their interpreters. Never the leaders of any other country. I find this quite interesting.

 
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