The Human Cost of Bad Translation

The Human Cost of Bad Translation by Sepideh MoussaviMy mother is not fluent in English, and that fact counted heavily against her on a call to an insurance company recently.

The call was about an important question relating to my mother’s account, so I joined her to make the call. The person on the other end of the phone said they had to verify my mother’s identity, and so they needed her to speak, not me, her daughter. The operator asked what language my mother speaks, and put us on hold while they found a Farsi interpreter.

The Importance of ATA Certification

The Importance of ATA Certification by Sepidah MoussaviThe American Translators Association (ATA), a well known international organization, offers a translator certification—a distinction that puts all translators, regardless of work status, in a better position to market themselves. For Farsi translators and interpreters in particular, the ATA certification is more than just a suffix.

I am very passionate about the mission of the organization and the importance of these certifications for the following reasons:

  1. It distinguishes those who are qualified to translate from those who are not; and
  2. An increase in Farsi translators will support the Farsi-English pairing. As of now, this pair has not been established at ATA, and the ATA is not recognizing Farsi as a language.

Invitation to Cooperate With the American Translators Association (ATA) to Formally Establish a Language Combination In Farsi To And From English

Dear Farsi Translators and Colleagues:

Respectfully, the translation of Farsi to and from English in the United-States has become questionable. Due to a lack of employment, many young individuals who are familiar with the language but do not possess adequate knowledge and skills to translate, have entered the profession. As you know, the quality of the translations and interpretations produced by these non-qualified translators would disdain one of the most important canons of the ATA Code of Ethics, that is “to convey meaning between people and cultures faithfully, accurately, and impartially”.

I suggest that, if you are seriously considering working as a translator or interpreter of Farsi, please cooperate with the Farsi Language Center’s workgroup to establish a language pair at the American Translators Association (ATA). This will allow us to advocate for high quality Farsi translations and interpretations, to safeguard the Persian language, and to join the rest of the world who have already established and made their languages known by the ATA. Better yet, as ATA certification is the only widely recognized measure of competence in translation in the United-States, being certified can open doors to new business and higher compensations for us, Farsi translators and interpreters.

If you have any suggestions or comments please contact me using the following email address:

info@farsilanguagecenter.com

Down With Potatoes

One of the most engaging accounts of a literal translation is described in Hooman Majd’s book, The Ayatollah Begs To Differ.

In Iran, the phrase marg bar Amrica ( مرگ بر آمریکا) is often chanted at rallies and seen on signs held by unhappy protesters. The phrase is most commonly translated literally as “Death to America”, but it actually means ”Down with America”. Hooman Majd, a former interpreter for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, has explained that “Death to America” is far too harsh of a translation. As Majd pointed out, Ahmadinejad also handed out potatoes in exchange for votes, after which protesters chanted ”Marg bar seeb zameeni!” They were literally saying “Death to potatoes”, but it’s pretty far fetched to assume that their intention was to kill the spuds.

The above excerpt is from Jost Zetzsche’s book, Found in Translation, which mentions a myriad of instances of literal translations and interpretations gone wrong because of the fine nuances associated with cultural idioms and values.

True or False? Or Something in Between?

 

At first, I thought this statement could actually be my perfect motto. As translators and interpreters, we agree that so much of the meaning can be lost in our work. Of course, Nietzsche’s point of view is a deep philosophical statement and does not lend itself to a superficial, short and precipitous examination.

As a court interpreter, however, I would readily disagree. Legal proceedings are based on facts and my interpretations would lose their objectivity if I overlooked the facts in favor of renditions.

Still as an interpreter, I am very mindful of how true this statement may sound. For example, trying to translate some of the best poems of Rumi or Hafez seems impossible. Even the best poetic translations that currently exist fall short of capturing their true and deepest messages.