Besides writing and editing, I spend a big chunk of my day as a linguist, translating Arabic to English and vice versa. Although the process itself is tedious and hectic at times, I enjoy it for the most part, particularly when I’m trying to find the exact word match. I look at a challenging text as a riddle that can only be solved by hunting for the most accurate missing pieces. It is an elusive game but I enjoy it and better, I even get paid for it. Any translator dreads the time when they end up choosing words that do not match. It is the ultimate horror when the translator “mistranslates” especially when it comes to the business of news. Misquoting someone’s words and then broadcasting them to the public is the news translator’s ultimate bad dream. Luckily, I have yet to face my interpretation nightmare.
All that said, it should come as no surprise that I was extremely intrigued by Brian Whittaker’s piece in The Guardian that highlighted the mistranslation of the now infamous Al-Aqsa TV clip, which was eaten up by US media outlets. While I found the show and its content extremely off-putting, as children are being cajoled into parroting political ideologies, Whittaker makes a very valid point: The MEMRI translators either mistranslated or intentionally decided to embellish what was said on the tape. What was most intriguing about his piece was the argument that occurred between MEMRI’s founder and one of CNN’S Arabic speakers, Octavia Nasr.
Among those misled by Memri’s “translation” was Glenn Beck of CNN, who had planned to run it on his radio programme, until his producer told him to stop. Beck informed listeners this was because CNN’s Arabic department had found “massive problems” with it. Instead of broadcasting the tape, Beck then invited [MEMRI’s] Carmon on to the programme and gave him a platform to denounce CNN’s Arabic department, and in particular to accuse one of its staff, Octavia Nasr, of being ignorant about the language.
Carmon related a phone conversation he had had with Ms Nasr: She said the sentence where it says [in Memri’s translation] “We are going to … we will annihilate the Jews”, she said: “Well, our translators hear something else. They hear ‘The Jews are shooting at us’.” I said to her: “You know, Octavia, the order of the words as you put it is upside down. You can’t even get the order of the words right. Even someone who doesn’t know Arabic would listen to the tape and would hear the word ‘Jews’ is at the end, and also it means it is something to be done to the Jews, not by the Jews.”
And she insisted, no the word is in the beginning. I said: “Octavia, you just don’t get it. It is at the end” … She didn’t know one from two, I mean.
As a native speaker myself, I heard nothing about annihilating the Jews. What I heard was: Ø¨Ø·Ø®ÙˆÙ†Ø§ Ø§Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ÙˆØ¯ which translates into: “The Jews are shooting at us.” So the question becomes: Did MEMRI embellish their translation on purpose or was it simply an innocent translation mistake? I cannot say for certain. What I do know is media organizations should take MEMRI’s translation with a grain of salt, especially after this incident. Here is what Whittaker thinks:
The curious thing about all this is that Memri’s translations are usually accurate (though it is highly selective in what it chooses to translate and often removes things from their original context). When errors do occur, it’s difficult to attribute them to incompetence or accidental lapses. As in the case of the children’s TV programme, there appears to be a political motive. The effect of this is to devalue everything Memri translates — good and bad alike. Responsible news organisations can’t rely on anything it says without going back and checking its translations against the original Arabic.
Hat tip: [Jordan Journals]
I’m sorry but your response I find dissapointing. If you were truly here to learn and engage in a prodcutive dialougue you would have responded with your opinion. Your opinion is your opinion, it doesn’t matter if I agree with it or not. And honestly I don’t care who agrees or does not agree with my opinoin.
I just wanted to egnage in prodcutive discussion with you specially that I know both cultures extremely well. Again I feel that your comment to begin with was to provok to such a response.
While I agree with you that its better not to expose kids to violence, it seemed to me you were using it as an anti-Arab opprotunity to attack and maybe I’m wrong, who knows, I won’t ever find out because of your lack of willingness to discuss things. Your choice is your choice and is to be respected.
Arabi, I appreciate your diplomatic comment in wanting to learn about how I feel, and I would like to respond to you, but it’s been proven time and time again on this blog that an American just cannot answer these kinds of questions without being completely attacked. I’ve been attacked enough on this and I’m afraid that although you may not flip out on me, others will and I’m just not willing to deal with that crap right now. I have my opinions (which I have shared at times) and you have yours. They’re very different. Besides, I’m sure that Natasha doesn’t want her blog to turn into a forum of insults and anger any more than it already has.
Graig the programmed,,Who told you Iam here to communicate with you,I gave up on communicating with dumass like you long time ago,and I acuslly its a wast of time and energy,I have spent a good fucking 20 years of my life trying to “communicat” with British,French and American ,but with no avail.
My advise to you ,go and do some traveling to ME and maybe you will be able to know something about us,and if you decide to go to Arab World,Again,I advise you to deprogramme yourself.
couldn’t keep your promise of never coming back to the blog, could you? I kenw you wouldn’t be able to keep your distance from creating more hate than you already have. And by no means you are coming here because you care to learn more about Arabs, you arleady know what you need to konw, and al you’re here for is to turn people against Arabs. don’t start aruging with me because its easy to go back and pull your posts from before. Thats my only comment to you, I just wanted to remind you that you promised yourself that you’ll never come back to this blog and you couldn’t keep it, what a shame.
Craig, you are not winning arab hearts and minds. you are putting bullets through them. there is a not so subtle difference.
Craig I missed your first reply above and jumped to the second one, anyway Arab oil is very very important to the US
It’s the “oil” part of that phrase that is important, not the “Arab” part. There’s plenty of non-Arab/non-Muslim cheap labor around that would be more than happy to go work the oil fields.
As you will no doubt discover when the Chinese decide they need more oil than they can procure on the open markets. In about 10 years. There are two kinds of people in this world. People with guns and people who used to have oil. But you don’t come from an oil-producing country, so in your country there will be two other kinds of people. People who used to make threats about their neighbors oil, and people who live in refugee camps, that used to be neighbors.
I know. I know. Can’t happen. Won’t happen. Because everyone will come and save you. Especially, the UN will save you. And we’ll save you because we like you so much. Is that it?
Leet, how am I doing on winning the hearts and minds, eh? 😛
If i try to communicate with you in Arbic,graig,the programmed, will you be able to understand me??
Yeah. Duh. That was kinda my point, you know? How much “communication” has occurred here? How much COMMUNICATION ever happens, on English Language Jordanian blogs, between native English speakers and native Arabic speakers?
So what’s the fucking point? You just waste everyone’s time and piss off and alienate everybody who bothers to try and figure out what Arabs are thinking. You don’t want to communicate with anybody. You want to abuse people that you hate. Why don’t you go on American blogs and trash people there? You know all this vile racist garbage you hurl at people just makes them dislike you, and tune you out. And the very people that you are abusing are the ones who actually CARED ENOUGH to try and see things from your perspective. Good on you. That’s just what you need. More people who don’t like Arabs and/or Muslims. Right?
I’m gonna play the open minded game here and comment on what you acused me of since you assumed many things about me and suggested that I hate so and so. But anywya, I want to learn from you and use this as a learning experience since you don’t know where I live or whta iknow about American etc…
So my questions:
1) Who do you blame for the crisis in Iraq?
2) Who do you blame for the crisis in Palestine?
3) Can the average American like you play a more active role to allow a better chance for peace in the Middle East?
4) How can the average Arab in your opinion help the situation of understanding America and the average American in order to creat a better opportunity for peace?
5) Do you think Arab Americans are treated fairly and have the same opportunity as other groups on America, specially after 9/11?
6) What are the anit war people in the US doing to prevent another Iraq in Iran?
7) Do you honestly believe the the attitude of Arabs in the Arab world towards America is unjustified?
8) Do you believe that the US moves in the Mid East are a “strategic” move or not?
I would LOVE to hear your opinion about these questions in order to help me learn more and see if we are missing something.
I hope you take this in an open minded way and engage in a productive conversation with me. Feel free to ask my any questions as well.
I urge you not to assume that if an Arab says American should bare responsibility for the Iraq situation, that he/she means Arabs bare no responsibility.
To give you a bit better idea, I used to ALWAYS look to the US as a model for a democratic prosperous fair nation that provides opportunities not only to Americans but to the whole world as it is the super power. Its really unfortunate to say that this belief has changed. I still like America as a country. And I turly believe that there are many nice Americans and good Americans. But the bottom line is that if the US wants to be the leader of the free world and the model to be looked at, its not just an image, there is responsibility that comes with that.
I hope you respond in a productive way and we can learn from each other.
Leet: “dm you moron, you don’t own the US even if I lived there. It does not belong to you in the same manner Israel does not belong to the Jews. We and the natives and the blacks and all those who had to endure centuries of your organized terror and sustained brutality say that YOU OWE us for all the free rides you have gotten on our backs and corpses and from our natural resources that you have looted and split with your buddies. Welcome to the ULA, the United Looters of America. Just another evil empire about to go the way of the do do.”
Leet, are you for real? That has to be one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever seen. Not even worth my responding. You truly are an uneducated fool.
Hareega, I’m glad that you responded to my comments. It’s true though. I know that people generalize all Arabs since 9/11 and that’s too bad. It doesn’t make sense — as much sense as blaming all Americans for Iraq.
As evidenced by these boards, prejudice exists. I try not to be a prejudice person, but some people on this board make that a difficult task to do. Generalizing is too prominent in the world. It really is sad.
“Can you tell me why an Arab would do their blogging in English? Is it to attract English speakers (mostly American) to their blog, so that Arabs can abuse them?” Graig
What a dumb ass you are,If I were, I call my self Graig the programed and the brain washed racist!
If i try to communicate with you in Arbic,graig,the programmed, will you be able to understand me??the answer to my question will be NO NO ,because you don’t speak Arabic,let alon understand it,and that why we write in english so programmed people like you ,could understand, And who said English should be used only by stupid programmed people like you,do you have to be white with blue eyes to speak english ???Graig,, go and deprogrammed yourself,you have no clue whatsoever.