Posted tagged ‘Translation’

Translation 58. Media Ignorance of the Role of Translators and Interpreters. Again.

24 July 2017

The Western world is at present mesmerised and traumatised by a constant hourly bombardment of media reports on the antics of a strange US President. This could last 4 years, or more. So be it.

But the latest Sunday Times (London) inclusion of an official Russian interpreter, Anatoli Samochornov (labelled by the journalist as a translator) as another of the growing number of “suspects” in  meetings between Trump people  and “meddling” Russians in 2016 and 2017 is really CRASS. (Josh Glancy, Washington, ‘President’s Red Line for Russia Investigations’, reproduced  in The Australian, 24 July, 2017)

But the truth is so simple. A translator’s paid job is to translate documents, usually in written form. A professional interpreter is paid to interpret (i.e. he or she orally translates) SPEECH by one or more persons.

If that is too difficult for some media operators to understand, try this clearer version.

But distinguish between the two professions and stop blaming interpreters (or real translators) for doing their legitimate job.



Translation 37. Arvind and Kusum Kumar’s magnum opus: the Bilingual Hindi and English Thesaurus

22 September 2012

Although a visit to the Arvind Lexicon website will instantly reward students, dictionary enthusiasts and lexicographers with the fascinating and inspiring story of the lifelong achievement of Arvind and Kusum Kumar (with the later assistance of their son, Sumeet, and daughter, Meeta Lall), it is my great pleasure to share the thrill of my very recent discovery of this extraordinary product of determined devotion and scholarship. The Kumar’s bilingual Hindi and English Thesaurus and Dictionary (and its recent online version) is the fruit of 39 years of patient pioneering work.

Arvind discovers Peter Roget’s Thesaurus and hopes to see a Hindi version.
1973 (December)
Since there is still no Hindi version, Arvind tells his wife, Kusum, that he must make one. Together they begin the labour.
23 years later, the Samantar Kosh (Parallel Dictionary) is published.

Backed by the database and programming skills of their son Dr Sumeet Kumar, Arvind and Kusum redouble their efforts to produce a bilingual version, a Hindi and English Thesaurus, which is finally published in 2007, in 3 volumes by Penguin: The Penguin English-Hindi/Hindi-English Thesaurus and Dictionary.

Since then, they have formed a family business (Arvind Linguistics with Meeta Lall as CEO) to update and market their printed works and have more recently added an online version, in two formats: a generous free sample, which anyone may access by registering and, for more advanced students, writers, journalists, scholars – and bloggers- a full version at a reasonable annual subscription. It is very practical and endlessly fascinating and I shall benefit greatly from its use.

Google reveals many reviews of Arvind’s work (some also linked from the website) but the most recent references to this inspiring undertaking are:
The award of the Shalaka Samman prize last year in Delhi and a very recent article in The Hindu by Swati Daftuar, ‘An Endless Road of Words’ (8 September 2012).

Translation 36. Free Internet Translation Software: The Contest between Google Translate and Microsoft’s BING Translator. Russian and Hindi

13 June 2012

In my article Translation 33, I attempted a rough assessment of the efficiency of free online translation software offered by Google, Microsoft (BING), and the venerable Yahoo Babel Fish.
In this test both Google and Microsoft proved to be competent in French and Spanish (into English) translation (at this general level). My stated next step was to check the online translation of other languages with different scripts and/or syntax by taking a look at Russian (as an example of a different script, Cyrillic) and Hindi (both script, Devanagari, and syntax).  This is what is attempted in this new article (using short extracts from Russian and Hindi Wikipedias).

A preliminary and very topical comment to make is that further reference to Yahoo’s Babel Fish will not be possible here because, as of 30 May, 2012, Yahoo Babel Fish has been either subsumed into or replaced by BING Translator, as indicated in the following recent note from Microsoft:
“We are pleased to welcome Yahoo! Babel Fish users to the Bing Translator family. We have been working closely with our friends at Yahoo! to make this an easy transition, and Bing Translator is a natural upgrade to the experience with Yahoo! Babel Fish. We support all the languages you used with Babel Fish, and provide a superset of all the features.”

Let us now look at the Russian to English situation. The piece chosen is an extract of  172 words from the Russian Wikipedia article on the Indian writer, intellectual and activist, Arundhati Roy. (Section:Политическая деятельность (Politicheskaya dyeyatyel’nost’)  Political activities) The style is simple.Here are the two translations for comparison:

Google Translate: (
Subsequently, Arundhati Roy has used his celebrity to draw public attention to important political issues. In a number of essays and speeches, it is opposed to nuclear weapons in India and neighboring Pakistan, as well as against Indian nationalism [citation needed 537 days]. She also took part in protest actions against the dam project on the Narmada River, as such projects are usually at the expense of the earth’s poorest and marginalized populations. Due to its popularity, Roy was able to attract the attention of national and international media to these problems.

Arundhati Roy’s literary activity is completely focused on illumination and critique of political and social themes. She opposed the so-called “war on terrorism” launched by the United States against the war in Iraq and against the policy of the World Bank and WTO. With its rigid stand it has become one of the best known environmental activists, anti-globalization movement and the peace.

In 2002 the High Court in Delhi has sentenced her to prison because she blamed the judges that they wanted to suppress the protests against the construction of a dam on the Narmada River. However, the symbolic conclusion was only one day. (196 words)

The Microsoft BING version: (

Subsequently, Arundhati Roy had used their celebrity to draw public attention to important political problems. In a number of essays and speeches, she spoke out against nuclear weapons for India and neighbouring Pakistan, as well as against Indian nationalism. She also participated in the protest activities against the dam project on the River Narmade, as such projects are carried out, usually at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised. Due to its popularity Roy was able to draw the attention of the national and international MEDIA.

Arundhati Roy completely literary activity focused on reporting and criticism of the political and social order. She opposed the so-called “war on terrorism” launched by the United States against the war in Iraq, as well as against the policies of the World Bank and the WTO. Thanks to its unwavering position it has become one of the most prominent environmental activists, peace and antiglobalizacionnogo movements.

In 2002, the Supreme Court in New Delhi sentenced her to jail because she accused judges that those would like to suppress protests against the construction of a dam on the River Narmade. However, the symbolic conclusion was only one day. (197 words)

As with the previous passages from French and Spanish, both Google and Microsoft convey an English version which makes good general sense, without reaching the standard of a professional translation. In spite of obvious flaws and errors, they are both useful to readers who do not speak Russian. More detailed examination of the translations and the Wikipedia originals will be of particular interest to professional translators and experts in Machine Translation (MT).

It would therefore seem reasonable to hypothesise that the Cyrillic script is not a special obstacle to “Western” Machine translation – just as it is reasonable to state that in learning Russian as a second language the Russian script does not present major problems in reading or writing, at least for Europeans.

Now we can move on to present for examination and comparison the performances by Google and Microsoft with an extract from Hindi Wikipedia (201 words; 10 sentences) on the same writer and activist (Section: kraaNtikaaree vichaar. Revolutionary idea). Warning: Readers may be bemused or irritated by these results.


From U.S. imperialism, nuclear arms race, building dams on the Narmada, etc. Many
Local – international issues have been a voice against Arundhati Roy. But now
He believes that at least non-violent protest and civil disobedience in India
Movements is not the point.
Parliamentary system, part of the Communists and who believe in violent resistance
Arundhati admits that he caught in the Maoist ideology of Gandhi fan
Are not. In his words: – “After all, Gandhi was a superstar. When they are hungry – used to strike the
The hunger – strike were sitting on the superstar. But I do not believe in superstar politics.
If the people of the slums, hunger – strike that, no it does not care. ”

Arundhati Bajharwad that go on flowing in the flow of voices of protest in India
Being ignored. Against anti-people system, judiciary and media
Efforts have failed to impress. He said, “I understand that for us
Is very important to consider where we are right, wrong and where. We have given the arguments
They are right … But the violence did not work. ” (184 words)

Microsoft BING

US imperialism from the nuclear arms race, the Narmada dam, construction etc

Local-international issues that Arundhati Roy-voice ascendant are. But now
He believes in non-violent protests at India and civil disobedience
Movements not talk.
Became part of the parliamentary system and violent resistance in the count Communists
The Maoists of ideologies in which Arundhati admits that Gandhi’s andhabhakt
Are not. In their words-“end Gandhi a superstar. The hunger-strike, so they
The hunger-strike on superstars. But I do not mind you in the superstar.
If the people of a slum, a hunger-strike that it doesn’t care. ”
Arundhati believes that going away bazarvad flow-down of vowels in India
Unheard. janvirodhi system-the judiciary and media
Efforts have failed to impress. He said, “I think for us
It is important to consider where we are great, and where the wrong right. We gave arguments
They are right … But nonviolence is not effective.” (150 words)

These unsatisfactory performances (which, in my experience are not uncommon nor unrepresentative) clearly need much more attention and comment than the Russian translations above, or the French and Spanish ones. For Machine Translation, there is much more work to be done before satisfactory translations from Hindi to English (and some other languages) can be achieved.

From a reading of the English and without any reference to the original, the best that can be said of the translations is that they give glimpses of the subject material but they are not very useful. One can also see that the syntax is disjointed, many sentences are incomplete, and some references are inaccurate. In both Google and Microsoft versions all lines begin with a capital letter (which suggests a new sentence is beginning). From a comparison with the original one may add that the translations also offer some false information or impressions, as well as obvious problems with vocabulary identification and pronoun gender.

The reason why the Google and Microsoft translation systems have not yet been able to cope more satisfactorily with Hindi (and presumably with a number of other languages) is that they still have basic problems in identifying the complicated script, the very “different” syntax of Hindi and even the organisation of print, sentences and paragraphs.First of all, Hindi does not use upper case letters (nor italics or bold distinctions). Secondly, the main punctuation is a vertical bar as a full stop. Commas are used but often sparsely. The inability to deal with these characteristics must surely contribute to the peculiar look of the translations above, with initial capital letters at the beginning of each line.

Finally, let us look at the first sentence of the Hindi Wikipedia original (in transliterated form) to get a further glimpse of what can go wrong.

Amreekee saMraajyavaad se lekar, parmaanu hathiyaaroN ki hor, Narmada par baaNdh nirmaan aadi kaee sthaaneeye – antarrashtreeya mudhoN ke khilaaf avaaz bulaNd kartee rahee haiN arundhati raay. 

(my rough translation:)
From American imperialism, the nuclear arms race, to the construction of the Narmada Dam, etc., Arundhati Roy is raising her voice loudly on many local and international issues.

In the Hindi word order, a list of nominal groups is followed by “etc.” and then (literally) “several local-international issues against” (an example of the numerous Hindi “postpositions”, which are very basic and frequent sentence elements) and, finally, the sentence’s Verb and Subject (Arundhati Roy). Very different from: “From U.S. imperialism, nuclear arms race, building dams on the Narmada, etc. ManyLocal – international issues have been a voice against Arundhati Roy.”  and “US imperialism from the nuclear arms race, the Narmada dam, construction etc
Local-international issues that Arundhati Roy-voice ascendant are.”

I gave both systems a second chance by submitting the last part of that first sentence on its own. Without the cumbersome word order, Google did better but BING did not.

के ख़िलाफ़ आवाज़ बुलंद करती रही हैं अरुंधति राय
ke khilaaf aavaaz bulaNd kartee rahee haiN aruNdhati raay [roy]

Google: Arundhati Roy has been a voice against
BING: Is Arundhati Roy of that lofty-sounds

We must be grateful to Google and Microsoft for their valuable work on Hindi but we must also hope that the massive problems, briefly signposted in the above exercise, can be solved in the not too distant future. And similarly for other problem languages.

The next logical step would be to examine the quality of Google and BING translation from English into other languages. I will do my best at a later date, using the same four languages.

Au revoir. Hasta luego. Do sveedanya. Phir milenge.

Translation 33. Free Internet Translation Software: The Contest between Google Translate and Microsoft’s BING Translator

24 November 2011

Machine Translation (MT) software comes in many forms and in two specific categories: commercial, and free of charge. At the top end of the commercial offerings are sophisticated and expensive software tools used by professional freelance translators and translation companies in order to ease and speed up their laborious tasks. The name TRADOS is one of the most used. It offers packages costing from 600 to 2,500 Euros. At the lower commercial level there are many products costing between $60 and $120 for help with translating between the major European languages, or at least between English and those languages. For free Internet translation services, the current leader is Google Translate, closely followed by its recent challenger Microsoft’s BING Translator. Both produce fast but basic translations of all sorts of Internet material, in a very wide range of languages and language pairs. For a number of years, the earlier Internet leader was Altavista’s Babelfish. Under the Yahoo label, this free programme is still available and widely used but with the two younger competitors making fast progress with their more effective MT formulas, it is showing its age.

As a preliminary sample of MT, take the following absurdly easy test used by blog researchers comparing and rating ten budget software translation packages. From this site,
the references lead to this basic test, from Spanish to English.

“Abuela, ¿por qué tienes los ojos tan grandes?” Caperucita Roja preguntó. “Para que yo pueda ver mejor,” Dijo la abuela. “¡Oh, abuelita, ¿por qué tienes la boca tan grande?” “Para poder comerte mejor!” Entonces, la abuela salta de la cama.

They offer the following as a “Correct Translation” against which to compare the ten commercial contenders:
“Grandma, why do you have such big eyes?” Little Red Riding Hood asked. “So that I can see better.” the grandma said. “Oh, Grandma, why do you have such a big mouth?” “So I can eat better!” Then, the grandma jumps out of the bed.

For a description of the major three free Internet MT systems listed above and a judgement on their relative qualities, see John Yunker’s articles on the work of Ethan Shen, starting with this one and following the links).(Shen pronounces Google Translate as the overall winner.)

Another strong recommendation of Google’s quality and breadth of coverage as well as a clear explanation of the Google method is to be found in Chapter 23 of David Bellos’s recent wide-ranging book on Translation, Is That a Fish in Your Ear – by now a runaway bestseller.

The chapter offers a potted history of MT and expresses Bellos’s very positive view of the advances in MT achieved by Google, emphasising its novel approach to the task of MT. In a recent article, Bellos offers an edited version of pages 263-266 of that chapter (‘The Adventure of Automated Language Translation Machines’) in which, in characteristic manner, he succinctly explains the complex Google system to us:

“Using software originally developed in the 1980s by researchers at IBM, Google has created an automatic translation tool that is unlike all others. It is not based on the intellectual presuppositions of early machine translation efforts – it isn’t an algorithm designed only to extract the meaning of an expression from its syntax and vocabulary.
“In fact, at bottom, it doesn’t deal with meaning at all. Instead of taking a linguistic expression as something that requires decoding, Google Translate (GT) takes it as something that has probably been said before.
“It uses vast computing power to scour the internet in the blink of an eye, looking for the expression in some text that exists alongside its paired translation.
“The corpus it can scan includes all the paper put out since 1957 by the EU in two dozen languages, everything the UN and its agencies have ever done in writing in six official languages, and huge amounts of other material, from the records of international tribunals to company reports and all the articles and books in bilingual form that have been put up on the web by individuals, libraries, booksellers, authors and academic departments.
“Drawing on the already established patterns of matches between these millions of paired documents, Google Translate uses statistical methods to pick out the most probable acceptable version of what’s been submitted to it.”

Although he admits that Google Translate results are not always satisfactory, Bellos forecasts a rosy future for MT and for Google in particular as it improves and adds to its fabulous corpora in 58 language.

To give an idea of the standard of translation achieved by Google, and to give a glimpse of what Professor Bellos’s enthusiasm is founded on, I propose to offer and examine samples of translations into English from four languages. The additional factor is that BING (which offers 2-way translations to and from 37 languages as compared with the 58 Google pairs cited by Professor Bellos) will be subjected to the same tests, as evidence of this battle of the Free to Ether Translation Titans. (Results from Yahoo’s Babelfish are offered at the end of the piece.)

Firstly (in the current article) I present and compare translations from French and Spanish into English. In a later blog article I hope to offer similar material from Russian and Hindi (probably transliterated to fit in the WordPress system). From these disparate examples, we may be able to discern the strengths of the two software programmes and some of the problems which still remain to be overcome in the search for workable and useful translations into and out of all printed languages.

By way of Prologue to the proposed comparisons, if we try the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ test sample on Google and BING, we get the following results.

Google Translate:
“Grandma, why are your eyes so big?” Little Red Riding Hood said. “So that I can see better,” said the grandmother. “Oh, Grandma, why your mouth is so big?” “To eat better!” Then the grandmother jumps out of bed.

There are two unsatisfactory translations here:
why your mouth is so big?” “To eat better!”

BING Translator:
“Grandmother, why you have such large eyes?” Little Red Riding Hood asked. “So that I can see better,” said the grandmother. “Oh, grandmother, why have the big mouth?!” “To be able to eat better!” Then Grandma jumps out of bed.

Again, two unsatisfactory translations, and for the same segment:
why have the big mouth?!” and “To be able to eat better!”

Both Google and BING completely miss the agglutinated Spanish pronoun in “comer” + “-te” (“to eat YOU better”), but, IMHO, Google is marginally in front of BING in the second listed infelicity.

Now let us move on to a more challenging test of MT ability. For this I have chosen short segments from French and Spanish Wikipedia on a topic of recent interest.

French Wikipedia: ‘Crise financière mondiale débutant en 2007’
“La crise financière mondiale qui a commencé en 2007 est une crise financière marquée par une crise de liquidité et parfois par des crise [sic: = crises] de solvabilité tant au niveau des banques que des Etats, et une raréfaction du crédit au niveau des entreprises. Amorcée en juillet 2007, elle trouve son origine dans le dégonflement de bulles de prix (dont la bulle immobilière américaine des années 2000) et les pertes importantes des établissements financiers provoquées par la crise des subprimes. C’est la crise la plus grave de l’histoire des bourses de valeurs, après celle de 1873, découlant de la crise bancaire de mai 1873.
“La crise financière de l’automne 2008 amplifie le mouvement et provoque une chute des cours des marchés boursiers et la faillite de plusieurs établissements financiers. Pour éviter une crise systémique, les Etats doivent intervenir et sauver de nombreuses banques ce qui provoquera une crise de la dette publique en Islande d’abord puis en Irlande. Par ailleurs, elle provoque une récession touchant l’ensemble de la planète. Les finances publiques ont été lourdement sollicitées pour résoudre cette crise. Le déficit public s’est creusé dans de nombreux pays, après un recul du produit intérieur brut mondial de 2,2% en 2009.”
(200 words)

(Points for attention are italicised.)

“The global financial crisis that began in 2007 is a financial crisis marked by a liquidity crisis and sometimes by solvency crisis at both banks of the States, and a credit crunch at the company level. Began in July 2007, it has its origins in the bursting of price bubbles (including the U.S. housing bubble of the 2000s) and losses of financial institutions caused by the subprime crisis. This is the worst crisis in the history of stock exchanges, after that of 1873, arising from the banking crisis of May 1873.
The financial crisis of autumn 2008 amplifies the movement and causes a fall in equity markets and the collapse of several financial institutions. To avoid a systemic crisis, governments must step in and save many banks which will cause a crisis of public debt in Iceland first and then in Ireland. Moreover, it causes a recession in the entire world. Public finances were heavily used to solve this crisis. The deficit has widened in many countries, after a decline in global GDP by 2.2% in 2009.” (177 words)


“The global financial crisis that began in 2007 is a financial crisis marked by a crisis of liquidity and solvency crisis sometimes both at the level of the banks of the States, and a scarcity of credit at the level of enterprises. Started in July 2007, it finds its origin in the bursting of bubbles of awards (including the the 2000 US housing bubble) and losses of financial institutions caused by the subprime crisis. It is the most serious crisis in the history of stock exchanges, after 1873, arising from the banking crisis of May 1873.
The financial crisis of autumn 2008 amplifies the movement and causes a collapse in stock market prices and the bankruptcy of several financial institutions. To prevent a systemic crisis, States should intervene and save many banks which will cause a crisis of public debt in Iceland first and then in Ireland. In addition, it causes a recession affecting the entire planet. Public finances were heavily sought to resolve this crisis. The public deficit widened in many countries, after a decline of 2.2% in 2009 world gross domestic product.” (169 words)

These are worthy attempts, useful to the general reader looking for a gist, and produced, on demand, in a few seconds. All that is needed to make them more reliable is shown below (in bold type).

Google, improved:

“The global financial crisis that began in 2007 is a financial crisis marked by a liquidity crisis and sometimes by solvency crises for both banks and States, and a credit crunch at the company level. Beginning in July 2007, it has its origins in the bursting of price bubbles (including the U.S. housing bubble of the 2000s) and serious losses by financial institutions caused by the subprime crisis. This is the worst crisis in the history of stock exchanges, after that of 1873, arising from the banking crisis of May 1873.
The financial crisis of autumn 2008 amplifies the movement and causes a fall in equity markets and the collapse of several financial institutions. To avoid a systemic crisis, governments had to step in and save many banks, which was to cause a crisis of public debt first in Iceland and then in Ireland. Moreover, it caused a recession in the entire world. Public finances were heavily used to solve this crisis. The deficit has widened in many countries, after a decline in global GDP of 2.2% in 2009.” (177 words)

BING, improved:

“The global financial crisis that began in 2007 is a financial crisis marked by a crisis of liquidity and sometimes by solvency crises both at the level of the banks and of the States, and by a scarcity of credit at the company level. Commencing in July 2007, it has its origin in the bursting of price bubbles (including the 2000 US housing bubble) and the serious losses of financial institutions caused by the subprime crisis. It is the most serious crisis in the history of stock exchanges, after the 1873 crisis, arising from the banking crisis of May 1873.
The financial crisis of autumn 2008 amplifies the movement and causes a collapse in stock market prices and the bankruptcy of several financial institutions. To prevent a systemic crisis, States had to intervene and save many banks, which was to cause a crisis of public debt first in Iceland and then in Ireland. In addition, it caused a recession affecting the entire planet. Public finances were heavily drawn on to resolve this crisis. The public deficit widened in many countries, after a decline of 2.2% in world gross domestic product in 2009.” (169 words)

Spanish Wikipedia: ‘Crisis económica de 2008-2011’

“Por crisis económica de 2008 a 2011 se conoce a la crisis económica mundial que comenzó ese año, originada en los Estados Unidos. Entre los principales factores causantes de la crisis estarían los altos precios de las materias primas, la sobrevalorización del producto, una crisis alimentaria mundial y energética, una elevada inflación planetaria y la amenaza de una recesión en todo el mundo, así como una crisis crediticia, hipotecaria y de confianza en los mercados. La causa raíz de toda crisis según la Teoría austríaca del ciclo económico es una expansión artificial del crédito. En palabras de Jesús Huerta de Soto «esta crisis surge de la expansión crediticia ficticia orquestada por los bancos centrales, y que ha motivado que los empresarios invirtieran donde no debían”.
“La crisis iniciada en el 2008 ha sido señalada por muchos especialistas internacionales como la “crisis de los países desarrollados”, ya que sus consecuencias se observan fundamentalmente en los países más ricos del mundo.” (159 words)

(Points for attention are italicised.)


In economic crisis from 2008 to 2011 is known to the world economic crisis that began that year, which originated in the United States. Among the main factors causing the crisis would be the high prices of raw materials, the overvaluation of the product, a global food and energy crisis, high inflation and the threat of global recession around the world and a credit crisis trust and mortgage markets. The root cause of all crises as the Austrian theory of business cycle is an artificial expansion of credit. In the words of Jesus Huerta de Soto “this crisis arises from the fictitious credit expansion orchestrated by central banks, and has motivated entrepreneurs to invest where there were”.
The crisis that began in 2008 has been noted by many international experts as the “crisis of the developed countries”, since its effects are observed mainly in the richer countries of the world. (150 words)


The global economic crisis that began that year, originating in the United States is known by economic crisis of 2008 to 2011. Among the major causative factors of the crisis would be high prices of raw materials, the sobrevalorización of the product, energy and global food crisis, high global inflation and the threat of a recession around the world, as well as a loan, mortgage crisis and confidence in the markets. Caused by following every crisis according to the Austrian business cycle theory is an artificial expansion of credit. In the words of Jesus Huerta de Soto “this crisis stems from the fictional credit expansion orchestrated by central banks, and that has motivated entrepreneurs to invest where wrong”.
The crisis which began in 2008 has been brought by many international experts as the ‘crisis of developed countries’, already that its consequences are observed mainly in countries richest in the world. (150 words)

Google, improved

economic crisis of 2008 to 2011 is the title given to the world economic crisis that began that year and originated in the United States. Among the main factors causing the crisis would be the high prices of raw materials, the overvaluation of the product, a global food and energy crisis, high inflation and the threat of global recession around the world and a crisis in credit, mortgages and market confidence. The root cause of all crises according to the Austrian theory of the business cycle is an artificial expansion of credit. In the words of Jesus Huerta de Soto “this crisis arises from the fictitious credit expansion orchestrated by central banks, and has motivated entrepreneurs to invest where they should not have done“.
The crisis that began in 2008 has been noted by many international experts as the “crisis of the developed countries”, since its effects are observed mainly in the richer countries of the world. (158 words)

BING, improved

The global economic crisis that began in 2008, originating in the United States, is known as the economic crisis of 2008 to 2011. Among the major causative factors of the crisis would be high prices of raw materials, the overvaluation of the product, a global food and energy crisis, high global inflation and the threat of a recession around the world, as well as a loan crisis, a mortgage crisis and loss of confidence in the markets. The root cause of every crisis, according to the Austrian business cycle theory is an artificial expansion of credit. In the words of Jesus Huerta de Soto “this crisis stems from the fictional credit expansion orchestrated by central banks, and that has motivated entrepreneurs to invest where they should not have done.”
The crisis which began in 2008 has been labelled by many international experts as the ‘crisis of developed countries’, since its consequences are observed mainly in the richest countries in the world. (161 words)

So, on the above evidence, both of these translation tools, Google and BING, offer a very useful BASIC – and lightning fast – FREE service for French and Spanish to English to millions of Internet users. (The situation of English INTO French and Spanish needs separate attention and may be dealt with in a future blog.)

For comparison, here are the results obtained Yahoo’s Babelfish with its updated but ageing technology. Note the higher number of italicised items, and their nature.

1. French to English:
“The world financial crisis which started in 2007 is a financial crisis marked by a crisis of liquidity and sometimes by crisis of solvency as well on the level of the banks as of the States, and a rarefaction of the credit on the level of the companies. Started in July 2007, it finds its origin in the deflation of bubbles of price (of which the American real estate bubble of the years 2000) and important losses of the financial institutions caused by the crisis of the subprimes. C’ is the most serious crisis of l’ history of the purses of values, after that of 1873, rising from the banking crisis of May 1873. The financial crisis of l’ autumn 2008 amplifies the movement and causes a fall of the courses of the stockmarkets and the bankruptcy of several financial institutions. To avoid a systemic crisis, the States must intervene and save many banks what will cause a crisis of the national debt in Iceland d’ access then in Ireland.
In addition, it causes a recession concerning l’ together of planet. Public finances were heavily requested to solve this crisis. The public deficit s’ is dug in many countries, after a retreat of the world gross domestic product of 2,2% in 2009.”

2. Spanish to English

By economic crisis from 2008 to 2011 it is known world-wide the economic crisis that began that year, originated in the United States. Between the main factors causes of the crisis they would be the high prices of the raw materials, the sobrevaluation of the product, world-wide an nourishing crisis and energetics, a high planetary inflation and the threat of a recession anywhere in the world, as well as a credit, hypothecating crisis and of confidence in the markets. The root cause of all crisis according to the Austrian Theory of the economic cycle is an artificial expansion of the credit. In words of Jesus Kitchen garden of Grove “this crisis arises from the fictitious credit expansion orchestrated by the central banks, and that have motivated that the industralists invested where they did not have”. The crisis initiated in the 2008 has been indicated by many international specialists like the “crisis of the developed countries”, since their consequences are observed essentially in the richest countries of the world.”

In a later blog, passages will be selected from two languages which are “more foreign” to English speakers, and for which less raw material has been available to the colossal Internet data banks on which Google Translate and Microsoft Translator rely for their lightning fast searches. The samples will be taken from Russian and Hindi, languages whose structures differ more basically from English than its familiar French and Spanish cousins.

Da svidanya. Phir milenge

(For a lighter and enlightening finish to this long essay, Google’s own explanation of its system is to be found here.)

Translation 22. Cultural Content of Given Names. The Case of Hindi

30 August 2010

For the curious student of foreign languages and cultures, the influence of dominant national religions is often visually or audibly embedded in the language, especially in vocabulary and idiom and, as we shall see below, in people’s first, or given, names.

In English, with the decline in influence of the various Christian churches, the deliberate choice by parents of given names with strong Christian connotations has waned, especially in the cases of Faith, Hope, Charity, Comfort, Constance, Grace (Gracie), Epiphany, and Patience. With many others, the survival of the names usually has more to do with their acceptability and sound than with solid religious associations.
For example:
Adam, Benedict, Benjamin, Candace, Christian, Christopher, Dominic, Eve. (As further proof of this decline, the former descriptor for English language given names was the Christian name but this term is no longer officially recommended or accepted in most English-speaking countries because of far-reaching social and cultural changes in the past 50 years.

In other European languages the religious link is still strong, or at least stronger than in English, notably in southern predominantly (at least in name) Catholic Europe. For example, in spite of the massive decline of catholicism in Spain since the demise of dictator Franco and in some other Spanish-speaking countries, many children are still baptised as:
Anunciación, Concepción, Inmaculada (immaculate), Natividad (the Nativity), Encarnación (incarnation), Ascensión, Martirio (martyrdom), Esperanza (Hope), Consuelo (Consolation), Milagros (Miracles), Jesusa, Dolores (María de los Dolores), Cruz (Cross – as noun rather than adjective);
Amparo (Protection), María del Pilar (Mary of the Pillar), Mercedes (Mercies), Rosario (rosary), Caridad (Charity), Paz (Peace).

Similarly, the following boy’s names are still bestowed upon infants in Spanish-speaking countries:
Jesús, Salvador (Saviour), José, (Joseph), José María (Joseph and Mary), Santos, (Saints), Angel, Angel María, and Miguel Angel.

In Jewish families, religion-related given names are still current and strongly retain their cultural semantic connotations:
Aaron, Abraham, Adam, Benjamin, Daniel, David, Ephraim, Esther, Hannah, Isaac, Jacob, Jeremiah, Jonathan, Joshua, Moses, Noah, Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth, Samuel, Sarah, Solomon.

In India, a sizeable minority of the population are Muslims and bear Muslim names deriving from Arabic, Persian and Urdu:
Abdul, Ahmed, Ali, Anwar, Asif, Aziz, Feroz, Hussein, Imran, Irfan, Irshad, Karim,
Mirza, Mohammed, Nasim, Nur, Rahim, Said, Salim, Salman, Samir, Saroj, Sayid, Tahir, Tariq,Yusuf, Zakir, etc.

However, the overwhelming majority of Indians (approximately 80%) identify themselves as Hindu and bear names so closely associated with aspects of Hindu spirituality and culture that many of them are also nouns or adjectives in Sanskrit or in Hindi, its derivative or descendant.

Since these Hindi/Sanskrit names are still far less well known in the wider English-speaking world outside (largely English-speaking) India than the others offered above and since they are featured in the global media more and more often due to India’s increasing economic and geopolitical development and will continue to grow in global importance for English speakers (and others), I present a small selection in this overview of the links between culture / religion and language.

Apart from my own reading, travel and study, I am relying heavily here on the glosses offered in a very rich, tentacular interconnected website for ALL Given Names, that of Mike Campbell, which I recommend for further and deeper study: Behind the Name. The Etymology and History of First Names

The following is a selection of female and male Hindi or Sanskrit names which will be met in travel in India as well as in the media and on the Internet, and, of course, more and more, in Bollywood films and in the literary and sporting worlds.

Abhishek, m, anointment
Aishwarya, f, prosperity
Ajeet / Ajit, m, unconquered
Amar, immortal [cf. Amartya Sen]
Amitabh, m, shining (Buddha) [as in Bachchan]
Ananda, f, bliss
Aravind, m, lotus
Arjun, m, clear
Aseema, f, boundless
Ashok, m, without sorrow

Bharat, India
Dev, m, god
Devdas, m, servants of the gods
Devi, f, goddess
Divya, f, divine
Gauri, f, goddess Parvati
Gita, f, song [Bhagavad Gita]
Gopal, m, cow protector [Krishna]
Govind, m, cow herder [Krishna] [Sikh version: Gobind]

Jagdish, m , ruler of the world
Jay, m, victory
Jayant, m, victorious
Jyoti, f, light
Kalyana, m, beautiful [also a beer]
Kamal, m, lotus
Kiran, f, sunbeam
Krishna, m, dark blue; Krishna
Lakshmi, f, female deity

Madhu, f, honey
Mahesh, m, great Lord
Maya, f, illusion
Mohan, m, charming
Narendra, m, lord of man
Nirmala, f, pure

Padma, f, lotus
Pankaj, m, lotus
Prabhu, n, mighty
Pradeep, m, lantern
Priya, f, beloved
Purushottam, m, the best amongst men

Radha,f, flower [& Krishna’s female companion]
Raj, m, king
Rajesh, m, king + Isha (deity)
Rajneesh, m, lord of the night
Ram, Rama, m, Lord Rama
Ramesh, Rama + Isha (deity)
Rani, f, queen
Ravi, m, sun

Sachin, m, pure
Sanjay, m, triumphant
Sati, f, truthful
Satya, m, truth
Shanti, f, peace
Sunil, m, positive prefix + blue [Krishna-like?]
Suraj, m, sun
Venkat, m, a reference to Vishnu
Vijay, m, victory
Vikram, m, distinction.

Translation 8. Fluency in foreign languages. The case of Dr Condoleezza Rice

22 March 2009

Three days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s momentary embarrassment about the Reset button on 9 March 2009 (see my brief earlier blog), the official American mistranslation of the name on the diplomatic gift to the Russian Foreign Minister was still garnering media news. Joseph Curl, of The Washington Times (not to be confused with the more prestigious Washington Post) reported, in an article titled ‘State, media ‘button’ lips over Russian gaffe’, that he had tried in vain to get an explanation from the State Department of how such an error could have been made. Towards the end of his article, Curl reports the concern of Roger Aranof (of the organisation Accuracy in Media) that no media representative had asked a question at Press briefings after the unfortunate linguistic gaffe. He quotes Aranof as saying, “If this had happened in the Bush administration, to President Bush in particular or even to Condi Rice, it would have gotten a whole lot more publicity and ridicule by the mainstream media.” To which Curl adds this comment, “Then again, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would likely have caught the mistake – she’s fluent in Russian.” (

The latter is the latest of hundreds (probably thousands) of echoes in the media and on the Internet of the assertion that Dr Condoleezza Rice (Hillary Clinton’s predecessor as Secretary of State) is “fluent in Russian”, or an “expert in the Russian language”, and speaks French, German and Spanish (at unspecified levels). To my knowledge Rice has neither claimed nor disowned this significant ability. Furthermore, during her recent four years of intense exposure as Secretary of State to the news cameras and microphones at international meetings and official discussions with foreigners, I cannot recall her saying anything on camera in Russian.

Preliminary comment on fluency, in foreign or non-native languages

Simple references to fluency in a foreign language (FL) and the epithet ‘fluent in language X’ are basically vague and subjective judgements. Both words derive from the base meaning of ‘to flow’ (fluid, etc.) They refer to a person’s proficiency in a language, often depending on the linguistic background and proficiency in foreign languages of the person making the judgement. As commonly used to describe people, especially in the Anglophone media and by persons who do not speak or read foreign languages (including many journalists), both terms are very complimentary and tend to imply a high degree of FL proficiency and also tend to relate to proficiency in comprehending and using the spoken FL. However, there are other important fluencies: proficiency in reading and writing. In intellectual and professional life, notably in the academic world, the latter pair of proficiencies are of much more practical and professional use and it is these language aspects which are emphasised on graduate language courses leading to a relevant PhD speciality, for example Russian (or, formerly Soviet) studies. The main foreign language career need of graduates will normally be to read and assess written texts in the foreign language; spoken proficiency is therefore often a minor consideration and tends to be at a lower and more practical conversational level. This is a well known fact of academic life.

Assessing fluency (proficiency) is a much more complex matter. The European Union (or Community) of 27 nations, which conducts so much of its voluminous political and economic business in multiple languages (at astronomical expense), offers a very sophisticated table of degrees of expertise with a (foreign) language. There are 6 grades, from A1 (elementary) to C2 (near native ability). (

For the specific needs of the U.S. Government, five levels of spoken (S) and reading (R) skills are described in the classification issued by the United States Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department:

2: Limited working proficiency

2S Able to satisfy routine special demands and limited work requirements.

2R Sufficient comprehension to read simple, authentic written material in a form equivalent to usual printing or typescript on familiar subjects.

3: General professional proficiency

3S Able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations.

3R Able to read within a normal range of speed and with almost complete comprehension.

4: Advanced professional proficiency

4S Able to use the language fluently and accurately on all levels.

4R Nearly native ability to read and understand extremely difficult or abstract prose, colloquialisms and slang.

5: Functional native proficiency

5S Speaking proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of a highly articulate well-educated native speaker.

5R Reading proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of the well-educated native reader.

Note: This official document, understandably, does not mention Level one: Elementary proficiency, which could be summarised as basic tourist ability in the foreign language. ( )

It should be emphasised that the differences between each of those grades of proficiency are exponential (rather like earthquake grades on the Richter Scale). One does not move up a numerical notch without substantial effort. For example, a Conference Interpreter would need grade 5 proficiency. (The more detailed prescriptions in Chapter 4 of U.S. Aid Handbook 28 ( give a better idea of these different skill levels.)

Bearing in mind those rigorous standards and the increasing dominance of English as the principal international lingua franca, it is not surprising that citizens and officials from English-speaking (‘Anglophone’) countries have had a poor record in foreign language skills, especially in contrast with citizens of European countries. In USA, Secretaries of State, including the present incumbent, Clinton, have tended to follow this convenient pattern of not bothering (and not having to bother) with proficiency in foreign languages (Rice is an exception to this pattern, like her European-American predecessors Albright, Schultz and Kissenger and President Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski.


A survey of the available Internet evidence about Dr Rice’s Russian proficiency revealed the following.

Dr Rice’s three university degrees are in political science. In her undergraduate degree, language courses are sometimes mentioned vaguely in biographical comments but the number, type and levels are not specified. I have found no specific reference to “Condy” Rice studying Russian (although she must have done this). In the Wikipedia article on her (which doesn’t mention fluency in Russian), Dr Rice is described as an expert on the Soviet Union (and indeed she served as such under President George H.W. Bush). Also mentioned by wikipedians is her PhD in Political Science written at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver (a dissertation focusing on military policy and politics in Czechoslovakia.

In view of all the complimentary references to fluency, the failure to find any concrete facts on Dr Rice’s Russian studies was frustrating. After all, to be fluent in a language, a university course in Russian 101 (and, preferably, 201) would be a good basis, but this is unlikely to get you very far along the path of being proficient enough in the language to converse on social, political and diplomatic themes in international gatherings – although it is also true that, in the social events connected with international meetings, English is the lingua franca – which is part of the reason why many “Anglo” diplomats and politicians do not feel the need to invest considerable effort necessary for attaining fluency in a foreign language. Nevertheless, some knowledge of the interlocutor’s language can create or strengthen empathy between officials of two nationalities. (A very notable recent “Anglo” exception to this rule of thumb is Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia, whose fluent command of Mandarin has been recorded several times on TV and radio News and has achieved star status and much kudos for him in China.)

Further Internet searches for specific references to Condoleezza Rice speaking in other tongues, especially Russian, reveal only a few clues, but these are quite useful.

Several parts of the following much-quoted Fox News report on 21 April 2005 (attributed to Associated Press) add pieces to the fluency puzzle. Here Dr Rice is responding to Russian callers’ questions on a Russian radio talkback programme. While it is not clear if the questions are in Russian (or translated for her) or in English, it is patently clear that her monosyllabic ‘ Da’ and ‘ Nyet’ before answering in English do not prove fluency or confidence in Russian. The italicised bracketed […] comments below are my observations on the language proficiency (or fluency) displayed.

“Rice Says in Russian She’ll Run for President” (,2933,154104,00.html)

“One day you will run for president?” Rice was asked on Ekko Moskvy Radio.

“President, da, da,” Rice readily replied. That, as nearly everyone knows, even if they are not fluent in Russian as Rice is believed to be, means yes. [“believed to be”]

“Nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet,” Rice quickly added, taking herself out of the race as fast as she’d gotten into it. [Alternatively, perhaps she had misunderstood the question, if it was asked in Russian. But that possibility would undermine the whole Fox ‘scoop’.]

“The former academic, whose specialty was Soviet studies, is fluent in Russian – usually. Moments before, in response to a series of friendly questions from listeners, Rice had begun her answers by saying “Da”. Her mood was clearly upbeat as she assured one listener, in Russian, that “the United States and the American people respect the great culture of Russia, respect the great people of Russia, and we know that Russia has a very good future ahead of it.”

[Such a platitudinous diplomatic mantra is easy enough to memorise beforehand and even to have written in one’s notes. Russian 101, or 201.]

“She told another listener, in English, “The United States is not an enemy of Russia.”

[This is puzzling because the Russian version would only require minimal Russian 101 level knowledge: five (or six) Russian words for nine English words. Why not make the effort?]

“And when a Russian girl asked how she could become like Condoleezza Rice, she replied in English, “I don’t want to talk about myself.”

[Another easy short sentence delivered in English, when the listener would have been delighted and impressed to hear it in Russian.]

“She did, but only when the caller pressed. I enjoy very much what I do now. I have great friends and family,” Rice said.

[Simple words, requiring little ‘fluency’, but still delivered in English.]

“Rice also acknowledged in her reply, switching to Russian, that the Russian language “is very difficult…. It is difficult to speak without mistakes.”

[More Russian 101– four words: Russkiy yazyk ochen’ trudniy, plus another four words for the important final admission: Trudno govorit’ byez oshibok. Surely it should not be ‘trudno’ for a fluent person.]

“And she proved it a few minutes later by accidentally applying for the job of U.S. president.”

[Maybe. Maybe not. See my comment above on the possible misunderstanding.]

In another report on that same occasion (21 April 2005), which was a golden opportunity to speak directly with the people of Moscow and establish a rapport with them, prior to President Bush’s visit to Moscow in connection with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Condoleezza Rice gave answers to email questions in “a freewheeling, hourlong interview on radio that included the geopolitical and the personal as she tried to reassure listeners that the United States was not working against their country.” At the end of the programme she “ventures briefly into Russian”, says she is out of practice but was still described politely by a listener as speaking “fluently”. [“out of practice”]

(Tyler Marshall and David Holley

In what may be yet another (blunter) European account of the two incidents, supplementary details are added:

“Rice BUSTED. Dr. Fraud can’t speak Russian after all.” (Friday, 22 April 2005 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) (

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried out her rusty Russian in a Moscow radio interview Wednesday, only to get caught out by a question on whether she might run for president. “Da (Yes),” Rice answered in Russian, before realizing her misunderstanding and hastily adding “Nyet” (No) — seven times.

“It’s too complicated to answer!” Rice, in Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin, started out in English. “It is an opportunity for me to come back to Russia, a place I love very much. I love the culture and the language.” “She then switched into Russian, but quickly hit trouble. “Apparently meaning to say that she would like to do her next interview in the language of her host, she chose a verb that sounded more like “to earn money” than the Russian for “to do.”

All the indications in the above exchanges are that Rice is not fluent in spoken Russian, or chose not to be fluent on these occasions even though her rapport with her Russian listeners (and, indirectly, that of the U.S. Government and President, whom she was representing) might have been enhanced.

Decidedly more barbed is the following comment by John H. Brown, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer (1981-2003), who obviously has an axe to grind. In ‘10 Percent Intellectual: The Mind of Condoleezza Rice’, Brown, in a section on Speaking in Tongues, comments:

“An important insight into how well Dr. Rice is able to understand societies distant from American shores is her putative knowledge of foreign languages, which has been hyped no end by her political supporters. “In addition to English, she speaks Russian, French, German, and Spanish,” gushes the Race 4 2008 website, […] Her lack of proficiency with Russian was ridiculed in April 2005 by Pravda (admittedly an anti-U.S. publication) …

“As for Rice’s knowledge of French, which she studied at an early age, she herself admitted in 2006 that while she could understand a conversation with President Jacques Chirac of France in his native tongue, “I can’t speak it, because I was never very good at French.”

The mention of a poor speaking ability may offer an important clue in the Rice case. It is worth repeating that many people (including PhD candidates and graduates) find speaking a foreign language much less vital and more troublesome than reading or understanding it. It is, in fact, not only possible but acceptable for an academic expert on, say, Spanish literature, not to be fluent in spoken Spanish.

At the end of a later interview (12 October 2007), on Russian RTR TV, with Sergei Brilev, also in English, the following exchange takes place following a discussion of aspects of foreign policy and nuclear missiles.

SECRETARY RICE: […] We share great global threats. We share common threats. I was a student of the old relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. We really didn’t have much –

QUESTION: How do you call yourself these days — a Sovietologist?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we’ve dropped that term, clearly. I’m very pleased that I also had firm grounding in the study of Russia. And I think for all of us, we see a tremendous evolution from the time when really about the only thing we had in common with the Soviet Union was we didn’t want to annihilate each other. And so all of our interactions, our military interactions, had that character to them. We had to be suspicious of each other. We were each other’s great enemy. We were each other’s great threat. That isn’t the case today.” [Italics added]

A fluent Russian speaker could have delivered that last important non-technical message in Russian but the interesting thing to note about Rice’s English response here is that, although some might take it for granted that this “study of Russia” included an equally firm grounding in the Russian written and spoken language, Dr Rice chooses not to mention her Russian language studies at all.

More closely relevant to Rice’s observed behaviour are the reported statements of Glenn Kessler (a Washington Post political columnist) at the launch of his 2007 biography of Rice (The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy). Kessler, who covered many of Rice’s foreign visits and had sometimes flown in the same plane, mentions her once-weekly classes with a State Department Russian interpreter. (This indicates an imprecise level or type of Russian competence. Was the tuition in Russian conversation or was it devoted to the comprehension and translation of written texts?)

Kessler is also reported here as revealing the following ‘gossipy’ detail about a conversation held during a closed meeting between Rice and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel: “‘In their private meeting, Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker who had trained as a physical chemist in the former East Germany, teasingly tested Rice’s rusty Russian,’ he writes [in his biography], citing Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany’s ambassador to London who formerly was Germany’s ambassador to the U.S.” If we assume Ambassador Ischinger’s account of the incident to be true, it would indicate to linguists (but not necessarily to those who are not familiar with levels of competence in languages) that the Russians and others were aware that Rice was not fluent in spoken Russian. Such a level would not enable her to talk confidently and interestingly to her official Russian interlocutors, nor to understand them on highly technical diplomatic and political topics. (The above assertions are taken from a 7 September 2007 report by the Russian News and Information Agency (RIA Novosti) on Kessler’s book launch speech)

There is some circumstantial Internet and media evidence that Russians have long been aware of Rice’s lack of fluency with their language and, perhaps, of her sensibility about this topic. It may even have become a private ‘in’ joke for them. For example, consider the end of the Moscow U.S. Embassy’s transcript of a wide-ranging interview in English with Dr Rice in Moscow, on the Russian TV station NTV, on 20 April 2005. (The same date as the previous three radio accounts!)

MR. PIVOVAROV: Madame Secretary, it’s widely known that you speak fluent Russian.

SECRETARY RICE: [In Russian.] (Laughter.)

MR. PIVOVAROV: Do you ever use it when talking to Russian officials, and does it help you?


MR. PIVOVAROV: Do you use it in talks with Mr. Putin?

SECRETARY RICE: [In Russian.] (Laughter.)

MR. PIVOVAROV: Last question. You already met with our channel last time when you were in Moscow one year ago; and when my colleague asked you maybe you could play something on the piano, you said, next time probably. Is this the time, Madame Secretary?

SECRETARY RICE: Next time. (Laughter.) [In Russian.]

MR. PIVOVAROV: Madame Secretary, thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. (end transcript)

Mr Alexei Pivovarov’s sudden change of topic may not be entirely innocent. Dr Rice’s unrecorded replies in Russian to simple questions which invite basically Yes/No answers are unlikely to prove the sort of fluency for which she is constantly lauded in the Western media. Quality of accent would be clear, but that is easier to acquire than fluency in a language. In fact, her answers to the four questions could quite easily have been along the following Russian 101 lines. Such basic responses in any language are always greatly appreciated by speakers of the ‘foreign’ language, who are only too happy to praise the foreign speaker, just for making the effort.

Da. Ya znayu. (Yes, I know.)

Nyet. Eto nye nuzhno. (No. It isn’t necessary.) OR: Inogda. Da. (Sometimes. Yes.)

Konechno! (Of course!)

V sleduyushchiy raz. (‘Next Time’ – which was her instinctive first reply, in English.)

[These imaginary answers were composed with my elementary knowledge of spoken Russian, somewhere within the FSI’s Grade 1.]

So, was Dr Condoleezza Rice really fluent in the Russian language as well as being an undoubted expert in Russian and Soviet affairs? On the basis of the pieces of evidence presented above, mainly from the media, and her own diffident remarks and repeated hesitancy to speak ‘fluent’ Russian on Russian radio and TV, a reasonable estimate might place Condoleezza Rice’s proficiency in spoken Russian not much higher than Grade 1 (with a possible Grade 2 Reading ability) on the U.S. FSI scale (or its equivalent on the European Union scale). On the other hand, the impression given to the public by the barrage of media and official accolades of her ‘fluency in Russian’ (for the sophisticated needs of someone in her position) is that Rice’s proficiency was equivalent to the more demanding Grade 3 of the Foreign Service Institute scale, the one described as ‘General professional proficiency’ .

Since Dr Rice herself appears to make no claims of fluency in the Russian language, could this conundrum be the result of over-zealous Public Relations work by Dr Rice’s assistants and spin doctors?

(A later comment is available here.)

Mistranslation. 4

23 June 2008

Mistranslation, Errors in Interpreting, and the Interpreter as Scapegoat or Professional Patsy

The true nature and problems of language translation and interpretation are not widely understood by the public or even by many clients of those who practise these solitary occupations. One of the aims of this series of short articles is to help clarify this unsatisfactory situation (in particular, to illustrate the important difference between the tasks of translators and interpreters).

Although the term ‘mistranslation’ is self-explanatory, the words interpret and interpretation are in common general use in reference to the explanation of meaning, ideas and theories. For this reason, the term ‘misinterpretation’ is ambiguous and unhelpful for our present concerns. From now on, therefore, the term ‘Interpreting Errors’ will be used to describe instances of unfortunate oral conversions of one language to another (or the unamended transcripts of such conversions).

As indicated in the earlier brief blog, ‘Mistranslation 3’, reports of errors by interpreters (or, less often, translators) occur in many circumstances, but are particularly noticed in national and international settings, where they attract media headlines and strong but usually ephemeral public attention. When the interpreter is responsible for the error, this is a fair procedure – although the media and the public might do well to pause and consider the intense pressure this (necessarily) obscure professional is always under. When zealous or unscrupulous bureaucrats and PR people (at many levels, especially in the international arena) are involved, a closer look at the context of such ‘errors’ is needed before blaming the interpreter because there is increasing evidence that such institutional professonals frequently earn their money by taking advantage of the interpreter’s anonymous existence and professionally necessary inconspicuousness as a facilitator of communication between two parties. In many cases, their motive is simply to rescue their official protégé from the consequences of an unfortunate slip of the tongue or careless adlib, or to produce spin to divert responsibility from insensitive and inappropriate statements. Of even more concern, especially in international politics, is the increasing use of the clumsy tactic of unjustly blaming interpreters for something they could not possibly have said in order to replace one firmly stated (but unattractive) public position with a substantially revised one. In all of these cases, the interpreter is used as an expedient means of saving face for others.

It is worth repeating that the public, which is largely unaware of the problems and principles involved with translating and interpreting, should be aware (as the interpreter always is) that one of the interpreter’s professional duties is to remain anonymous and to act as an impersonal conduit of his client’s words. He/She is well (and sometimes painfully) aware that this professional commitment entails the risk of being blamed for anything without a right of reply. Taking advantage of this condition which interpreters accept as part of their duties,their employers sometimes abuse the relationship to further their own careers. In the high stakes of politics and diplomacy, especially in international politics and in military matters, an interpreter may be used in order to stall or buy time. Increasingly in this world of instant worldwide communication and media attention, today’s PR personnel and spin doctors have come to rely on interpreters as convenient scapegoats and sacrificial lambs for ‘interpreting errors’ which are not their fault.

Unlike errors of interpreting, examples of crucial mistranslations are not difficult to find, especially since they are almost always based on documents. Take for instance the following incident, revealed in detail by a Duke University Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Hae-Young Kim (Guardian Weekly, 15 May, 2003). In one stage of the cat-and-mouse struggle between USA and North Korea over the subject of nuclear weapons, Kim reveals that confusion was caused by the mistranslation of a Korean auxiliary verb. According to Kim, a statement by the North Korean Government was first quoted by South Korean news agency Yonhap that it had “come to have nuclear and other strong weapons” but the US TV channel CNN later quoted a South Korean official as suggesting a different [and more pugnacious] interpretation: that North Korea was “entitled to have nuclear weapons”. Kim underlines his point by adding that the situation was “the result of mistranslations from Korean into English, and stems from ideological or political motives rather than linguistic differences”. (,5500,955964,00.html)

Other grave mistranslations have been suggested as causes of the outbreak of war between USA and Japan in 1941 and the unnecessary loss of life at the 3-month battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.

Alleged interpreter errors occur most frequently in order to cover up the indiscretions or errors of those Heads of State, Presidents, and other high national representatives who are incautious (or brazen) in their public statements or whose off-the-cuff remarks are captured by the voracious international paparazzi (for example, ex-President Vladimir Putin, President Lula da Silva and ex-Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz).

In a report on the former Prime Minister of Turkey, Mesut Yilmaz, we are told:

Why does Yilmaz have to make such statements? Can’t he keep quiet for a change? Only recently he said he was being misquoted by the newspapers and thus would not speak so openly with journalists.

In Antalya he landed himself in more trouble a few days ago when he called German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, “a former friend and a current enemy”. Later Yilmaz aides tried to limit the damage by saying the prime minister was misunderstood but the TDN reporters from our Antalya office who were on the scene reported that Yilmaz had, in fact, made such a statement and that there was no misunderstanding. ( – 3 April 199eight)

During his two terms as President of Russia, Vladimir Putin built up a ‘tough man’ image, which prospered among his humiliated compatriots, anxious to recapture past glories and reputation. Part of his cultivated media image was his fearless macho character. An example was captured fortuitously and duly reported in the New York Times on 20 October 2006 by Steven Lee Myers.

President Vladimir V. Putin has a penchant for making pithy, acerbic, sometimes coarse comments. On Wednesday, a microphone inadvertently left on during a brief appearance with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel captured his views on the sex scandal involving Israel’s president.

According to journalists and officials in the room and published accounts by Agence France-Presse late Wednesday and Kommersant and The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Mr. Putin was heard saying, “Say hello to your president,” to Mr. Olmert, referring to President Moshe Katsav, who could face criminal charges that he raped and assaulted two former employees. Mr. Putin added, “He really surprised us.”

The microphone was quickly turned off as reporters were ushered from the room, but the news organizations reported that Mr. Putin went on.

“We did not know he could deal with 10 women,” he said, according to those in the room and the Post and Agence France-Presse accounts, apparently referring to the complaints by several women that Mr. Katsav harassed them or worse.

Kommersant’s version – citing the remarks in Russian – was cruder. “He turned out to be quite a powerful man,” the paper’s reporter in the official Kremlin pool, Andrei Kolesnikov, quoted Mr. Putin as saying. “He raped 10 women. I never expected it from him. He surprised all of us. We all envy him.”

To CBS News we owe the following example of then President Putin’s undiplomatic language, which was first attributed to “poor translation” [note ‘translation’ = interpreting] and then ignored by the European media, as being too embarrassing for a Head of State.

“During a post-European Union summit news conference, Putin also said Chechen rebels want to kill all non-Muslims and establish an Islamic state in Russia.
Putin became agitated Monday after a reporter from the French newspaper Le Monde questioned his troops’ use of heavy weapons against civilians in the war in Chechnya. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim.

“If you want to become an Islamic radical and have yourself circumcised, I invite you to come to Moscow,” Putin said.
“I would recommend that he who does the surgery does it so you’ll have nothing growing back, afterward,” he added. Circumcision is a tenet of Islam for all males.
Because of poor translation, Putin’s remarks were not immediately understood by either the 450 journalists present at the news conference Monday or by senior EU officials. The Russian president brought his own interpreters, and even the native Russian speakers were unable to keep pace with Putin’s rapid-fire delivery.”
(‘Cutting Comments From Putin. Russian President Makes Bizarre Circumcision Remark To Reporter’, BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 12, 2002,

The institutional “Blame the translator/interpreter” subterfuge is at its most transparent and cynical where the two versions offered have nothing in common. Here are two egregious examples.

The first example of gratuitous blame attributed to an interpreter is taken from an Associated Press bulletin issued on 17 October 2007. (

It describes a UN meeting called to consider the Syrian reaction to an air attack by Israeli warplanes on a site in northeastern Syria near the border with Turkey on 6 September 2007. The subject of the dispute is a single crucial word: nuclear.

A UN document released by the press office provided an account of a meeting Tuesday of the First Committee, Disarmament and International Security, in New York, and paraphrased an unnamed Syrian representative as saying that a nuclear facility was hit.

The U.N. document, which summarized minutes of the meeting but was not an official record, paraphrased the Syrian representative as saying “Israel was the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations’ airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the 6 July attack in Syria.” [Bold type added]


After several hours, U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said the exact words of the English interpreter were: “An entity that is the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction in the world, an entity that violates other countries’ airspace, and that takes action against nuclear facilities, including the attack on 6 July this year on a nuclear facility in my country – that entity has no right to lie, which it has done consistently.”

But after six hours, the U.N. said it was still studying whether that was the correct translation from the original Arabic words spoken by the Syrian representative.

U.N. officials in New York could not immediately be reached for comment on whether its press release had accurately paraphrased the Syrian official.

The farcical nature of this rearguard diplomatic manoeuvre was revealed six months later following lingering controversies and the release of more accurate information. David Albright and Paul Brannan’s article ‘Syria Update III: New information about Al Kibar reactor site’ announced that “Today, the United States is releasing new information which provides dramatic confirmation that the Syrian site attacked by Israel on September 6, 2007 was a nuclear reactor. The information, including images taken inside the reactor building before it was attacked, also indicates that North Korea helped to build the reactor, which resembles closely the one at the Yongbyon nuclear center in North Korea. ISIS first identified the site in a series of reports beginning October 24, 2007 and continuing on the 25th and 26th., which showed the razing of the site following Israel’s attack. Commercial satellite imagery of the site is available in these reports and subsequent ones. […]”

(Institute for Science and International Security ISISREPORT 24 April, 2008,

The second example:

On 28 November 2001, Voice of America reported on UN-sponsored talks in Bonn about the critical Afghan situation

The Northern Alliance has also opposed a multi-national force proposed by the U.N. to guarantee security in Afghanistan and protect such things as aid shipments. But Mr. Qanooni says such a force would be acceptable to the alliance if it is part of a comprehensive peace package.

On 30 November, in an article titled ‘Hopes for peace rise with new translator’, Toby Helm of the UK Telegraph reported a very curious official “correction” of an Afghan interpreter’s alleged error:

Mr Younis Qanooni, the head of the Northern Alliance delegation to talks in Bonn, restated his case as follows: “Our official stand,” he told reporters “is that once a transitional mechanism is established, and the need for international force is inevitable, we are not opposed to the arrival of an international force.”

These two statements are so different that, as reporter Helm says, “an about-turn … opened up common ground with other Afghan groups” and “the prospect of a peace deal between rival Afghan factions rose sharply yesterday after the Northern Alliance reversed its position on two key issues, blaming an interpreter for “distorting” its earlier statements.

It is abundantly clear to any reader of these crude manipulations that the interpreter had absolutely nothing to do with what was a strategic change of direction by the Northern Alliance. (But one cannot help wondering about the interpreter’s subsequent career.) (

Inside evidence that this expedient scapegoating of interpreters has become an unashamedly accepted tactic is cheerfully offered by a former White House Press Secretary for ex-President Bill Clinton, Dee Dee Myers. As an invited guest at the 1994 Conference of the American Translators Association, she cheerfully offered the following response to a question based on a quoted example of General Wesley Clark’s adroit but ephemeral deflection of a serious Kosovo war allegation by citing translation error (“a question of the use of indefinite articles and some other things in the translation itself”).

“Now, do people blame interpreters or do they spin…? Well, whatever’s going to get them out of a jam the quickest! Sometimes both, and in the case of your Wes Clark example, I think that’s the answer. On the one hand, you’ve created a situation where you’ve been pointing fingers at the Serbs, and you’re going to have to spin your way out of that, trying to figure out a way to continue to paint them as the bad guys. And you’ve obviously been caught in quite an unfortunate mistake, so you’re going to blame the interpreters—and interpreters, as all of you I’m sure know, are kind of defenseless. They really can’t step forward and say “I didn’t make a mistake” or “I repeated what the President said, he changed his mind.” When it comes to protecting yourselves, you are at the end of the food chain, and I’m sure many of you have been in circumstances where things like that have happened. Ultimately, making the official—whether it’s the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury—look good and protecting them from blame is the overriding mission. So you’re powerless against those forces that are working to protect the principle—even if he or she is at fault.”

(With acknowledgements to the translation journal Accurapid for its report on the fruitful ATA 40th Annual Conference, November 4-6, 1999, St. Louis Missouri, ‘Translators and the Media: A Public Forum to Examine the Image of Translation and Translators in the Popular Media’. See:

(to be continued)

Mistranslations and Misinterpretations 2

11 June 2008

Commercial, Medical, Legal and Scientific Consequences of Mistranslation

My earlier blog on mistranslations and misinterpretations introduced the topic of the political misunderstandings and damage which may be caused by mistranslations, or alleged mistranslations, and media involvement. More evidence will be presented on these important issues in later articles. Other serious consequences may result from mistranslations in fields like commerce and advertising, law, medicine, science and technology. In these cases, the damage caused by the errors may at times lead to litigation.

Commerce and Advertising

A commonly told but false mistranslation story asserts that the car manufacturer Chevrolet was embarrassed by the poor sales in Mexico of its model named Nova (No va = ‘It doesn’t go’, in Spanish). The vital website investigates and arbitrates on this and many other plausible and far-fetched urban legends. Nevertheless, mistranslations of product names or ‘How to Use’ instructions into other languages can cause serious commercial problems and expense, as Microsoft discovered in 1996. A furore arose in Mexico over a number of offensive definitions which had somehow survived the translating and editing processes and appeared in Microsoft’s Spanish language Thesaurus, equating, for example, indígena [native person, or (Mexican) Indian] with native, savage, and cannibal; Westerner with white, civilised; and lesbian with perverted. The outcry was so strong from the media representing Mexico’s 100 million inhabitants that the software giant was obliged to insert profuse apologies into Mexican newspapers and magazines, offering a hastily prepared update (minus the offending terms). The full page Spanish advertisement in the magazine Proceso (7 July1996) mentions terms like “serious errors”, “incorrect connotations which are offensive” and “we apologise for these errors”.

Although I cannot vouch for the following two examples, chosen as the most feasible of a somewhat mixed bunch posted on a translation website (, se non sono veri, sono ben trovati. The first I hand over to Chinese (Mandarin?) translators for checking. The second one, also in need of verification by someone who has seen the original, at least appears linguistically feasible.

“In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.” Also, in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off”.
When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word “embarazar” means “to embarrass”. Instead the ads said that, “it won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”.”

Legal aspects

On 13 November 2007, during the long-running media pursuit of the case of the missing English girl in Portugal, reporter Fiona Govan filed a report on ‘Madeleine McCann: Possible translation errors’ in the UK Telegraph. (

“Inconsistencies in the statements given by the McCanns and the group of friends who were dining with them at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance may have been caused by errors in translation, it emerged today.
Portuguese detectives investigating the case of the missing four-year-old have admitted that they are reassessing the original witness statements to look for inaccuracies in their translation.”

Evidence of the possible consequences of gross misinterpretation by unqualified court interpreters provided in an Internet forum report of an article in The Scotsman (30 October 2007).
“SCORES of convicted foreign criminals could walk free because of the appalling quality of official translators in Scottish courts, a leading linguist has warned.
Alena Linhartova, who has interpreted in Scotland for 20 years, said people were effectively being “pulled off the street” to translate in a growing number of court cases.
This has called into question the reliability of evidence and raised serious doubts about whether foreign nationals, particularly from eastern Europe, can expect a fair trial in this country.”

Misinterpretation in medical situations

An article promoting the need for more funds to employ professional interpreters in US hospitals offers an example of the potential high cost of mistranslations in medical lawsuits. The following case is alleged to have been brought by a patient. (The result of the case is not given.)

“A $71 million lawsuit against a Florida hospital began when medical staff misinterpreted a patient’s symptoms. When a patient explained that he felt nauseous (‘intoxicado’, which has several meanings), they assumed he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The patient was eventually diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and became quadriplegic.” (

Science and Technology

Almost unbelievable is the following excerpt from an account by CNN television of a 1999 Space exploration disaster caused by what appears to be a failure to translate basic English technical specifications into metrical terms. (

“WASHINGTON (AP) — Failure to convert English measures to metric values caused the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter, a spacecraft that smashed into the planet instead of reaching a safe orbit, a NASA investigation concluded Wednesday. […]
An investigation board concluded that NASA engineers failed to convert English measures of rocket thrusts to newton, a metric system measuring rocket force. One English pound of force equals 4.45 newtons. A small difference between the two values caused the spacecraft to approach Mars at too low an altitude and the craft is thought to have smashed into the planet’s atmosphere and was destroyed.”

Armand A. Gagnon, of Champollion Translations ( offers the following historical example as ‘One of the Greatest Mistranslations of all Time’:

“Back in 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli had observed the planet Mars through his modest 19th Century telescope and in his astronomy book, mentioned the “channels” (dried waterbeds) on the surface of the red planet. In his native Italian, “channels” is canali. When the wealthy Bostonian amateur astronomer Percival Lowell read a translation of Schiaparelli’s book and canali was translated as “canals” in English (implying a network on Mars created by intelligent beings), a life-on-Mars mania and madness then ensued well into the 20th Century. …”

Yet another anecdotal lesson is offered in an informative essay to prospective clients on the website of another translation agency. The context of the article is a warning about the significant (and inconvenient) errors which may result from a translator’s inadequate knowledge of the many differences (often subtle) between British and American English. The lesson would apply to translation from and into English. (Source:

“To publish any kind of household appliance manual and constantly refer to the “earth” instead of the “ground” in talking about electrical connections could lead to a product liability suit. I am aware of a lawsuit that occurred when a transformer blew up in the United States that had been manufactured in Europe, because the instruction manual had been translated in China into what the Chinese fondly believe to be English (which English, we do not know) and the instructions for attaching the surge arrestors were so poorly translated that the surge arrestors were wrongly attached and the whole device blew up, at a cost of five million dollars to the owners of the transformer.”

(to be continued)

See also: Mistranslations. Introduction

This later blog article on fluency in foreign languages may also be of interest to some readers.

Mistranslations and Misinterpretations are unfortunate but with Media assistance, volatile. Introduction.

28 April 2008

First, a clarification of a common misunderstanding (especially rife in the American media):

Translators translate written documents, usually with time to revise or correct their work before it is seen by others. Accuracy at all levels, especially those of vocabulary and style, is of prime importance. Film and video/DVD subtitlers, for example, are specialised translators who need adequate time to prepare and technically present their work, which will be seen on the screen by audiences. Furthermore, because a permanent written record of translations will be available for examination and comparison with the original written form in the source language, translation is not only a highly responsible job but needs the expensive backing of a substantial indemnity insurance policy.

Interpreters, on the other hand, offer a spoken service, performing ‘live’ (at various levels) by offering a spoken ‘translation’ from one language to another. They need, apart from a thorough knowledge of two languages at the highest level, a good speaking voice, quick wittedness and strong self-control. (This does not imply that we translators are dull-witted or even dull. The jobs are simply different and suit people with different temperaments and gifts.)

On a daily basis, on TV and radio, the voiceover comments we hear in English when (for example) a non-English-speaking politician or celebrity is being filmed for the daily (or hourly) News are usually (but not necessarily) done by an interpreter, on the spot (and often in the spotlight). Face to face interviews of any sort (including those most commonly seen on News programmes), need instant interpretation, whether in a private meeting or an international conference. For more ‘leisurely’ documentaries, subtitled or voiceover translations of interviews in a foreign language may be the result of either interpretation or translation, depending on the circumstances. (As a slightly cynical rule of thumb, the more often the English-speaking interviewer nods his or her head in the TV interview without comment in the foreign language while the foreigner is answering the media interviewer’s English question (which has been interpreted by someone else before the interviewee answers), the more likely that the segments of the foreign language will have been translated and subtitled or voice-overed by a local qualified translator or interpreter during or after the interview.)

Both of these professions are demanding, but the interpreter obviously has the more unenviable and stressful (but better paid) job, even in a medical or court assignment for a single client. It is indeed a very great responsibility to bear. When the work is at the most intense and public level (for example, in international diplomacy, in politics or in commerce), the consequences of a momentary lapse, even by a very seasoned professional, can be catastrophic, therefore the pressure and remuneration are correspondingly heavier. (In such exalted interactions, the further hazard of an interpreter (or a translator) being used as a scapegoat by unscrupulous or desperate politicians and Heads of State who have made an error or a misjudgement will be dealt with in a later essay in this series.)


For now, two international incidents resulting from unfortunate interpreting or translating lapses will highlight the worst hazards, especially in our anxious world which now has to cope with insatiable media appetites and instant international communications (not to mention the general lack of comprehension of what translation and interpreting really entail).


On 26 October, 2005, the President of Iran gave a speech at a student conference in Iran. He was reported in the English language press as having said that “Israel must be wiped off the map.” In an already tense atmosphere, international shock was deep, peace was threatened and the reverberations can still be felt from time to time when the translation is repeated. But it appears that the alarming translation was incorrect.

The Iranian journalist-author of a (balanced) biography of Ahmadinejad, Naji Kasra, takes this blood-curdling English statement and explains (p. 140) that the President’s intent could not have been genocidal because the Persian words used by Ahmadinejad (quoting from the late Ayatollah Khomeini) were “Een rejimeh eshghalgareh Quds bayad az safeyeh rouzegar mahv shavad.” The writer translates these, literally, as “This Jerusalem-occupying regime must disappear from the page(s) of time.” [Bold type added.] Kasra adds further linguistic commentary on the Persian sentence, stating that ‘shavad’ means “must become” and ‘mahv’, “the crucial word […] can mean ‘disappeared’,’obliterated’, ‘vanished’” and “that it does not uniquely imply violence.” The word (mahv), he explains, could also be used for the moon being shrouded by clouds or a man “disappearing into a thick crowd” and “does not imply action on the part of a third party”. For those reasons, Naji rejects the translation “must be wiped off” (which he says would be ‘bayad mahv kard’) and its ultra-violent associations, while admitting that the pronouncement was indeed extremely hostile.

(From: Naji, Kasra, Ahmadinejad. The Secret History of Iran’s Radical Leader, London & New York, I. B. Taurus, 2008, pp. 139-141)

ADDENDUM: For a more detailed report on the context and complex international reverberations of this mistranslation – and of its unfortunate origin at the “Islamic Republic News Agency” – see

2. (As a salutary ideological counterbalance)

Melanie Phillips, the prominent and sometimes controversial British correspondent for The Guardian, published a short report on 29 February 2008: ‘The Mother of all Mistranslations’. The subheading was ‘Israel warns of Gaza ‘holocaust’.’ The report began: “Israeli leaders are warning of an imminent conflagration in Gaza after Palestinian militants aimed rockets at the southern city of Ashkelon. The deputy defence minister said the stepped-up rocket fire would trigger what he called a ‘bigger holocaust’ in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.”

Phillips continued: “This reported remark by deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai caused widespread shock and absolute horror. For an Israeli minister to use the word ‘holocaust’ to describe a limited war of Israeli self-defence, when for Jews of all people the ‘Holocaust’ means one thing: genocide – and this at a time when the calumny of the ‘Jews as Nazis’ is rampant around the world, putting Israel and the Jewish people at risk – was simply beyond belief.”

“It was indeed without any credibility – because Vilnai never said it. It was an appalling mistranslation by Reuters, the source of the BBC story.”

Her explanation was simple: “Reuters had translated the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ as ‘holocaust’. But ‘shoah’ merely means disaster. In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance. The word ‘Hashoah’ alone means ‘the Holocaust’ and ‘retzach am’ means ‘genocide’. The well-known Hebrew construction used by Vilnai used merely means ‘bringing disaster on themselves’.”

Phillips underlined the serious consequences of such a basic translating error: “But this grotesque mistranslation has given Hamas a propaganda gift which they lost no time exploiting. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said of Vilnai’s comments: ‘We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people.’ At a time when the rockets continue to rain down on the southern Negev and Israel is being forced to contemplate stepping up its incursions into Gaza because of the truly genocidal assault upon its citizens by Hamas, such a mistranslation is more than an unfortunate slip. In the present explosive atmosphere, it can lead directly to an enormous escalation of violence by the Palestinians.”