Tuesday, August 01, 2006

No translation needed

The BBC carried this report on Iraq today: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5233660.stm

Abdul Hassan Muhammed, a 62-year-old teacher, told AP: "A big explosion slammed me four metres (12 feet) into a wall. My friends took me to one of their stores, gave me water and asked me to relax... I didn't get my pension."

I wonder if Mr. Muhammed told this to AP in English? Were those his exact words? How sacrosanct are the double quotes in today's journalism? Do they always contain verbatim speech?

I believe that if Mr. Muhammed had indeed spoken in Arabic (which, in Iraq, is as natural as is speaking English in England), and AP translated, this fact should have been mentioned. And if the language of someone who speaks English as a second or third tongue, especially someone who just escaped with his life, isn't grammatically polished enough for the newspaper or TV station - then just use a reported speech summary.

In any case, one may assume that he didn't convert the four metres into
twelve feet whilst speaking to the reporter. Or maybe he did - perhaps he is a stickler for accuracy. But then he got it wrong - it's actually 13.1232 feet.

So in Arabic he actually fell a foot shorter than in English!

That reminds me of a packet of South African instant soup a houseguest once left behind. I chanced upon it on a winter's evening and decided to give it a shot. The instructions were in English and what I presume was Afrikaans (the script was the same, but the words sounded very Dutch). In English it said, "...and boil for 15 mins.".
The equivalent numeral (the only numeral) in the other language was 10.

As far as powdered soup is concerned, this is trivial. In the realms of explosives and journalism - this could cost lives, or worse - the truth, or both.

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