Small mistakes causing huge problems

Today, we are going to discuss an entertaining topic, concerning the most glaring mistakes made by translators and interpreters during our history. We shall mention, that knowing how to speak several languages is not the same thing as knowing how to make a good translation. In the internet you can find many cases when a wrong translation made a situation ludicrous and that will make you laughing out loud, but you won’t have fun when the situation deals with serious things. Here are some examples that show of which importance the job of translation can be.

- In 1977, Jimmy Carter at that time — President of the United States travelled to Poland, that was a visit of friendship. The State Department hired a Russian interpreter who fluently spoke Polish, but was not a highly qualified interpreter. It is not hard to imagine that the translation went wrong, the Polish public were highly surprised hearing that Mr. Carter “abandoned the United States” (in fact he said “I left the United States today to visit you”) and that he “was very happy to see Polish private parts”. The interpreter was fired and replaced by an another one who had more profound knowledge in Polish, but he didn’t spoke English. So, the situation was not solved, but mass medias of both countries have enjoyed to post many articles about it.

- From the Tudor age and until the second part of the Renaissance all painters and sculptors depicted Moses with horns on his head. St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators, studied Hebrew so he could translate the Old Testament into Latin from the original. The resulting Latin version, which became the basis for hundreds of subsequent translations, contained a famous mistake. When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai his head has “radiance” or, in Hebrew, “karan.” But Hebrew is written without the vowels, and St. Jerome had read “karan” as “keren,” or “horned.” That’s why for centuries poor Moses was horned.

- Sometimes translation errors are unintentional, and sometimes they are committed for the sake of changing the true meaning of something. In this respect the Treaty of Waitangi rests one of the most indicative in history. The Treaty was signed by the Maoris of New Zealand in 1840. In fact, this document meant the transformation of the island into a British colony. The British and Maori signed two copies of the treaty, one in English and the other in Maori. Both texts are similar, except for the most important detail. The Maori text says that the locals agree that British people will stay on the island in exchange for permanent protection from the British Empire. The English version, however, says that the Maori are subordinated to the British crown and give up their sovereignty in exchange for protection from the British Empire. So was it a trick or a mistake?

- In 2009, HSBC bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase “Assume Nothing” was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in various countries.

- In 1978, Willy Ramirez was placed in a hospital in Florida. The patient was in very serious condition, and his relatives could not explain what happened to him, since they did not know English. They told the doctors that they assumed that Ramirez had food poisoning. The medical staff, who supposedly understood Spanish and English, translated the word “poisoned” as intoxicated, which in English applies only to people who have taken an excessive dose of drugs or alcohol. Although Ramirez’ parents believed that he had gastroenteritis, in reality it was a cerebral hemorrhage. But doctors, believing that the patient drunk too much, appointed a completely wrong treatment. Because of this negligence, Ramirez suffered a paralysis of four limbs, and the hospital had to pay him 71 million USD in compensation.

Those short stories are showing the crucial importance of a qualified translation carried out by a professional interpreter. Sometimes it is absolutely a must to resort to such services. At LangPie, in our turn, we want to create a world without language barriers providing a high-tech solution available and affordable to everyone, which will rule out the possibility of the above mentioned situation. To find out more information about LangPie visit the project’s web-site and read its white paper.