Interpreting Without a Prayer

by Translation Guy on March 15, 2013

Cant or Creed at the BBC?

The BBC’s Italian interpreter covering the election of the new Pope was unable to correctly translate the Lord’s Prayer into English. Catholic viewers were shocked when the papal interpreter mangled the simple prayer offered by the new Pope Francis in Italian.

Francis has promised to be prayerful, so the BBC can expect further challenges.

The Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the most important prayer in Christianity, sometimes known as the Our Father and in Latin as Pater Noster, and is probably one of the most commonly spoken prayers of all mankind.

Catholics will not that he  did even worse on the Hail Mary, (another prayer Catholics are always saying too).

Thanks to my own endless years of catechistic instruction, when we sent out interpreters for the election of Benedict, I insisted that they were up on their liturgical stuff.

I mean it’s the Catholic Church. It’s going to come up.

But that’s so old school. Who’s going to give that a thought in godless Britain? I’ll suspect it isn’t even a cognitive category for 95% of all those swinging BBC producers with their jet-set lifestyle. Religion just isn’t a part of their lives anymore, so not so surprising that a producer would overlook this sort of cultural sensitivity. Or maybe it’s an anti-papist thing. Remember Guy Fawkes.

Whatever it is, it is just the way newsrooms are. The excuse is it’s the first draft of history, and mistakes will be made. The people doing news now are a lot more sophisticated and cosmopolitan then the generations of newsmen who went before. We used to provide interpretation services to all the network news organizations before and for a few years after 9/11. It was that old foreign correspondent paradigm where a local guy was supposed to go native for two years, until he learns how to order in the local bar, and then he’s an expert. They were outsourcing their language incompetence to guys like us. That is no way to get a story.

We no longer do much news. All our AV work is his corporate or entertainment these days. News organizations are now making better able to operate outside their English comfort zone. It makes for much better reporting, despite slip-ups and prayerful misfires.

Interesting that this particular mistake has less to do with the cultural gap between Italian and English than  the cultural gap between secularist  and faithful in contemporary Western civilization.


  1. “Catholics will note”, not they will not. Proofreading is good before banging away at the unprofessionalism of journalists.

  2. Lenora says:

    Really, that is just a shameful screwup, and Italian isn’t even a rarely spoken or obscure language. If he had done it in Latin, maybe I could understand, although Latin is still taught quite widely in England, along with Greek.

  3. Lisa Vazzi says:

    My question is why a pope from Argentina in a church known for Latin, with an horde of people who had made the pilgimage to see him from all over the globe plus a world wide audience on television, choose Italian for the prayer?

  4. JO ANNE says:

    Hardly anyone in England these days could tell you that Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night as it is more commonly called, is anti-Catholic.

    • Ken says:

      At least one person got the reference, Jo Anne.

  5. Catherine says:

    I thought the pope was suppose to do these things in Latin? Otherwise what good is Latin for these days?

  6. Godless Britain? You do know there is an actual Church of England, we did create our own religion and everything?

  7. Voula says:

    Well, considering Britain is pretty solidly Protestant and has been for a few hundred years, you can forgive a little bungling when it comes to Catholic knowledge.

  8. Lynda Lemar says:

    Atheism is the fastest growing belief system, and Catholicism is one of the fast fading.

  9. Linda says:

    Couldn’t have a new pope without drama.

  10. If that is the worse screwup on the BBC, they are still streets ahead of Fox and CNN.

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