Translators’ Hall of Shame: Chapter 2

Translators’ Hall of Shame: Chapter 2

by Translation Guy on May 18, 2016
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Politics, religion and translation, oh no!! This month’s spotlight on translation tribulations proves that this kind of threesome makes for strange bedfellows. Some recent translation controversy:

“Creationist” Paper Retracted Due to Faulty Editing

It turns out God isn’t so welcome in science. A scientific paper authored by a Chinese team and published in peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE lit a firestorm of controversy by using phrases like “the proper design by the Creator” and “the mystery of the Creator’s invention.” Some denounced the creationist language as unacceptable in a scientific paper, while others denounced the journal’s peer review process. The authors apologized and reminded everyone that they are non-native English speakers, while the biologist Andrew David Thaler publicly stated that he believes the awkward language to be an unfortunate result of translating a Chinese idiom. Whatever the reason for the odd choice of language though, the journal retracted the article as work that “cannot be relied upon.”

Katy Perry to Buy Sexy Convent with the Help of a Translation Error?

Pop star Katy Perry wants to purchase a beautiful former Roman Catholic convent from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for $19 million. Not so fast though, as the Archdiocese and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary disagree as to who has the rights to sell the property. A judge invalidated the nuns’ $20.3-million sale of the convent to a restaurant owner, but according to the nuns this was based on an inaccurate translation of a Vatican decree. The Vatican is still looking into the matter of who has the rights to the convent. A June court hearing is scheduled, and so the saga continues.

Translations Under Fire in the New Zealand Flag Vote

If you think a translation is being used as a political tool, but it fails anyway, does it still matter? New Zealand recently held a referendum asking voters to vote for the flag they would most like to represent their nation. The contenders were the New Zealand flag adopted in 1902 featuring the UK’s Union Jack in the left corner on a dark blue background and four red stars representing the Southern Cross constellation, and a new design featuring a black background in the left corner, a prominent white fern frond, and a blue background also hugging four red stars. However, the wordings of the Hindi and Russian translations were called out as subtly favoring the referendum’s pro-change camp. Some considered them intentional and called for votes to be nullified, but in the end, New Zealand’s citizens voted to keep flying their old flag anyway.

What about you? Have you seen any translation controversies lately? Let me know in the comments.

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