Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
UN to Ahmadinejad: Shut Up
October 8, 2010 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - 10 comments

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech has become a regular feature of the first furious week of each year’s session. This year, protesters were camped in front of the UN for weeks in anticipation of Ahmadinejad’s next string of offensive remarks, and the US mission had a release expressing outrage ready to go within minutes of the conclusion of his speech.

But a lot of Ahmadinejad’s speech never made it into English, apparently. In what has to be one of the most spectacular translation fails in UN history, much of the speech was not even translated.

A few minutes into the speech, Ahmadinejad interrupted his speech to say, “There’s no translation.” It took about two minutes for the interpreting team to start broadcasting the translation to the half-empty chamber, which in the world of simultaneous interpretation is a dog’s age. In my experience, two minutes of silence from a translation booth is plenty of time to start firing people.

Something was obviously going on up in the interpreting room because, a few minutes later in the speech, the interpreters addressed the assembly directly, stating that they were reading from a written text translated into English. And then the translation stopped. Just stopped. So now only Ahmadinejad and Farsi speakers attending the speech know what the Iranian President actually said.

Had the interpreters been instructed to stick to a script that Ahmadinejad had tossed to the arc of his rhetoric? Believe it or not, that is best practice for trouble-free simultaneous interpretation, and the usual practice for the serious posturing practiced here in Turtle Bay. But great leaders come with great egos, and the sound of their own voice often leads them to flights of rhetoric beyond the teleprompter, leaving linguists scrambling to catch up. But that’s just another day in the interpreter’s booth―nothing that the UN team of interpreters can’t handle.

This is exactly what happened last year when Libyan leader Omar Khadafy’s interpreter shouted into his microphone, “I just can’t take it anymore.” But this guy was no UN interpreter, just someone Khadafy had brought with him. Afterwards, the UN’s Arabic section chief, Rasha Ajalyaqeen, took over and finished up.

Granted, Farsi isn’t an official UN language, so resources are more limited, but it is very strange that the plug was pulled mid-way through. I wish I had been in the booth. (If you were, call me.)

The article UN to Ahmadinejad: Shut Up was originally posted on Technorati on October 05, 2010 by featured Technorati author, Ken Clark.

The following day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “I strongly condemn the comments made yesterday by a leader of a delegation that called into question the cause of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil. It is unacceptable for the platform of the General Assembly of the United Nations to be misused in this way.”

Perhaps it was the Secretary-General himself who tripped over the plug that kept the Ahmadinejad feed live?

LiveZilla Live Chat Software