UN to Ahmadinejad: Shut Up

by Translation Guy on October 8, 2010

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?


  1. Canon says:

    What’s with this guy?

  2. Max Robinson says:

    Ahmadinejad is doing the 9/11 movement a big favour. He’s well informed and rational too…

  3. Ben Banks says:

    In the end, this will continue to stir curiosity, only helping us. Because anyone with half a brain that dares look at ht film DOCUMENTATION, can see the anomalies, and blatent lying of the gov.

    You know, as attempts to marginalize us continue from the usual sources, it is not time to lay the stigma back on them, and rightfully so. We need to make darn sure that those that believe the official story of 9-11-01 are regarded as the fools that they are. We have been diplomatic. We will remain peaceful, but we need to state without hesitation, that anyone that believes the official story of that day is OBLIVIOUS! Maybe they will bother looking if their egos are threatened. Obviously, their egos, are what they most concerned with preserving. Carrying the stigma of knowing and believing as we do, is avoided. Time to state clearly: ANYONE WHO BUYS THE OFFICIAL STORY IS AN OBLIVIOUS FOOL.

    Of course, use your creativity to say it in what ever way suits your style. I’ve actually found ways of saying it without outright calling the asses, asses. But, they should have realized they were subtly being called a fool.

    I go around to several different blogs and engage in conversation, (non 911 sites). I would hope we all do. Yeah, they call us names, but so what.

  4. He is a douche

  5. Leon Bender says:

    What’s Inexcusable is the way Philip Zelekow ramshodded the 9/11 Commission not allowing the commissioners subpoena power and ommitting key witnesses like the 118 first responders that heard explosions.

    What’s inexcusable is NIST not looking for explosives in their investigation.

    What’s inexcusable is the way the MSM has treated the 9/11 Truth Movement and ignored important evidence that conclusively points to some kind of high tech explosives destroying the twin towers and Building 7

    What’s inexcusable is the 9/11 Commission Report completely leaving out the destruction of Building 7

    What’s inexusable is the way the government treated those family members that lost loved ones and who couldn’t get 75% of their questions answered from those investigating 9/11.

    What’s most inexcusable is that the non-investigation of 9/11 still caused two wars to happen killing thousands of our military and over a million innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    What kind of excuse do you have now Obama and don’t feed me that BS about 19 muslims with boxcutters and a leader living in a cave.

  6. Barack Obama on the words of this guy: “It was offensive. It was hateful”

  7. Jacob Moore says:

    Seems that you touched a nerve with some Americans here Ken 😉

    • Ken says:

      They’re a nervy bunch, Jacob

  8. Eugenia says:

    As you probably know, if a delegation wants to speak in a language other than one of the six official UN languages, it is up to that delegation to supply an interpreter. If they cannot, for whatever reason, they supply an English text instead and a “pointer”, a person who points to the English text during the delivery of the speech, so that an interpreter who doesn’t know the speaker’s language can read the English and keep pace. This means, naturally, that if the speaker goes off script, there’s no one in the booth to interpret the live text. This fiasco, that you are misguidedly blaming on the UN and its interpreters, is of the delegation’s own making. The speech was not *interpreted* to the extent that the prepared speech, of which a written translation was provided in advance, was not read. As a side note, given your background and the subject matter of this blog, I’m surprised to see you using the terms “interpretation” and “translation” interchangeably.

    • Ken says:

      I did not, and I don’t.

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