Monday, December 2, 2013

Lost in translation--accidentally on purpose

Medieval boy bishop. From Full Homely Divinity.
One of the happy bloggers (including James Pethokoukis) who spent the weekend trying to prove that Pope Francis didn't attack "trickle-down" economic theory in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium was Phil Lawler at CatholicCulture, who used Google Translate (!) to show that the Vatican-authorized English version of ¶54,
54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world...
was not what Francis meant, but an erroneous translation of the Spanish original

54. En este contexto, algunos todavía defienden las teorías del «derrame», que suponen que todo crecimiento económico, favorecido por la libertad de mercado, logra provocar por sí mismo mayor equidad e inclusión social en el mundo.
I'm not going to bother here with explaining the linguistics of why Lawler and the others are wrong and the translation is OK, if not elegant—that should be done by a Catholic and has been, really beautifully, by Sam Rocha at Patheos. Other than to note for the record that most people think Google Translate is not quite as good as a human professional. But I'd like to call attention to a nasty-paranoid little side-remark by Lawler:
(In passing let me ask rhetorically why the translation errors always seem to tilt in the same ideological direction. Almost makes you think they aren’t really “errors.”)
It's funny, because while this "error" was bogus, at least one serious error has been found in an official translation of Evangelii Gaudium, and it makes the text tilt in an anti-egalitarian direction. It's in the Polish version (a language for which the Vatican can find fewer editorial eyes than it can for English) and involves a passage from ¶31:
The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths.
That last sentence reads, in the Pope's original Spanish, rather more elaborately, focusing on the sense in which the congregation is a partner with the bishop, enabled to lead him:
en ocasiones deberá caminar detrás del pueblo para ayudar a los rezagados y, sobre todo, porque el rebaño mismo tiene su olfato para encontrar nuevos caminos.
sometimes he will have to walk behind the people to help stragglers and, above all, because the flock itself has its own nose for smelling out new paths. (my translation)
According to the Polish theologian Piotr Sałaga,  the Polish version turns this around to make the bishop the one with the nose: in Father Sałaga's back-translation from Polish to Italian,
in alcune circostanze dovrà camminare dietro al popolo, per aiutare coloro che sono rimasti indietro, perché è il pastore del suo gregge e il suo (del vescovo!) olfatto gli permette di individuare nuove strade
in some circumstances he will have to walk behind the people, to help those who have remained behind, because he is the shepherd of his flock and his (i.e., the bishop's!) sense of smell allows him to pick out new paths. (my translation)
This inversion of the Pope's profoundly democratic message into traditional dumbass authoritarianism is, as Sałaga says, "not a simple error of translation." Nor, for that matter, is the way the idea is neutered in the English text. Somebody doesn't want Polish flocks or American shepherds to know what Francis has in mind.
Hermann von Buxhoeveden, Bishop of Dorpat/Tartu (1163-1248), by Valdemar Miniatures.

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