Sunday, September 17, 2006

(Mis-)translating the Pope

One difficulty with interpreting the Pope's statements about his Regensburg lecture in recent days has been the fact that the Pontiff has spoken in languages other than English, including German and Italian. His statements in these tongues have then been translated into English for the world's media - not always successfully. Sometimes it's even possible to reflect that the mistranslations are deliberate.

One example has occurred today, with the Pope's use of the Italian word rammaricato, which means "saddened", or "afflicted with sadness" (the word denotes a mixture of disappointment and regret). In his sermon this morning, the Pope said:

Sono vivamente rammaricato per le reazioni suscitate da un breve passo del mio discorso all'Universita di Ratisbona, ritenuto offensivo per la sensibilita dei credenti musulmani.


Which translates as: "I am actively saddened by the reactions provoked by a brief passage in my lecture at the University of Regensburg, which has been deemed offensive by the sensibility of Moslem believers."

Many agencies, including Reuters, are translating vivamente rammaricato as "deeply sorry" - thus suggesting an apology, which is not in fact in the Pope's words.

Yesterday, Benedict's use of the German word best├╝rzt was causing similar problems - many agencies used the word "upset" to translate this, when it would have been better to use "shocked" or "taken aback" as the English equivalent.

Bedauern, another German verb used by the Pope, was coming across as "to be sorry", when its real meaning is actually "to regret".

And so on. The shades of meaning may seem trivial, but they do affect the way in which the recent crisis has developed in the media.
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