In Iran, the phrase marg bar Amrica ( مرگ بر آمریکا) is often chanted at rallies and seen on signs held by unhappy protesters. The phrase is most commonly translated literally as “Death to America”, but it actually means ”Down with America”. Hooman Majd, a former interpreter for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, has explained that “Death to America” is far too harsh of a translation. As Majd pointed out, Ahmadinejad also handed out potatoes in exchange for votes, after which protesters chanted ”Marg bar seeb zameeni!” They were literally saying “Death to potatoes”, but it’s pretty far fetched to assume that their intention was to kill the spuds.The above excerpt is from Jost Zetzsche’s book, Found in Translation, which mentions a myriad of instances of literal translations and interpretations gone wrong because of the fine nuances associated with cultural idioms and values.
Dear Farsi Translators and Colleagues: Respectfully, the translation of Farsi to and from English in the United-States has become questionable. Due to a lack of employment, many young individuals who are familiar with the language but do not possess adequate knowledge and skills to translate, have entered the profession. As you know, the quality of the translations and interpretations produced by these non-qualified translators would disdain one of the most important canons of the ATA Code of Ethics, that is “to convey meaning between people and cultures faithfully, accurately, and impartially”. I suggest that, if you are seriously considering working as a translator or interpreter of Farsi, please cooperate with the Farsi Language Center’s workgroup to establish a language pair at the American Translators Association (ATA). This will allow us to advocate for high quality Farsi translations and interpretations, to safeguard the Persian language, and to join the rest of the world who have already established and made their languages known by the ATA. Better yet, as ATA certification is the only widely recognized measure of competence in translation in the United-States, being certified can open doors to new business and higher compensations for us, Farsi translators and interpreters. If you have any suggestions or comments please contact me using the following email address: email@example.com
One of the most engaging accounts of a literal translation is described in Hooman Majd’s book, The Ayatollah Begs To Differ.
Computer translators may be one of the most accessible and the least expensive translation tools but they fall short when it comes to taking nuances into account if one wants to convey the exact meaning. Either by design or by error they can cause irreparable damages. Read more
During a recent visit to Iran a friend shared an interesting dilemma. She had just graduated from one of the most prestigious Universities in Tehran. While the faculty is renowned and acclaimed, and the standard for achievement is set very high, most of their textbooks were difficult to read. She specifically mentioned a textbook in Economics that was translated into Farsi. The text didn’t make sense. It was obvious that a highly technical text had been translated too literally. I remembered my own struggle as a young student in Iran and my frustration when studying textbooks that were translated.