Translation, it seems, is more complicated than one would think.
Say for example you have a document/ presentation/ contract/ book (as applicable), which you need to translate from English to Hebrew or vise-versa, and say you are an intelligent, well-spoken and educated person who can speak enough Hebrew/ English (as applicable) to chat, do business, watch movies and read, so much so, that you decided to translate your document/ presentation/ contract/ book (as applicable) on your own. Even though it would seem that such a decision will save you money, it might also put you in an awkward situation when you present the translation to your potential client, partner or adversary and end up costing you much much more.
Translations is more than just rendering words from one language in another language. Although it is important to translate the words in an accurate manner, it should not be at the expense of the overall meaning of the text, the words’ accurate place in the target language sentences and the cultural and social connotations hidden within the words and the text.
Following are three examples of simple mistranslations, which have changed the face of history:
- The source of the anti-semitic stereotype of Jews being horned is in a mistranslation . This is an example of a mistranslation from the bestselling and most translated book of all times. In Exodus 34:29 it says that Moses’s face was radiant, however, in the Vulgate translation of the bible to Latin from the end of the 14th century and the Catholic Church’s official translation of the bible, the word Keren, used in the Hebrew origin, which has two meanings, ray of light and horn, was translated as the latter, thus, Moses appears in Michelangelo’s famous statue with horns, as he does in additional art from the renaissance.
- Christianity’s perception of purity and of sexual relations are derived from a mistranslation. In the Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14 the Hebrew word, Alma, meaning maiden, was translated into the Greek word parthenos, which also meant maiden, but because of social connotations, it was translated into Latin as virgin, as was Matthew’s reference to Isaiah 7:14. The cultural ramifications of this very loose translation have had a profound affect on western culture and its perception of purity, and of sexual relations to this very day.
- Christian Slater = A Christian Roofer. There is really no need to go back to biblical times to find mistranslations. All you need to do is sit on the couch and watch a subtitled television series. For example, in one of the chapters in the series “The Morning After” from 2001, the translator, who was obviously not well versed in Hollywood personalities, mistranslated the sentence “I had to chase Christian Slater” into Hebrew as “I had to chase a Christian roofer”, and this mistranslation is now used as a synonym for mistranslation in Hebrew.