Venice Mafia Houses Iranian Lesbian Political Refugee

Yes! It’s true!

It’s all here in this press release from Juris Lavrikovs, Information and Communications Officer of the Brussels-based ILGA-Europe (the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association):

Today the Mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, issued the following statement:

It is my firm belief to join the international campaign launched to save Pegah Emambakhsh, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning in her Country for being a lesbian, who was denied asylum by the British Government and now risks to be expelled from Great Britain in the next few days and to be sent back to Iran, where she is going to meet certain death….

In its recent past Venice has already been a refugee-town for persecuted people, and within this tradition it is ready to host the Iranian woman, at least for the first period of time: the City of Venice, in cooperation with other bodies committed to save Pegah Emambakhsh, places a secure living facility at the woman’s disposal, in one sequestered houses of the local mafia (Mala del Brenta).”

Say what you want about the mafia: If they’re willing to take in lesbian/gay political refugees, they’re OK by me.

Sadly, of course, this is nothing more than a bad translation, the kind of silly, incompetent translation I see with damnable frequency. “Approximate English,” in fact, is fast becoming the lingua franca of Europe, which means that people who speak and write correct English (and who, presumably, thus teach and translate in the same) are being priced out of the market.

[What Cacciari’s statement actually says is that Venice would “… offer safe accommodation to Emambakhsh in one of the housing units the community has reclaimed from the Mala del Brenta criminal organization.” In Italy, real estate confiscated from the mafia is sometimes turned into public housing or community space.]

The most notable issue here, though, is a great mini-lesson in what translation is … and isn’t. It isn’t merely substituting words in one language with related words in another; it’s translating the sense or spirit or intention of a text. Here, putting aside for a moment that anyone might misunderstand the meaning of a word or two, does it make the slightest logical sense that the Venice mafia would offer housing to a lesbian political refugee?

The translator needs to ask him- or herself exactly that kind of question and, in so doing, recognize when there’s a problem with a proposed translation because it simply fails to be rational.

But ILGA produces teratogenic monstrosities of this ilk rather often. If what they send out in their press releases comes from a language I don’t know (and that’s most of them), I obviously can’t judge whether the translation is accurate. I can only judge how lousy the English is, and ILGA’s English is, frequently, lousy.

Don’t think I haven’t written to Juris Lavrikovs about it. I have. And he basically told me to fuck off and die (or, as ILGA might have it, “fuck offing and dead”). He, like so many people who work in English but aren’t native speakers, is actually quite proud of the English he … uses.

Okay. It’s easy to make fun of other people’s bad English. Too easy, in fact. And it’s not like native speakers have a corner on coherent usage. All you have to do is eavesdrop on a group of American students on their summer holiday in Italy:

That museum, you know, was like, you know, so, like, weak, and they wanted, like, eight euros to get in, and Jason was all, like, ‘Oh no you di’n’t, aiighggtt?’ But I was, like, syBAM! Omigod, we’re like, in Italy, okay? I’m so totally going in. I mean, act like a squeeb much?! I so wish I never, like, you know, saw his profile on myspace.

But it’s still irritating. There’s so much crummy translated “Approximate English” out there — on web sites and menus, in tourist materials and brochures, at museums and other public monuments, in legal and commercial information intended for English-speaking foreigners … you’d think a decent translator would be rolling in dough.

But you’d be wrong.

About a month ago, I wrote to the worthies who manage Tiziano Ferro’s web site to suggest that it might be appropriate for someone who actually speaks the language to translate the English version of his web pages. (Samples: “Following the brilliant results achieved at the high school, Tiziano enrolled at the university where he attended two different Faculties” and “During the two following years he enrolled into the Sanremo Song Academy … in 1998 he succeeded in getting one of the 12 finalists.”)

After a long delay, the extremely gallant Fabio Scroccaro, General Manager of World Wide Mind, Ferro’s web service (which is located, naturally, in Milano), wrote me this snotty reply:

Obviously your proposal has failed to arouse the slightest interest.

Expecting someone to respond to a proposal that no one ever asked you for demonstrates alarming rudeness.

Do not write to us again.

Of course I didn’t write again, but I can’t help but be curious: The finalist that Tiziano got in 1998 … was he one of the really cute ones?



Please sign my petition, Professional Standards for Written Translations in English


Posted on 28 August 2007, in Crimes Against Translation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. >Oh, but you should have figured out that Rusty Iron(ically) has big problems with the Italian language, as well. Look at the lyrics of one of his most famous songs, taken from his website (does “Non melo so spiegare” mean “I can figure out an appletree not”?) 🙂 together with my personal translation in Ferrisci Englisci, an English the Great Poet of Italian Pop Music would surely appreciate. Un po’ mi manca l’aria che tiravaO semplicemente la tua bianca schiena..nananana Do I miss a bit of the air you sniffed, or just yourwhite back ?.. dwarfie-dwarfieeeeeeeeeeeee [Many scholars believe this reflects a nostalgic recollection of the days when Tiziano used to cut coke on his girlfriend’s back. She was not very tall, and he was quite rude. Words may cut as deeply as Wilkinson’s swords.] E quell’orologio non giravaStava fermo sempre da mattina a sera.Come me lui ti fissavaIo non piango mai per teNon farò niente di simileeeeeeeeeee…nononono And that clock did not turn. It was always stopped frommorning to evening. Like me it stared at youI never cry for youI’ll never do antything like thaaaattt… ninth-niiiiiiiiiinth [It is common knowledge that the use of coke sometimes alters the perception of time, and he sat there and stared for hours. Still, he promises he won’t use drugs, not anymore.] Si, lo ammetto, un po’ ti pensoMa mi scansoNon mi tocchi piùuuuuuuuu Yep, I admit it, I sometimes think of youBut I move a little sideways soYou can’t touch me anymoreeeeeeeeeeee [After-effect paranoia: he thinks about her, but he doesn’t want to be touched; many critics believe this is a germ-o-phobic phase; many will remember the maphiophobia phase, when Ferro didn’t want to sing in Palermo because he was afraid of being killed by the Cosa Nostra.] Solo che pensavo a quanto è inutile farneticareE credere di stare bene quando è inverno e te!Togli le tue mani caldeNon mi abbracci e mi ripeti che son grande,mi ricordi che rivivo in tante cose…nananana But I found myself thinkingit’s pointless to talk nonsense, believing all is wellwhen it’s winter and you!You remove your warm hands, you don’t embrace me, you tell me again that I’m big and remind me that I live again in many things… dwarfie-dwarfie [The true climax: the singer evokes his mother here, and an unresolved problem during the weaning phase. He sees his mother in the girl; she notices it and refuses to give him her breast. The last line reveals that she was not very tall.] Case, libri, auto, viaggi, fogli di giornaleChe anche se non valgo niente perlomeno a te!Ti permetto di sognare Houses, books, car, travel, sheets of newspaperThat even if I’m not worth anything at least to you!I’ll let you dream [His house is a mess, and so his life. He feels he’s a total creep and impotent, but he hopes she may somehow believe otherwise. Many critics see here a girl met in a chatroom. When she insisted on knowing what he looked like, he sent her a photo of famous actor Rocco Siffredi.] E se hai voglia, di lasciarti camminareScusa, sai, non ti vorrei mai disturbareMa vuoi dirmi come questo può finire? And should you feel like itI can walk on your bodyForgive me, I wouldn’t want to be any troubleBut tell me, how is this going to end? [The relationship devolves into sado-masochism. He walks on her belly wearing high heels in response to feeling sexually inedequate.] Non melo so spiegareIo non me lo so spiegare I can figure out an appletree not!!I can’t not figuren’t out not an appletree nooooot! [A return to nature, as suggested by Ph.D A. Mulinobianco Barilla] La notte fonda e la luna pienaCi offrivano da dono solo l’atmosferaMa l’amavo e l’amo ancoraOgni dettaglio è aria che mi mancaE se sto così..sarà la primavera.. The deep night and the full moon offered us only the gift of the atmosphereBut I loved it and I still doEvery detail is like missing air to me and if I feel thisway.. is it the spring? [A possible reference to allergic asthma, and a possible explication and/or excuse for the singer’s horrible voice, before he discovered he could hide the errors by using appropriate software] Ma non regge più la scusa…But the excuse can’t hold anymore… [in fact, nobody believed that excuse. He just can’t sing.] Case, libri, auto, viaggi, fogli di giornale…

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