Monday, June 18, 2007

It Loses Something in Translation

It's an interesting problem for a translator. It's an interesting problem for a journalist.

I was listening to NPR on the way home. They were doing a story on brick kilns in China that kidnapped laborers and worked below the radar as far as government regulations go. One farmer described how the polluted smoke would roll down the hillside from the kiln to his farm. He exclaimed, in the words of the translator:

"These companies, they have money and connections, they can pollute as much as they want. We don't have money or connections, and we get in trouble for polluting if we so much as break wind."

I found myself wondering if the term the farmer had used in Chinese was more equivalent to the very polite and somewhat picturesque "break wind" or if what he actually said was more along the lines of something coarse like "farted."

Now, it *really* doesn't matter. But it got me thinking. If the man had been speaking English, and had said "farted," would they have used the quip? It's not a bad word, but it's somewhat crude. And the tone of journalism on NPR is pretty high-brow (though I'm occasionally irritated by grammatical mistakes in their coverage).

If he's said it in English, and they *couldn't* use it, would they have paraphrased? Voiced over? What? Perhaps the person they were interviewing used a more polite term. Though I thought I heard a guffaw of the"Oh no he didn't" sort in the background. But since they had the opportunity to choose the English they would use, and didn't have to use someone's actual English words...

I'm just curious about how NPR handles/handled that. As a person interested in the problems of translation.

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