A question of translation

Sunday, November 26, 2006
This is really interesting.

I was looking at Pajamas Media, which had a story about Augusto Pinochet releasing a statement on this 91st birthday. Here's the important paragraph, as PJM ran it originally:
“Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbor no rancor against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all and that I take political responsibility for everything that was done which had no other goal than making Chile greater and avoiding its disintegration.” (Yahoo AP)
Emphasis theirs, by the way.

When I read it, it rang false. My Spanish isn't really strong, even though it's arguably one of my native languages, because I really pretty much stopped speaking it when I was about nine. But "fatherland" seemed weird, and I didn't get the bold face --- it seemed unlikely that a statement being read would have typographical emphasis. And then there's "fatherland." The usual word in Spanish would be something like "patria".

So, seeing as I know the CEO of PJM, I wrote Roger a note; he passed it on to the Santa Monica editor, who changed the story, striking the bold face and replacing it with normal face (and doing so with a strikeout and correction; would that the Times would be as honest.) But I still wondered about the translation; I went looking for the original.

On the way, it became clear that this was the AP translation. Here's what Reuters had:
"Today, close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancor toward anybody, that I love my country above all else," Pinochet said in the letter.
"Love my country." Maybe I'm oversensitive, but that seems to have a fairly different connotation than "fatherland." (Does anyone know of a context where "fatherland" is used in English other than as a translation of the German "Vaterland"? Am I wrong to think "fatherland" has a pretty strong connotation of fascism and Nationalsozialismus?)

So I went looking for the Spanish version (which took probably 10 minutes more than it should, because I'd somehow left Google set up to only show me results in English. But I finally figured it out.)

Here we go:

"Hoy, cerca del final de mis días, quiero manifestar que no guardo rencor a nadie y amo a mi patria por encima de todo y asumo la responsabilidad política de todo lo obrado", dijo Pinochet en la nota.
I would have translated that as "Today, near the end of my days, I want to demonstrate that I hold no rancor for anyone, and love my mother country more than anything. I assume the political responsibility for all that was done." But the key word here, the one that caught me, is "patria." Google translates it as "mother country." This makes some sense --- the root is the same as "patriot", Latin; "father." But in Spanish it's feminine, and Spanish dictionaries define it as "tierra natal", "land of birth." So while "fatherland" is certainly a legitimate translation, all in all the argument for "mother country", "homeland", or just "my country" seems better. Would one normally refer to a girl as one's father?

Now let's be real clear: I'm not accusing PJM or the PJM editor of anything. They simply ran the translation from AP. But it's interesting how the AP's translation got a connotation that I sure don't think was there in the original.

I guess it's just one more place to remind us that we have to keep an eye on anything we see in print.


loner said...

You could do a Google search on "Pinochet" or "Chile" and "fatherland" and find that patria is often translated thus. For instance, the National Anthem translation courtesy of wikipedia.org:

Pure, Chile, is your blue sky;
Pure breezes flow across you as well.
And your flower-embroidered field
Is a happy copy of Eden.
Majestic is the snow-capped mountain
That was given as a bastion by the Lord
That was given as a bastion by the Lord,
And the sea that quietly washes your shores
Promises you future splendor
And the sea that quietly washes your shores
Promises you future splendor.


Sweet fatherland, accept the vows
That were given by Chile at your altars:
Either you be the tomb of the free
Or the refuge against oppression
Either you be the tomb of the free
Or the refuge against oppression
Either you be the grave of the free
Or the refuge against oppression
Or the refuge against oppression
Or the refuge against oppression.

No idea why the bold.

Seneca the Younger said...

As I said, it's not *wrong* strictly... and I hate to be in the position of defending a caudillo. It just seemed like it had more implications than what Pinochet wrote.

chuck said...

If the national anthem is translated that way, it probably means that the Nazi connotation that a naive reader like myself would get from the word is incorrect. Languages and culture don't map one to one and the job of the translater is to render the meaning, so perhaps a different word would have served better. Fatherland certainly seems to have misled whoever bolded the original, a person no doubt as ignorant as myself.

Skookumchuk said...

"Motherland" if anything. I simply don't see how the Spanish "patria" - la patria at that - could ever be translated as "fatherland." In any Romance language for that matter.

Example by analogy. I see from Wikipedia and elsewhere that they use "fatherland" for "patrie" in several translations of La Marseillaise. But the official website of the Elysee Palace translates it thus:

Arise you children of our Motherland !
Oh now is here our glorious day !

Much better.

Yes, we do have to check everything we read.

Though seeing the Chilean army in their feldgrau greatcoats and Germanic helmets guarding La Moneda Palace in Santiago might be enough to cause a translator's pen to slip... (I think that in the 19th century while the Poms were building their navy, the Jerrys were teaching them all about armies)

loner said...

Fatherland and Motherland from wikipedia.org. Usage is what it is. I don't have any examples in literature or movies at hand, but I remember being surprised—sometime in the early '70s—at the use of the designation elsewhere than in Germany so it was almost undoubtedly in reference to Chile and the newspapers of the day that this came up seeing what was going on there then and is still being referenced today. Back then there were still editors and fact-checkers who had the time to do, if they chose, a competent job, which doesn't mean that it wasn't also translated as "Motherland" or changed to the neutral "country" or "homeland" by the same editors and fact-checkers depending on the kind of day they were having, etc. No doubt was. Some edge left still in that particular word.

My bold.