Can you find something in translation?

I’m no stranger to the phrase “lost in translation”. One of my all-time favorite movies is “Lost in Translation”.  I also really loved the recent “Hockey is Not Lost in Translation” article in the Washington Times. And I’ve done enough translations in my life to realize that translating is just as much an art as a science. The translator has to find a magical balance in providing a proper corresponding definition for the words and phrases while simultaneously communicating their meaning in the given context. Sometimes this can be about as easy as sewing farts to moonbeams. Lean too heavily on the side of a technically correct translation while sacrificing context and the end result can range from merely mind-numbingly boring to utterly incomprehensible. Stray too far from the facts for the sake of style and the work runs the risk of becoming a piece of fiction rather than a translation. Yet sometimes, every so often, the translation can be spot-on in both categories, yet a certain percentage of the readers will still misunderstand it. Have you guessed where I’m going with this?

I have to shake my head every time I read somewhere that Alexander Semin “dissed” Sidney Crosby in “the” interview, or that he had said something so “controversial” as to inflame the rivalry between the Capitals and the Penguins. Right after the interview was first published, I translated the original Russian article myself to see if there were any issues with the published English translation. I found no problems with it, other than on a purely stylistic note I would have substituted the word “lumbering” for “deadwood”. I didn’t see any controversy in any of Semin’s statements, rather him simply giving his opinion of his favorite player and style of play. As a matter of fact, the author and translator of the original article, Dmitry Chesnokov, explained in a follow-up article just a few days after the initial interview:

“Sasha was accused of tactlessness. But if you carefully read the words of the Washington forward in that quote, which is given to you here in its original form, – is there really any attack on Sidney? All that was discussed was the style of play of different hockey players, and Semin likes Kane better than Crosby. Is that a crime? Some people like bananas, some like pears. It’s all a matter of taste.”

Semin himself expressed this point of view in a recent interview (emphasis added):

Do you wish, however, that this incident had just never happened?

“It happened because the correspondents created some type of intrigue. If I had truly said those things which were written, then I would confirm “yes, these were my words.” But if I never said it…”

So are you confirming it or not?

“I didn’t say it like that, I said it differently. As for how it was translated, I can’t be responsible.”

How did you say it?

“I would never have said that Crosby is a bad player. I simply meant that some people prefer the style of play of Crosby, but I prefer the style of Patrick Kane. That’s it, nothing more. And really, let’s just forget about this incident.”

As I already said, Dmitry’s translation was absolutely correct, yet a great many (but not all) readers interpreted it totally differently than the way it was intended. And I can certainly understand Semin’s predicament– he gave an interview and next thing you know people are accusing him of saying things that he didn’t say. But as he himself says, it was not so much what he said as how he said it, and that is what was misunderstood. It didn’t help matters that Semin’s defenders jumped on the “translation error” bandwagon. While certainly understandable and done with the best of intentions, the consequence of that tactic was that it bolstered the opinion that something injurious had actually been printed. So why, you might ask, did so many people interpret the statements differently? Well theoretical linguists have been debating just such topics for decades, so don’t expect an answer from me on that. But the fact remains that, like it or not, it is the prerogative of a reader to interpret what they read in any way they see fit. So could or should Dmitry have somehow changed Semin’s words to more accurately reflect what he meant? I don’t believe he could have or should have. He couldn’t have because he and Semin were of the same understanding, as seen by their quotes above. And he shouldn’t have because he would have then been putting words in Semin’s mouth.

My sole purpose in this little diatribe is to provide a translator’s point of view on the matter. All too often the translator is thought of as a nebulous “them” and is the easiest target to aim at. Of course criticism should be expected in any job, but in this particular matter I don’t believe the criticism was warranted. It truly was a non-issue. And Semin is right, it is now time to forget about it and move on.

oh and p.s.– I don’t even think you can consider the “lumbering” (aka “deadwood”) comment as disparaging, as in another interview he used those exact same words to describe how his father played, and he was talking about what a great player his father was.

14 Comments

  • NoVA says:

    Did you consider the other possibility? That the author twisted Semin’s quotes to make them sound more forceful? This happens often in Russian press, especially of the yellow kind. Someone may say something like “Well, I don’t know if I like this guy or not but — uh — I don’t know” and the reporter will write “You know, I really don’t think I like this guy”. And voila – a controversy!

  • admin says:

    Of course without being there I can’t say for sure what happened. What I can say, however, is that I didn’t read anything in the original quote, as published, that was controversial. I read and understood it just as an opinion being stated– of course for some people just stating an opinion is controversial.

  • NoVA says:

    Yeah none of us can say for sure. You are right, the translation is spot on. But how spot on are the original words? Especially if you consider that Semin calls out reporters. Not stupid readers, reporters. And this particular reporter caught my eye last year with this article. http://www.sovsport.ru/gazeta/article-item/289651
    It’s Game 7 vs Philly. Read the Semin interview and tell me if there is something wrong there. I was effin thunderstruck when I read it.

  • Credible says:

    NoVa, way to go to attack credibility, when the Caps, Sports Illustrated, TSN and others use his work.

    Read this: http://onfrozenblog.com/2008/11/12/dmitry.html

  • NoVA says:

    admin, you have deleted my comment from yesterday? Was there anything wrong with it?

    • admin says:

      NoVa, please check your email for my response. I will post here as a followup in case you don’t get my email, and also so everyone will also be aware of the difference between posting a personal opinion and making a statement of fact (without specifically stating that it is an opinion). Opinions of all types are welcome and encouraged -even controversial ones- but making a controversial accusation without specifically making clear that it is an opinion makes it appear as a statement of fact, and this can possibly cross the line to libel. If I allow potentially libelous posts, then it could be construed that I, as the owner of this site, agree with these facts– and I don’t know enough about this situation to make any statements other than those I posted above. Again, opinions of every stripe are welcome but please make sure you clarify it as opinion (especially if it is a controversial statement). Thanks everyone.
      Tuvan Hillbilly

  • Puddin_An_Semin says:

    Tuvan all I want to say is thank you. I have been saying this for months, the way the original article was presented on Puckdaddy’s blog was never a slam against Crosby or any player in particular, at least that’s how I continue to interpret it myself. In fact I wouldn’t even say he was stating that Kane was his favorite player specifically. Instead I saw it as Semin stating his opinion on style of play and specifically player styles that he prefers. The fact that people have turned it into some huge thing is ridiculous to me. What if instead Semin made a statement of opinion that he didn’t understand why people like milk chocolate, that it was a cheap imitation of the real thing….dark chocolate? come on people use your heads, it’s actually turned into mass hysteria! lol

    and I continue to find it amazing that there are some in the online community that have a grudge against two of the russian based journalist that cover the caps, I mean you should be reading every article both online and in print with a critical eye, no matter what the topic, just don’t get why we have to tar and feather them….just don’t read their stuff!

  • NoVA says:

    I am sorry, TH, I guess you are right.
    OK, so here is my opinion (underlined): it seems pretty clear to me that the reporter in question made up at least one answer by Semin in the interview after the Philly game. It should be obvious to anyone.
    In the article the reporter mentions how Semin was pushed into the goalie and Semin goes on to describe it: “I was clearly pushed into the goalie”. Well, if you consider that it was Morisonn and not Semin (26, not 28) who got pushed into the goalie, it makes the response by Semin very interesting to say the least. Either the response is entirely made up or Semin is crazier that we think. Mistaking 26 for 28 is an honest error. But putting words into Semin’s mouth is not. So the question is if this reporter put words into Semin’s mouth in the past, why should me assume he isn’t doing it now?

  • NoVA says:

    Puddin_An_Semin, I don’t have any grudges against any journalists. Like I said in the post that was deleted, I root for the Caps not for the reporters. I am interested in what is written, not in who writes it. But if a reporter lies to me, I will make sure to remember his name. It’s a “full me twice shame on me situation” and nothing else.

  • Credible says:

    NoVa, I don’t buy it. Neither do thousands of people, I am sure.

  • NoVA says:

    OK. But what is your version, then? Why did Semin tell him how he was pushed into Huet? How can you interpret this quote in another way? I would love to be proven wrong because it would totally restore my belief in Russian journalism.

  • Credible says:

    A typo. Editor’s error after shrinking the text. Here are two scenarios.

  • NoVA says:

    Now I am the one who is not buying. In the article the journalist describes how Semin was pushed into the goalie. After the game he says to Semin: The Philly player pushed you into your own goaltender.
    Semin replies: Did you see the refereeing? It was worse than in Russia. Completely biased! I don’t understand why. I was clearly pushed into my goaltender.
    How many typos and editor’s errors is that? Three? Seems pretty blatant. I understand mistaking Morrisonn for Semin in the original article, but for the interview there is no believable explanation.
    The owner of this site does Russian translations, he can back me up if you don’t believe me.

  • NoVA says:

    Correction: there is no mention of Semin in the game report. It’s all pretty much ravings about “fat pig” Koharski and his “disgusting behavior”. But that doesn’t excuse the interview.

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