Translation Troubles: Misquotes, manipulation and more

Having previously explored the curious image that people have of translation and the ways in which the translation act can bring about a lack of trust, I recently came across a perfect example of a fairly common form of manipulation that is used to give rise to these negative ideas about the profession.

As a huge football fan, a football writer and a sports translator, I love reading the masses of transfer rumours that crop up over the summer and one particular story offered an ideal illustration of the kind of issues that I’ve been looking at on my blog.

The story concerns Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, a world-renowned player who has repeatedly been linked with a move to English giants Manchester United in recent months. As any move would be of great significance to the footballing world, journalists are constantly on the lookout for the slightest change in his situation and some are willing to go to extreme lengths to get the latest scoop.

On 24 July, popular football site published an article entitled “Vidal: I’m not going to Manchester”, quoting the player as almost categorically denying any chance of a move. However, when you take a closer look at the source of the supposed quotes, it all becomes a little less clear-cut.

Context is king

In the short video above (in Italian with English subtitles), the encounter between Vidal and an Italian reporter is filmed in its entirety and this opportunity to contextualise the situation sheds a whole new light on the reports that followed.

One key point to note is the fact that the meeting takes place as Vidal is passing through Turin airport. This has an important impact on the nature and brevity of the player’s answers as he repeatedly tries to cut the ‘interview’ short and, despite remaining jovial, only provides brief, throwaway quips.

At 0:12 when Vidal tries to deflect further questions by stating that he is still on holiday, he signals his next holiday destination by saying “Parto a Alassio” [I’m going to Alassio]* and this phrase has an important link to the journalist’s key question at 0:23 when he asks: “Non vai a Manchester, vero?” [You’re not going to Manchester are you?].

Indeed, given the overall context, when asking this question the reporter is linking back to Vidal’s earlier reference to his holiday destination and produces the present tense meaning of “Are you heading to Manchester right now?” When Vidal laughingly replies “No, no”, there is no implication of his future destination in football, simply the denial that he is heading to the city at that particular moment.

This analysis offers a hugely different conclusion to the one we are provided in the resulting articles which, in addition to leaving out important contextual information, further mould the player’s words into a new meaning by attributing them to an entire phrase. In using “I’m not going to Manchester” rather than the off-hand “No, no”, the articles present a definitive image that is simply not representative of the actual response given.

Tellingly, the story and the misquote were reported on a whole host of sites, including Eurosport, FourFourTwo and those of certain tabloid newspapers. This demonstrates the kind of ‘bending of the truth’ that goes on in even large, well-established media outlets when it comes to making a story more appealing – it is clear that the quotations are entirely misappropriated in order to grab the reader’s attention.

In the comments sections of the articles there are plenty of people (quite rightly, it seems) denying the validity of the source having pieced together the genuine context of the meeting but, for the majority of readers, no issues are immediately apparent.

While the ethics of institutions that knowingly decontextualise and recontextualise information for their own gain should be questioned, the fact that this kind of sensationalism goes on is nothing new. In this instance, however, the clear use of translation as a means of burying information should provide cause for concern.

Contained within this example lies an undeniable link to problems of identity in our profession as the move between languages provides a void within which information can be added (the quote is padded out to fit the purposes of the final article) and taken away (the context of the meeting and the questions is removed).

In this situation, those without the requisite linguistic skills to fully assess the story’s validity are left on the outside feeling powerless to really know what is being offered to them. Though there is a small degree of negative backlash in the comments sections, the sites ultimately get what they want as they continue to be read unquestioned by the vast majority.

As such, the only consistent loser is translation. When doubts of this nature are raised, translation becomes a key accomplice to the apparent deception, and fears that there is something sinister going on in the passage between languages – that something is ‘lost in translation’ – are only compounded…


*Interestingly, the quotes were misrepresented in a different way in some sections of the Italian press as Vidal was quoted as saying “I’m going to Lazio” (another big club in Italy) instead of “Alassio”, sparking all sorts of crazy rumours.


3 responses to “Translation Troubles: Misquotes, manipulation and more”

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