Arguing Translations

Here’s as simple a graph as it gets:

                                                Khamenei’s Speech

                    Translation A                                       Translation B

Let’s pretend Khamenei gave a speech (we’ll call it Khamenei’s speech). Let’s pretend his speech was translated in two different ways (we’ll call those Translation A and Translation B).

There is just one way to figure out which translation is the correct one: we go to Khamenei’s speech. The only people who can help us in this are those who speak the same language as that used in the speech. In this case, that language is Persian. Thus, only Persian speakers can figure out for us which translation is the more accurate rendition of Khamenei’s speech.

Let’s pretend there’s a group of non-Persian speakers. Let’s pretend that this group heard Translation A first and now believes Translation A is the correct one. The only way they can do so is on the basis of a translation and authority of the translator. They cannot turn to Khamenei’s speech to determine the accuracy of Translation A as against Translation B. They do not speak or read Persian.

Let’s pretend there’s also Persian speakers who believe Translation A is incorrect (a ‘mistranslation’) and that Translation B is the more accurate version of Khamenei’s speech. Now the group of non-Persian speakers is upset. They ardently believe that Translation A is the more accurate rendition.

So the question is, on what basis? How could the group of non-Persian speakers determine whether Translation A or Translation B is more accurate without consulting Khamenei’s speech? Or, at least, without consulting a Persian speaker?

They can’t. They are stuck arguing Translation A and Translation B as if they weren’t translations at all, which brings us to the point: since the group of non-Persian speakers cannot consult Khamenei’s speech, they are left picking from Translation A and Translation B the translation they want. Making sure the translation is correct is beside the point for them, much more important is scoring points by showing just how awful and terrible the Islamic Republic is. In this way, they persist in arguing that Translation A is the correct one, and that those who advocate Translation B, even if they are Persian speakers, are just arrogant apologists for the regime in Iran.

It’s remarkable, really. Here we have a group of non-Persian speakers telling a group of Persian speakers, who can and have consulted Khamenei’s speech, what the correct translation is. On what basis, again – I haven’t a clue. But I’d suggest, before calling Persian speakers ‘arrogant’, they next time consider just what authority they have to be arguing at all.

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