Tuesday, February 7, 2017

More Week: More Epic Mistranslations


Response to the Potsdam Declaration

The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement that called for the surrender of all Japanese armed forces during World War II.

On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S. Truman, United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China Chiang Kai-shek issued the Potsdam Declaration, aka the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender. It was a statement that called for the surrender of all Japanese armed forces during World War II as agreed at the Potsdam Conference, the ultimatum stating that, if Japan did not surrender, it would face "prompt and utter destruction."

Winston Churchill (L), Harry S. Truman (C) and Joseph Stalin (R) at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945. The Potsdam Declaration, which outlined the terms of surrender for Japan during World War II in Asia, was issued on July 26, 1945.

Although the Japanese Government did not disclose the ultimatum to the Japanese populace, the declaration was broadcast by American radio picked up in Japan and American bombers dropped leaflets. The result was that most of the Japanese population knew of it.

Japan did not officially respond to the Allies but at a press conference where reporters had been bugging for an answer, the Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki gave a response of “mokutsatsu”, meaning the equivalent of “No comment, we’re still thinking about it.”

However, in the Japanese language the word can also mean “We’re ignoring it with contempt.” Sort of like “I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

Although it is clear that the word was intended in the former sense, it was translated for the Americans in the latter sense, who responded by nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki 10 days later.

Treaty of Waitangi

In 1840, the British government made a deal with the Maori chiefs in New Zealand. The Maori wanted protection from marauding convicts, sailors, and traders running roughshod through their villages, and the British wanted to expand their colonial holdings. The Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up and both sides signed it. But they were signing different documents. In the English version, the Maori were to "cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty." In the Maori translation, composed by a British missionary, they were not to give up sovereignty, but governance. They thought they were getting a legal system, but keeping their right to rule themselves. That's not how it turned out, and generations later the issues around the meaning of this treaty are still being worked out.

Baseball player Willie Ramirez, 18, was rushed to a Florida hospital in a coma in 1980. His family, who spoke only Spanish, described Ramirez as “intoxicado” (poisoned). But an interpreter (reportedly a bilingual hospital employee) said the patient was “intoxicated.” The doctor diagnosed Ramirez to have suffered from a drug overdose. Days later, it was discovered that he actually had a brain hemorrhage. But it was too late and Ramirez became a quadriplegic because of the wrong interpretation and consequent delay in treatment. Ramirez received USD 71m in a malpractice settlement.

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