Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Courtesy: Humanity Can Wait website

Here are just a few:







Years ago, as I stood amidst Indian officials and foreign diplomats at a reception I was invited to at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, interpreting a speech given by one of the Arab Ministers of Oil, I learned my first lesson on the rules of translation.  The lesson was taught to me by the Minister himself, who turned out to know more English than an Englishman, even though he had insisted on speaking in Arabic.  Thanking me for jumping in to his rescue [by offering to translate for him when his interpreter did not show up at the event], and praising my translation skills and ability in manipulating his words to strengthen his message, did not prevent him from offering me a piece of advice. He cautioned me to avoid doing that in the future for fear that I might do more harm than help.  Looking back at that situation, I realize how right he was. Fortunately, then, I was politically motivated in the same direction as the Minister, so my manipulation of the message and the salt and pepper I added to it worked in both sides' favor.  But that will not always be the case. 

Unfortunately, the political situation then was not as toxic as it is today.  A politically motivated translator today can do much harm, because he or she has the power to conceal or add things that are not faithful to the source message, and thus might mislead the reader of the target language. This raises the question: What happens if a native translator of a language is required to translate something for the enemy, the contents of which might impact the outcome and the reaction to the resulting text? Will the translator do the job faithfully, or will he or she choose to omit or add words to the target text to soften the language or hide a threat?  

It is a fact that the practice of deliberate translation manipulation has become more acceptable over the years by the translation world, and is referred to as a cultural political practice in which a translator acts more as a cultural mediator than a faithful translator of the original text. While this is understood and acceptable when dealing with literary material or simple TV commercials, it is quite risky, for example, if this is followed in the translation of an ISIS statement the contents of which might be very crucial. Who is to check or know if the translator has omitted or altered the message? Most translation companies in the United States use quality control managers who do not even read the language. Their quality control is limited to ensuring that each paragraph in the source document has a corresponding paragraph in the target file, and that the item is in the right order, etc. 

Of course, there are other political causes around the world, in which a translator might act in the same deceptive manner to serve a political agenda, as one Russian interpreter, many years ago, tried to change and manipulate the love message Mother Teresa was giving at a high level event in Moscow, Russia. 

 Be smart and beware.

Miranda Hirezi-Mugnier

Monday, March 28, 2016

Can a Business be both Ethical and Successful?

This question has been troubling me for some time now. I say troubling, not because I personally have any doubt that business and ethics can and must coexist for a company to realize success. I say it because reality shows that, despite the fact that all the companies in the corporate world have their so-called "Code of Ethics," just a few of these companies follow it. In the meantime, more and more companies and individuals find excuses for their unethical behavior, and accordingly putting those who continue to believe in ethics in a difficult situation, in which the latter group has to compete against those who are less principled. Unfortunately, ethical people often lose in their fight against those who would do anything to get what they want. As a matter of fact, in today's world, it has become more the rule than the exception for ethical people to fail in their career and their business life simply because they have to compete with the more common type of people in today’s marketplace, namely the unprincipled, or whom many prefer to call "smart."

Almost every day, we are faced with situations in which we have to make a decision and choose between something ethical and another that is less than ethical, with the latter, almost always, appearing as the more rewarding. Being hung on profit and the urge to succeed most people sadly choose the latter, in order to realize their immediate goals.

There are many examples of unethical decisions that are made in the business world. Two examples come to mind. At the business level, I can think of situations in which a business takes a cut-throat approach to remove competing businesses or individuals from their path, instead of entering with them into an honest competition; At the individual level, I can think of a situation in which a greedy employee is targeted by his/her employer’s competitor and is paid a bribe or a commission in return for confidential information that can help the competition snatch a business opportunity from the employer. The sad part is that most people, nowadays, instead of condemning such a behavior, they describe it as a smart move, and add, "You cannot be a sheep among wolves." They say it, as if joining the wolves is the only solution to survive in today's world.

I wonder! When did it become acceptable to be dishonest, cunning and downright villainous? Why are honest people considered naive, or more importantly why do they lose their chance of winning against the more cunning and less ethical? Who made this the number one rule of success? And, is a threat against the financial profitability of a company or a person worth sacrificing one’s values and allowing his or her ethics to go out of the window?

In my book, it does not have to be this way. Good business ethics can and should be part of a successful business. Unethical businesses can be profitable on the short run, but can never be truly successful. A business without ethics is a business without integrity. Such a business might realize immediate profitability but it will definitely face long term failure. This rule applies to every aspect of our life. This is true, not only because clients like to deal with value-based companies, but also because an unprincipled business is like a rotted house that will eventually collapse at the hands of its own in-grown termites. It simply does not have a solid foundation on which it can stand in the face of the many storms it will face in its lifetime.

So, what do you do to make ethics the thread that weaves the fabric of your company?

1-Lead by example. Inspire your employees and clients to do what is right.
2-Encourage your employees to do the right thing, and reward them for it.
3-Do not tolerate corruption or unethical behavior in your company,
4-No matter how profitable a partnership or a business relationship might appear, do not take it if it means that you team up with an unethical company or individual,
5-Finally remember that fighting the good fight to win the race is much more satisfying, regardless whether you win or lose, than winning at the expense of someone else.

Live and lead by example, for when all these days are behind you, and you are sitting in your rocking chair telling your grandchildren stories about your achievements, you will not only feel proud to tell the story of your honest life struggles, but you will also be teaching them how to live an honest and righteous life. Only then, your short journey in this world would have made a difference, and your life would not have gone in vain.

Miranda Hirezi Mugnier
Senior Arabic Translator/Business Owner of Arabic Translation Services

March 28, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How Grave can a Translation Mistake Be?

At the beginning of every training class, I, as the instructor, make it a point to explain to the linguists the gravity of mistranslation, and the importance of taking the task at hand very seriously.  I tell them without hesitation, that any translation mistake can be serious enough to sever relations between two friendly countries, or even spark a conflict between them. My years of experience as a senior Arabic linguist have exposed me to many examples of such mistakes. While some of them can be humorous and benign, others can be disastrous.
Some translation companies make the mistake of assuming that translators do not have to be experts in the subject matter they are translating, and assign jobs based on availability and cost instead of background experience. They do not realize that, unless a translator is a professional in the appropriate field (medical, legal, political, etc.), this can be an assumption that the company might live to regret. Another bad assumption some clients and translation companies make is that any native linguist can understand all material written in his/her native language. Such an assumption is especially dangerous when it comes to the Arabic language, because spoken Arabic varies greatly in various parts of the Middle East and from the written Arabic, known as Classical Arabic. It is not that these companies do not assess their linguists and test their abilities.
The issue is that they do not always appreciate the importance of having a native of a specific language, who knows excellent English and, at the same time has good background knowledge of the material. While it is not feasible to have translators from every background, it is possible to produce an accurate translation job. This can be achieved by ensuring that the finished product is proofread and edited by a native linguist/editor. In other words, the translation company must ensure that the resulting product is checked by a native proofreader to spot mistakes, and to verify accuracy of and faithfulness to the source text. This, I believe, is the stage that translation companies have been neglecting, and need to give extra attention to.

Disastrous Outcome of Inaccurate Translation
In my career, I saw hundreds of disastrous mistakes, resulting from poor reading abilities, limited background knowledge, carelessness or inability to interpret the meaning from one language into another. Take this as an example: A linguist translated an item from an Arabic blog in which the author was describing a dream he had. In the dream, the author saw himself attending a lecture by one of his favorite professors, who was calling for the formation of a secret movement to wage war against a friendly nation, as "commanded by God." Though the author made it clear that this was only a dream, the translator overlooked this fact - more likely because he did not understand the source text, or did not take the time to read the article carefully - and wrote the following headline for his translated piece: "Country X Has Secret Plans to Wage a Holy War against Country Y." Considering that these two countries were on the verge of an escalated conflict, this piece could have worsened the relations between the two countries, to say the least. Fortunately, the mistake was caught before the item was published.
Translation is anything but easy. It requires a certain degree of general knowledge in world events, leaders, countries and much more. It also calls for excellent linguistic knowledge in both source and target languages. A linguist, who lacks one of these basic elements, is a risk to the company, to the client and to himself.
Sometimes, a mistranslation might not be this serious, but it can definitely be embarrassing.
Take this example:
A part of a statement issued by an insurgent group included a sentence that read as follows: "The jihadists left to Ard al-Ribat [the frontiers or the outpost], refusing but to knock at Heaven's Gates with their skulls." [Language usually used by Muslim warriors, talking about their determination to fight until they die as martyrs].
The linguist, who was assigned this job, misunderstood more than one word in the original text and mistranslated it as follows: "So, set forth to the land of ties and victory and answer [the call] for they will strike their skulls against the gates of insanity.' The linguist did not only display poor knowledge of Classical Arabic, which he tried to cover up by adding words that were not in the original text, but also showed lack of common sense and commitment to the product, by writing a meaningless sentence and not attempting to make sense of it.
In case one wonders how the mistakes in the above example were made, here is what happened. The translator interpreted the word "jinan" as "madness or insanity," as used in his country, Egypt, whereas in Classical Arabic and in light of the context, it meant "paradise" or "heaven." He also did not understand the meanings of Ard al-Ribat, and the expression "Heaven's Gates" due to his limited knowledge of Islamic expressions and Classical Arabic. In other words, the above mistake resulted from failure on the part of the linguist to understand the original and interpret it into the target language. An amateur translator may make mistakes at this stage either from a failure to understand the thinking process of the author of the source item or from a lack of knowledge in the subject matter.
Addressing the Problem of Mistranslation:
Unless this problem is addressed at every level of the translation process, a company is taking the chance of publishing a poorly translated piece. It is very difficult for a recruitment manager or a client to determine the abilities of a linguist just by giving an assessment test. Many linguists take the time and exert the effort to produce a good translation piece when trying to get a job, but they fail to display the same commitment after being hired. This suggests that extra care must be given to hiring linguists. A general knowledge test should be part of the assessment in at least the fields of the business in which the linguist will be working. A good, qualified linguist is likely to produce an accurate translation. However, my experience has proven to me over and again that even the best linguist can make mistakes. This is where the vernacular editor comes in [a vernacular editor is an editor who has a good command of both source and target languages]. A capable editor should also have an inquisitive mind, like a qualified linguist, that makes him constantly search for the best word that gives the most accurate meaning. Otherwise, a final product can be riddled with embarrassing mistakes.
Translation mistakes occur every day, but their seriousness should not be underestimated. Every linguist and project manager must aim at producing accurate translations in order to communicate the translated material faithfully and correctly. Sometimes, when my frustration with poor translation reaches a boiling point, I comfort myself by promising to turn these mistakes into a humorous book when I retire. In the meantime, I intend to include these mistakes in my training books to aid future linguists in their pursuit to become accurate translators.
Miranda Hirezi-Mugnier
Chief Translator/Business Owner