Tag Archives: misusing language

Translation, Interpretation and the Misuse of words to start wars and create hate

Interpretation is neither identical with nor synonymous to translation—any more than synonymous is equal to identical. On the contrary they have nothing in common with each other, contrary to the erroneous preaching of such demagogues as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Bradlee Dean, Charles Grassley, Bob Vander Plaats and Maggie Gallegher, and groups such as Focus on the Family, FAMiLY Leader, National Organization for Marriage and DOMA, Abiding Truth Ministries, American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, Sovereign Citizen, Ku Klux Klan, Westboro Baptist Church, American Nazi Party and other recognized hate organizations (http://splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/winter/the-hard-liners, and http://www.splcenter.org/search/apachesolr_search/kkk, and http://www.splcenter.org/search/apachesolr_search/American%20Nazi) who misguided or deliberately mangle, marginalize, and

Bill O'Reilly

Andres Breivik

misuse the language, are incapable of exacting translation and correct interpretation of material.  This is clearly seen in Bill O’Reilly’s tirade that Anders Breivik could not be an evangelical Christian and commit mass murder in Norway, despite the fact that the Norwegian admitted to be “an evangelical” (here meaning a “messenger”” who committed the to rid Europe of Muslims (like the medieval crusaders) and return the national Lutheran church of Norway to the Roman Catholic fold (http://nation.foxnews.com/norway/2011/07/26/oreilly-blasts-media-branding-norwegian-maniac-christian-extremist) The account is by Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, and is notorious for distorting the news to meet Murdoch’s private agenda to transubstantiate its listeners thinking patterns and perceptions (cp. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/26/bill-oreilly-media-breivik-christian_n_909498.html).  What O’Reilly disparages is the word “crusade” (e.g.

Battle of Nicopolis (last crusade)

“Christian crusader” that  in Arabic/Islam is jihad and both the medieval Latin and late Arabic originally meant “any vigorous, emotional crusade for an idea or principle”).  From the eighth century the word “crusade” had the definition of “a personal struggle of the individual believer against evil and persecution”.  By the eleventh century both words mean a “holy war” (although the latter continued to mean an inward struggle to purge one’s sins until the fall of Acre.  In Latin crusade was originally meant to “any of the military expeditions undertaken by the Christians of Europe” (e.g. in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries for the recovery of the Holy Land from the Muslims) or “any vigorous, aggressive movement for the defense or advancement of an idea, cause” (from croisade).  Today it is defined as “to carry the cross into warfare” such as the manufacturer, Trijicon of Michigan, of war weapons for the USA wanted US military personnel to do when deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan carrying their rifle scopes containing Bible references; https://arthuride.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/christian-terrorism-how-evangelical-fundamentalism-destroys-people-and-civilizations/; their crusading zeal matches that of Breivik, as seen on their website, that reads: “Guided by our values, we endeavor to have our products used wherever precision aiming solutions are required to protect individual freedom.”We believe that America is great when its people are good.  This goodness has been based on Biblical standards throughout our history, and we will strive to follow those morals”), but not all USA soldiers are Christians: many are Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, agnostics and atheists.  

On page 1037 of Breivik’s manifesto, the Norwegian mass murderer, Breivik, wrote:

If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.” [Emphasis mine.]

Breivik claims to be a Christian on his Facebook webpage; he also claims to be a member of the Knights Templar who followed first century Egyptian migrants to Rome and formed the first movement of chrestianos with rigid adherence to Matthew 10:34.  His actions justify both of his assertions, with without the personal envelopmental relationship with god (he did not see himself as a physical part of god which was a claim only by pharaohs and Roman emperors). 

A “personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God” is the confession of evangelical fundamentalists, such as Pentecostals, which fundamentalists base on John 14:7-10 refining John 3:3.   The problem here is in translation and interpretation.  To use the word “relation” (Latin, relatio; the Greek is σχέση that is on the order of a comparison) is to follow the vocabulary created by the early Fathers to denote the way in which the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are united and connected to each other within the perfect unity of the one Godhead. Here relatio carries the strong sense of that which is objectively in existence and necessarily true of the reality of God, the Holy Trinity and not the intimacy of a mortal with a deity; what is called for is an understanding (κατανόηση).  It is not an intrinsic part of all Christian denominations.

When a professional interprets he or she is interpreting a message (a speech, a note, a document, a brief, or any other form of communication) that professional takes a message from a source language and renders that message into a different target language (for example: English into French) not as a translation verbatim a literatim (word for word and letter for letter) but seeks the Geist (spirit; not σοφία [wisdom] nor γνώση [knowledge] and never λογός [logos = reason] but is used for λέξη = word: and a fantasy is developed that is carried on for centuries) of the word(s) to create an understandable message that is not thwart with numerous inconsistencies. Much of this is the result of repetitive copying in scriptoriums by semiliterate monks who draw characters they did not understand (cf. (Christopher S. Celenza, “Creating Canons in Fifteenth-Century Ferrara: Angelo Decembrio’s “De politia litteraria,” 1.10″ Renaissance Quarterly 57.1 (Spring 2004:43-98) p. 48; the Cistercians were the first to codify the copying process: literae unius coloris et non depictae (“letters of one color and not ornamental”) cp. Yolanta Załuska (1989), L’enluminure et le scriptorium de Cîteaux au XIIe siècle. Brecht: Cîteaux).

In interpreting, the interpreter take a complex concept—not just a group of words—from one language and then chooses the most appropriate vocabulary in the target language to faithfully render the message in a linguistically, emotionally, tonally, and culturally equivalent message. This is significantly different from the art of translation that is the transference of meaning from text to text (text textum or κείμενο σε κείμενο either written or recorded). Unlike the interpreter who must make a message sensible and sensitive, the translator has time and access to resources (such as dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses, etc.) to produce an accurate document or verbal artifact. Lesser known, fortunately, is “transliteration.” It is used within sign language interpreting and takes one form of a language and transfers those same wordsinto another form (for example: spoken English into a signed form of English, Signed Exact English (підписали точного англійської), not ASL)—it is not, by any means a form of vulgar (common) English where a person finds a street-savvy sentence or phrase and metamorphosis  it into something popular (for example, taking the Latin word negro and drastically and wrongfully making it into nigger—which is a pejorative).

A very common misconception of interpretation is that it is rendered verbatim, as a word-for-word syntactic translation of an utterance. In linguistics, syntactic is from the Ancient Greek (Attic as opposed to Kionic from Ionic or other forms of Greek) σύνταξις “arrangement” or “retirement” from σύν [syn], “together”, and τάξις [taxis], “an ordering”) is the study of the principles and rules for constructing sentences in natural languages, neither can they be translated directly along nor across linguistic lines such as σταυρό (that actually derives from گرو coming from удел) for crux.

The term syntax is also used to refer directly to the rules and principles that govern the sentence structure of any individual language, as in “the syntax of Modern English.” The problem with this is that words that are coinage today and changed to meet a select sect or section of speakers distorts what others understand (for example, Mick Jaggard of the Rolling Stones always asks about his “bird” (girlfriend), but to most people a bird has wings and usually flies; American slang uses the word “chick” for girlfriend).  There are 36 different forms of English; the most common are UK and USA, but even here there are differences (“lorry” [UK} = “truck” [USA], etc).  Modern research in the emergency expansion of schools where pushing out degree holders is more important than mastering a language fits comfortably in this venue and the language devolves in syntax attempts to describe languages according to terms of such rules. Many professionals in this discipline attempt to find general rules that apply to all natural languages, while science and observation shows that there is no single rule that applies to all languages any more than one culture or one god or one government can rule one world.

Needless to say, syntax once distorted finds little comfort among those outside of the select group and language devolves and the true meaning of something said or written is uncertain and painfully misunderstood (for example: the difference between the prepositions in and at within the phrase “I am at the museum” compared with “I am in the museum.” The person who is at the museum may be in front of the building, while the person who is in the museum continues to await the arrival of the person who has not yet entered. True interpretation and professional interpreters will know this, not only in traditional language settings and usages (for example, note the distinct difference between the words “use” and “usage”) as the term syntax is also used to refer to the rules governing the behavior of mathematical systems, such as logic, artificial formal languages, and computer programming languages.

As I noted in my book The Difference in Mastering and Teaching Interpretation and Translation Skills (Chicago: Sepore, 2003, vol. 2, p. 479), a literal, verbatim interpretation of a source-language message becomes unintelligible to the target-language recipient when and if as well as because of grammar differences, cultural and syntactical context. Thus the fluid, subject-matter-expert (the teacher) will bring into focus all disciplines so that the interpreter and translator will fit comfortable in all times, climes, and formative processes (for example, the Spanish phrase: Está de viaje, rendered verbatim to English translates as: Is of voyage (which is humorous if not senseless in English). The intended meaning of the message is: “you are traversing” or “you are out-of-town”. The same goes for such delightful expressions as Tengo sed that would be translated as “I have thirst” indicating that someone can retrieve it and carry it; but in correct English it is “I am thirsty.” That is the overall meaning, tone, and style in the target language rather than a senseless word-for-word translation. In any class of interpretation and translation it is imperative that the educator clearly, cogently, carefully, correctly and concisely notes that all examples used can be singular or plural, past or present tense, or indicative (denoting the mood of verbs in explaining or clarifying statements) or insignificant (repetitive, redundancies, deadwood, and so forth) depending on context: it is but one more responsibility of an interpreter).

A course in interpretation requires various texts from various fields—with the first objective being the understanding of what the author is writing about or what people are saying if a video or program were played or shown. The second part requires the student to go beyond the basic interpretation of what happened to find a causal relationship: why did it happen. The third challenge is to state what may be the subliminal message or the tacit rejoinder (what is really being said; for example “No one may eat before Mary eats” does not mean that no one may eat but that all people must wait for Mary to begin dining. At this point the question rises to “what is the most important word in the sentence: most will select the direct object as it is a noun/subject (Mary)—and they would be incorrect; as the most important word gives permission (the verb may), and that verb is essential as if it were can the question would invite such dialogues as “do those in the assemblage/assembly have arms, hands, eating utensils, and so forth.

Sumerian tablet c2000 BCE

(The tablet translates:  “‘The Lord put the [first] human in the brick mould, and Enlil’s people emerged from the ground [adamah: red earth]” (cp. Gen. 2:7).”)

Hammurabi's cuneiform code of "les talionis" or "law of retaliation"

Depending on the length of the course and the participation ability (is fluid in the language, is not shy, is eager to talk, and so forth) of the individual will define the actual syllabus. I would recommend a few short British comedies, clips of audience reactions, and select readings, especially from Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Adams, Isaac Asimov, and others including select religious texts such as the Bhagavad Gītā (Sanskrit: भगवद्गीता) a 700 verse tract, Papyrus of Anu, or Book of Job, or Hammurabi’s Code, the original lex talionis (law of retaliation from which people get “an eye for an eye” (Leviticus 24:19-21  וְאִישׁ כִּי־יִתֵּן מוּם בַּעֲמִיתֹו כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה כֵּן יֵעָשֶׂה לֹּו׃ שֶׁבֶר תַּחַת שֶׁבֶר עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן שֵׁן תַּחַת שֵׁן כַּאֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מוּם בָּאָדָם כֵּן יִנָּתֶן בֹּו׃ וּמַכֵּה בְהֵמָה יְשַׁלְּמֶנָּה וּמַכֵּה אָדָם יוּמָת׃) coming from a 6000 year-old Egyptian papyrus: all of which leads to discussion, debate, and student interchange and learning. This is especially prominent, and misused, in theology, ontology and related fields.


Ide, Arthur Frederick (2011). Misuse and Bias in Mistranslations and Misinterpretations of Documents for Partisan Purposes, Chicago, IL: Sepore, p. 527 © 2011 Arthur Frederick Ide.

Ide, Arthur Frederick (2012). The Logic and Philosophy of Grammar in Teaching a Foreign Language (Las Colinas, TX: Tangelwüld Press © 2011 Arthur Frederick Ide.

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