Just a single word that is mistranslated can cause a huge problem with unprecedented effects. History can attest to how these words caused problems at a larger scale. Let us take a look back at some of these historical events that have something to do with translation errors and what their effects were.
The Treaty of Wuchale in 1889
Italy and Ethiopia signed this treaty in 1889. According to this treaty, the Ethiopian Emperor could conduct his foreign affairs at the Italian embassy. However, when it was translated to Italian, the word “could” was translated to “must.” This was interpreted by the Italians as a decision of the Ethiopians to submit themselves as a colony of the country. For the Ethiopians, they were still an independent country. This misunderstanding led the Italians to start a war in their belief that they could easily defeat the Ethiopians. They were not aware that the Ethiopian emperor had the capacity of fielding 120,000 men. Obviously, this resulted to the Italians’ defeat.
The Most Tragic Translation
When Europe was on the verge of victory, the Allied leaders including Stalin, Truman and Churchill called for the unconditional surrender of Japan. They were hoping that this could put an end to everything. When the Japanese government was asked about it, the Prime Minister simply said “mokusatsu.” This Japanese word has several meanings depending on the context in which it is used. The original message was meant to be “no comment.” However, when it was translated, it became “not worthy of a comment.” The arrogance displayed by the prime minister angered the allied countries including the US, and the rest defined one of the most tragic moments in the world’s history.
The Mein Kampf Controversy
Mein Kampf is an autobiography of Adolf Hitler. This book reflected what his plans for Germany were along with his political views. The book eventually became as controversial as the writer. When it was translated to English, it was allegedly changed to induce anger to the leader. In fact, another book was revealed that claims it has the actual translation of Mein Kampf. They believe that there are over 1,000 errors in the English translations in the past. The book also suggests that the book was intentionally translated with inaccuracy to distort the original meaning that Hitler wanted to convey.
Pope Francis and the Alleged Plot by the Leftists
Pope Francis, the current pope, is considered as “cool” and has become very appealing to the masses. Being the first non-European to hold the position, he instantly gained the love and support of millions of Catholics. This also includes his being soft-spoken and optimistic. However, Pope Francis is only well-versed in Spanish and Italian. Every time he gives a message, it has to be translated to English. One of his official translators is Joe Garcia, a Catholic businessman from Florida. A lot of people accuse him as the front of the leftist groups to ensure that Pope Francis starts to be perceived negatively by the people. An example is his translation of the Evangelii Gaudium. Garcia was accused to include words that have not even been said in the original text. Garcia has denied these accusations though and said that they are just using him to destroy the Pope’s image.
Indeed, there are a lot of translation issues in the past and even until today that have caused problems. Whether it is for political situations or religious translations, accurate translation is a must.