Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)

Death to Potatoes

Posted by on Nov. 29, 2012 at 10:30 AM
  • 19 Replies

Perception is everything, and with people in Iran chanting "Death to America" I wanted to point out a small caveat, that has to do with cross cultural translation of words and idioms.  While it's easy to take "Death to America" as a violent threat, in truth it means something closer to "down with America" (still a threatening and negative thing to say.)  I often see things like this, inaccurate translations, literal meanings of words taken out of the context of the idioms and culture of the person speaking them, and they come accross as much more stark, rather than keeping the nuance they actually have.

I posted a story below that illustrates this type of thing...the "Death to Potatoes" chant  by the people in Iran.  They don't mean to be threatening death to tubors, nor are they just using a turn of phrase ironically.  What they really mean is "down with potatoes."

I think especially in the US, people have a problem understanding nuance and are in fact resistant to discussions about nuances in phrasing that are in opposition to their pet ideologies.  This type of nuance is ignored repeatedly in discussions of "Islamists," "Jihadists," "Illegals" etc.  The words are messaged into new meanings and then used to describe events which are actually happening under the original meanings.

Sometimes the whole world is like a bad Google translate.

What do you all think of this?

(Here is the article that illustrates my point.)

"As the voting gets extended beyond the planned cut off time in Iran’s Presidential election, it is worth noting the campaign slogan adopted by supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the ‘reformist’ candidate who appears to be seriously challenging the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

“Death to Potatoes” is the chant ringing out at Mousavi’s rallies in the final days of campaigning, a critical reference to tactics employed by Ahmedinejad’s campaign whereby the country’s surplus potato stock has been given away at greatly reduced prices to the rural poor. Critics think it is a blatent attempt to buy votes.

The popular cry at Ahmedinejad rallies is “Death to America”, so the potatoe adaptation is a not so subtle critique of both Ahmedinejad’s policies and rhetoric. By early tomorrow we should have an idea of whether the potatoes worked. Election results will be live on Aljazeera English."

http://blogs.aljazeera.com/blog/europe/%E2%80%9Cdeath-potatoes%E2%80%9D

by on Nov. 29, 2012 at 10:30 AM
Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Replies (1-10):
krysstizzle
by DeepThought on Nov. 29, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Interesting, and thanks for posting. 

Translation always leaves something to be desired, no matter how well done. My example is always Pablo Neruda. One of his poems translated from Spanish to English is like a completely different being. The entire thing has a completely different feel to it. 

krysstizzle
by DeepThought on Nov. 29, 2012 at 10:41 AM
2 moms liked this

Another thought: some indigenous languages don't have a past tense. And though this doesn't mean the speakers are incapable of being able to comprehend past time (yes, I've actually heard that before), it does change the way people think about time in general. It's hard for English speakers, for example, to think about time in a non-linear way, whereas it's the opposite for those with no past tenses. (Actually, for example, the Apache language has no tenses at all).  

Basically, our language shapes the way we view our world, and some languages are vastly different. Talk about miscommunication!

GLWerth
by Gina on Nov. 29, 2012 at 10:41 AM

Yep. I noticed that in French class. Our teacher loved Edith Piaf. In French her songs were beautiful, but in translation, some of them were quite odd.

Quoting krysstizzle:

Interesting, and thanks for posting. 

Translation always leaves something to be desired, no matter how well done. My example is always Pablo Neruda. One of his poems translated from Spanish to English is like a completely different being. The entire thing has a completely different feel to it. 


Sisteract
by Whoopie on Nov. 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM
2 moms liked this

Language and communication are both so interesting, especially the connection between the 2.

I do no think most Americans have a full appreciation of the study of language as it's not stressed in this country- even in English. What is taught in some schools are very, very basic concepts. Just another area where our schools lag behind.

LindaClement
by Linda on Nov. 29, 2012 at 11:40 AM

This is very true. English speakers, for example, often have a great deal of difficulty with the idea of 'becomings' --with a very concrete (and extremely physical) language, we lack the nuance in our vocabulary to 'get' that an acorn isn't an oak tree, but until it's been completely destroyed it is becoming an oak tree... at whatever slow a pace that might involve.

Tibetans, otoh, have a great deal of difficulty understanding even the idea of self-loathing...

Quoting krysstizzle:

Another thought: some indigenous languages don't have a past tense. And though this doesn't mean the speakers are incapable of being able to comprehend past time (yes, I've actually heard that before), it does change the way people think about time in general. It's hard for English speakers, for example, to think about time in a non-linear way, whereas it's the opposite for those with no past tenses. (Actually, for example, the Apache language has no tenses at all).  

Basically, our language shapes the way we view our world, and some languages are vastly different. Talk about miscommunication!


olivejuice2
by Member on Nov. 29, 2012 at 12:35 PM
I have noticed that Americans often seem unable to appreciate how culture influences language and actions. An example to add to those above is the Asian collective way of thinking. Many Asian cultures emphasize the population as a whole, rather than the individual person. Americans have a hard time seeing beyond their percieved stifeling of an individual's strengths and uniqueness and don't appreciate the beauty of the community these cultures have which Americans lack.

Americans interpret everything through the lens of American culture, usually without even attempting to understand that there are cultural differences. When someone tries to explain their culture, the American response is often "well you don't see it the way I see it, but you should because my way is better" without even attempting to truly understand.

I am American, but I have lived abroad and found other Americans to be some of my least favorite people that I met as an expat. Not all the Americans I met were like I describe, but more Americans were than people of other countries. Most of the people I met were East Asian, North American, and European.
olivejuice2
by Member on Nov. 29, 2012 at 12:40 PM
I agree. Our school system really needs greater emphasis on language, both English and foreign languages. Bilingualism should be encouraged, not resisted. Proper use of language for communication as well as literature is sadly lacking.

Quoting Sisteract:

Language and communication are both so interesting, especially the connection between the 2.

I do no think most Americans have a full appreciation of the study of language as it's not stressed in this country- even in English. What is taught in some schools are very, very basic concepts. Just another area where our schools lag behind.


lga1965
by Ruby Member on Nov. 29, 2012 at 2:57 PM

 

In areas where seniors go on to college I think we can be encouraged that they are getting excellent educations including English ( Literature ,also writing going way beyond just grammar and spelling and composition, , etc)  and other languages. I know when I was in high school and since then, our high schools were well know for the majority of graduating seniors getting a college degree and higher. We had to take at least 2 years of a foreign language and we had to take statewide English tests to pass each year. This was in the 1950's and as far as I know, the schools do just as well if not better. We have high state taxes but that is due to the funds devoted to schools.  I am happy to pay more taxes so that students are educated and ready for the world.

Quoting olivejuice2:

I agree. Our school system really needs greater emphasis on language, both English and foreign languages. Bilingualism should be encouraged, not resisted. Proper use of language for communication as well as literature is sadly lacking.

Quoting Sisteract:

Language and communication are both so interesting, especially the connection between the 2.

I do no think most Americans have a full appreciation of the study of language as it's not stressed in this country- even in English. What is taught in some schools are very, very basic concepts. Just another area where our schools lag behind.


 

JP-StrongForTwo
by on Nov. 29, 2012 at 3:19 PM

That is very interesting to think about. it reminds me of when i came across a site that showed what can happen in translation. i wont type it all out, its too long. but if you are curious, its here...http://www.angelfire.com/retro/seany/Translation.html

stacymomof2
by Ruby Member on Nov. 29, 2012 at 5:55 PM

Exactly right.  I have seen it many times, especially being married to a non-native English speaker, (although he now has an excellent vocabulary and grasp of tenses and idioms.)  When I first met him he was just barely fluent and was  often confused by the things I said, even to the point where I had inadvertantly offended him because of misunderstandings.

Another example that springs to mind is a foreign friend I had, who, when talking about women, was talking about how "fat" they were.  I was embarassed for him, because he was offending every American woman in the room, however they did not know (and I did, since I knew him) that not only did not mean any harm or insult, but he actually felt he was complimenting women on their curvaceous and lovely feminine bodies.  In his country of origin, it was a testament to women's beauty and health to be called a literal translation of "fat."  But think of the stigma in this country!  

Quoting krysstizzle:

Interesting, and thanks for posting. 

Translation always leaves something to be desired, no matter how well done. My example is always Pablo Neruda. One of his poems translated from Spanish to English is like a completely different being. The entire thing has a completely different feel to it. 


Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)



Featured