Archive for January 2nd, 2006

A Sort of Noam-Coming

In Fact, Ah hails the imminent arrival of Noam Chomsky to these shores.
Mass media does not like Chomsky, and the Irish mass media is no different.
It was for this reason that when the story came out about his Ahern the shoe-shiner remarks, they appointed Bono to place Chomsky in context for those who had never heard of him. Bono’s ludicrous and ultimately self-serving remarks that Chomsky was ‘the Elvis of Academia‘ were published in several newspaper reports.
IOL described him as follows:
Dr Chomsky, who has a cult-like following among left-wing activists and students, was dubbed “the Elvis of Academia” by U2 singer Bono.
i.e. Chomsky is a guru for Dave Spart and Student Grant types, he exists on the same level of importance as pop stars, and his pronunciations therefore need not be taken seriously.
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Chávez and Anti-Semitism

Normblog posts on reports of anti-Semitic remarks from Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.

In order to judge for myself, I read through the speech (well, it’s not really a speech, more like an informal talk that goes on for ages) to see the remarks in their original context.

Here they are

El mundo tiene para todos, pues, pero resulta que unas minorías, los descendientes de los mismos que crucificaron a Cristo, los descendientes de los mismos que echaron a Bolívar de aquí y también lo crucificaron a su manera en Santa Marta, allá en Colombia. Una minoría se adueñó de las riquezas del mundo, una minoría se adueñó del oro del planeta, de la plata, de los minerales, de las aguas, de las tierras buenas, del petróleo, de las riquezas, pues, y han concentrado las riquezas en pocas manos: menos del diez por ciento de la población del mundo es dueña de más de la mitad de la riqueza de todo el mundo y a la… más de la mitad de los pobladores del planeta son pobres y cada día hay más pobres en el mundo entero.

People who have not given much thought to the matter of translation tend to think that every given piece of speech and prose can somehow be converted idiomatically and comprehensibly into the target language, so that every nuance, emphasis and cultural reference can be preserved. Whilst possible for matters such as washing machine instructions, complete translation becomes a lot more complicated when dealing with something like political oratory, where there is an audience that the speaker is trying to reach, targeted not only by the words, but by the speaker’s intonation, inflections, gestures and the like. Sometimes, as is the case here, the speaker does not use full sentences and mangles syntax. It is hard to know whether or not to correct this, as this may be deliberate on the part of the speaker. Translating this sort of thing can be a nightmare.

With all that said, here is my translation:

‘The world has enough for everyone, but it so happens that certain minorities, the descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ, the descendants of the same ones who threw Bolívar out of here and also crucified him in their own way in Santa Marta, off in Colombia. A minority became the owner of the riches of the world, a minority became the owner of the planet’s gold, its silver, its minerals, the waters, the fertile lands, the oil, of the riches, then, and they have concentrated the riches in the hands of a few: less than 10 per cent of the population of the world owns more than half the riches of the whole world and .. more than half of the inhabitants of the planet are poor and every day there are more poor people in the entire world.’

I ought to disclose, before continuing, that before I read the remarks I did not think it likely that Chávez was an individual given to making anti-Semitic delcarations. I recognise that this may influence the way in which I have interpreted them and translated them.

The first thing to be said about Chávez’s remarks is that it is perfectly understandable why they might be construed as an anti-Semitic slur. As Normblog rightly notes, ‘los que crucificaron a Cristo’, or ‘those who crucified Christ’ can have anti-Semitic connotations.

Secondly, there can no definitive proof that the remarks are anti-Semitic or not. But Normblog also notes that given the remarks that follow about Simon Bolívar, it is not clear whether there was anti-Semitic intent on the part of Chávez. I would go further and say that it is pretty much impossible to say one way or the other, if all you have to go on is the translated passage taken in isolation.
From my own reading, it is hard to tell whether he means that the descendants of those who crucified Christ are the same ones who ‘crucified’ Bolívar. Another thing: the first sentence in the paragraph does not make grammatical sense. The reference to ‘unas minorías’ (certain minorities), is missing a verb. Then, instead of elaborating on the role of these minorities, the following sentence, which deals with the riches of the world, he refers only to una minoria, a minority. Clear? I thought not.

Is there anything in the rest of the speech, then, that can point the reader in the right direction? I asked a couple of native Spanish speakers yesterday about the word ‘descendiente’, and if its use always implied blood descent. They said that it might not, and that in the case of Chávez’s remarks and their context, a valid interpretation could be that ‘descendant’ means something closer to ‘heir’. For example, if you say that Chávez is the heir to Saddam Hussein, you are not saying that he is a direct descendant of Saddam Hussein, but rather that he has inherited something from him.

What about other references to Christ’s crucifixion in the speech? When it comes to the reasons for Christ’s crucifixion, Chávez is a lot easier to interpret, even if his interpretation of scripture might be described as tendentious :

Cristo fue y es uno de los más grande [sic] revolucionarios de la historia y el primer socialista de nuestra era, el primer socialista y por eso lo crucificaron.

That is,

‘Christ was and is one of the greatest revolutionaries in history and the first socialist of our era, the first socialist and they crucified him because of it.’

Ah. That’s bound to go down well with Pat Robertson.

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