Interpretation Blunders: Problems of Equivalence

One word, two syllables. We all make them. Mistakes.

Error is a hardy plant, so as they say. It flourishes in every soil, and the world of interpretation is not an exemption.

Just like in any other field, goof-ups in the language industry can result to serious consequences. They can go beyond a mere correction of a mistake, a sincere admission of guilt, or a heavy dose of shame. Sometimes, they inevitably end up with implications affecting the entire world.
The following are some of the most classic interpretation blunders ever recorded in history.

Buried meaning

At the height of the cold war, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech in which he uttered the now-famous phrase—or shall I say “blooper”—that was interpreted from Russian as “We will bury you.” Although the intended meaning of his phrase was “We will outlast you” or “We are the champions,” it was taken too literally by the US, thinking that the declaration was a serious threat of nuclear attack to destroy America. Although the statement was not exactly pleasant, the misinterpretation made the tension between the two countries worse. You can now imagine how severe the consequences had been during this forbidding time in history.

Wiping off the mistake

As how we put it, experience enables us to recognize a mistake when we make it again. So here’s another perfectly equal interpretation blunder. In 2006, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the then-president of Iran, called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”—or that was only how it had been thought so—because later on, it was learned that what he actually said was “The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” Are you thankful now you’re not one of the people who suffered from the surprising costs of this mistake?

Empty signs

Enough of old-time stories. Let’s go recent. Remember Thamsanqa Jantjie, the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral? Well, because of the meaningless sign language motions he did during the memorial service, he’s discovered to be a fake and later admitted to a psychiatric hospital for schizophrenia.

So what?

Regardless of how you think about these conundrums, the severity of damage when dealing with problems of equivalence can definitely be boundless, especially in the language industry. Understanding the nuances of linguistic and grammar conventions can mean the difference between prospering and failing in the global marketplace. It may even lead to major loss of revenue or other legal and financial consequences.

Now you may be asking—If the world will only keep on spinning, and we’ll dizzy ourselves and make mistakes anyway, what is the road to wisdom? Well, perhaps this could be a good start: err and err and err, but less and less and less.