As justice minister, Rachida Dati
regularly outclassed French First Lady Carla Bruni
(Source: Blog Politique de Luc Mandret)
CALL IT THE INTERPRETER’S dilemma: to what extent is it permissible to “improve” on the speaker’s words coming through your headset? So far, my experience with this problem has been limited to desperately trying to make sense out of the frequently meaningless flood of language coming from politicians whose speeches sound like they mean something but are actually crafted to obscure the truth and bore their audience into submission. If you’re an interpreter of German, as I am, the main problem lies in a speaker’s stubborn failure to employ verbs (which normally come at the end of a sentence in a subordinate clause), i.e. their refusal to make sense, and it can drive you absolutely batty.
But what do you do when a speaker leaves out a critical adjective? A whole crew of interpreters had their own professional come-to-Jesus moment at the United Nations during German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle’s maiden speech to the General Assembly on Saturday. There Westerwelle grandly proclaimed that “the conference for the establishment of a zone of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, planned for 2012, represents a tremendous opportunity for peace and security in this region.” Attentive interpreters following the prepared text might have noted the inexplicable absence of the word “free,” as in “a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” Or was it a Freudian slip? But interpreters aren't paid to second-guess their clients. Their problem is: To insert or not to insert? That is the question.
Unpopular German foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle
blew his big chance at the UN on Saturday
But what do you do when the speaker clearly uses the wrong word? I don’t know if any interpreters were on hand when former French justice minister and current European Parliament member Rachida Dati was giving a TV interview for Canal+ on Sunday. The forty-four year-old Dati, the daughter of poor North African immigrants who is regarded as France’s most attractive female politician, was just explaining the state of French investment funds when she got her nouns mixed up:
“As far as I’m concerned,” she told interviewer Anne-Sophie Lapix, “when I see people demanding profits of 20, 25% with virtually no fellatio, and during a period of crisis, that means destroying businesses.” She apparently meant to say “with virtually no inflation.”
Neither Dati nor her interviewer noticed the error at the time, but the clip hit the Internet just moments later and Europe has been enjoying a good laugh over her erotic faux pas ever since. In her defense, une fellation and une inflation sound pretty much alike, particularly when you’re speaking fast, and if I had been interpreting for her I probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. Context is everything, though, and while Dati was clearly talking about economics, her carefully cultivated reputation for sexiness and the birth of her out-of-wedlock child last year, whose father she has refused to name, suggest that she may have at least a passing acquaintance with the term.
Slippery-tongued European Parliament
member Rachida Dati
Here’s the clip. If you can hear the difference, then there may be an interesting and lucrative career as an interpreter waiting for you. But don't forget: nobody ever said it would be easy.