29 November 2013

Evangelii Gaudium translation problems

Serious English translation problem with the original Spanish version of Evangelii gaudium:


No. 54 En este contexto, algunos todavía defien den las teorías del «derrame», que suponen que todo crecimiento económico, favorecido por la libertad de mercado, logra provocar por sí mismo mayor equidad e inclusión social en el mundo.


No. 54 In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

The English translation renders "por si mismo" as "inevitably." It should read ". . .encouraged by a free market, will BY ITSELF succeed in bringing about greater justice. . ."

That's a HUGE change in meaning. 

Also, "mayor equidad" should be rendered "greater equity" NOT "greater justice." There's a huge difference in meaning btw "equity" and "justice" in the English.

As always, be very wary of official English translations of Vatican documents. They are almost always wrong. Whether this is an intentional mistranslation to push an agenda, or just a mistake, we may never know.

NB. The French, German, Italian, and Portuguese translations of the Spanish all get the phrase right. Now I'm wondering who was responsible for the English translation. . .


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  1. Methinks that "justice" is arguably a proper translation of "equidad" in English. The message of this paragraph would be intact thus translated, unlike "inevitably" for "por sí mismo".

    1. I dunno. . .at most, equity is a species of justice, properly understood. If he had meant justice rather than equity, he would've used "justicia." Very different word.

    2. Hmmm... "justicia" has more to do with the act of making justice. I really think that the pope meant to say "fairness", IMO a better translation, for he wasn't being technical in the context to justify either "equity" or "justice". Again, either way, while the translator used a defensible equivalent for "equidad", he editorialized "por sí mismo".

  2. A "HUGE" change in meaning?

    Write a homily on EG 54, assuming the official translation is correct. Then write a homily, using "by itself" and "greater equity." Is there a huge change from one homily to the next?

    If anyone's pushing an agenda in translating EG 54, I have to say it's those with a professional investment in faith in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.

    1. Getting the translation right isn't an agenda item. The English words used to convey the meanings of the Spanish words are incorrect. Why were those words chosen? There's the agenda!

      I know of no one in the capitalism-defending world who argues that markets will "inevitably" lead to "greater justice." That's a strawman. It's an anti-capitalist parody of what capitalists actually support. However, it is fairly commonly for capitalism-defenders to argue that a market economy "by itself" will not lead to "greater equity." IOW, no one seriously believes that there is any such thing as an unregulated market, or unfettered capitalism. Even capitalist don't want unfettered capitalism, whatever that means.

    2. If "inevitably" sets up a straw man, then so much the worse for the Pope and any agenda-driven translators. Capitalism-defenders can simply say, "We agree unreservedly that such an opinion is wrong-headed," and whatever point might have been intended is lost.

      For that matter, is the statement with "by itself" any less of a strawman on your reading?

    3. It's not worse for the agenda-driven translator if your agenda is set up a strawman for the Pope to knock down with anti-capitalist rhetoric.

      Honestly, I'm not sure what the Holy Father is getting at even with the corrected translation. As I said, I know of no one among capitalism-defenders who argue that market themselves bring greater justice or equity. Well, maybe the Ayn Rand-types do. At the very least, the corrected translation is a smaller strawman.

      The problem, as I see it, is that the English translation is so obviously wrong. None of the other translations make this mistake. I don't *know* that this was done intentionally. . .but my Hermeneutic of Suspicion senses are tingling!

  3. This is not the only situation where the text was translated incorrectly. I tend to agree with father that equity is a better translation for equidad than justice. I'm fluent in Spanish, and tend to side towards literal and strict translation of texts from Spanish, even if it sounds choppy in English...