Lost in Translation: Softening Controversial Remarks in European Parliament

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    Translation practices in the European Parliament often involve toning down controversial statements, such as those with racist or sexist undertones, according to observations by Dr. Magdalena Bartłomiejczyk, Professor at the University of Silesia.

    Translation Dilemmas in the Parliament

    In the translation of contentious content, interpreters face three paths: censoring to prevent the spread of offensive content, faithfully translating to highlight the speaker’s views, or distancing themselves through, for instance, ironic tones. In Bartłomiejczyk’s study on British eurosceptics, over 70% of “impolite” remarks were softened in Polish translations, with over 10% completely neutralized.

    The Evolution of Translation Ethics

    Traditionally, translators were seen as mere conduits, but the landscape changed as societal interpreters emerged. Contemporary expectations acknowledge that translators impact communication. Individual decisions play a crucial role, especially in simultaneous translation, where quick choices are necessary.

    Navigating Controversy: A Translator’s Dilemma

    Bartłomiejczyk cited an example involving Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s 2014 speech containing a racially offensive term. The translator opted for a milder Polish equivalent, emphasizing the subjective nature of translation choices.

    Softening Sexist Discourse

    Analyzing Korwin-Mikke’s sexist remarks from 2014-2018, Bartłomiejczyk found that translators tended to soften and distance themselves from such statements. Using neutral terms, employing third-person references, or substituting strong words with euphemisms were common strategies.

    Conclusion: Raising Awareness

    The study is not a critique but aims to raise awareness about translating controversial statements. Bartłomiejczyk encourages reflection on opposing sexism expressed by the original speaker.

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