Tuesday, 10 November 2009

An uncanny gift to drop bricks?

The organisers of the celebrations of the fall of Berlin Wall probably have not made allowances for the elements of chaos brought in by the former Polish president.

Lech Wałęsa, one of the most distinguished figures associated with the resistance against communism, as an icon of the Polish movement had the honour to push the first block of domino symbolising the wall which carved up the city. He pushed the block briskly and stepped back, knocking down a cameraman, but it could have happened to anyone…

Later on, in his speech he used a word “dyrdymały” to describe the content of the speeches of his predecessors, who insufficiently underlined Poland’s contribution in the downfall of the iron curtain. For everyone who knows the leader of strikes in Gdańsk shipyard it should not have come as a surprise.

In line with the diplomatic protocol each of the politicians spoke in their mother tongue. Some, like French and Russian presidents addressed the Germans in a few words in the hosts’ language. Our president, in spite of his long experience in politics, still has not mastered the difficult art of expressing himself. He should, however, realise his words are straight away interpreted into other languages. As I heard about dyrdymały, I immediately thought about the way of translating the phrase into English. I quickly came up with “talk rubbish”, which was later confirmed by my new Oxford PWN dictionary. The problem is that “talk rubbish” is not an example of official language, so the interpreter was put on the spot by the speaker. As the German interpreter rightly said “in such situation there is no time for thinking”. It seemed that the German who interpreted Wałęsa’s word into his native language knew the colloquial Polish word and as he claimed, had managed to get out of the slightly embarrassing situation and interpreted dyrdymały as “travialties”.

The missteps of our “silver-tongued” president are a good example of a challenge for the interpreters and translators. The former ones are in an unenviable position – I would not like to be in their shoes when Wałęsa speaks. The latter are also given a headache by the former president – as those who translate are not native Poles, they have to consult Poles to figure out what Wałęsa meant. But we can also get lost in the maze of the bizarre metaphors used by the man who had his part in tearing down the Berlin Wall…


Michael Dembinski said...

I recall Lech Wałęsa addressing the Confederation of British Industry back in 1990. He was RAMBLING! Listening to him in Polish, I was embarrassed for him and for the Polish nation.

Thankfully, his translator pulled the whole thing round. It made sense, was statesmanlike and yet conveyed his peasant wit.

I watched his hapless translator on TV trying to talk his way out of 'dyrdymały'.

Interpreting for statemen who have an eye on the history book, is, dear readers of Bartek's blog, the art of translation at its very highest level.

student SGH said...

Mr Wałęsa is rambling every time he gets an opportunity to speak. However, by virtue of his merits he can't be deprived of that right.

The same year Lech Wałęsa delivered a lecture for Polonia and not only on one of the universities in the States. As far as I remember it was in Chicago. The speech was interpreted by a Pole who had lived in the US for years. He transformed his weird speech into a human language and Wałęsa got a standing ovation for it.

BTW. Have you met a Polish consul to London from 1984 to 1988?