Lies, statistics and bad translations.

Whilst looking for some statistics regarding Poland’s exports, which I have yet to find, I found this rather charming rant from the GUS, National Statistics Office.

It is a little old now as it dates back to April this year but it seems that a few public prosecutors were, for reasons unknown to me, being very successful in annoying GUS to the point that GUS needed to write an open letter (as linked to earlier) in Polish and English and place it on their website.

I’ve read the open letter a few times now and I have to say I am none the wiser as to exactly what the problem is. That’s because it doesn’t explain what the problem is, or was, it just rants on about the importance of secure data….on and on and on and on about it. There’s a hint that some prosecutors were trying to get (personal?) data that they shouldn’t have. There is no explanation of what data nor why it was wanted so badly or why it could not be got from other sources. I’m sure in Polish it is much better although even a really horrid translation couldn’t remove whole passages that explained the problem, could it?

Passages like this don’t help the understanding one little bit – they are not clever, they are very funny:

An evasion used to circumvent the rules of statistical confidentiality consist in changing statistical confidentiality to company secret in spite of explicit lack of legal basis and logical assumptions.

There’s also a letter on the website that was sent to the Minister of Justice. I really hope he read the Polish version as the English one might have taken him until now to work out –

Due to the interpretational misunderstanding and the understanding lack of the statistical confidence crux, being that the system of official statistics protects gathered individual data, prosecutor’s authorities applied sanctions including bailiff’s arrest on CSO President salary.

Obviously the president of the statistics office got his knickers in a twist because someone “arrested” his salary. I think I might get a bit heated if that happened to me but surely the whole idea of writing these things is to get your point across to the maximum number of readers, in this case both Polish and international. Passages like the above (the whole letter is not much better) don’t do that and are therefore a complete waste of time and effort.

It is not the first time I’ve seen this happening so I wonder if it is normal in such situations for Poles to get all tied up in pseudo-intellectual wordy nonsense, even in their own language? I’ve also noticed a tendency for Poles to come over all Shakespearian when translating “important” documents from Polish to English. Why does the change from Polish to English require a quadrupling of the word count by the insertion of a few hundred completely unnecessary words? Is it a kind of homage to our beautiful language, or what?

I do get very angry when I see translations like this because it is clear that someone has spent money on a translation service, probably a well respected and supposedly precise translation service, and what they have ended up with is gobbledegook! There must be an element of GIGO (garbage in garbage out) here but I have to wonder how far away from what he really wanted to, or should have said, was the Polish version and how much further away from that is the English one. I also wonder who, if anyone, checked the translation before they placed it on the website. Or does GUS have no employees with good English language skills?

Anyway, island1, where were we on that good translation service idea of ours? Surely there must be some people out there would would pay reasonable money to end up with something worthy of their name, or establishment? Perhaps we could start with the president of GUS!

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23 thoughts on “Lies, statistics and bad translations.

  1. guest says:

    This guy became angry, drunk some zubrowka and then wrote it in English by himself.

    This is a zubrowka v0.1 encoded letter.

  2. michael farris says:

    This is why traditionally you always translate into your native language. Unfortunately there aren’t enough native English speakers with the necessary Polish skills (and as far as I know none of us live off translation, it’s an occasional sideline). Further, I know of no programs for training English speakers to do translation from Polish (IINM money is available for institutions that want to do this, but mostly there’s no desire on the Polish side). Those of us who do so, are market and realworld trained and usually have no paper qualifications.

    This means (by necessity) that most Polish to English translation is done by Polish speakers. Theoretically they should at least work with an English speaker who knows at least some Polish but that often doesn’t happen (and when it does happen often the suggested improvements by the English speaker are … inconsistently … applied or simply ignored).

  3. Bob says:

    Scatts – good post. Michael is right.

    In my 18 years in and out of Poland I have seen it all (almost anyway). Your example is a very good one. I am sure the text was read again before it was released; however I bet the only reader was the person who translated it – so the circle continues.

    What I do (with anything being used for public consumption so to speak) is gather a circle of people (Poles): an older one who speaks flawlessly, a student level (university), an average Kowalski and yes, the cleaning lady. I have them read the text, discuss it as a group and then I meet with them to review what ‘they think’ they understood. Until the cleaning lady and Kowalski understand it and grasp the points I am trying to get across it does not get released. Tedious? Yes; effective – for sure

  4. richardlith says:

    A rough rewrite of the letter. I could have taken too many liberties though, and the translation might not be exact enough, for example if the documents was used in a court of law.

    Note I have changed the order of the paragraphs, to give it a more English feel (ie putting details of the complaint first, and adding the airy-fariy theory about the importance of statistics second. This, I would suggest, is a more English appraoch, rather than the general Slavic language way of putting general sentiments first to build up to the concrete details of the complaint.

    Katowice, the 3 rd April, 2008
    The Minister of Justice
    Prof. Zbigniew Ćwiąkalski
    Al. Ujazdowskie 11
    00-950 Warsaw

    Dear Prof. Zbigniew Ćwiąkalski,

    I am writing to ask you to help Prof. Józef Oleński, President of Central Statistical Office and a member of the Polish Academy of Science’s Statistics and Econometry Committee, to ensure that national statistics remain confidential.

    State prosecutors have taken action, including empowering bailiffs to seize the CSO President’s salary, because of activities which have undermined the confidentially of national statistics. (This is very vague, as X points out).

    This is unprecedented. Prof. Oleński is legally obliged under Polish and European Union legislation to protect statistical confidentiality.

    I would remind you that maintaining data protection ensures the reliability of statistical data. Official statistics provide the government with the information it needs to run the country.

    Accurate statistical data is used to support research in disciplines such as economics, sociology and political science.

    I ask to you intervene personally in this matter in order to protect the good reputation of Polish official statistics around the world.

    With best regards

    Prof. Andrzej Stanisław Barczak
    Chairman of the Polish Academy of Science’s Statistics and Econometry Committee

  5. island1 says:

    Wow. Now that’s what I call a thoughtful comment!

  6. Pawel says:

    I think you’re making a really good observation here.

    This is one of the things that make Poles and British different. Poles realy like to complicate things. I switch quite often between communicating with Poles and Brits, and the things you observe are becoming more and more apparent to me as well.

    Poles want to *seem* intelligent, and to make this impression they use complicated words and intellectual *terms*, even if their audience doesn’t understand. I was recently telling one of my Polish friends, after an international conference, I was surprised LGBT organisations in Britain don’t let straight people to the policy making process. I was going to continue what NUS rep. said when I asked why, and my friend says “they got it from essentionalism”.

    I was like “Whatever that means, that’s not what she said” :D

    I do like the British approach, which intends to simplify things whenever its possible.

    British NGO has its mission written in plain English in one sentence. Polish NGO have passages of intellectual blah blah which ordinary people can’t really relate to…

  7. richardlith says:

    Had bit of free time. Perhaps this could be the basis of a compietition. Rewrite a piece of gobbledigook . THe prize would then be to translate a piece of British official nonsense (perhaps taken from Private Eye’s Pseuds’ Corner) into Polish.

  8. expateek says:

    @richardlith — What a fabulous “audition” (your letter rewrite)! You could use this as a sales pitch for a translation service.

    I too have been appalled at the complete incomprehensibility of Polish to English translations. I tend to spend a lot of time in museums and tourist-y spots, and some texts and labels are just laugh-out-loud funny.

    It’s unfortunate that while Poland is trying to market itself as an ultra-modern country and an important destination for travelers, that Poles would skimp on the basics. Particularly for foreign visitors who don’t speak Polish, AND may not be very good at English either, this type of translation must be so frustrating to try to understand!

    It often seems that Poles are trying to seem super-intelligent, as you point out, Pawel. But that tendency isn’t limited to Poles. American and British academics, and businesspeople of every stripe, often pad things out to make their ideas seem important and “deep”.

    It’s just bad writing, finally. Kind of like when you were a kid writing a term paper and went through the thesaurus to glop up your paper with a bunch of four syllable synonyms to “clever” it up. Yawn. (Not that I ever did that! Or you!)

    I’ve thought about offering translation services, but since I don’t know much Polish at all, that seemed pretty unlikely. HOWEVER, I think one could offer a service to do re-writes of translations, emphasising the benefit of having a native-English speaking editor. In fact, it’s more about editing than translating, I believe.

    Still, whether you could actually get Polish people to PAY for this service, I don’t know. They seem to think they’re already pretty darn good at English in the first place.

    If anyone is serious about putting an offer out there, I’m interested!

  9. scatts says:

    Yes, forgot about Pseuds Corner. Here are a couple of examples:

    We will deliver a systematic and sustained programme of efficiency and measures for improved effectiveness, translated into sustainable local delivery to ensure the delivery of more stretching centrally derived targets. There will be more emphasis on local ownership and accountability for the identification and delivery of efficiencies.

    This project, to be called The Poetry of Cloning, will explore, through poetry, the scientific, medical, spiritual, social, cultural and ethical implications of cloning, and the wider context of the mapping of the Human Genome. It will seek to respond to the scientific possibilities of this new genetic research and creatively examine the challenges. After a period of research and interviews with front-line scientists, including Dr Severino Antinori, the doctor who wants to clone the first human, Gillian will create a series of ‘Light Poems’ etched or sandblasted onto glass and finally the book itself.


  10. Historically, GUS gets leant on by the government of the day to bend the statistical truth (especially in advance of elections). Look at the official figures for inflation (low – too low for the Monetary Policy Committee to have to hike interest rates) and GDP growth (high – PiS is presiding over an economic miracle). Once the election was out fo the way, GUS could ‘restate’ the figures to make themselves more credible in the eyes of their foreign peers in Eurostat, stats offices of Europe and the world. So inflation in August 2007 WAS sufficiently high to merit alarm bells going off inside the MPC after all.

    Translation: The Polish government cannot afford a native speaker translator to do a good job. So they need to use translators for whom English is a second or even third language. These people need to be told the following truths:

    1)“Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler” – Albert Einstein

    2) “Eleven syllables, many of them of Latin or Greek derivation, when one good English word of a single syllable, would do!” – Sir Winston Churchill

    In other words – don’t “clever it up”.

    Plain English Campaign needs a Warsaw office. Come to think of it, a Plain Polish Campaign is even more sorely needed – to hand out Gobbledegook and Golden Bull Awards – and Diamond Marks for the odd example of clarity.

  11. Chris says:

    I always feel a little guilty when I laugh at these kind of mistakes, but I’ve got to say that a government should know better.

    My absolute favourite mistranslation at the moment comes from the Aeroflot in-flight magazine and concerns entry into Japan.

    ‘All passengers arriving in Japan will be shot, full face. They must then agree to an interview.’

    I was drinking a very hot coffee when I read it for the first time and I kind of laughed, choked, spat and screamed in one ungraceful movement.

  12. pinolona says:

    Oooh goodie we’re on-topic here!

    Firstly: when I was in translator school, we were very emphatically taught the phrase GIGO and immediately told to avoid it At All Costs. If you don’t recognise the source text, if there are spelling and/or grammar mistakes, if it’s badly written or if you simply don’t understand it – tough. You have to ask a friendly native speaker to explain it to you or better still phone up the client (or make it up – oops she didn’t say that) until you have something that sounds like decent comprehensible English.

    Secondly: I know plenty of highly-trained Polish translators who can write beautifully in English but I suspect they are very expensive. A decent translator will ‘educate’ the client to insist on (and pay for) an English-native proofreader. (as Expateek pointed out – in fact translation agencies will often ask if you offer ‘Anglicisation’ of texts translated by non-native speakers e.g. from Lithuanian)

    Thirdly: Written English is just a lot simpler than other languages. Legal and academic Italian for example are governed by fiendish rules of Byzantine complexity which result in twisty sentences of five or six lines apiece. When translating into English you can cut out great swathes of vocabulary because they are simply meaningless. Although I don’t have as much experience with Polish, I am starting to learn that it is very similar. (an example of plain English here:

    Fourthly: Michael – Polish is a fascinating and exciting language and I am by no means the only native English translator/interpreter busting a gut to learn it. Unfortunately it is not widely taught in the UK higher education system because it’s not on UK secondary school syllabuses alongside the traditional French, German, Spanish. Although I believe Salford uni are starting a Polish translation course and if I’m not mistaken Westminster and London Met already offer one. Unfortunately, in spite of the shortage of English native translators and interpreters there is very little funding for training, and it’s extremely hard to access.

    Fifthly: A freelance translator works remotely by email and can receive commissions from clients and agencies anywhere in the world. Polish agency rates are simply not competitive.

    Island and Scatts: I think the point is that there already are Good Translation Services in Poland, it’s just that as yet people have no sense of the value of a decent translation and are not prepared to pay for it.

    I think I’ve run out of steam now. Phew! That was very close to becoming a Pinolona Linguistic Rant…

  13. island1 says:

    ‘Close’ nay perilously adjacent to :)

  14. michael farris says:

    “I know plenty of highly-trained Polish translators who can write beautifully in English but I suspect they are very expensive.”

    I’ve come across them too, but once they get that level of skill translating isn’t necessarily the most lucrative thing they can do and even if it is, chances are they’re doing other things or are very specialized. And even the best non-native writers can use an extra set of eyes in editing things before publication. (native translators can too, of course. I’m always happy when a client takes my work seriously enough to go through it with a fine tooth comb, uncritical acceptance makes me very uneasy).

    “A decent translator will ‘educate’ the client to insist on (and pay for) an English-native proofreader.”

    Yes, ideally when a Polish translator is working into English the _client_ should pay the extra expense for a native-proofreader. That’s part of the expense of the current situation and translators eating the cost won’t help a thing. Unfortunately good native proofreaders do not grow on trees and without some training in editing (and figuring out what the intended meaning is where some Polish knowledge helps) the input of some random native-speaker can be worse than nothing.

    “Written English is just a lot simpler than other languages”

    I really have to contest this. There wouldn’t be so many bad translations into English if it weren’t the case. Collocations are quirky and unpredictable (moreso than in Polish at any rate) and many space saving devices create special difficulties in parsing (especially for the non-native). Basically it’s a lot harder to put sentences together in English than most people realize.

    “When translating into English you can cut out great swathes of vocabulary because they are simply meaningless.”

    I doubt that they’re meaningless in Italian, they’re probably indispensible in contributing to the meta-message ‘this is important’. Also, long twisty sentences of seven or eight lines (or more) often read surprisingly easily and fluidly in Polish. Good English style tends toward shorter sentences because it’s very hard to put shorter sentences together into long sentences in a way that a reader won’t stumble over or misinterpret. Polish simply lends itself to very long sentences which are very readable.
    Plain-language movements work in some cultures (like England or Scandinavia) that value modest and stolid expression. It’s not necessarily optimal in a culture like Poland (or I suspect Italy) where personal flair is a necessary condition for engaging the reader and intricate language is necessary to convey gravity of purpose. Plain language in English is fine, in Polish it’s painful and boring.
    There surely is room for improvement in how lots of formal public language is formulated in Polish but a Plain Language movement is not the way to go IMO.

  15. Awhile back I agreed (first and last time) to proofread a colleagues thesis, written (more or less) in English. I don’t want to rant so I will just say that not only was my colleague’s written English skills abysmal to the point of making me cringe… but the entire thesis was full of holes. Poorly thought-out, badly researched and full of GUS-style fluff.

    I spent nearly as much time correcting their English as I did pointing out “other” mistakes and later swore I’d never translate anything else for anyone, friend or not, unless it was less than a paragraph and not at all important.

    It also became clear to me that while Poles spend a vast amount of time in school some of them apparently aren’t learning a lot. I suppose the same could be said of people anywhere, though.

  16. pinolona says:

    Michael (Farris): about the meta-message: exactly, if you translate word-for-word then you end up with a lot of excess vocabulary which – in the target language – is meaningless. I’m not saying that this is ‘garbage’ in the original. Consequently it is necessary to have a good knowledge of style requirements in different registers in both languages and to know how to reproduce both the literal and between-the-lines meaning in the target language.

    I am by no means campaigning for plain language in Polish – the complexity is the beauty of it. The link I included to the plain language entry includes an interesting example of transferring meaning rather than just words.

    What I am potentially ‘campaigning’ for is recognition of the processes behind translating from one language to another. The bad translations you see are a result of cost-cutting due to inadequate understanding of the issue and in public services this is lamentable. There is a general opinion that translation is not awfully important, but – as you can see from Scatt’s reaction – communication is one of the most fundamental aspects of business and government.

  17. scatts says:


    Is there not an element of blame here for the translators? It could be that people started out paying good money for translations and then, after getting rubbish back, decided not to waste money the next time. Certainly that’s been my experience here, the quality of the work bears no relation to the cost. Indeed it is very often the case that the less you pay, the better the output.

    The more expensive, so called ‘official’ translations, are the worst. They may be scientifically correct (i.e. their arse is covered) but all meaning is lost. This of course comes back to the question of going out on a limb in an attempt to make something better. Not a popular activity over here because there might not be anyone to blame but yourself. :-)

  18. richardlith says:

    Me again. great rant Pinolona. Many forget that translataion and the accompanying editing is a highly-skilled profossion, and with all professional services, you pay for what you get and you have to pay for quality. Of course, translators are always underpaid compared to the clients.

    Far too many translations are done almost as a favour by ¨my neigbour’s daughter, or my friend from university¨ who happen to be studying English. Translation is a separate professional skill from a good kowledge of the language, meaning that people translating a text as a friendly favour cannot do a proper job, no matter their knowlege of the language.

    From my expierence, where millions of zlotys/euros are dependent on an good and accurate translation, for example in business deals, the legal world and international organisations, top dollar is paid to specialised, sometimes in-house translators. A poor translatioin can be a dealbreaker, and lead to internaional incidents.

    Did Sarkozy’s piece treaty to end the Georgian war not almost collapse because there was disagreement over the Russian and English/French versions. The Russians thought¨withdraw towards Russia.¨ SArkozy thought ¨withdraw to Russia.¨

    Finally, the quality of a translation often hinges on WHY a translation is being made. If it is to seal a business deal or internaional treaty, then a good translation is needed.

    I think with this GUS case, there is no inherent need to have a translation, it is just on the website for public information, perhaps some govt PR executive or press officer’s latest efforts to get the govt to have more info on the internet in English.

    But it is just for information, no money or contract depends on the translation. Therefore, GUS did not need to spend on a good translation.

    If, say, GUS in the future makes a tender bid for some EU statistics work, you can bet that they will pay a lot for a good accurate translation in order to win a lucrative contract.

    REmeber, the translator and editor is invisible, an unseen hand. If you are translating a student’s dissertation, professionally you cannot interfere and tell the student where his work falls down. A translator has to remain faithfull to the context, tone, argument etc etc of the original text, something that can be very diffictul to replicate in the target language.

    After all, some of us may have read Kafka, for example, in English. But who knows or cares who translated it from German or why. NExt time to read some Polish novel, or some official document that is well translated, take time out to say thank you to the translator, you are really reading his/her words.

  19. pinolona says:

    Scatts: that’s completely illogical: if you pay someone to lay tiles in your kitchen (for example) and they do a crappy job, you don’t think ‘what a waste of money, right, well I’ll pay less next time and still get a crappy job’, no – in fact you think ‘ok, well I’ll do a bit of research next time and make sure I get someone who can do the job properly’.
    It’s just a service, provided by suppliers, like any other. The reason people won’t pay for it is that the market is very susceptible to globalisation (not necessarily a bad thing) and you can always get your PL>EN translation done by a teenager in Beijing for a fraction of the price…

  20. scatts says:


    I see your point but that’s not what I was getting at. I’ve never shopped around based on price but have used various services for one reason (like that is the who my employer of the time had a deal with) or another that ended up costing very different amounts. Similarly, I’ve never gone out looking for a ‘crappy job’. I have, as you might expect, always hoped for good work no matter what the price.

    I’m not sure this has got anything to do with globalisation, certainly not at my level. Perhaps the bigger consumers of translations do shop around globally but with the volume of work we have it’s just not worth it. I think the reason people won’t pay for it is because they have no idea what they are going to end up with. When price ceases to give an indication of quality or suitability for purpose then people will remove price as a basis for making a decision at which point it becomes a bit of a lottery. The people who do provide a good service (for a high price) of course suffer because of those who don’t. Bit like the old cowboy builder or Irish driveway scenario.

    Your industry has a problem because there appears to be no way to distinguish, prior to purchase, a good translator from a bad one. No star rating, no professional association that one should look for and that really means something. How am I supposed to know who’s good and who isn’t? Word of mouth perhaps, but if you’re not in the translation business you don’t really get to hear any ‘words’.

    Other than employing your good self of course, how can I “make sure I get someone who can do the job properly”?

    Feel free to launch into the full Pinolona Lingusitic Rant! :-0

  21. Sylwia says:

    It’s likely that no one in GUS realises there’s something wrong with the translation.

    I agree with Scatts that there is a general problem with translators. For example they advertise their abilities to interpret technical texts, but it often appears that they know relevant vocabulary neither in English nor Polish. In such a case companies prefer to make the translations on their own. Looking for someone who’d do it well might take years and a lot of money. One can’t foresee their skills. It’s easier with tiles; one can go to a pervious client’s bathroom or see pictures.

    However, I agree with Pinolona that translating from Polish to English and vice versa is very difficult. Our languages are too different, and Polish is far further from English than Italian. The simplest to everybody is what one is familiar with, no matter the complexity.

    I read in English a lot, much more than in Polish. The truth is that the 18th century English, or even Shakespeare’s English are much easier to me than the modern one. It’s not a matter of artificial intellectualisation. I simply feel more comfortable with all of the four syllable words than idiomatic expressions. Since European languages come from a common source it shouldn’t be surprising that the older a text the better for us. And I do prefer ‘whomever’ to ‘whoever’. Intuitionally it’s more comprehensible.

    There are also things that aren’t translatable, but people still struggle to convey. It’s more evident in fiction or poetry than business letters. One thing that gives me a lot of trouble, even though I’m aware of it, is the lack of inflection. Poles inflect words all the time, tainting their speech emotionally. Since it can’t be done in English they subconsciously make up for it with extra words. We don’t use that many adjectives and adverbs in Polish, actually we don’t use that many nouns either, but we do in English. Every time I write something I have to go through the text and delete half of the ‘very’, ‘little’, ‘many’ etc. that I put there. In effect we sound formal, because we can’t use the device that allows us for ease.

    Another one are onomatopoeias. In fact, in emotional scenes, I can tell when a text is written by a Pole, even one whose first language is presumably English (i.e. an American born to Polish parents) by their struggle to convey extra meaning via the sound of words. Something that is completely incomprehensible to an English speaker anyway, but we’re so married to it we’re unable to give up. Poles convey only about half of their meaning via the sense of words, the rest is in sound, which is often produced thanks to grammar. That’s why no one even tries to translate Leśmian’s “W malinowym chruśniaku”.

    There are also Polish idioms that we translate without realising they are idioms, and entire grammatical structures that are totally different and we don’t even know where to start. In fact one shouldn’t translate a text at all, but write from scratch. Not to mention that the similarities between our respective punctuations seem to start and end at the full stop.

    There are problems in professional translations both ways. Several great men translated Shakespeare, but only when Barańczak did it Poles discovered that the plays are actually witty. Whenever I see a Polish film translated to English I can swear that 2/3 are ignored. It seems as if they were leaving out everything that’s too difficult, which means nearly every thing. Films with English subtitles appear to manage better. One day I found Grochowiak’s ‘Introduction’ translated by a scholar from Polish Studies at some American university. It’s a short poem, four strophes. He made two mistakes, and so failed to convey the meaning. He didn’t recognize that the opening line was from Horace, so he didn’t use a relevant English one. And he had no idea what turpizm, that’s indeed a specifically Polish movement in arts, is about, and so his interpretation ended up to be exactly the opposite. I laughed out loud, but till today I don’t understand what lured him to Grochowiak in the first place since he didn’t get the underlying philosophy. However, I see similar problems in Polish translations. They come from not understanding relevant cultural concepts, especially when relating to the 18th century literature or older. Although, fairly, they wouldn’t be obvious to an average contemporary English speaker either, they might be to a Polish or English scholar. It seems that sometimes a translator should be both a linguist and a historian.

    Michael: “Also, long twisty sentences of seven or eight lines (or more) often read surprisingly easily and fluidly in Polish.”

    There’s nothing surprising about it. Polish grammar is more complex, so it gives more possibilities. It’s easier to build a fancy house when you have more elements to choose from.

    “I doubt that they’re meaningless in Italian, they’re probably indispensible in contributing to the meta-message ‘this is important’.”

    Yes, and Polish official letters sound pompous for the simple reason of their being written in the passive voice that’s not popular otherwise. It’s used in English a lot, but in a completely different way. You don’t start with “Hereby it is announced…”, do you?

    It’s not true that Polish sentences are always longer. It depends on what kind of text one translates. Some ideas are easier depicted in English some in Polish.

    I have a friend who edits for me in special cases, and I must say we both hate it. That is I love it because I learn a lot, but I hate to see my thoughts, intentions and emotions disappear, and that’s what inevitably happens when translating to English. One can keep the overt meaning, but that’s all. And she hates it because I fight for every word. Editing several pages takes many days of sending a file back and forth. That’s not to say that English doesn’t have its advantages over Polish, it does. The problem is that a language allows us for a certain way of thinking, a collection of ideas that are expressible only in our mother tongue. Neither English nor Polish can articulate the concepts of the other. As a Pole I like the Polish ones better, that’s how I’m programmed.

    Then of course I’d like to know English better to be able to write this post using half the space. ;-)

  22. adthelad says:

    Does anyone rememeber the debacle about Jedwabne? Does anyone recall what the then Polish president was ‘asked’ to do, or how shall I put it, was expected to do because of the whole of Poland being perceived as anti-semitic??

    Despite Polish law, all the bodies were not exhumed, the number and manner of death was not properly investigated, and yet rumour and conflicting stories were rife, stocked up by the press, with all the mud sticking to ‘Poland’ and none to our German friends. There was a great deal of pressure on Kwaśniewski to express how sorry the Polish people were that such deaths had occured. Everyone thought this the only reasonable course for Kwaśniewski at the commemoration.

    I remember being horrified, along with many others, when Kwaśniewski instead of saying sorry, apologised in the name of Poland! As if murder was something you could apologise for (never mind the given situation) and apologise for in the name of your country, the majority of whose citizens, under the threat of death, did not act maliciously against their Jewish compatriots.

    If ever there was collosal error in understanding English (translating or perceiving sorry to mean przepraszać) this one was a doozy!

  23. […] [Polandian] Lies, statistics and bad translations. […]

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