Madeleine – lost in translation

The PJ Files are mainly in Portuguese and this has raised debate on the Internet as to whether we can trust the translated versions that can be read in English.

The issue of the construction of the statements has also raised debate. For non-Portuguese speakers, the mechanism seems to be that questions were posed by the PJ in Portuguese, this was translated into English, the question was answered in English, the answer was translated into Portuguese, and that version was typed up or written down. At the end of the interview, the translator would take the statement in Portuguese, translate it into English to verify it, then it would be signed by the person giving the statement.

This is a fairly tortuous process, and presumably the Operation Grange interviews of 2014 were a stage more complex. The questions posed by Operation Grange presumably started life in English and the questions were then translated into Portuguese, so that the PJ could put them to the person be interviewed. Then the song and dance routine described above took place. Or a similar variant.

A number of errors definitely exist in statements that have been released on the Internet in English, and there is no reason to assume the rather laborious interview translation routine resulted in error-free statements in the first place.

The BBC has tackled this translation issue in quite a different way, by looking at the use and translation of emojis. They are used to insert a small image into text messages to convey tone or emotion.

Emoji translator wanted – London firm seeks specialist”

Ms Zilinskiene, head of Today Translations, needed someone to translate diaries into emojis for one of her clients, but could not find a specialist. She says software translations can only go so far and a human translator was needed, so the agency posted an online job advert.”

Indeed, the legal world has had to take notice of emojis, as lawyers have started bringing forward the text communications sent by people accused of crime as evidence.”

There is more at For example, one emoji that is perfectly acceptable in certain cultures is particularly rude in others.

Quite what the qualifications are for a specialist emoji translator is something I can only guess at. My interest was started by a debate about what qualifications were required for an English<->Portuguese translator, in Portugal, in May 2007. That topic has not been resolved, so I am still in the dark on that question too.


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