Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Was Evangelii Gaudium Mistranslated?

LifeSite's Steve Jalsevac comments on the pope's apostolic exhortation.

I decided to take a look at the document in French and compare it to some of the English quotations in the LifeSite article to see if I could get a clearer insight into what the pope was trying to say.

And I think there were translation issues in the English document, based on my reading of the French.

For instance, there is no use of any word resembling "sourpuss".

The first sentence of section 85 in English goes like this:

One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. 

The first sentence in French goes like this:

Une des plus sérieuses tentations qui étouffent la ferveur et l’audace est le sens de l’échec, qui nous transforment en pessimistes mécontents et déçus au visage assombri.

This is my translation of the French sentence:
One of the most serious temptations that stifles fervor and boldness is a sense of failure, which transforms us into unhappy and disappointed pessimists with long faces.
I don't think querulous is the same as unhappy (or discontented) and disappointed isn't necessarily the same as disillusioned.

The tone of the French to me is much restrained than in English. I think "sourpuss" is too idiomatic (and maybe too strong a word) to convey what the pope really meant.

I also decided to see if there problems with other controversial parts.

For instance, paragraph 54 is about economics:

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 French says:

Dans ce contexte, certains défendent encore les théories de la “rechute favorable”, qui supposent que chaque croissance économique, favorisée par le libre marché, réussit à produire en soi une plus grande équité et inclusion sociale dans le monde.

I Googled "rechute favorable" in French I couldn't find that expression (independently of this exhortation) and I'd never heard of it.

I'm not even sure "rechute" is the proper word to use, as the dictionaries describe it as "falling back into a bad habit".

But the real problem is that the French translation condemns the belief that trickle-down theory in itself will lead to greater equity and social inclusion.

The "in itself" is absent in the English version.

I don't know that conservatives believe in "trickle down" so much as free markets.

Trickle down makes tax cuts a driving force in the economy, whereas conservatives-- at least the North American kind-- think that economic growth is better assured by having fewer taxes and doing what you want with your own money.

There are some free marketers who unabashedly believe in capitalism as a source of equality and inclusion. There's no doubt that the wealth generated from free markets leads to more equality and inclusion. But I don't think it's the majority who think this way. Pope Benedict in one of his encyclicals spoke of the economic need for the "free gesture", those acts that  are not driven by monetary gain, but by humanitarianism. I think this is what Pope Francis was talking about, not the creation of some socialist system.

I didn't read the whole document in English or French. But I'm sensing that there are significant differences in nuances and translations, and I think this could be a source of misunderstanding and friction.