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Translation Lessons from the Papal Tweet

January 21st, 2013

Every area of specialization has its own specific language, and the Catholic Church has placed importance on Latin over a millennia. In order to propagate Latin in the mobile age, the Pope has started tweeting in this language as well. The first Papal tweet in Latin was on January 20th, 2013.

In order to ensure that his followers could understand his first Latin tweet, “Unitati christifidelium integre studentes quid iubet Dominus? Orare semper, iustitiam factitare, amare probitatem, humiles Secum ambulare,” Pope Benedict XVI also tweeted the translations in his other language tweets.

Something Else

The Latin tweet and its translations also bring to prominence the fact that accurate translations are very difficult. While the Pope translated his Latin tweet to: “What does the Lord ask of us as we work for Christian unity? To pray constantly, do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with Him,” other scholars such as the University of Cambridge scholar Tamer Nawar, translated the tweet to: “What does the Lord command to those wholly eager for the unity of those following Christ? To always pray, to continually do justice, to love uprightness, to walk humbly with Him.”

The two translations clearly have different nuances. While the Pope has presented the idea in easily flowing English, the very smoothness appears to deflect from the some of the nuances included in the second, more abrupt translation.

A Constant Struggle

The differences in translations produced by the scholars are part of the constant dilemma that translators face. Every translator has to weigh the advantage of translating into idiomatic language versus the advantages of trying to present all the nuances of the original without making the translation too wordy.

Most translators with sufficient experience try and balance these conflicting claims using their understanding of the subject being translated and their knowledge of the use to which the translation will be put.

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