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Mistranslations in treaties: That’s not the way we see it! Article bY Translation Service Tokyo

According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, and reported by the Polish News Bulletin (January 2005), the Polish translation of the EU Constitutional Treaty contained close to 100 translation errors.

Translation errors in treaties

That got me thinking. Treaties, being the domain of politicians and legal scholars, generally come into being in the corridors of power, behind closed doors. As such, translation bloopers in treaties don’t have the “shock and awe” effect, of say, the bombing of Hiroshima (See Is This The World's Most Tragic Translation?). Yet, the implications from a historical perspective may be far more profound resulting in wars (The Battle of Adwa), and even spanning multiple generations!

Take, for example, the Treaty of Waitangi.

Signed between Britain and the Maori of New Zealand on February 6, 1840, at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, the treaty was drafted in English then translated into Maori. Due to mistranslations, the Maori believe they were simply giving permission for the British to use their land; however, Britain believed the treaty gave it complete sovereignty over the Maori.

A series of land disputes cumulated in war, resulting in land confiscations by the victorious British. Eventually, most of New Zealand fell under the Crown. Although the Waitangi Tribunal set up in 1975 has provided compensation to Maori, disagreements over the treaty continue to this day.

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About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, owner of Japan Translation Service Tokyo Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Service

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Tags: English Japanese Translation · Japanese Translation Services · Professional · Translation Articles · Translation errors · Translation quality · Translation Services Japan · Translation Services Tokyo

4 &DISCUSS response(s) so far ↓

  • 1 » Akiko Akiya (2012-08-09)

    Hope EU's nearly 100 translation errors are small ones!
  • 2 » Mayuko N (2012-08-31)

    Mmmm...it seems like they need a translator representing each side for this kind of stuff. Maybe lawyers, too.
  • 3 » Yumi Kagami (2012-09-23)

    Have you ever listened the song "Treaty" by Austrarian Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi? They sing about a their plight that is similar to that of the Maori. Hope we get over such mistranslation and the world is filled with sincere sympathy.
  • 4 » Y.Kagami (2012-09-24)

    In the song named "Treaty", an Australian aboriginal band laments their historical treatment, similar to the Maori. Treaties need to be fair to both sides.

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