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.
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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