The Pamphlet Translation Imbroglio & Negroese

By Richard Foot


U.S. government fields complaints over document translation

When Clement Edwards was asked to translate a U.S. government pamphlet into a Caribbean dialect, he never realized the work would land him in the middle of a bureaucratic bungle that stretches from Miami to Toronto.

"It is not the fault of anybody in Canada," said Mr. Edwards today in a rich Jamaican accent. "The Americans, they cannot blame the Canadians."

Several months ago the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, decided to produce a pamphlet in nine languages to inform immigrants in its subsidized housing projects about their rights and responsibilities as residents.

HUD asked the U.S. Government Printing Office to handle the translation and printing of the work. The Printing Office contracted out the job to Thorner Press, a private company in Buffalo, N.Y. Thorner turned to Cosmos Translation Services in Toronto to translate the English-language document into Creole, so Haitians living in HUD housing in Miami could understand the pamphlet.

The trouble is that HUD never specified to the government printer that a French-Creole translation, common to Haiti, is what the department needed. Instead the brochure was translated by Cosmos into English-Creole, a patois common to Jamaica.

"You're an international city with a large Jamaican population," said Chris Nardello of Thorner Press. "Toronto seemed a normal place to go find a translator."

Cosmos hired Mr. Edwards to do the job, and he in turn passed along the translation of the seven-page brochure to a female colleague.

Thorner printed nearly 6,000 copies of the English-Creole brochure, distributing about 700 to government libraries around the U.S. and the rest to Miami's Haitian HUD residents.

Complaints from Haitians to the government soon followed. Some said they didn't understand the brochure, others asked if the translation was a racial joke.

"Yuh as a rezedent, ave di rights ahn di rispansabilities to elp mek yuh HUD-assisted owzing ah behta owme fi yuh ahn yuh famhily," read the pamphlet, which translated back to English means: "You as a resident have the rights and the responsibilities to help make your HUD-assisted housing a better home for you and your family."

But the pamphlet was no joke. It was signed by HUD's senior executive, "Sekretary Andrew M. Cuomo fella."

Today fingers are being pointed in all directions. Staff at Thorner Press say they're not to blame. Andy Sherman, the Government Printing Office spokesman, says a HUD official approved the English-Creole translation proofs before they were printed. And Haitian groups in Miami are asking why the government never asked them to do the translation.

Mr. Edwards says U.S. bureaucrats are at fault for the mix-up - or as he says in English-Creole, "Da govment, dem scru up."

National Post, November 18th




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