Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, YEREVAN

The golden rule in interpretation is that the interpreter must accurately transfer the meaning from one language into another. There is no other way. And yet there have been cases when the interpreter has interpreted the exact opposite of the original meaning, which can be justified.

An official delegation led by Chairman of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance Kiril Skachkov arrives in Algeria from Moscow to participate at the opening ceremony of the metallurgical industrial unit at el-Hajar. Not only was Skachkov quite old and in bad health, but he also "couldn’t get dry” (i.e., was drunk) from the moment he got off the plane until he flew back to Moscow.

During the official ceremony, without looking at his written speech, he says:

"Dear Turkish friends.”
His interpreter, the young diplomat Yuri Fedotov (who later went on to become the Russian ambassador to the UK and currently serves as the Executive Director of the UNODC), interprets: "Dear Algerian friends.”

Many Algerians present at the ceremony, who had graduated from Soviet institutions, begin to laugh.
Without realizing what is going on, Skachkov continues:

"Dear Turkish friends. The Soviet Union assisted you in building the Iskenderun metallurgical plant.”

"Dear Algerian friends. The Soviet Union assisted you in building the el-Hajar metallurgical plant,” interprets Fedotov.
The laughter gets louder.

Ambassador Vasili Rykov, who is standing next to Skachkov, pokes him with his elbow:
"Listen, you’re in Algeria and these are not Turks!
"Oh dear, it turns out they are not Turks!” exclaims the speaker.
Skachkov’s "record” was repeated later by Brezhnev in Baku . . .
The French language is rich, musical, and flexible. But interestingly they don’t have the sound and letter "ch” and they use three letters "tch” to make that sound. In many cases, however, due to conservatism, arrogance, and, I would add, inability to learn other languages, a French person will pronounce "ch” as "sh.”

This rigid habit caused a diplomatic scandal when the Lachin corridor, which was mentioned by a Turkish delegate, turned into "La Chine.”
It happened during one of the OSCE sessions at the Hofburg Palace, when they were discussing the Armenian takeover of Lachin. Under Azeri pressure, the statement that was made read: "Yesterday the Armenian army occupied Lachin.” The statement is interpreted into six languages, including French. And the French interpreter says: "Hier l’Armée d’Arménie a occupée la Chine” ("Yesterday the Armenian army occupied China.”).

This may have gone unnoticed or attracted only the attention of the French speakers. However a Chinese representative was present at the session as an OSCE observer. He makes a scandal that goes beyond diplomatic norms. The session is stopped. When it resumes, everyone puts on their headphones and switches to the French channel. The interpreter declares:

"Please forgive me. The Armenian army did not occupy China. It was the army of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
2556 reads | 07.05.2014

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