Lost In Translation
I’ve posted thoughts in the past about the meaning of words and the importance of being true to the language we use. I had an experience recently that puts my grievance to shame.
I have a client who is from South Vietnam. He has lived in the U.S. for 36 years. With only a high school (Vietnam) education, his speaking English is passable, if a little hard to understand at times. Trying to explain legal matters to him is difficult, because some of the more complex vocabulary needs to be broken down into simpler concepts. But that is not the problem.
We are preparing him for the time when he must testify at trial, and it is imperative that a jury be able to understand him clearly. So we need to look into finding an interpreter – someone who clearly understands his Vietnamese dialect but can speak with flawless English. We can’t.
He left South Vietnam just before the communists overran the country from the north. Since he left, the South Vietnamese dialect he spoke has been virtually wiped out. If he goes home today, he can barely communicate with locals. In 35 years, his language has disappeared. There are no Vietnamese interpreters in the area who speak or understand his dialect sufficiently to do the job.
He wanted to open a restaurant in Boston, in a thriving Vietnamese area, but his dream was wiped out by a very bad lawyer (also Vietnamese). In order to prove his lost profits, we have to find a witness from the Vietnamese community who knows the restaurant business and the neighborhood. There is such a person. But the two of them can barely communicate, and his English is no better than the client’s.
This fellow is literally a man without a language – he and others from the discreet area of South Vietnam (each region has its own dialect, not so dissimilar that they can’t communicate, but very dissimilar to the North Vietnamese dialects that have overrun their home tongue).
My complaint before was about the influence of political correctness on the meaning of words. Here, politics has had a much, much graver impact.
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