Perhaps the movies made too literal a translation


One person in our group that went to see the movie True Lies back in 1994 is a native of the Middle East and knows Arabic. Our friend was therefore able to give us a side commentary on the quality of the Arabic used in the movie.

The opening sequence takes place at the embassy of a Middle Eastern country, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's character infiltrates the affair, in part by speaking what the movie subtitles reassure us is "perfect Arabic". Our friend leaned over and confided in us, "That Arabic is awful." This was, of course, hardly surprising.

Towards the end of the movie, Arnold's character has infiltrated the bad guys' secret hideout and listens in to a fiery speech given by the head bad guy. Jamie Lee Curtis's character asks him, "What's that guy saying?"

Arnold's character responds, "We shall triumph over the evil Americans, blah blah blah."

We asked our friend, "What is that guy really saying?"

"Believe it or not, he's saying 'We shall triumph over the evil Americans,' and the rest is gibberish."

The translators must have left that in as a little bonus joke for the Arabic speakers in the audience.

In 1995, the Windows 95 team dispatched pairs of employees to meet with IT departments around the country and install betas of Windows 95 on their computers to see how well it integrated with their networks, how well it handled that company's hardware configurations (Windows 95 being the first Microsoft operating system to support Plug and Play), ran the company's line-of-business applications, and generally see how it fared in a "real-world environment". (There were also follow-ups to see how Windows 95 was doing after being up and running for a while.)

My friend happened to be on one of those trips at the Pentagon on April 19th, 1995. They were installing Windows 95 on a set of machines, when somebody came into the room and said, with a very serious expression, "You need to leave now. Stop whatever you're doing and come with me." If you're in the Pentagon and somebody tells you, "You need to leave now," you don't ask any questions. You just leave.

They went to a nearby pub for lunch and saw on the television the reason why everybody at the Pentagon was so nervous: A bomb had just gone off in Oklahoma City, and public suspicion was initially cast on Middle Eastern terrorists. Being a Middle Eastern person in Washington, DC right after the Oklahoma City bombing was "very uncomfortable", my friend told me.

Sidebar

April 19th is a particularly bloody day in United States history. April 19, 1775 marked the Battles of Lexington and Concord, generally considered to be the opening battle of the American Revolutionary War. Four score and six years later, on April 19, 1861, the Pratt Street Riot in Baltimore marked the first death of the American Civil War. More recently, April 19, 1993 marked the deadly end of the siege of the Branch Davidians, followed two years later by the Oklahoma City bombing.

Comments (29)
  1. gkdada says:

    The ‘terrorist’ character (speaking arabic) was played by Art Malik who (though born in Pakistan) grew up in London and mildly dyslexic to boot. I doubt HIS arabic was perfect either. Should be fluent in Urdu I guess.

  2. Dan McCarty says:

    April 19 is my mom’s birthday you insensitive clod!

    (humorless corner: …I don’t really have to put this in here, do I?…)

  3. Dan McCarty says:

    [quote]

    in part by speaking what the movie subtitles reassure us is "perfect Arabic".  Our friend leaned over and confided in us, "That Arabic is awful."

    [/quote]

    Well his English isn’t much better…

  4. ringzero says:

    April 19, 1987:  The Simpsons debut on the Tracey Ullman show.

  5. F00sh says:

    Interesting, I happen to be of Middle-East Origin and I definately look the part. I also happen to do alot of consulting where I live (in Canada), so I get to fly alot.  I can completely understand what Raymond’s team member goes through on a daily basis. Its to bad; there are smart and gifted people in every race.

  6. F11sh says:

    I was once discussing this movie with a few coworkers and commented about how I liked Jamie Lee’s dance scene.

    They were stumped, had no idea what I was talking about.

    They had seen the movie in China, and apparently the dance scene was removed.

  7. John says:

    You mean to tell me that his line "I have to take a major leak" was, in fact, not perfect Arabic?  I feel so betrayed by Hollywood.

  8. Eric says:

    [quote]

    More recently, April 19, 1993 marked the deadly end of the siege of the Branch Davidians, followed two years later by the Oklahoma City bombing.

    [/quote]

    While most of these events are connected by date alone, these last two have a more explicit link. Timothy McVeigh chose April 19 as the date for the bombing in order to make a tribute to the Branch Davidians and strike back against the federal government, which he blamed for the events in Waco.

  9. There are 256 days after April 19th.  Buffer overflow?

  10. Spire says:

    Maurits wrote:

    There are 256 days after April 19th.

    Do you know something we don’t?

  11. Absorbine_Sr says:

    On April 19th, 1995 I was training an insurnace agency in Michigan how to use our company’s software. Sometime in the afternoon, the agency started receiving calls from news agencies asking if there was any link to the bombing in Oklahoma City. We weren’t even aware there had been one. Puzzled as to why they were being called, someone finally mentioned the name Timothy McVeigh. The agency owners name was McVey. No relation but sensible from the News peoples standpoint. But it still left us a bit stumped as to why he was contacted in Michigan. Later that day I was driving back to the airport and was detoured from my original route because of some intense police activity. Later I found out that this was the first investigation into the farm of Terry Nichols, McVeigh’s accomplice, who lived in Michigan just a few miles from where I was training. And the calls to the agency now made more sense. It was a very strange place to be in, and always makes memories of that horrible event that much more meaningful to me.

  12. mjb says:

    Apparently you need to edit the SideBar

    Sidebar

    April 19th is a particularly bloody day in United States history. April 19, 1775 marked the Battles of Lexington and Concord, generally considered to be the opening battle of the American Revolutionary War. Four score and six years later, on April 19, 1861, the Pratt Street Riot in Baltimore marked the first death of the American Civil War. More recently, April 19, 1993 marked the deadly end of the siege of the Branch Davidians, followed two years later by the Oklahoma City bombing. It also marks the birthday of Dan McCarty’s mother.

    :)

  13. kbiel says:

    There are 256 days after April 19th.  Buffer overflow?

    God created all of this in C?  That would explain a lot!  :)

  14. The best line from "True Lies" was given by Tom Arnold when he is telling Arnold about his ex wife:

    She took the ice cube trays.  I mean what kind of a sick bitch takes the ice cube trays?

  15. buzz says:

    Ιστορίες τρόμου και χάριτος, από τον Ρέιμοντ Τσεν. My friend happened to be on one of those trips at the Pentagon on April 19th, 1995. They were installing Windows 95 on a set of machines, when somebody came into the room and said, with a very serious

  16. asdf says:

    God created all of this in C?  That would explain a lot!

    http://xkcd.com/c224.html

  17. cmov says:

    “…somebody came into the room and said, with a very serious expression, “You need to leave now. Stop whatever you’re doing and come with me.”

    That’s odd, when have americans rushed out the Pentagon when they dropped bombs in the middle east?

    But ofcourse the worst fact is that Windows 95 was actually installed somewhere inside the Pentagon. Brrrrrr

    [Wow, we lasted six hours before somebody found a political angle to what was supposed to be a funny story. (And threw in a slam against Windows 95 for bonus points.) Comments on the topic of United States foreign policy will be deleted. -Raymond]
  18. Waleri says:

    Oh, well, "perfect arabic" – ask someone fluent in russian to tell you what Sean Connery is saying in "The Hunt For Red October". I myself had to playback that phrase several times before I realize what’s he saying (and believe me, my russian isn’t bad at all). Well, I admit, there were no subtitles saying "perfect russian", but since your friend was able to catch what Arni is saying on prima vista, this means his arabic *was* perfect… well, at least by the movies standards ;)

  19. Well, it’s better than someone posting such rubbish right away.

  20. Mr Cranky says:

    I believe the turret explosion on the USS Iowa was on 4/19/1989.

  21. fred says:

    Being around for several of these events has always made my birthdays a little odd…

  22. Anon says:

    "The translators must have left that in as a little bonus joke for the Arabic speakers in the audience"

    I’ve noticed action movies often do this bonus joke thing. My favourite, also in an Arnie movie, is in Eraser

    Tony Two Toes: There they are. Commie bastards!

    Mikey: They’re not communists any more, Tony. They’re a federation of independent liberated states.

    Tony Two Toes: Don’t make me hurt you, Mikey.

    I can’t remember an example, but I’ve noticed jokes that only Swedish speakers could get in a couple of American movies, also ones that require a fairly extensive knowledge of some obscure area. I guess most of these movies employee a huge number of people, some of whom have some fairly obscure skills, so it’s tempting to slip this stuff into what would otherwise be a rather dumb movie.

  23. Tim says:

    The Arabic in US movies can’t possibly as bad as the German spoken in many movies and TV shows. Sometimes I don’t even notice that they spoke German until I watch the scene again with subtitles turned on, because the pronounciation is so far from German.

    In other movies (Die Hard comes to my mind) I can easily understand it, but it sounds like in movies from the 30s and 40s – today German is spoken much more softly than 60 years ago. However, the expectation of the audience or movie makers seems to be that German needs to sound the way the the Nazis spoke it…

  24. James says:

    "I believe the turret explosion on the USS Iowa was on 4/19/1989."

    <non-us>Yes, but what’s that got to do with April 19th?</non-us> :-)

    Tim: you must admit, it does seem more appropriate for evil roles that way…

  25. Cody says:

    [However, the expectation of the audience or movie makers seems to be that German needs to sound the way the the Nazis spoke it…]

    Hammer, meet the nail’s head.

  26. Evil says:

    Evil characters must speak german, else english audience don’t understand they’re evil.

  27. The best part is when Arnold does not talk at all :). It once caused a funny situation though. My English was rather bad that time, I could hardly understand fluent speech in movies. Most movies had Russian voice translation (not just subtitles), so it was not a problem. I came to a friend who was watching Commando, I joined him in the middle of the movie. After about half an hour I suddendly realized the voice translation stopped and I don’t understand the talk in the movie, and asked what’s wrong? Everybody laughted – turned out the movie had no translation, but previous half an hour contained just two or three phrases that I easily understood and did not realize the movie was not translated at all :)

  28. Ken Hagan says:

    "today German is spoken much more softly than 60 years ago. However, the expectation of the audience or movie makers seems to be that German needs to sound the way the the Nazis spoke it"

    Much the same applies to British English. (Accents have changed, but not in the movies.) Movie makers choose stereotypical accents when they need a stereotypical character, and they use stereotypes when they need the audience to understand a character but haven’t got time to flesh out any detail.

  29. mobby_6kl says:

    Red Dawn was awesome in this regards. I can’t comment on the Spanish that was spoken there, but the Russian dialogue was often hilarious.

    In one scene, three Russian soldiers are at the Arapaho National Forest resort. The officer, who almost sounds like a Russian, comments on the landscape:

    Oh, what beauty!

    Soldier1, heavy accent: Major, what is this writing? (points to the nearby sign)

    O: You studied Russian, translate it.

    S1: American history, I know this well.

    S1 clears throat, stands next to the sign and points as he translates:

    Battlefield of Arapaho. This was the place of the great Christian uprising of the Indians in the year 1408 (?). It was squashed by president Theodore Roosevelt who commanded the federal imperialist forces and cowboys. The battle lasted the whole winter (?) and over 35,000 died. This was the greatest battle of the American west.

    O, S2: Well done!

    S2: Yuri, stay there, I take your picture.

    *Some animal (or bird) makes noises in the background*

    O: African baboon.

    Anyway, they make a few more remarks and find an arrow left by the heroes. S1 thinks it’s a real Indian arrow, even though it’s made of plastic. He says it’s just polished bone. Now, drumroll please, here’s what the sign actually said:

    "Arapaho National Forest. n Founded by President Theodore Roosevelt under the Forest Service Act of 1905, the forest comprises 40,000 acres of virgin timber and of the largest strands of blue spruce in the American west. Park camping facilities closed in winter."

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