I was watching a short video segment on the NY Times website this morning. It was about the drug “Paco” which is causing a lot of problems in Argentina. One of the things that struck me was the voice of the interpreter. It was much more a voice you would hear on the street and much less one out of academia. I never really thought much before about the voices that they use in voiceover when people are talking, except on the rare occasions when they would use a woman’s voice over a man’s talking or vice versa. In this particular case, they were profiling a drug user who was living in a shanty town. He was very poor, without work, a father trying to pull his life back together after coming out of a treatment program. Sadly, he had relapsed into serious drug use, unable to escape. As he spoke in Spanish during the interview, the voice and the words of the translator were very jarring to me. This wasn’t the voice of some remote, calm professor they had drudged up. This was the voice and words of someone more “street”, more what you would hear in normal life in my old neighborhood in Manhattan, for example. When I thought about it, it seemed that this voice actually fit the subject better than some rarefied social science expert, and it made me wonder about the choices news organizations use in picking these people and what sorts of cultural messages they are reinforcing by these choices. The basic idea, in news reporting is to be as “detached” and as “objective” as possible in the reporting, a cool distant eye on the subject. The use of soporific, detached voices when doing translations could be thought to add to this effect. Or it could be simply that, being used to always hearing the same kind of voice, we tend to think of it as standard, and so it fades into the background, letting the story speak for itself. But does it really? Do these voices convey the identity they are translating better or worse? That is to say are they more or less “authentic”? Do they add or remove barriers to our understanding? How about to our empathy?
I (like many people) am a user of several IM networks (AIM, MSN, Yahoo, GTalk) in order to allow me to chat with friends in each of these networks. (As a side note, I use a really nice single application called Adium to connect to all of them at the same time.) These networks each have their strengths and weaknesses, but Yahoo’s seems the most prone to being hijacked for spreading spam or viruses or whatnot. Being on a Mac, I am mostly immune to this sort of thing, but the rare messages popping up in Yahoo IM windows from complete strangers are annoying anyway.
This morning I got a message sent to me in Arabic. It was several paragraphs long and since I don’t speak the language, completely incomprehensible. Curious nonetheless to investigate the cultural differences between Arabic and English spam, I headed over to Google Translate to try to decode the message. What resulted was pretty nonsensical. Although there were a few words that alone had meaning, almost none of them taken together mean anything at all (at least in English). However, one phrase did stand out to me as pure poetry: “beyond estimation of toast”.