Friday, October 13, 2006

What's the risk?

Language can both express and conceal.  Could it be that sometimes what's not visible in the original expresses itself in translation?

Here is the quaintly worded apprehension of a trash collector in Baghdad. It's cited in today's New York Times headlines email.

"When we are working, we are working nervously. We are carrying our souls in our hands."
SABAH AL-ATIA a trash collector in Baghdad.

The lede itself says:

"In a city where a bomb could be lurking beneath any heap of refuse, trash collectors have one of the deadliest jobs."

Notice the difference between the two?

However, "to carry life on the palm of the hand" is an everyday expression in north Indian languages and could denote much smaller risks, like recklessly riding a bike or crossing a busy road.

The quote (slightly mistranslated?)  expresses the risks more evocatively than the probably stronger statement in the lede.

I hope Sabah's own assessment of risk is lower. But I hope his everyday expression doesn't conceal any real risks in his own mind or in the minds of those who could help him.

I wish him all the luck he needs!


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