I’ve been reading The Hunger Games in translation to Arabic. I’ve never read it before, so it’s quite entertaining.  A few pages in I encountered a reference to an animal I wasn’t familiar with.

It appeared to be a barnyard animal, like a pig, from the setting and description. But it was called حيوان مقزز.

What is that? I wondered. I stuck the words into google translate.

Disgusting animal is the translation. Not very helpful. I put the phrase into google image search, which is another useful technique for figuring out nuance of words that aren’t in the dictionary. A whole variety of ugly animals showed up, but most were of the rodent variety, not the type of animal one keeps in a pen in a barnyard and feeds food scraps.

A few pages later in the book, there was a scene where the main character drinks “French drink” شراب فرنسي and gets dizzy. At this point I’m pretty sure the translator is making some odd choices, because I expect that French drink is really wine or champagne.

Several pages later, other characters are drinking شراب لاذع – bitter drink- and getting drunk. The guests at various dinners are eating the disgusting animal, which has been roasted with an apple stuck in its mouth.

You get what’s going on here now, with these translation choices, right?

I wanted to be sure, since I knew that the original version of the Hunger Games is set in some dystopian future, and there was some small chance the author had used weird linguistic choices to depict the change of place.

But no. See below.

And here is the google image search link that demonstrates that, even in Arabic, disgusting animal, bitter drink, and french drink are totally unclear and incorrect translations for the original.

حيان مقزز – disgusting animal

شراب لاذع – bitter drink

شراب فرنسي – French drink

(And yes, I expect even religious people in the most religious of countries know what pigs, wine, and champagne are. Knowing what they are is a requirement for making clear rules against their consumption. The correct translations are خنزير, خمر او نبيذ، و شامبانيا . Moreover, alcohol is an Arabic word الكحول )

What I find fascinating about this is that The Hunger Games is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and the assurances for accurate translation to a major language were so low.





Posted by:Brook DeLorme

6 replies on “Translation Choices

  1. This is very odd! Was the translation done in one of the Gulf countries? Newspapers and magazines in the UAE, for ex, cannot mention booze. I know someone who used to be an editor for Time Out Abu Dhabi, and she said they had to do all these weird workarounds and euphemisms in restaurant reviews. So this reads like that editorial policy, applied to the whole book.

  2. I’ve seen the same thing while reading Harry Potter in Arabic. One of the worst translation jobs I’ve ever seen. Sometimes entire pages are summarized into a sentence or two, and many referenced are turned into something strange or completely Ignored.
    I recently started a blog about my language studies at http://myloveofmornings.com hope you’ll take a look!

    1. Wow, that is fascinating. I had never read The Hunger Games prior so really I don’t know what else I might be missing! Will definitely check your blog- I love language learning!

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