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Pete Willows July 17, 2012 Word count: about 518 willows@aucegypt.


Language Is A Virus
Translating Egypts Revolution: the language of Tahrir. 2012. American University in Cairo Press. ISBN: 978 977 416 533 7. Dar el Kutub No. 11218/11. 150 LE. Translation is a skill, an ability and if youre lucky, a talent. A potential client once asked why he needs to hire a translation service, with the advent of Google Translate. The short answer is: the nuance of language. The long answer is: your question is not phrased properly you should be asking why you need to hire an excellent, experienced translation service, and paying a premium price for it. The automatic spell-check correction blunders on our smart phones are common sorry, my spell check corrected your name to ... In fact, we see it so often, that its now almost unnecessary to comment. Translation software will give you a literal translation. Ive worked with professional translation software (as a user, not a developer) and it almost gets you there. Almost. When the successful rugby coach was asked what he would do, now that he is retiring, he said, je vais aller cuver mon vin. That could mean, Ill go ferment my wine. So I asked the French girl if hes going to open a winery. No, she told me, its an expression for having a hangover that hes going to sleep off his wine. Further, it was an idiom used as a metaphor: years of wins and championships followed by retirement would mean a period of sadness and depression for him. And thats the longer answer for why you cant just use Google Translate.

Samia Mehrez, a professor of Arabic literature in the Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations, and director of the Center for Translation Studies at the American University in Cairo, shepherded and edited this book. The book is a collection of term papers and photographs by her students, cataloguing their impressions and interpretations of Egypts 18-day uprising in 2011, which is locally known as al-thowra [the revolution]. The papers became chapters, and the chapters each view the revolution through a different prism of interpretation. Some examine the semiotics (signs and symbols as a language system); others are less impressionistic, with interpretations and explanations of the jokes and humor that united many of the aspiring revolutionaries. Context, culture and attitude go a long way in explaining a joke. Mehrez told me the authors used a process she calls thick translation, which goes beyond literal translation to extricate the message from the nuance of language. And further, that she helped them seek a deeper meaning of each sign, joke, poem or chant. By employing this technique, each of my students acted as mediators with their topics, traveling back and forth between cultures and histories to best convey what happened during the revolution to the reader. Mehrez organized a one-day symposium to solicit feedback on the progress of each independent research project. It was then that we decided we had enough original and interesting material to bring it to the level of a published book. Translating Egypts Revolution: The Language of Tahrir features the work of Chris Combs, Laura Gribbon, Sarah Hawas, Sahar Keraitim, Menna Khalil, Samia Mehrez, Heba Salem, Lewis Sanders IV, Amira Taha, Kantaro Taira and Mark Visona. It is available at bookstores in Cairo.

Pete Willows is a contributor to The Egyptian Gazette and its weekly edition, The

Egyptian Mail. He lives and works in Cairo, and can be reached at