Correcting a Correction of Evangelii Gaudium, para 54. UPDATED

It is very annoying for this to be the first thing I say about Pope Francis’ rich and inspiring apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, but this post at Catholic Culture demands it. The post asserts that there is a “key error in translation” in the English version, although the author himself relies on Google translate — hardly an authoritative source for translations.

The author also tips his hand when he parenthetically questions why these errors “always seem to tilt in the same ideological direction,” although there is also the fact that, you guessed it, the “key error” of the 83-page document occurs in paragraph 54, where Francis makes his perhaps most scathing critique of capitalism. In other words, it is highly doubtful that this correction was born out of an interest in the translation itself. The author probably Googled the passage he didn’t like in order to find something he could dismiss it with.

I suspect that there are very few Anglophone commentators who have read the entire letter in the English translation and the Spanish original as I have. Therefore, I feel duty bound to bring a quick end to this distracting conspiratorial nonsense.

The original Spanish passage in question reads as follows:

54. En este contexto, algunos todavía defienden las teorías del « derrame », que suponen que todo crecimiento económico, favorecido por la libertad de mercado, logra provocar por sí mismo mayor equidad e inclusión social en el mundo. 

The official English translation, promulgated by the Vatican, reads as follows:

54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

The author claims that his Google-generated “inexpert” translation is more faithful to the Spanish original if read as follows:

54. In this context, some people still defend “spillover” [“trickle-down”] theories, which suppose that all economic growth, favored by the free market, by itself brings about greater equity and social inclusion in the world.

I think the official English translation is far superior to the hatchet job the author tries to use to render a revisionist account of the original Spanish passage. Here are three reasons why, with some corrective implications:

1. “Teoria del derrame” has a synonymous expression in Spanish — “teoria de goteo” — and both of them mean exactly what the expression “trickle down” conveys in English. ‘Derrame’ and ‘goteo’ both literally describe a slow leakage of liquid, but the literal translation also misses the political history that Pope Francis conveys, one which he is very familiar with within the Latin American context and, more broadly, the global rise of neoliberalism. So trying to call this “spillover theory” not only misses the literal semantic point, it also refuses to see the geopolitical reality that contextualizes it — which seems to be the only point of this defensive revision.

2. The word ‘favorecido’ does not always translate to its English cognate, ‘favored.’ Whereas in vernacular English to “favor” something is normative, ‘favorecido can be, and often is, descriptive. To show favor (favorecer), in this case, indicates a descriptive claim, not a normative one. To push something along  This is, presumably, why the translator chose the term ‘encouraged’ in its bare descriptive sense instead of the term ‘favored.’ The Spanish passage does not say that “the free market favors economic growth;” it says “economic growth, pushed along by the freedom of the market, will succeed…” The claim is aspirational, not matter a fact. If I were to quibble with this passage I would give the more literal translation, which the critic misses, of “free market” — Francis described this in Spanish as “the liberty of the market.” But this would be to quibble with a simpler and intuitive choice by the translator.

3. The clumsy re-translation misses the musicality of the phrase “por si mismo,” and its justifiable omission in English. “Por si mismo” does literally mean “for itself;” but it can also have the role of a “sin embargo” or “por lo cual,” a poetic qualifier added to Spanish phrasing to reinforce the original point and also to bring a layer of rhythm and syncopation. This musicality cannot be translated into a language like English. To add it would be to miss the role of phrasing and import literal meaning that is clearly unintended to the native Spanish ear. So, no, the Spanish version is not giving a radical libertarian straw man view of capitalism, it is actually talking about, yes, some people who continue to defend trickle down theories that assume that economic growth, pushed along by the liberty of the market will actualize in provoking more equity and social inclusion in the world. That was my own translation of the controversy which agrees in spirit with the original English translation of the Vatican.

Lastly, one must not miss the incredible irony and absurdity of this baseless and unqualified accusation. Putting aside the hubris of a non-speaker of a language criticizing its translation, this Googled attempt to discredit the Pope’s original point that there are still some people who continue to defend trickle down theories is only verified and strengthened by the author and his supporters’ defense of trickle down theories via a vis this sophomoric attempt to argue about the translation.

UPDATE — Or, a correction of my correction of a correction of Evangelii Gaudium, para 54.

As Leroy Huizenga noted in comments, and as a careful reader noted on Twitter, my reading of the original post in question was imprecise and misrepresented the extent and nature of the use of Google translate. Some of that imprecision was a result of rather ambiguous prose, but most of it, I admit, was my own haste. In particular, when I wrote “The author claims that his Google-generated “inexpert” translation is more faithful to the Spanish original if read as follows“, I missed the fact that the post seems to indicate that the author did, in fact, do his own translation and counter-checked it with Google, from the Italian. Part of this seems to be because the author is unsure whether the exhortation was originally composed in Italian or Spanish, so he is hedging by using both of them.

Three facts remain, along with my more substantive remarks on the translation:

1. The author may speak some Spanish, but he is not fluent in Spanish. This I infer from the low quality of his own translation. To say otherwise would require me to accuse the author of operating in bad faith and not just linguistic ignorance. I’ll stick to the latter.

2. The author did, in fact, use Google, but not in the (im)precise way that I represented it. Google translate is a minor problem, not the main problem.

3. One should avoid making claims like “a key error in translation” if one doesn’t have at least the level of mastery comparable to the original translators, especially when it is done in a rather desperate attempt to shore up one’s politics.

I thank those who brought this to my attention and apologize for my own poor “translation”. The embarrassing irony is not lost on me.

  • billykangas

    Bring it!

  • Deacon Jason Schalow

    Excellent rebuttal of an obvious attempt to strain at gnats while swallowing camels. One observation, though: the “por si mismo” is not ‘omitted’ from the English translation. The construct “logra…por si mismo” becomes “inevitably succeed” which expresses the idea of a thing being ‘achieved of itself’ or ‘achieved of its own power’.

    Your larger point stands, however: even to someone like myself who is only moderately literate in Spanish the original and the Vatican translation clearly convey the same thought. And, as you point out, in context it becomes even more clear. Again, excellent job!

    • SamRocha

      Thanks, I think it was implied, too, in the Enlglish syntax, which is a point I missed. Feel free to add it to the list, thanks!

    • Chucky Arla

      There was no doubt nefarious purpose birthed in complete isolation from an understanding of previous statements.

  • Leroy Huizenga

    I think you misread what he did with Google; I think he did his own Spanish, and then used Google for the Italian.

    • SamRocha

      Fair enough Leroy. His note was ambiguous to me when he wrote, “I wouldn’t venture to try translating from Italian, but Google gives me a result that’s closer to my rendering of the Spanish than to the Vatican’s English version.” But from that I gathered two things: (1) he did use Google translate and (2) he is not fluent in Spanish.

      • Leroy Huizenga

        I’ll trust you on Spanish (of course), and I’m no capitalist (I’d ID as some sort of distributivist, as Quixotic as that may be.

        • SamRocha

          I ID Marx as a capitalist, so I’m pretty weird, too.

          • Steve

            …how exactly is Marx a capitalist?

          • SamRocha

            No time for it now or space here, but my reading of Capital and other documents give me the sense that Marx was not wholly opposed to theoretical capitalism, he was moreso trying to reform it. There are, of course, softer and more pluralistic readings of Adam Smith, too.

      • ManaMoffa

        Your run-on sentences scream your English is not that comprehensive..
        Here’s a professional re-translating the same way.

        • SamRocha

          I don’t know what you mean by “comprehensive,” but if you’re going to try and say that run-ons are a sign of poor writing, I’ve got a long list of famous and great writers (myself NOT included) for you to contact.

      • Mike Petrik

        I’m afraid that his statement cannot be read the way you infer, Sam.

        • SamRocha

          I noted that in the update. But since you seem to not like me very much, you probably won’t let that hold you back from trolling along. Carry on!

  • Leroy Huizenga

    These sorts of issues remind us of the utility of an official Latin translation for crucial documents.

    • Illinidiva

      There are no translation issues; there are people whining about the Pope discussing Catholic social doctrine. Apparently Father Z and others have not actually read anything by Benedict or JPII on economics.

  • Illinidiva

    I have a minor in Spanish which means that I don’t know the nuances of the language nor do I claim to, but when I google teoria de “derrame” the results that I get in espanol pertain to trickle down economics. Also, this document has been in the works for months (Francis wrote it during the summer) so I assume that the people translating the document for him understood what Francis wanted to say. I must say that it is a long document, but a beautiful one and not in “pope speak” like all other documents out of the Vatican.
    I know people are freaking out about Francis slapping down trickle down economics theory, but I don’t think that it is laser focused on American politics. Pope Francis likely doesn’t know who Paul Ryan is.. Do you know who the VP candidate for the opposition party in Argentina during the last election was? He is talking about la teoria de derrame in regards to his experiences in Argentina with the IMF. Most Argentines think that the IMF and the neoliberal policies hurt Argentina’s economy during the 1990s. Francis was slapping around the developed world and I very much doubt that Paul Ryan and the Pope would agree on budgeting, but it is a good thing to think outside our narrow political box and understand the rest of the world. Francis is a different type of pope, so I think that he allows for this reflection.

  • fredx2

    And, Pope Benedict and JP II said virtually the same thing as Francis is saying.. Google “Pope Benedict blasts capitalism” or “Pope John Paul II blasts capitalism”

  • Chucky Arla

    Your article is marred by hostility.

    • SamRocha

      Your comment is marred by a lack of clarity.

      • Mike Petrik

        Not unclear to the literate.

        • SamRocha

          This one is my favorite!

  • BradatSPU

    I just read the German and French versions of section 54 – there does appear to be an error in translation in the English version. Before the term “economic growth,” there is the word “chaque” in the French and “jedes” in the German – essentially it modifies the meaning to “all economic growth,” where in the English version that modifier is not present resulting in the conclusion that economic growth cannot succeed in producing greater social justice etc. This IS a rather significant difference as the version absent the modifier could be understood as contending that economic growth never is able to produce positive outcomes vis-a-vis justice. With the modifier, it fits very much with mainline thinking in development economics etc that all growth is not necessarily positive, some growth is actually quite negative (what is generally termed “immiserizing” growth) etc. That casts quite a different read on the piece.

    • SamRocha

      The original document was written in Spanish, not German or French.

      • BradatSPU

        Yes and note the Spanish term “todo” in the original which you quote above – which serves the same modifying role as “jedes” in German and “chaque” in French. The Italian version also has the same modifier, “ogni.” It is only missing in the English version. The standard approach to interpreting documents across multiple languages is to look to versions in other languages to see where errors may have been made and then to build a conclusion utilizing all of the data. Strange that you are leaving it out in your translation – I am curious as to the justification (and very much hoping there is one). So much has been written on this topic it is quite important to get the language right.

        • SamRocha

          This is a valid point. I didn’t address it for two reasons: (1) I didn’t notice it, which leads to the second point, (2) I was engaging with the author’s three points raised in the post. But I am unsure as to what, exactly, the “all” would add, besides literal textual fidelity. But fair point.

          • EmbitteredTA

            Well, note my initial comment – it’s quite a salient difference with regard to the understanding of the implications of economic growth. Without the “all,” the statement is significantly harsher and seems to imply that growth is always bad. With the “all,” it fits much more within mainline development theory.

  • ManaMoffa

    Professional translators are saying the same thing about the divergence of the English translations

    • BradatSPU

      Exactly, and the absence of “all” is cited there as a glaring error in the English translation. The author here should take note!

  • Truthseeker

    As an economics professor, previously a bank economist, I encounter a wide range of views on economics, politics, and world affairs in general. The moment I heard the broadcast summary of this Evangelii Gaudium, paragraph 54, I knew it had to be a mistranslation. Why? Because it was ludicrous interpretation of economic principle. Not even the most leftist bomb throwers dare such lunacy. Why?

    Because educated people would not take them seriously., And nobody should take this bogus English translation seriously. That this author seeks to discredit the critiic rather than address his concerns is, in my experience, very strong evidence of a malicious propagandist. May his final resting place be a warm one,

    • SamRocha

      If dropping your credentials as an economist in the Academy and Banks was supposed to leverage your appeal to authority, then, I fear that I am not nearly as impressed as you are with the credentials nor the appeal.

      • Mike Petrik

        Sam, it is obvious that you are pretty much only impressed with yourself.

        • SamRocha

          How so? In this post alone, I note two people who helped me read the original post better? Surely I’d be impressed with them, too, no?

  • Sheila Connolly

    I agree with you. I honestly don’t see how “inevitably” is so different from “por si mismo” or how it comes out to anything different in the long run. Pope Francis isn’t saying that capitalism *can’t* result in greater justice and equality. What he’s saying is that it isn’t inevitable, it doesn’t happen by itself, it requires the wealthy in society to have some sense of responsibility and limits. Some people really do believe that capitalism will work to take care of the poor *even if* the rich never assist them directly. Simply trying to make money as hard as they can will result in economic growth which will extinguish poverty. And, as Francis points out, this has not actually happened. The poor may be better off in a flourishing economy than in a poor one, because they have more options and (if nothing else) more people are giving to charity. But “we will always have the poor with us” and it’s not enough to let the free market work …. you have to actually take some care of the poor yourself.

    Francis also adds — and I’m surprised the outrage doesn’t come there instead on p. 54 — that governments do have a right to regulate the economy. I might concede they do have a *right* to do so, but I am in doubt that it would *help.* In any event the Holy Father is saying nothing that his predecessors haven’t said, or that isn’t in the Catechism. The Catholic Church is not radically capitalist. However, there is plenty of room for capitalists and libertarians inside the Catholic Church, provided we acknowledge that we still have responsibility for the poor among us and do what we can to help.

  • Austin Ruse

    On the other hand…what if the problem is with the word “inevitably”…

    NOTE…sorry..did not see you guys were already hashing that out…

  • Richrd Hogue

    Christ said that we would always have the poor around us. Until Christ returns with His unlimited resources mankind has to do with limited resources.

    This is not to imply that we should not aid the poor.

    It does imply that we (man/woman/etc) can not solve the problem of the poor.

    • SamRocha

      Francis makeS similar observations, too.

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