Wall Street Journal (2001/12/17)
By Deborah Ball. Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
MILAN — During last spring’s electoral campaign, Silvio Berlusconi’s pledged to give Italians "a government of the three `I’s : Inglese, Internet e Imprese (English, Internet and Business)." Now the Italian premier would probably like to eat those words.
The conservative government is blushing over an attempt to provide English-language biographies of its ministers on its Web site, in an effort to show that Italy — where good English is still a relative rarity — is getting with the times. Instead, those biographies landed on the front page of left-leaning daily La Repubblica, who took great delight in mocking error-ridden translations verging on the absurd.
One example : Technology Minister Lucio Stanca was "born to Lucera (Foggia). Conjugated and it has two daughters. One has graduated in Economy near the University Mouthfuls of Milan. . . . In 1994 it has been moved newly to Paris in order to go to cover loads with President of IBM Europe." The translation of the translation runs something like this : Born in Lucera, Mr. Stanca is married with two daughters. He earned a degree in economics at Milan’s Bocconi University. In 1994, he returned to Paris to become president of IBM Europe.
Another tongue-twister extols the academic credentials of Defense Minister Antonio Martino. "Graduated with a maximum of ballots," it reads, he "taught in the University of Bariums and `the Wisdom’ of Rome." But his publications apparently betray a weakness for bondage : "Between its more recent books : State landladies, the fiscal slavery." The reality is that Mr. Martino graduated at the top of his class, has taught at the University of Bari and at "La Sapienza" University in Rome and has written on the tax system and the role of the state as landlord.
Elsewhere, one learns that the communications minister, a former activist in the right-wing Youth Front and undersecretary of internal affairs in the first Berlusconi government, was part of "the Forehead of the Youth," later becoming "Undersecretary to the Inside." The European Affairs minister, a well-known philosopher, studied "under the guide of prof. The Augusto Of the Walnut" —
known in real life as Professor Augusto Del Noce, a noted Catholic scholar in Italy.
Renato Ruggiero, foreign minister and a key player in the establishment of European regional development funds, helped found the "Bottom of Regional Development." And Umberto Bossi, the fiery founder of the once-secessionist Northern League party and currently minister of institutional reform, "in 1984 constitutes the Alloy North."
Unsurprisingly, the Berlusconi government is crying foul over the publication of thelinguistically challenged excerpts. It explains that the burlesque-like biographies are the work of an automatic computer translation program as part of an continuing effort to translate the entire site (www.governo.it) into English, and were never meant for publication. It accuses La Repubblica’s political correspondent, Sebastiano Messina, of breaking into an area of the site where private drafts are kept."Through a very difficult procedure, you can get to the files stored behind the site," said a government spokesman. "We’d been working on the drafts of the biographies and that’s why they were there." Mr. Messina responds that he was alerted by a reader who had been searching for the ministers’ resumes to organize a conference and easily found the whole lot in English. " A reader sent me the page of the English-language biography of Stanca," says Mr. Messina. "It was horrible. I realized that, by inserting "inglese" into the Web address, you could pull up all of them in English."
On Saturday, he published a front-page article — "Palazzo Chigi Invents English" — brandishing the side-splitting errors, and the paper put the full texts of the biographies on its Web site (www.repubblica.it). The very same day, access to the English-
language biographies on the government’s site was cut off. "In a few days, we’ll have all the biographies in English on the site — obviously translated correctly," says the government spokesman.