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Hussein Translator on CBS Used Fake Accent?
March 6, 2003 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Hussein Translator on CBS Used Fake Accent? I thought this was an amusing tidbit in the also popular "news vs. entertainment" debate.
posted by oissubke (39 comments total)

 
"also popular"? I think I meant "always popular". Stupid preview...
posted by oissubke at 11:15 AM on March 6, 2003


I guesss he wouldn't have sounded sinister enough if they had used unaccented english?
posted by boltman at 11:29 AM on March 6, 2003


For years the 'arabic accent' has been the 'villain accent' in American films. People might not have realized Saddam was Chariman of the Axis of Evil without the accent. I guess.
posted by cell divide at 11:31 AM on March 6, 2003


Please tell me it's not the bad guy from Iron Eagles.
posted by condour75 at 11:32 AM on March 6, 2003


I blame all those WWII movies where the bad guys speak English with a German accent.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:37 AM on March 6, 2003


Television news, at least in America and PBS aside, has been an oxymoron for at least ten years.

It's only entertainment.
posted by xmutex at 11:44 AM on March 6, 2003


As long as they're doing accents, it would have been cool if they'd used a woman with a real nasal Northern Wisconsin accent, or a six year old kid. That'll fuck with your idea of evil.

P.S. Dan admits he's an idiot.
posted by luser at 11:44 AM on March 6, 2003


Dan admits he's an idiot.

Huh. Dan comes off pretty well in that article. Knowing the names of Howard Stern's moronic trolls isn't my idea of cultural literacy.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:49 AM on March 6, 2003


But it's really a requirement in his line of work.
posted by luser at 11:54 AM on March 6, 2003


Zees ees an outraij!
posted by argybarg at 11:59 AM on March 6, 2003


There was a Eurotrash show in the UK a few years ago (Rapido I think?) that often used random regional accents for voiceovers. I remember an interview with German diaper enthusiasts (don't ask) where the translation was done with a Geordy (Newcastle) accent. Not that German diaper enthusiasts really needed help to be disconcerting.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:02 PM on March 6, 2003


One time I was watching Telemundo, and they had a news program on (and I was trying to see what I still understood with four years of high school spanish very rusty under my belt). And they were translating some foreign leader into spanish, but the translator's voice was what I could only describe as very gay. But I could hear the original speakers voice in the background, and wasn't like the translator was trying to sound like the speaker. Not that this is shocking or a horrible thing, it just made me think about how "my voice" might be portrayed if it made it into some international news story.
posted by stifford at 12:20 PM on March 6, 2003


Television news, at least in America and PBS aside, has been an oxymoron for at least ten years.

It's only entertainment.


I think you mean it's only advertising. At least on the local level American TV news is 90% trying to sell you something, next time you watch just count how many products they try and sell you!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:36 PM on March 6, 2003


it just made me think about how "my voice" might be portrayed if it made it into some international news story.


Sorry to veer off topic, but I always wondered that too after watching Iron Chef episodes. They don't give any Asian accents or anything, but they have rather odd voices for the cast of characters. The question about how our voices would sound has popped into my head on occasion.
posted by JaxJaggywires at 12:54 PM on March 6, 2003


No, Pollomacho, it's 90% trying to scare the hell out of you. Michael Moore got it right in Columbine. Just listen to the teasers:

"Up next: Dishsoap? Or Death Soap?"
"Live At Five: Can your shoelaces cause cancer...or worse?"
"Ice cubes and lemonade: refreshing summer drink...or Tragedy in a Tumbler? Action 7 Investigative Squad brings it to you at 11."
posted by luser at 12:56 PM on March 6, 2003


Personally, I think it would be hilarious if all the translations sounded like Lisa Simspon. Get that high-pitched whiny voice to do everything.

While we're at it, why not do away with ALL original voices on the news (the anchors, the native-language speaking interviewers, the interviewees) and just have one voice reading (or translating if in a different language) every word we hear. That way anything James Earl Jones says will have the same vocal impact as, oh say, Kate Hudson.
posted by grum@work at 1:04 PM on March 6, 2003


I guess he wouldn't have sounded sinister enough if they had used unaccented english?

For years the 'arabic accent' has been the 'villain accent' in American films


If there is blame to be placed it is on Yahoo! News and comments like the above that seem to be trying to make this into something that it is not. News/Controversy.

For the sake of a sense of realism (do you really want Sadaam sounding like someone from New England) translators with accents are used all the time....ever listen to NPR? The only issue that remains seems to be that it was a "fake" accent. Who cares! The point is that the English speaking voice you hear sounds somewhat like the what you might expect Sadaam to sound like if he were more fluent in English.

That's not entertainment it just makes sense.

I guess sub-titles would also have been a viable option....but then that would require reading and we all know what TV has done to the literacy rate in the US....don't we??
posted by tdstone at 2:04 PM on March 6, 2003


For the sake of a sense of realism (do you really want Sadaam sounding like someone from New England) translators with accents are used all the time....ever listen to NPR?

It's been my experience that the translators on NPR only have accents when the reporting is being done from a foreign country that the translator is probably a native of. Translators on domestic stories generally sound American. YMMV, natch.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:08 PM on March 6, 2003


Another question that comes into my head is, why is this even a news item? Who cares if someone used an accent to translate something? As long as the translation was accurate, what does it matter what it sounded like? Maybe I'm just missing something...
posted by JaxJaggywires at 2:10 PM on March 6, 2003


Infotaining!
posted by skallas at 2:12 PM on March 6, 2003


It matters if you think about the decisions that had to be made. They say a group of people did the actual translation, why couldn't one of that group speak it? Someone in the news department thought it really needed to have a stereotypical arab accent. It needed to have this so much that they would have to go out of their way, and not do the most convenient thing in order to give it this accent. The implication is that the news department sees the accent as being an important part of the message. The translation alone is not enough, just the data stripped down to it's meaning is not enough, CBS, for some reason, felt it important to give the listeners the accent.

This is offensive for some people who believe that what you say should be taken for it's informational content only, and you shouldn't be concerned whether there is a speech impediment, or misspellings, or the speaker is a woman. By hiring this extra person CBS is saying those things are an important aspect of the message, and should be taken into account when listening.
posted by rhyax at 2:34 PM on March 6, 2003


From this day forward, all translations will be performed using an asexual version of the Stephen Hawking computer voice simulator so that there will be no possible way to misconstrue meaning or cause offense.
posted by rrtek at 2:47 PM on March 6, 2003


why couldn't one of that group speak it?

Maybe CBS wanted someone who had a well formed voice, which apparently this guy they got has. Perhaps none of the actual translators had such voices. This was for a nationally televised, seemingly large interview, so they wanted someone who sounded "good".

you shouldn't be concerned whether there is a speech impediment, or misspellings, or the speaker is a woman.

Yeah, I'm sure an Iraqi male would love for a woman to do his translation. Anyway, the other things you list can show a little into what this person is like, his educational level for example.

If they had hired an actual Iraqi to do the voice, would we care? That would be the same situation...hire someone who can speak in the same accent to make it seem more "authentic".
posted by JaxJaggywires at 2:48 PM on March 6, 2003


what rhyax said. I suspect for at least some of the TV news-watching public, arab accent = evil/fanatical/must be stopped. It seems plausible that decision to hire the actor was based on a desire to take advantage of this stereotype to play up the whole "ooo, look how EVIL this guy is" angle, which I'm sure was the main reason people tuned in the first place.
posted by boltman at 2:50 PM on March 6, 2003


you shouldn't be concerned whether there is a speech impediment, or misspellings, or the speaker is a woman.

channel 4 in the uk used to have (maybe still has) a presenter with a slight lisp. it was kind of surprising at first, but you got used to it. incidentally, channel 4 news has a daily summary of the news (if anyone else has technical problems getting this email i'd like to know - it crashes my mail download, but i assume that's not normal!)
posted by andrew cooke at 3:02 PM on March 6, 2003


Who cares if someone used an accent to translate something? As long as the translation was accurate, what does it matter what it sounded like?

What woud you think if Dubya was dubbed in Spanish televison with a strong Texan accent? That would surely make him look like an idiot. -> Saddam is an eeeeevil dictator, so he must speak english with a funny accent.

...Hawking computer voice simulator so that there will be no possible way to misconstrue meaning or cause offense.

Can't people read when watching TV? Text could be really a neutral option.
posted by hoskala at 3:09 PM on March 6, 2003


Maybe CBS wanted someone who had a well formed voice

If that was the real motivation then the easiest solution would be to choose a newscaster.

Yeah, I'm sure an Iraqi male would love for a woman to do his translation.

That's not relevant.

Anyway, the other things you list can show a little into what this person is like, his educational level for example.

I don't agree that knowledge of a speech impediment will allow one to determine education-level, nor would accent, although that wasn't in my list. Spelling would not apply in verbal speeches and is of dubious correlation even in written documents. In a statement, I would be more concerned with intelligence and merit of the argument, which is best determined by the content and not by delivery.

If there is extra information that needs to be presented then it could be added. For example if someone says something about particle physics, I would like the news agency to tell me their background in that field, I would not be comfortable guessing their education-level based on their speech alone.

All the same arguments apply if they hired an Iraqi, assuming he was hired for his accent alone and not for his translational abilities.
posted by rhyax at 3:12 PM on March 6, 2003


hire someone who can speak in the same accent to make it seem more "authentic".

Is Saddam's arabic accented? If not, why would/should his English be? Dialect gives the listener presumptions upon the speakers intelligence. Maybe Mr. Rather needed the dialect to equal with Mr.Hussein...
posted by hoskala at 3:23 PM on March 6, 2003


I think it's more a comment on how dumb the American viewing public is that how insidious the broadcasters are. My guess is that the last time they tried something like this, they did it with the translator speaking with a standard west-coast American accent and then they got calls from people asking why the interviewee spoke with an American accent.

Either that or an over-eager producer thought it would add drama and some kind of bizarre verisimilitude to the piece.

Which is not to say that broadcasters aren't insidious. They are; but typically only in the aggregate.
posted by vraxoin at 3:52 PM on March 6, 2003


Vrax is probably right. The next day you KNOW some people would be saying, "wow I had no ideas Saddam spoke English with no accent at all"

Sad but true. Of course, these are the people who call up TV stations asking if a character from their favorite soap is OK after the plastic surgery disaster.
posted by cell divide at 4:00 PM on March 6, 2003


I hope that actor can do a good North Korean accent.
posted by hama7 at 4:14 PM on March 6, 2003


Bork bork!
posted by spazzm at 4:50 PM on March 6, 2003


I think the accent was probably legitimate, but the speaker was a fake Iraqi.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:51 PM on March 6, 2003


cell divide:

My father teaches a film section in his freshman-level humanities classes, and he says that every year he has students that are shocked to find out that movies are written -- that is, that the actors don't just make up their lines or, perhaps, just do those things. Really, the whole actor/character-movie/life issue is an inchoate mess in their heads.

Just another for your file.
posted by argybarg at 5:01 PM on March 6, 2003


I'd love to hear this guys Chretien impersonation. For some reason Canadian TV never gives him an accent when they're dubbing his French.
posted by bobo123 at 5:03 PM on March 6, 2003


argybarg:

That must be one hell of a university.
posted by y at 5:12 PM on March 6, 2003


What woud you think if Dubya was dubbed in Spanish televison with a strong Texan accent? That would surely make him look like an idiot.

Listening to the the Bush news conference on the BBC, the bloke doing the simultaneous translation into English certainly does.
posted by riviera at 5:46 PM on March 6, 2003


it just made me think about how "my voice" might be portrayed if it made it into some international news story.

I've used my voice to read translations on international broadcasts tons of times -- my normal American-accented voice. I've been Fidel Castro, Korean officials, Thai peasants, Venezuelan rioters, and more. My company usually will use a voiceover of the same sex as the translatee, but that's about it -- any kind of "artificial" or added accent is strictly verboten, and no special efforts are made to seek out someone with a particular accent to read the translation. (Usually it's more like whoever they can grab that has a reasonable-sounding voice, good enunciation and pacing, and doesn't read in a monotone.)

It is a bit weird when you're watching and you hear yourself, though. Or when I'm watching while I'm on vacation and I hear co-workers.
posted by Vidiot at 9:14 PM on March 6, 2003


For the record, the actor in question was not Sacramento lobbyist Jerry Haleva, America's favorite Saddam Hussein actor. And while Fabulous Voices has taken down his page, you can still get it via the Wayback Machine -- it included audio files and his phone number, though, probably both had something to do with the excision.
posted by dhartung at 9:33 PM on March 6, 2003


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