Center for Strategic Communication

[ by Charles Cameron — first of two quick posts, this one’s about when the same is the same and when it isn’t quite ]

Dahlia Iyad, a member of Black September in the Thomas Harris novel, Black Sunday, is portrayed (above) in John Frankenheimer‘s 1977 movie of the same name by Marthe Keller. At this point, very early in the movie, Iyad is recording her speech to the Americans, which will accompany the act of terrorism she is master-minding:

The American people have remained deaf to all the cries of the Palestinian nation. People of America, this situation is unbearable for us. From now on, you will share our suffering. The choice is yours. Salaam aleikum.

Did you get that? The soundtrack says salaam aleikum, the subtitles read shalom aleichem.

Either way, in Latin it would be pax vobiscum.


Peace be upon you.

My question, of course, has to do with the juxtaposition of the two words in two Semitic languages, sharing the same consonantal roots. Are they the same, or do they mean very different things?

Obviously they’re the same phrase, obviously the subtitle is mistaken in putting a Hebrew salutation on aa Arab terrorist’s lips.

But here’s the thing: strung between these two so similar phrases — or between Beit Ha’Mikdosh and Bayt al-Muqaddas — is the entire spectrum of ways in which translation can and cannot carry meaning over from one context into another. And we can locate it, right in the first words a child might learn, the greeting of one to another…

As the Italians say, traduttore, traditore — translator, traitor.


But that’s enough foreign for one day — I don’t speak it very well.

I do have to admit I jumped when I saw that subtitle, though. No big deal — and all the difference in the world.