Translation Defamation: A Libel Case Study

translation defamation case
What happens if you bungle a word in a different language? Can you be sued for defamation?

A Hong Kong educator is bending over backwards to make sure every man, woman, and child is familiar with one of his sub-par university grades, because if he can convince a judge of his long-time struggle with the English language, he may untangle himself from a translation defamation case.

Parent Files Complaint; Principal Uses Incorrect English Word To Describe Complaint

The translation defamation melee started when a parent at the Wah Yan College – a well-known Catholic secondary school on Hong Kong Island – submitted a complaint about a teacher, Shiu Han-po.

Principal George Tam Siu-ping allegedly  repeated the accusation — in English (which becomes important) — and called the complaint “valid.” Irrate over the slight from his boss, Shiu filed a HK$200,000 defamation lawsuit against Tam.

Teacher Files Defamation Lawsuit Over Alleged Mistranslation

The defending principal, however, insists he confused the words “real” not “valid.” He’s arguing he only meant to convey that the parent filed the complaint, not comment on its veracity.

Shiu, however, is not hearing it and formally accused Tam of “endorsing a groundless complaint filed by a parent.”

Lawyers Produce Evidence Of ‘Bad English’ In Mistranslation Defamation Case

In defense, Tam’s lawyers stressed their client’s tendency to misuse English words. They submitted transcripts proving that Tam used the word “invest” for “investigate” and “divert” for “disclosure”. Tam’s attorneys also highlighted that their client failed his A-Level English exam in 1970.

Perhaps in an attempt to elicit sympathy for their client, the defense attorneys also highlighted Tam’s lifelong breathing difficulties and severe shortsightedness.

Judge Set To Deliberate Translation Defamation Evidence

Judge Wang Hung-chun, the ruling official, seemed sympathetic to Tam’s plight, and will soon hand down a decision.

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