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2006-03-01

It's often said: "The Danish language is troublesome - the natives speak it with great difficulty."

Kofi Annan has been unpopular in Denmark for a couple of days - all because of a single mistranslated word - when he spoke of the cartoon jihad:

"In truth, the present conflicts and misunderstandings probably have more to do with proximity than distance. The offensive caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad were first published in a European country which has recently acquired a significant Muslim population and is not yet sure how to adjust to it."


Even among people with English as their first language, like Little Green Footballs, people were astonished that a highly trained diplomat would say so.

The situation was even worse in Denmark, because of the last word in the above quote, the word "it". "It" was translated into Danish as "den", which is male / female, so the only way a Dane could read Mr. Annan's message was as if "it" referred to the Muslim population, and that the 98% non-Muslims in Denmark had to learn how to adjust to the 2% Muslims.

However, Kofi Annan's spokesman, Farhan Haq, states that Kofi Annan was misinterpreted (Danish text, my translation):

While Annan himself was attending a meeting in Paris, Haq tried to assure that his boss in his speech in Qatar this weekend didn't mean that Denmark should unilaterally bow to the Muslim Minority.

»No, no. What the General Secretary encourages is that people should build societies, which will accept the opinions of all social groups. Not just one group or another. The aim is to build a society, which is capacious and which promotes mutual respect and understanding of different faiths, culture and tradition. All must acclimatise themselves to respect each others opinions«, says Farhan Haq after having read - among other - the Danish media's interpretation of Annan's statement this weekend.


It turns out that "it" should have been translated into Danish "det", which is neuter, so that "it" refers to the situation. Denmark, Muslims and non-Muslims as a whole, has to adjust to the new situation. That's more spoken like a true diplomat.

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