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30 May 2006

the Arabic lesson: ?Hgih evirD yhW

CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
Tuesday 20 May 2006

City red-faced
over poster's mangled Arabic

The City of Ottawa is scrambling to fix thousands of posters put up in a unique advertising campaign warning people in five languages not to smoke pot and drive.

The Arabic in the city's Why Drive High? campaign posters is written backwards.

The problem? The Arabic translation of the campaign's key slogan – Why Drive High? – is incomprehensible, according to those who speak the language.

The large bright yellow posters feature a large marijuana leaf filled with graphic photos of car accidents. Below the leaf, the slogan is written in five languages: English, French, Somali, Chinese and Arabic.

But those who speak Arabic say both the sentence and words are written backwards. Unlike English, Arabic is written right to left.

"I think no Arabic speaker would understand what it does mean. The first time, I thought it wasn't Arabic," said Nasreddine Ben Ali, who is originally from Tunisia.

He said that once he had figured out how to read the sentence, he still wasn't sure of its meaning.

Ali said the sentence translates to "Don't sacrifice your life." He guessed that it might have something to do with drinking and driving.

"We are a multicultural city and so communicating in Arabic is something we've done before and done it right … but this is an embarrassment for the city," said Bay Ward Coun. Alex Cullen.

The city says it hired a professional translation firm and used a focus group to test the sentence. The error occurred during production, a spokesman said.

City officials said they are working to fix the error. The Why Drive High? ad has already been changed on the website, but they say it's too early to know how much replacing the posters will cost taxpayers.

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Blogger Abbas Halai said...

can't blame them. it's a parliamentary diplomat city. weird things happen in weird places. half the time they don't read much up there anyway. canada just posted a $9B surplus for the 12th year in a row. lots of tax money coming in. not sure what to do with it. might as well write arabic backwards.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

If the city can justify public service ads in Arabic (and Somali and Chinese), they must have recent immigrants/naturalized Canadians whom they were targeting. Couldn't they have spent an extra $25 to pay a high school or college student to read the Arabic text and tell them what he/she thought it was saying before they sent it to the printer and pasted it up all over town?

Latin American associates begged General Motors to change the name of the Chevy Nova before they tried to market it to the Spanish-speaking world. To the Spanish ear, it's the Chevy No Va -- "Doesn't Go."

Ottawa's also the home of the government agency which spent $5.75 million to grow pot for AIDS and cancer patients -- and couldn't. And finally when they did manage to grow some pot, all the AIDS and cancer patients said it was really crappy pot and didn't help them, they wanted their money back.


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