Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Meanings and journalistic lapses

PS: This came out in the March 19, 2004 edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Hope you find this interesting reading - Ben

I FOUND Jeremias Canonizado's ("Exasperated faithful Inquirer subscriber," Feb. 14, 2004) comments timely. The lapses in journalism that he noted aren't limited to the Inquirer. I have noticed similar lapses in its competitors.Many of the lapses involve spelling, subject-verb agreement, prepositions, tenses, plural and singular forms and sentence construction. To err in spelling is human. But as my high school teacher once told her class, an error in spelling is bound to change the meaning of a word. Subject-verb errors can change the meaning of a statement. Errors in plural and singular forms can also change the meaning of sentences. All these errors can lead to a faulty sentence construction.


The true mark of an educated citizen is the ability to be understood clearly in spoken and written language. Since good journalism lies in the ability to convey clear meaning (and also to educate), newspapers have the extremely serious task of preventing errors that may come out in the morning edition. Even a single error can have serious repercussions.An example is the mistranslation of Pope John Paul II's 1996 speech on Biological Evolution. As evolution is commonly perceived as an example of the conflict between science and religion, the Pope's speech was a landmark statement.In the translation of the Pope's speech by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, what the French original meant as "more than a hypothesis" was translated into "more than one hypothesis" in English. Clearly, the meaning changed because of the error. "a" and "one" didn't carry the same meaning in the context of the Pope's speech. Scientists and theologians began to ask, "What on earth does the Pope mean?" The Vatican newspaper had to publish an erratum.Most of the Inquirer's readers are neither scientists nor theologians but ordinary citizens who have no time to debate on meanings over morning coffee. Fearless views mean nothing if these views are not communicated clearly.

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