Posted by: Titus Presler | September 19, 2011

9/11 Footnote: Effect of 9/11 recap footage in Urdu

Translation is powerful, regardless of context.

On 9/11 here in Pakistan, various TV channels were running programs about the events in 2001 that had been produced in the USA in English – but now they had been dubbed into Urdu.

So there we were, watching a New York firefighter, a New York City disaster official, a survivor from the Twin Towers – all of them talking about their experiences and their decisions in Urdu.  As the Towers fell and people fled the narration was in Urdu.

The videos were running on Pakistani news channels and on the Pakistani outlets of Discovery and National Geographic.  Hard to tell, but my guess is that they’d been developed years ago, maybe in 2003, maybe in 2007 – when doesn’t matter.

For me the Urdu dubbing had the effect of empathetically universalizing the events and experiences being described.  No longer was it a peculiarly USAmerican event, described in USAmerican accent and cadence and with the internal nuances of USAmerican vernacular.  It was being described in eloquent Urdu, as though the speaker were describing something that might have happened in Karachi.  For me as a USAmerican, hearing it all in Urdu gave me the feeling – whether warranted or not by actual views on the ground here – of an Urdu solidarity in the horror of the events being described.

For an Urdu native speaker the dubbing obviously made accessible in his/her language the verbal content of the documentaries.  My guess is that for him/her it also elicited something of the universalizing empathy I felt, despite whatever particular political analyses of the events the person might be inclined to make.

I’m sure such documentaries have long since been dubbed into many languages around the world and that they were being shown in many places on the 10th anniversary.  Given the current place of Pakistan in aftermath of 9/11, it was particularly striking to see and hear it all in Urdu.



  1. I find these blogs to be very scene-descriptive of what your are engage in, Titus. Please continue.

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