Taming the 'Devil's Advocate' (Part 2 of 2)
In re-synthesizing the phrase in Indonesian, it's critical to consider two facts:
- About 88% of Indonesia's population is Muslim. Unfamiliarity with a 16th Century Roman Catholic term and a mindless translation are ingredients for a religious blunder; a literal translation may even sound offensive and insulting to some.
- The word 'Devil' in 'Devil's Advocate' does not necessarily denote the devil or the bad guy, for within a group of trial lawyers, he or she may even represent the good guy (for example, a District Attorney or Prosecutor). That's why even 'Pembela Setan' (Devils' Defender), though it sounds better than 'Advocat Setan', does not fit the bill. After all, trial lawyers are supposed to advocate for the alleged bad guys. In short, Devil's Advocate denotes 'the opposite side.'
- Since most Indonesians are religious, it would be hard to find a volunteer who is willing to be associated with the devil, even hyperbolically. By default, the word 'setan' (devil) always has a negative connotation. Therefore it should be excluded (if not banished to hell). That's probably the main reason why my friend was not happy with its literal translation.
- In a paternalistic and hierarchical society like Indonesia where the boss is always right, subordinates would be reluctant to play the role of a Devil's Advocate. Therefore a soft approach (finding a contextual translation) would be more effective than a hard one (using a literal translation). Generally, Indonesians prefer unanimous musyawarah (consensus) over contentious debates; hence a literal translation of 'Devil's Advocate' can be counter-productive.
The jury is still out on how to render 'Devil's Advocate' properly in Indonesian. Therefore if you speak Indonesian, please state your preference in the following poll. This poll will be open through March 16, 2015 at 08:00 AM PDT. You need not be a translator or interpreter to participate. Thank you!