Monday, January 30, 2006


Index Translationum

Re the previous post, the Index Translationum itself is worth a visit. It has some interesting links, for example. But it doesn't exactly walk the talk:
A good translator must not only have a good competence in his working languages but also a fair mastership of the actual domains involved in translation.

This knowledge, quite often extremely specific, requires a considerable amount of investigation and documentation (sources, parallel texts, etc.) which may not be exempt of difficulties.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Strong language

A piece entitled Strong Language in a recent FT Weekend section (still available here) notes the
overwhelming dominance of English language writers, and of British ones in particular
in the league table of most-translated authors (Index Translationum).

The writer sees two reasons for this. One is: by jingo, we’re better than them.

The other, as flagged by the title of the article, is that the English language itself is superior. This is illustrated in the usual manner:
The English language is a remarkable beast. There's its sheer capacity for one thing. French can muster around 100,000 words, German perhaps double that. The English language, on the other hand, counts at least 500,000 words, and probably half as many again

There are only around 25,000 Anglo-Saxon words in use today. The rest of the half million or more words come from other languages, notably French and Latin. And that gives English a rare and wonderful suppleness. It can be earthy when it chooses to be, high-flown when it cares to. English is one of the few languages in the world in which one can swear like a German and make love like the French.
Seems a strange sort of argument to explain why English works should be more translated than those written in other languages. To the extent that the superiority of English authors is due to the superiority of the language itself, surely that advantage is the first thing that’s lost once they’re translated into something else?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Cavalier Cavaliere

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in an interview this morning:
"il presidente del consiglio non può per definizione mentire".
Direct translation: "the prime minister, by definition, cannot lie".

Contextual translation: "the king can do no wrong".

Monday, January 16, 2006


English at the ECB

Here is an article about the dodgy English of Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank, whose pronouncements can move markets and whose every word is parsed accordingly.

As usual in this field, the reporter seems to miss the point of her own story:
This means the ECB faces extra hurdles when using key phrases to signal its plans, a common central banking practice. Things can misfire in translation ...
Yet what the story shows, of course, is how things can misfire in the absence of translation.
... some ECB watchers, linguists and communication experts say there are hazards in deciphering Trichet, especially in a multilingual environment.

Make that 'in a monolingual environment': the problems described all arise where speaker and listener are using the same language. If the environment were indeed multilingual, in other words if Trichet made his comments in French and was interpreted into English, then problems such as this would certainly be avoided:

Take for instance "Brutal moves were unwelcome" -- a phrase on currency exchange rates that Trichet used two years ago to halt the euro's surge against the dollar. Did he mean cruel moves, or moves which are abrupt -- as the word "brutal" can mean in French?.
Or this one:

Late last year he said the ECB had not made an "ex ante" decision to engage in a series of interest rate increases. That prompted a reporter to ask, on behalf of those whose Latin was rusty, what he meant precisely. Trichet's response was: "Ex ante means 'ex ante' in English and in Latin. In French, I would say 'a priori' and not 'ex ante', but only in French. In English it would be -- it seems to me -- 'ex ante'."
Needless to say, all this has my interpreter colleagues tearing their hair out.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Worse than translation?

The following are examples not of translation but of original English from an English-speaking country, found on a website devoted to local events.

On rugby:
In the 21st century, women are not considered to stand at a step rear from men.
Special "Women Rugby teams" are prepared in various countries and special tournaments and World Cups are organised particularly to cater this twig of women sports.
On golf:
This enormous event was first played in USA in 1927 and it has got higher and higher on each stage that it has been sparred out.
The Ryder Cup 2006, which is to be played amid Friday 22nd and Sunday 24th October at the K Club in County Kildare, Ireland, will take the country by gale.
The top players from America and Europe will skirmish it out again for the most famous cup in golf, with Europe eager to keep the cup for the 3rd time in string.
On leisure facilities:
Besides sports Dublin is the paramount of leisure and lots of leisure clubs host guests for leisurely activities.
Aerobics suite, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi are just a few namely items that are awaiting to refresh and sooth your anxious muscles.
There's a contact number on the site so in all conscience I suppose I should call whoever's in charge and point out the problem. But why spoil it for everybody else?

Saturday, January 14, 2006



At the European Court of Justice this week, I worked on a case concerning the proper interpretation of a phrase used in the legislation governing proprietary plant varieties. Farmers are allowed to save seed from their crops for sowing on their own farms provided they pay a fair fee to the breeder of the plant variety in question. What that fee should be is not specified, only that it must be 'sensibly lower' than the royalty element in the price of new seed of the same variety.

'Sensibly lower'??

In the French, unsurprisingly, 'sensiblement inférieur'. In German, 'deutlich niedriger'. In proper English, therefore, something like 'appreciably lower'.

How did such a glaring gallicism find its way into the written law of English-speaking Europe?

No doubt some brain-dead translator or over-confident non-native was taken in by the faux ami, but how incredible that nobody seems to have picked up on it thereafter.

In the UK parliamentary debate on related national legislation, the expression is commented on by one member:
'The Bill uses the term "sensibly lower" in relation to royalty rates--a curious bit of Euro-speak arrived at during the discussions on the trade agreements'.
Euro-speak indeed. As is so often the case, alleged eurospeak turns out to be simply the hamfisted English of a non-native (or gone-native).

Another member assumes the phrase to mean 'suitably lower', as a reasonable person would, but that of course is not the same sense as the other languages.

In the ECJ case, all the parties were German and there were no British or Irish judges sitting so the dubious English expression did not come under scrutiny. But it may well be only a matter of time. The whole question of royalties on farm-saved seed seems to generate a lot of litigation.

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