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.

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