Friday, April 20, 2007


He is paramount, she is equal

The recent Berlin Declaration marking the 50th anniversary of the EU was 'politically translated' according to a story that seems to have originated here (for the Danish-enabled). This is the BBC's version:
Sharp-eyed professors have spotted what they say is evidence of "political translation" of the EU's Berlin Declaration, agreed at the weekend. Both the Danish and English versions downplay the emotional language of the original German, they say.
Instead of saying that the EU member states are united in "happiness", they say that they have united "for the better", or "for the common good".
An EU spokesman said the texts had been agreed by the national governments.
"We, the citizens in the European Union, are united zu unserem Gluck", the German-language version of the declaration reads. The phrase can be rendered in English as "united in our fortune/happiness". By contrast, the English-language version reads: "We, the citizens of the European Union, have united for the better".
But 'united in our fortune/happiness' is not what the German means. In fact, it is not at all obvious how to come up with a translation that both matches the original and also contains some word equivalent to 'Gl├╝ck'.

That is not to say of course that the the translation was not tweaked or sanitised by politically savvy mandarins. But there is certainly no sign of any subtle polishing in the paragraph immediately following:
... for us, the individual is paramount. His dignity is inviolable. His rights are inalienable. Women and men enjoy equal rights.
I know there are a lot of grammar-book pedants around but surely nobody but a translator could have strung together such a gratingly unnatural and almost comically inappropriate sequence.

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