Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Cold case

A case recently before the European Court of Justice threw up an instance of a literal translation that means more or less exactly the opposite of the original.

For reasons best known to themselves the Greek plaintiffs had chosen to bring their action in English (they would have been perfectly entitled to use Greek). Not only that but at some point during the written procedure they applied to change the language of the case to French. This request was formally refused but, when it came to the oral hearing, the presiding judge, who also happened to be Greek, didn't insist on them sticking to English so we ended up with plaintiff, defendant and judge, all native Greeks, attempting to communicate with each other in alternating bursts of English and French as the mood took them.

Much to the chagrin of those interpreting of course.

But the written submissions were all in English, albeit with a distinctly Hellenic flavour, and included several instances of the seemingly innocuous phrase 'to file a complaint'. Only that it was used to describe an act ending rather than beginning the legal process.

I don't know what the Greek is but there are equivalent expressions in other civil-law jurisdictions e.g. 'classer une affaire' in France or 'archiviare un procedimento' in Italy, both meaning to close a case with the literal sense of filing it away.

The website of the Greek Ombudsman uses the expression in both - antonymous - meanings. Here in the conventional sense...

Who can file a complaint? Everybody who is directly involved in a case of a child's rights violation, meaning, the child him/herself, the parents/guardians, relatives or any other person who has direct knowledge of the violation...
and here à la grecque:

The Ombudsman may file a complaint, which is judged to be manifestly vague, unfounded or has been submitted in an abusive manner or in violation of the principle of good faith

The same thing is also found in translations from other languages. Here from Spanish:

In view of the complainant's failure to respond the prosecutor decided to file the complaint
i.e. decided to drop the case, not to prosecute it.

The Greek case at the ECJ illustrates a point not always appreciated - that mistranslations are found not only in actual translations but also and perhaps more insidiously in original texts by overconfident non-natives.

The popular TV series Cold Case is known in France as Affaires Classées.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?