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.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Breaking news

separated by a common language explores differences between British and American English. A recent comment there makes a point that is often overlooked in such contexts:
This isn't the first time that it's seemed likely that the dividing waters are those of the Tweed and Esk rather than the Atlantic.
BrE and AmE are convenient labels but don't always correctly map the linguistic fault-lines. The variation within what is referred to compositely as BrE is often greater than any translatlantic divide.

This is certainly the case in relation to pronunciation. The expression "British accent" is bandied about, but except when used to refer to one particular accent, more properly known as received pronunciation (RP), it isn't very meaningful. Consider this clip about British actors learning to speak like Americans where "British accent" is applied to a range of accents at least as different from one another as they are from the American.

The presenter alone seems to have at least two "British accents". She starts off sounding Scottish but when asked to read a text aloud, despite having been explicitly requested to speak naturally, she switches to something markedly different, something much closer to RP.

Staying with the Scottish theme, "rising British tennis star Andy Murray" (9 Google hits), also known as "rising Scottish tennis star Andy Murray" (3 hits), was recently involved in a minor road accident in Paris. Speaking in British English he told journalists:

The guy that was driving our car did nothing wrong. He just broke, then somebody hit right into the back of the car

according to the Daily Telegraph, TimesOnline, Scotsman and Independent.

This morphs into

He just braked etc.
in the version reported by the BBC, Daily Express, Daily Record, Daily Mail, and the player's own website.

So, in this case at least, Tweed and Esk do not appear to mark an isogloss .

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