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What ails euro English?
Thread poster: Kim Metzger

Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 02:27
German to English
Apr 30, 2013

When I discovered Eur-Lex many years ago, I thought I'd stumbled on a goldmine. A good portion of my translation work is dedicated to legal texts to be translated from German to English, and here were loads of legal documents in German, English and many other languages translated by what I assumed were pros hired by the European Union. They were frequently referred to as "official EU translators." But it soon became apparent that the translations needed to be regarded with extreme caution.

Here's an article I found interesting. Can you think of any further measures to remedy the situation?

What ails euro English?

Excerpts:
Although German, French and English are the most important of the EU languages, the problems arise mainly in the English versions. With the admission of new members the lead that English has over German and French has increased. Some translators complain that bad English has now become the official language of EU.

Drafts are prepared by editors and translators who do not speak English as a mother tongue. They create their own neologisms out of nowhere. Planification is used in place of planning, and comitology means committee procedure. You are not likely to find these words outside the EU context.

http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/Nfr3Z4wMD3Q5y1bojesTAK/What-ails-euro-English.html


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Rhetorical question May 1, 2013

I'd say you've answered your own question: "Drafts are prepared by editors and translators who do not speak English as a mother tongue. They create their own neologisms out of nowhere"...
This is further compounded by new generations of EU translators basing themselves on their predecessors' glossaries and style. The examinations and other hurdles to overcome to be become a EU translator are no easy meat and most of the candidates will have degree-level qualifications in translation. However, credentials on paper do not necessarily make a good translator.
Moreover, I think there may be a bit of what I call the "ergo"syndrome going on. This can be summed up as a thought process, perhaps subconscious, which goes "I am an EU translator, therefore all the texts I translate must be often impenetrable and make largely stultifying reading".
Other examples of the ergo syndrome are "I'm a doctor so my handwriting has to be illegible "... "I'm a proofreader so I am obliged to pick holes in what were really perfectly good translations "... "I'm a footballer so my wife/girlfriend has to be shallow/thick..." etc.


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 09:27
Italian to English
Euro-prescriptivism May 1, 2013

neilmac wrote:

Moreover, I think there may be a bit of what I call the "ergo"syndrome going on. This can be summed up as a thought process, perhaps subconscious, which goes "I am an EU translator, therefore all the texts I translate must be often impenetrable and make largely stultifying reading".



The problem also has to do with the people who make up euro-English expecting native speakers to fall into line. If you recall, some time ago the EU decided that the word "euro" would have no official plural in English - or even in Greek! Since native speakers of both languages frequently ignore the injunction, what the comitologists actually did was to enrich English and Greek by providing a shade of meaning (official/colloquial usage) that did not previously exist for this term.

My two eurocents (another comitologically unacceptable term).


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 09:27
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
They proliferate 'false friends' and incorrect usage May 1, 2013

Can't think of a lot of examples offhand, but there was an interesting thread on LinkedIn about this, and a reference to this list.

An expressoin that can be misunderstood is 'In case of ...'

http://ec.europa.eu/translation/english/guidelines/documents/misused_english_terminology_eu_publications_en.pdf

There are some useful suggestions for the correct term - I find the source-language usage blocks the brain somehow, and it takes a long while to come up with the correct expression.

Things like SMS, and the ubiquitous 'concrete' for specific or particular...
I had a really confusing proof about green areas in towns some time ago, where specific areas were designated for parks etc. but the translation called them 'concrete' areas.

We really were out in the concrete jungle!

In Danish, 'konkret' does mean specific or particular, while the concrete you pour and use for building elements is beton, quite different...

I had better read that text again - it's been a while!


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 12:57
English to Hindi
+ ...
This seems to be a problem with all sarkari versions of languages May 1, 2013

Kim has identified a problem that is quite common in other languages also, but always in relation to government forms of language use, for which I have used the popular Hindi term "sarkari" above.

Sarkari Hindi is as much a joke in India as the Euro-English seems to be in Europe. Like Euro-English, sarkari Hindi too is pompous, coins words not found alive in any other context. Like Euro-English, sarkari Hindi is generated by a battery of well-paid translators (who are government employees enjoying all benefits like pension) and their output is meticulously checked by even better paid editors and they use glossaries and other resources prepared by well-staffed government departments, yet what they write is comprehensible only to themselves.

But Kim (or the source he has quoted) is wrong when he infers that the problem seems to be arising from non-mother tongue writers and editors preparing the English documents. If the case of sarkari Hindi is anything to go by, then we need to look elsewhere for the root cause, for all the writers, translators, editors and lexicographers of sarkari Hindi are native speakers of Hindi, and some of them are well known poets and writers of Hindi, yet what they write is nothing better than gibberish.

There is a hilarious case related by Justice Markandeya Katju, a Supreme Court Judge, about this sarkari Hindi. He went to a court in Allahabad and (the rest is best said in his own words)...


In a case which I was hearing in the Allahabad High Court an application entitled “Pratibhu Avedan Patra” was moved before me. I asked the learned counsel what is the meaning of this word “Pratibhu”. He said it meant a bail application. I told him he should have used the words `bail’ or `zamanat’ which all understand instead of the word ` Pratibhu’ which no one understands, not even Khariboli speakers. On another occasion when I was on a morning walk I saw a board on which were written the words “Pravaran Kendra”. I could not understand the meaning, and I looked further up where in English it was written `Selection Centre’. In my opinion the words used in Hindi should have been `Bharti Daftar’ or `Rozgar Daftar’ instead of “Pravaran Kendra” which nobody understands.


For context, Allahabad is in the heart of the Hindi speaking area in India, and Justice Katju, is a native-speaker of Hindi from Allahabad itself and a scholar and polyglot knowing many languages like Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit. Yet he could not make head or tail of this sarkari Hindi.

The opaqueness of government language is an issue in every society and it has nothing to do with non-native speakers preparing government documents. It is purely a case of bad translation or incompetent writing.

[2013-05-01 11:09 GMT पर संपादन हुआ]


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:27
Hebrew to English
But he's right May 1, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
But Kim (or the source he has quoted) is wrong when he infers that the problem seems to be arising from non-mother tongue writers and editors preparing the English documents. If the case of sarkari Hindi is anything to go by


He's not wrong though. In this particular case, it is clearly a case of non-native translation. The fact that the EU relies quite heavily on non-native translation is also not a state secret - there's only so much you can do to lament this though, there simply aren't enough native English speaking linguists to go around. This has resulted in the situation at hand.

You can't simply dismiss it as "It is purely a case of bad translation". It is indeed bad translation, but bad translation borne out of being a non-native speaker of the target language.

Your case of Sakari Hindi is truly fascinating, but not necessarily comparable.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:27
Hebrew to English
Thought something was off May 1, 2013

Giles Watson wrote:
If you recall, some time ago the EU decided that the word "euro" would have no official plural in English - or even in Greek!


I overheard this on the news today, I wasn't particularly listening/watching, but as soon as it was uttered it jarred quite badly on my ears and made me stop in my tracks.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 09:27
English to Polish
+ ...
Non-native translators May 1, 2013

Does the EU actually use non-native translators any more? I'm asked to come on board with this or that agency for their translation bids all the time, and it is always English to Polish, never the other way round, barring perhaps a single internal document.

Back when I was a young lawmeat, we were cautioned to look at German and French texts, never English alone. I did, and the results were quite breath-taking at times. There was, for example, quite a bunch of learned doctrine on res iudicata resulting from a suspiciously unorthodox rule. Upon closer inspection, it turned out the French text wasn't unorthodox at all and had an entirely different meaning in respect of that tiny detail I needed. Apparently, nobody had found out before that brand new junior associate who did some online footwork.


 

Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:27
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Not enough native English linguists to May 1, 2013

And yet recently I read that someone was suggesting that English should be the official language of the EU, especially as the Eastern countries are now about to join-Croatia in July, I think. Someone seemed to tout the idea around, it seems,not that it will be accepted, and the above quote makes it harder to become a reality, then. Give me Diversity any time.

 

Catherine De Crignis  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:27
Member (2012)
English to French
+ ...
Not enough EN mother tongue translators ? May 1, 2013

Ty Kendall wrote:

there simply aren't enough native English speaking linguists to go around. This has resulted in the situation at hand.



Or are the EU institutions sourcing their translations through agencies that are not willing to pay qualified and experienced native translators ? I wonder.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:27
Hebrew to English
Probably a bit of both May 1, 2013

CatherineDC wrote:

Ty Kendall wrote:

there simply aren't enough native English speaking linguists to go around. This has resulted in the situation at hand.



Or are the EU institutions sourcing their translations through agencies that are not willing to pay qualified and experienced native translators ? I wonder.



When it comes to rarer language pairs/languages of limited diffusion (or whatever you want to call them) then it's probably the former [not enough English-native linguists], with the more common language pairs it's probably the latter [penny-pinching].


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 01:27
Member (2008)
French to English
Translation reference corpus May 1, 2013

Having observed the development of various translation references sources, including machine translation, over the last five years and more, I think we're witnessing a gradual self-generated corruption of the translation corpus used by many of these references. That is, the reference sources themselves are used by translators of limited ability to generate translations which then find their way back into the reference source. A lot of "official translation" show evidence of incorrect translations by non-native speakers and then these, being "official" become part of the "corpus" from which further translations are made. http://www.linguee.fr/ is a particular example - the references in it now have to be treated with circumspect and are frequently just a bad translation in an official document.

Will this eventually mean that the corrupted translation will finally become mainstream?


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 09:27
English to Polish
+ ...
A language with conjugations and declinations might work better May 1, 2013

Josephine Cassar wrote:

And yet recently I read that someone was suggesting that English should be the official language of the EU, especially as the Eastern countries are now about to join-Croatia in July, I think. Someone seemed to tout the idea around, it seems,not that it will be accepted, and the above quote makes it harder to become a reality, then. Give me Diversity any time.


A more analytical language with real morphological conjugations and declinations and less tricky punctuation might work better. In the example I mentioned just before your post, it was impossible for even a B1 user to misunderstand the structure of the French sentence where the English one was a mess. It would actually have been possible to render a more or less fine English translation of that French sentence but it could have been questioned by someone as non-native due to the heavily analytical style and the number of words and commas needed.


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 10:27
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
So what about British bureaucracy speak? May 2, 2013

You can blame non-native translators, but isn't it a true that the same happens in all bureaucratic organisation all over the world? Last week there was a discussion here about the documents of the national pension office in Finland. You need to be an expert if you want to fill in those papers, normal Finnish language does not have that vocabulary.
What I have seen of German EU-papers confirms this, and you cannot blame non-native German translators for this output either.


 

XXXphxxx (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:27
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Just Europe? May 2, 2013

I'd be interested to know, Kim, if Euro-English has crossed the Atlantic. Is it spreading?

 
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