Multilingual Translation for the European Union

Updated on April 3, 2018


Multilingualism is the official policy of the European Union, but it is one which is not without controversy. The most famous issue with it is the problem of English, which has increasingly dominated the EU and which has led to concerns over a diglossia and discrimination. This is not the only issue however, and in fact the idea of the domination of English is a political myth (not in the sense that it is false, in the sense of a construction idea) created by the French. There's nothing wrong with that, and personally I might be inclined to agree and worry about the dangers which English poses to the various European languages, but to focus on it alone would mask the great degree of depth and multi-sided nature of the debate. It is in fulfilling this question that the book Crossing Barriers and Bridging Cultures: The Challenges of Multilingual Translation for the European Union, composed of multiple authors and edited by Arturo Tosi, responds to the call, examining the various contemporary issues, politics, and evolution of translation in the European Union, principally focusing upon the European Parliament.

The introduction, by the editor Arturo Tosi, deals with some of the debates and controversy surrounding translation and the EU's multi-lingualism policy, but mostly aims to provide a general overview of the texts which are presented in the book.

The European Parliament is the main subject of the book.
The European Parliament is the main subject of the book.

Barry Wilson presents "The Translation Service in the European Parliament", as Chapter 1. This discusses the history and basics of the European Union and Community's language rules, the instances of translation usage and scale, It also refreshingly deals with language politics in the European parliament outside of translation, such as language study and direct communication between MEPs. It also dealt with discussing reform proposals at a time when the European parliament would shortly be facing a major escalation in the number of languages and hence increases in language costs. The tone of the author is defensive in regards to the defense of his translation work, stressing that it accounts for only a small percentage of European Union spending. Overall it provides a good overview of wider issues within the European parliament concerning language policy.

Chapter 2, "Multilingualism and the Interpretation of Languages in Contact" by John Trim, deals with the situation of translation and multilingualism in Europe, the principles of language as related to translation, the influences of a high language, the origin of English, the influences that its history has had upon it, and the peculiar difficulties which it faces working with it in translation due to its positionality, as well as the relationship of other European languages to it. Personally I found it average at most in terms of use.

Chapter 3, "Use of Anglicismes in Contemporary French" by Christopher Rollason, is concerned with the field of American influence, and the French reaction against it, which it uses to explore the concept of anglicismes (English words imported into French), such as why they are used, how they are transformed by their translation into French, false anglicismes, and particular aspects of how it is used (such as for example, some words being used ironically or as a commentary on the Anglo-Saxon world, like businessman which has a noted American connotation to it, being used instead of the native French word in some contexts.) It also discusses how French resistance or alternatives to anglicismes is organized, using examples of French words derived in contrast to English terms in computing. It concludes dealing with examples of more equal language mixing in India (Hindi and English) or the European parliament (English and French, although the balance was shifting more in favor of English) and some of the problems brought about by fuzzy language barriers. It ranked as one of my favorite discussions, in a detailed analysis of the complex interrelationships between languages.

Chapter 4, "Translation of EU Legal Texts." by Renato Correia opens with a brief discourse about the inherent utopian ideal of translation, as no translated text ever perfectly encaptures the meaning of the first. In translating for the European Union, it is impossible for translators to simply translate without knowledge of the context in which documents are being translated. Hence, the author recommends better integrating translators into the legal process, a common policy suggestion. Overall little new.

Chapter 5, "European Affairs: the Writer, the Translator, and the Reader." by Arturor Tosi, which discusses the evolution of translation theory throughout history, ranging from schools which have emphasized colloquial translation to convert the words of the original to the target language as seamlessly as possible, to literate approaches which make no concessions whatsoever to the reader, even of word order. But they all share the belief that there is an inherent chasm between the ideal of perfect accuracy and a perfect translation : it is one which has existed as far back as the Roman poet Horace who drew the distinction between translating literally and translating well. Following this, it then discusses machine translation, successes, and why it has failed to generate a hoped-for breakthrough : translation is much more than reading a text, but instead is based on understanding it. In the European situation this meaning and understanding is hard to appropriately standardize even in some languages, like Italian, much less between the European languages. In order to deal with an emerging diglossia brought about by a mono-lingual conception of translation, translators must be granted more freedom and take a leading role as communicators. For a technological and theory perspective, it is very useful.

Chapter 6, "Contributions of Freelance Translators." by Freddie de Corte, which proposes that freelance translators, rather than being objects of contempt as they sometimes are, are actually vital tools to provide grassoots links to languages outside of the international world present at places like Brussels. In this, they both serve an important linguistic purpose, but also help to present texts which are more readable for the average European citizen. I found the perspective refreshing and it ties into many other themes expressed in the books.

Chapter 7, "Translation and Computerisation at the European parliament." by Anne Tucker covers first the development of translation technology in European institutions, initially from typewriters and dictaphones to personal computers and electronic terminology databases. Machine translation, mostly pursued in the United States or later in large companies, was not much utilized in the European Parliament. Software localization industries produced translation memory software, which would aid translators but not replace them in translating texts, and this would be the first major utilization of machine assistance. Other improvements were also included or discussed such as dictation. Machine translation also was brought up, with note of major differences between the European Parliament and the European Commission - it being unacceptable there, while finding great use in the latter. Freelance translators were coming increasingly into vogue, helped by technological developments. But throughout all of this, the translator's role and function remained the same, with only clerical and technical work being heavily impacted or modified. As a more detailed discussion of technological information than Chapter 5, this is also of great use concerning technological developments. However, this is available elsewhere in greater detail, so while I like it on its own, it must be noted that other sources might be more useful.

Chapter 8, "Translating Transparency in the EU Commission." by Luca Tomasi, deals with how technological developments affect the way in which translation occurs. Machine translation technology and its errors were showcased, but much of it deals with the way in which members of the translation services have utilized new technology and the way it has impacted them, such as how software is implemented and affects translation workers. Despite technological improvements, the way in which texts now undergo so many transformations actually means that maintaining quality is all the harder for translators. Although this is an intriguing subject it feels quite limited to me, focusing only on a single issue and in a limited way.

Chapter 9, "Helping the Journalist to Translate for the Reader" by Christopher Cook concerns itself with the need to make the European Union comprehensible and clear to its citizens ; what it does and says is of little consequence if nobody reads or hears it. There is constant problem of communication between the European Union and journalists, and to solve this translators focusing upon their reception by the public is critical. This ties into common themes without the book and feels like a useful contribution : not a scholarly one, but an enlightening one.

Chapter 10, "Linguistic Interprenetration or Cultural Contamination" by Helen Swallow is about linguistic modification in the European parliament, where large numbers of different languages existing in the same space and in communication mean that all of them have some degree of change from foreign loan words being introduced - meaning that even documents written in a parliamentarian's native tongue may be flawed, while the translations are much better linguistically speaking! Translators meanwhile are sometimes too conservative, rejecting foreign language terms that are now popular in their own language in preference of academic use, and therefor one suggestion that appeared from a Greek speaker at a conference which Swallow had attended, was to have translators from the European Parliament return to their home country on working programs from time to time, to enable them to refresh their professional skills in a native setting. Finally it dealt with the subject of lingua francas and English's influence. In this some of the suggestions seem similar to Contributions of Freelance Translators.

The European Union's expansion in 2004, and the following inclusion of other countries like Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, has resulted in major difficulties in translation services.
The European Union's expansion in 2004, and the following inclusion of other countries like Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, has resulted in major difficulties in translation services.

Chapter 11, "Equivalences or Divergences in Legal Translation", was this time written by two authors, Nicole Buchin and Edward Seymour. Its principal topic is euro-jargon, and clarity in the European Parliament. It mentions proposals for reform which have been officially endorsed by the EU and increased cooperation with translators be undertaken. Personally I found it to be less useful than Christopher Cook's policy, even if it deals with the same subject : Cook's article is more cutting and incisive even if it is not scholarly.

Chapter 12, "Opaque or User Friendly Language", by Christopher Rollason deals with the subject of ensuring appropriate clarity and some of the challenges faced : for example, there is much critique of an excessively opaque European language, but much of this is concerning specific objectives and treaty terminology : it might thus be better to view it as part of the age old difficult of legalese. It discusses some of the cultural perspectives upon accessibility of texts found in the different EU member states, and that translators should take into account the different cultural objectives of the various languages with which they work. It made for a refreshing difference and discussion of the context into which the poor communicability of the European parliament finds itself.

Legal jargon is normally a joking matter, but in regards to the European Parliament and "Eurojargon", it is an issue which has attracted formal critique and policy proposals to change concerning communication to the European public
Legal jargon is normally a joking matter, but in regards to the European Parliament and "Eurojargon", it is an issue which has attracted formal critique and policy proposals to change concerning communication to the European public

Chapter 13, "Round Table on Multilingualism: Barrier or Bridge" by Sylvia Bull, which discussed a wide variety of points, including the problems faced by new Eastern European members of the EU in language matters, of the necessity of countries to adapt themselves to the new European language policies, and how expansion of the European Union was impacting translation standards as resources were stretched and the need for relay systems loomed inevitable. While there were not many specific policy proposals it seemed, it was an intriguing chapter to hear very much the unadulterated voice of the participants.

Chapter 14 is the conclusion where Arturo Tosi returns to discuss the linkage of official multilingualism, multilingual translation, and the role of translators, presenting it in a political context driven by the changes of languages within the European Union.

Overall, as might be seen from my reflection of these papers, I have overall had a positive relationship to this work. This might sound strange, as the previous one I had read upon the subject - "A Language Policy for the European Community: Prospects and Quandries", is on a very similar subject, but I found that book to be quite mediocre by comparison. I believe, in trying to compare between the two, that this one was much more able to keep focus upon the topic and to stay true to the title. Its presentation much more matches its title of Crossing Barriers and Bridging Cultures: The Challenges of Multilingual Translation for the European Union, as it demonstrates the evolution of translation and multi-lingualism in the institutions of the European Parliament quite well. By contrast, "A Language Policy", lacked the same rigor and discipline : I cannot say after reading it that I felt well informed about what a European language policy is and should be in concrete terms, even if I could list individual issues. Here, I know what the major issues were and controversies existing in the European Union's multilingualism was. Insufficient readability, language corruption and language preservation, the challenges of meeting increasing needs with the same or decreasing resources, the role of the translator (indeed, this is an excellent book for seeing what the voice and ideals of translators are in the European Union) : all of these combine to produce an array of issues that bedevil the European Union's official policy of multilingualism. In this comprehensive but targeted study, the book succeeded quite well in my opinion. I might have liked to see some sections about translation between the European Union and the European states,

This seems like a very good book for those interested in contemporary European Union politics, language policy, life and work in the European Parliament, translation, and associated themes. Although it is now 15 years old and some things have changed - in particular the influence of English has continued to grow and I imagine that the influence of technology in translation has also not ceased - the book seems quite in line with the present day despite its relative age in contemporary politics. For its relatively brief length, this makes it a read which is well worth it for the appropriate subject.

5 stars for Crossing Barriers

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