Esperanto in Europe by David Ferguson

Posted on in Politics and languages 4 view

Enlargement, with official EU languages shooting up from 11 to 20, is a headache for planners looking for Maltese and Baltic linguists. The multiplication of official languages also means ever greater dominance of English in EU corridors. Would a neutral and easy-to-learn language like Esperanto help restore the linguistic balance? “My answer is more languages even if this means costs. This is a better than choosing some artificial or uniform solution,” said Jan Figel, the Slovak in charge of the Commission's translation and interpretation services.

With Catalan, Galician, Basque and Irish speakers now fighting to add their tongues to the merry list of official EU languages, and throw even more work on the translation plate, the Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism, Ján Figel', sees no other way out than continuing with the present system. “My belief is that in spite of all the complications, multilingualism is a very important characteristic of the Union. I could not imagine any Member State giving up its own official language for a new language. Any solution, in theory, must be a living solution, not an artificial one,” said Figel. “European history teaches us that even Latin is not used in specialized medical conferences. It is not a living language.”

So with no Esperanto, despite the merits adepts boast of, how is the EU coping? Last year the UK's Guardian newspaper headlined: “EU language barrier 'costing lives”. The world's poorest countries were supposedly denied cheap life-saving drugs because of translation backlogs. Are Commission translation and interpretation services really drowning in new work since enlargement? For commission spokesperson Michael Mann, media can provide classic examples of how problems of translation and interpretation are blown out of proportion.

“The UK accused us of holding up vital legislation due to translation delays. This was utterly untrue as the legislation hadn't even been drawn up yet.” Prior to enlargement, the Commission press service had worked hard on a lavish communication plan to stop Brussels journalists scaremongering about the EU's Tower of Babel. “We shouldn't exaggerate the difficulties. We have a number of priorities and legislation is definitely one of them,” said Mann. “We've also reduced text lengths. Aside from facilitating translation, commission documents read much better.”

De Oliveira Barata: “Translation delays no European laws.” At DG Translation in the European Commission, Manuel de Oliveira Barata is also well aware of legal problems if translations are delayed: “There is an imperative to translate into all official EU languages. Deadlines are being respected. No European laws have been held up due to translation delays,” stressed de Oliveira Barata.

As regards interpretation, Ian Andersen, head of unit for communication and information at Service commun Interprétation-conférences (SCIC), gave a similarly positive picture. “This was the best prepared enlargement ever. We started in 1993,” said Andersen. “When Greece entered in 1981 there were only eight Greeks.” The Dane estimates full needs at some 80 interpreters per language per day. “That's 40 interpreters for the European Parliament and 40 for the other institutions. Most new countries are about half way. And Poland is a bit further ahead.”

Unlike translation, there is no legal obligation, according to the treaties, to interpret meetings. The interpretation services have also been helped by the fact that officials from new member states communicated in English during their one-year long observer status (as no interpretation facilities were provided). “We can now cover between 60 and 70 per cent of the demand in the European Council,” said Andersen. With continued exams, the total of officials and freelance interpreters working for SCIC in the new member state languages has risen to 458 as of November.

Maltese still remains the problem child as EU recruitment tests will only be held once the courses at the University of Westminster in London have ended in May 2005. As there are currently only six Maltese students on the course no major influx of fully qualified interpreters can be expected. Planners, though, are not overly worried as the EU's only Semitic language enjoys a specific exemption. The ‘temporary' derogation concerning Maltese translation applies for at least 30 months with the possibility of an extension for one additional year. “But the situation is really catastrophic as there are currently only three Maltese translators at the European Council,” said one translator.

There also appears to have been less success in reducing the total amount of documents for translation. “Last year 1.4 million pages were translated. This year that figure could be over 2 million pages for the commission,” admitted Tytti Granqvist at DG Translation. Paper inflation – the increase in pages to be translated – had been running at five per cent in the past five years. Enlargement may have completely blown projections off track.

Still, Granqvist thinks the commission will be working normally in the new official languages, except Maltese, by 2006. She is also confident that the commission will reach its target of around 50 to 55 translators per language. Currently numbers hover between 13 Maltese, 15 Slovenian, 20 Estonian and 30 Slovak translators.

The head of the European Council's translation department, Hendrik Baes, is also confident of working 'normally' in all the new languages – except Maltese. “With staff for each language at around 20 to 25, we should be able to cope with the normal workload.” He counts 551 translators at the council – including the three from Malta. “In 2003, we translated a total of 738,000 pages. Up until the end of September this year, we reached a total of 477,000 pages.” With English ever more dominant in the council, English translators have been doing an increasing amount of editing: “They have another workload,” said Baes.

“For us in the European Parliament, enlargement hasn't really changed things that much,” said an interpreter. As one of the increasing numbers of freelancers he prefers not to be mentioned by name. There have, however, according to him, been major changes in SCIC's interpretation services for the commission, council, Ecosoc and the Committee of the Regions: “They have drastically decreased the number of meetings to be interpreted, as well as the number of languages and interpreters. Many of my freelance colleagues suddenly had to stop working. We don't know what will happen next year.”

Questo messaggio è stato modificato da: swolski, 26 Mag 2005 – 14:50 [addsig]


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