Spanish fear language downgrade in Commission translation reshuffle

The Spanish are unhappy at a 25% cut in the number of their Commission translators from 2007, leaving them roughly on a par with Maltese. The Commission gives an insight into why.

Spanish translation row

The status of the Spanish language was discussed when Prime Minister Zapatero met Commission President Barroso to talk about the financial perspective 2007-13. The fact that it was discussed is a clear indication of how important the issue of the status of Spanish in the institutions is to Spain. The arguments ran in much of the Spanish press in late November/early December.

Faced with Commission plans to reduce the number of Spanish translators from 2007, Zapatero expressed his wish to Barroso that “the Spanish language be present at the highest level in all the European institutions”.

“If the Commission plans go ahead, Spanish may well receive the same treatment as Maltese, barely spoken by 400,00 people, in spite of the fact that our language is probably among those growing the most in the world,” said MEP Jaime Mayor Oreja, according to Spanish daily ABC.

The Vice Director of the Real Academia Espanola, Gregorio Salvador, guardian of the Castilian language, is very unhappy that the Commission is to cut the number of Spanish translators by 25%. He says that the Commission is taking advantage of infighting “as we go and ask Brussels stupid things like translation into Basque, Catalan or Galician instead of defending our common language”.

In a letter to Commission President Barroso, the president of the government of La Rioja, Sanz Alonso, points out that there are nearly 500m Spanish speakers in the world, that it is the second most used language in the EU after English and that it therefore deserves the same status in the EU as English, German and French. 

“The Commission is not planning to reduce the number of Spanish translators based on the proportion of citizens in Spain that have Castilian as their mother tongue,” said Multilingualism Commission spokesperson Frederic Vincent.

The Commission is moving from a system based on 80-100 translators per language to one based on 65-70 translators per language. No new member state has reached the 65-70 translator threshold.

Vincent confirmed that English, French and German, as ‘procedural languages’ will have 120-130 translators while Spain may have 65/70. ‘Procedural languages’ are the ones in which communications are presented to the College of Commissioners for approval before they are translated into the other official EU languages.

“One of the translators’ tasks will be to translate more webpages and brochures into their respective languages for the general public,” added Vincent.

“The number of English translators is rising slightly due the fact that more and more finalised documents in the EU and the Commission are written in English,” says Vincent.

Providing EU citizens with clear and jargon-free messages

As part of the Commission’s translation reshuffle, it is looking to move more of its translators to national capitals and to ‘localise’ its message.

‘Localisation’ is a term widely used by multinational companies and the language industry for tailoring their products to the local market conditions. This includes a particular marketing and for example, user guides, which have to be in the local language accessible and understood by the customers.

The Commission’s DG Translation Director General Juhani Lönnroth confirmed to EURACTIV that the Commission sees the term ‘localisation’ as meaning tailoring the message so that it is understood clearly by the citizens of a given member state. 

He says that the idea underlying the term ‘localisation’ is a major part of ‘Plan D’, the action plan adopted in July, and that it is widely used by Ms Wallström and others in the Commission.

Currently there are no Commission translators in London, Paris, The Hague, Dublin and Nicosia but the EU executive is looking to have around two to three translators in all member states. 

Lönnroth justified the move to EURACTIV by saying that if you stay abroad for several years, you easily lose touch with the local jargon which develops fast. Another problem he refers to is EU jargon, giving the example of the term ‘social dialogue’, which is widely used in EU texts. This is not well understood by a British audience, he notes.

As part of a reshuffle of Commission translation resources, as from 2007, there will be a 25% cut in the number of Spanish translators. 

Meanwhile, as part of its 'Plan D' to stimulate debate among EU citizens, the Commission is looking to further improve the way its message is translated into local languages to provide citizens with clear and jargon-free messages.

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