The UK government has taken the somewhat unprecedented step of translating the executive summary of its Brexit White Paper into 22 European languages.
That move has been interpreted by many Brussels officials as an attempt to bypass the European Commission’s negotiating team, led by former French Commissioner Michel Barnier, and appeal directly to national capitals.
The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), previously overseen by MP David Davis before his resignation, has been working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on the translation effort.
But this alleged olive branch gesture has been met with ridicule after translation experts and native speakers discovered that there are numerous mistakes and irregularities in at least a few of the translations.
In Barnier’s native French, a ‘principled Brexit’ is translated as ‘un Brexit vertueux’, which many Francophones are unhappy with because it changes the meaning of the original by adding an increased moral element to the term.
In the Croatian version as well, the term used for the United Kingdom is ‘Ujedinjeno Kraljevstvo’, even though it has been out of use for a number of years in official documents. ‘Ujedinjena Kraljevina’ is the current accepted version.
One Welsh speaker told EURACTIV that the Welsh version uses the word ‘cenhadaeth’ to denote the mission of an organisation but pointed out that another meaning of ‘cenhadaeth’ is ‘religious evangelism’.
The only fully translated version of the White Paper, which stretches to over 100 pages, will be into the Welsh language, which is not an official tongue of the EU.
Native speakers also confirmed that the Italian and Dutch versions range from clunky efforts to outright bad translations.
Some Dutch and Maltese speakers have made the point that due to the mass prevalence of English language skills in their countries, translations of such complex and jargon-heavy documents were unnecessary.
But it is in the German version where irregularities have been spotted the most. For a start, on the Department for Exiting the European Union’s White Paper homepage, the link to the German text was wrongly labelled as ‘Deutsche’ when the correct spelling is without an ‘e’. It was later corrected.
The names of Estonia and Finland were also incorrectly spelled, as was Poland’s although the Polish version has now been unpublished from the website.
Twitter users also pointed out that the German translation is full of archaic terminology, seemingly invented compound words and some even called it “unreadable”.
The EU’s Article 50 negotiating guidelines have been translated into all 24 of the bloc’s official tongues by the translation services of the institutions and other documents are made available in the working languages of the EU, French and German.
The European Commission’s translation department is reportedly the biggest service of its kind in the world, employing thousands of linguists in order to make official documents available in each language when needed. Translators have to deal with 552 language combinations.
DG Translation’s annual budget is roughly €330 million and in 2014 it processed around 2.3 million pages, at a cost of approximately €2 per EU citizen.