Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Lost for words

The Wall Street Journal is not the only newspaper retailing stories about EU languages (see Helen's story below). The Times also carries it this morning, although it has been doing the rounds for some time.

However, apart from rejoicing at this development, and suggesting translators should be given much more time off, bringing their holidays to, say, 52 weeks, spare a thought for the IGC which is continuing in Brussels.

Whatever conclusions the foreign ministers come to, those that are not already in English will have to be translated for the Irish presidency, so that they can be worked up into a summary. This will then have to be translated into the other 18 official community languages (it should be nineteen except that Maltese has been suspended for three months owing to the lack of translators).

Each of the member states will then have to produce their responses. Those not already in English will have to be translated for the presidency to use as a basis for its final, pre-summit report and agenda. Again the translators will have to go to work before this can then be circulated to member state governments – in good time for them to prepare their positions for the final summit.

Under any circumstances, this would be a considerable logistic feat, but – if the summit goes ahead in mid-June - the translation services have less than three weeks to deal with all the documents (less the time it takes to prepare them in the first place). Already, therefore, this looks implausible. If the foreign ministers decide to have another meeting next week, the task will surely be impossible.

The only way out might be to rely on the legions of well-paid and highly competent free-lances. Being self-employed, mercifully, the EU’s own working time directive does not apply to them, so they can work much longer hours than the salaried officials. Anyone know the word for "overtime" in Latvian?

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