back to article EU moves to establish gibberish as lingua franca

The European Commission is seeking to make us all speak in Brusselsese by donating millions of its documents to translation software developers. The commission described the donation of its "collection of about one million sentences and their high quality translations in 22 of the 23 official EU languages" as a step further in …


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  1. Fred

    Daily Mail escapee?

    Good Lord... if I want to read that kind of unbalanced tosh, I'll go to the Daily Mail website.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Isn't it normally called wikipedia?

  3. Toby

    Nice try...


    Register Journos Shocked:

    Textual Detail Of International Treaty Is Difficult To Understand!

    Give 'em a break. Compared to most international legal stuff, the EU treaties are a model of lucidity. Try this, from the Kyoto Protocol:

    "If a question of implementation by a Party included in Annex I of the requirements referred to in this Article is identified in accordance with the relevant provisions of Article 8, transfers and acquisitions of emission reduction units may continue to be made after the question has been identified, provided that any such units may not be used by a Party to meet its commitments under Article 3 until any issue of compliance is resolved."

    Besides, it's member countries like our own dear Britain (not "Brussels", whatever that means) who write the European treaties. And when you've got 27 governments wrangling for weeks over the precise positions of full stops and commas, legal "gibberish" is the guaranteed outcome. Better that than vague arm-waving and leaky prose.

    (And "Brusselsese"? Please...)

  4. Steve

    Unbalanced tosh?

    Are we reading the same article?

  5. Mage Silver badge


    More people in Ireland speak Chinese or Polish than Irish.

    Many of the programs to promote Irish since 1922 have been actually killing Irish.

  6. Daniel

    hahahahah suckers

    all your banana curvature measurement criteria belong to us.

  7. Colin Millar

    Limited translation services

    Only 253 translation combos from 23 languages?

    So half of the EU isn't talking to each other?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Which languages?

    You don't list the languages that are included -- is it every known language including Welsh?

  9. Spleen


    You're making the classic mistake of double-counting language pairs. You count 22 pairs for, say, English, then 21 for French (because you've already counted French-English), then 20 for German (because you've already counted German-English and German-French), etc etc. Two seconds in a spreadsheet or several more with a calculator gives you 253 pairings between 23 languages.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Limited translation services

    "So half of the EU isn't talking to each other?" - If only, can we all stop speaking to the French?

    I think the maths is vindicated by the word "combos" meaning combinations, so English-German and German-English are treated as one combination, rather than two.


  11. Dennis

    @Colin Millar

    because they don't need to be translated twice and they don't need to be translated to themselves

    (23*23-23)/2 =253

    and next - the countdown cunundrum

  12. Chris Miller


    23 x (23 - 1) / 2 = 253

    -1 since we don't translate a language into itself

    /2 to give the number of language pairs (ie English -> French, French -> English counts as 1)

    I once met a very nice lady, who was doing simultaneous English <-> French for us. She is Danish married to a Portuguese, and is therefore one of the (very) few professional translators available for those two languages. I believe some of the more obscure language pairs have to go through an intermediate language, which can't improve the accuracy of the final result!

  13. Anthony Zacharzewski
    Thumb Down

    Who needs content when you have paranoia?


    also, something about translation software.

  14. igor harb

    Way to go

    Irish just recently became promoted as an official EU language, so they are still lagging behind with the translations of all the important documents.

    Welsh, Catalan and other minority languages are not official EU languages, which is a shame, as translating EU documents significantly improves translation and language studies in all the small language groups. I come from Slovenia, which has a language with only 2 million speakers and in the past few years there has been a real explosion of translation jobs and a noticeable increase in the quality of work done.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Usually in such circumstances they'll hire a capable individual and stick them in a language school for however long required. At least that's what the foreign office often do to when recruiting staff to work in countries with more obscure languages.

  16. Toby

    @Chris and Anonymous Coward #3

    English (and sometimes French) are used as bridge languages by the EU since 2004, but only for simultaneous interpreting (in parliament, conferences, etc) - there aren't enough simultaneous translators trained in those languages. I don't think bridge languages are generally used for written documents, and certainly not for legal stuff.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In defence of the author -- to a point.

    It is not europhobia to question the value of european documents.

    The Kyoto protocol cited above reads to me like legalese. Joe's examples read like translations.

    EU translations have a widely acknowledged problem: each translation must be utterly unambiguously identical to the original. This is essentially impossible. Translators will sometimes invent new words because they can't change the sentence structure for fear of changing meaning. Reading an EU document is not really reading "in your language", but it does generally provide the intended information very effectively.

    However, Joe misses one vital point.

    Anyone involved in translation knows this. Even undergrad language students know this. Which means the people that write this software will be more than aware of this.

    Panic over -- move along -- nothing to see here.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quid pro quo

    Google are busy building a database of translation pairs using user submitted translation suggestions. If they're going to submit that corpus of texts to Google, they should also get a quid pro quo agreement from them.

    We have major companies working in that field in the EU (e.g. Systrans) to release that body of text without a balancing agreement would tip the field in Googles favour.

    i.e. we paid for it, make sure you get a balancing agreement before you go giving it away.

  19. Herby

    North America's problems...

    At least we don't have too much of a problem here. Unfortunately, other languages creep into our country (it happens!). In many places we have "Spanish Subtitles" to stuff (I note it in banners in a couple of home improvement stores). Luckly there are only a few dominant languages: English (more rightly "american"), Spanish, and (luckly only ONE country has it as a sole language!) French. I suppose we are lucky.

    Unfortunately, the French won't give up on their language being "pure", which limits things a bit. There will always be "The French"!

  20. Hate2Register

    @Anonymous Coward

    I see you everywhere, commenting on all sorts of stuff, defending authors ("to a point"). So, at a guess, you are working for el reg (or pr/marketing/publishing affiliate) in a management capacity, which demands the "Anonymous Coward" thing. Wrong?


  21. Anonymous Coward


    You see us everywhere because we are of the hive - you will be assimilated..............

  22. GrahamT

    253 combinations, but 506 translators

    It is a rule in translation that you only translate *into* your own language. (you only have to read foreign translated instruction manuals to see why this is a good idea.), so for each language pair, you really need two translators - one for each native language. However, there is no shortage of translators in modern Europe, so finding them - at least for the major languages - is not a problem

    While politically, it might be necessary to have EU documents translated into Gaelic, practically, most Irish understand English as well as us natives (if not better,) certainly far more than understand Gaelic

    James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Spike Milligan, et al, bear witness to that facility with our mother tongue.

  23. wim
    Thumb Down

    "out mother tongue"

    assuming that everyone on here is a native English speaker ?

  24. Michael H.F. Wilkinson


    If you think France has French as sole language, you are wrong: they have Breton in Britany, Flemish around Dunkirk, Basque in the south-west, and Occitan is also making a resurgence in the south-east (and even a bit of Catalan right against the border of Spain).


  25. John Angelico

    @253 combinations, but 506 translators

    Spike? Spike? Oh, of course! Spike Milligna the well-known typographical error.

    He definitely fits here.

  26. xjy
    Thumb Up

    What a translation corpus is useful for

    Translation software that's any good doesn't provide an out-of-the-spout final version. It provides useful suggestions for words, phrases and sentences, and the translator selects what's appropriate and puts it all into acceptable shape. Translations into English should sound English, etc. Nothing tires or puts a reader off more than non-idiomatic or inconsistent usage. This even goes for stuff that's crap in the original - the translation should read like English crap etc unless you're being paid extra to de-crap it.

    That's why this kind of offer is a great step forward. It provides real translators with real suggestions provably used in real cases. Nothing there to stop anyone coming up with anything better.

    Out-of-the-spout versions are very hit and miss. The only people who can really make full use of them are those who know the original language and can decipher some of the oddities arising from over-literal translations and misunderstood contexts. More than a page of this for a stranger to the original language is usually mind-numbing enough to bring the reading to a halt, unless you're driven by an extraordinary passion for the topic.

    There are a couple of problems with huge corpuses like this, though, that have nothing to do with gobbledegook. The first is the need for constant cultivation - pruning, editing etc, to weed out possible errors and focus on the useful alternatives so that a translator isn't overwhelmed by a deluge of not very useful suggestions. Another is the need to keep terminology precise and up-to-date. A third is more technical - a capability to segment a sentence into useful bits and pieces so that phrases and words are matched rather than just full sentences. Translators who used DejaVu as against Trados translation memory software are constantly thankful for the greater flexibility DV offers in this respect.

    Finally, we should be aware of the de-skilling of translation as a profession that is going on. Trados software in particular is time and again used by translation agencies to gouge translators and push rates down. On the other hand, there are still one or two clients around who appreciate that a good translation is worth its weight in gold. They don't want monkey jabber, so they don't pay peanuts. (Note for the business-minded - the time taken to make a crap translation acceptable usually exceeds the time needed to get a good translation in the first place, if the translators know their onions.

  27. steve

    "assuming that everyone on here is a native English speaker ?"

    Nope, assuming Graham T is a native english speaker and is using our correctly.

  28. Ken Hagan Gold badge
    IT Angle

    Re: Nice try


    Well if they spent some time simplifying the original (*) text, they'd save a bundle on translation costs and saves years of subsequent wrangling over treaties that meant something slightly different to every country.

    IT angle: it's a classic case of automating a flawed process.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Well in my case (I'm the one that defended the author... to a point) it's because I foolishly registered with my own name, thinking that was the done thing here.

    Now I see the error of my ways, as these pages are filled with comments from pseudonymous accounts like "Hate2Register".

    I can't see any account settings, so... aw heck -- why not go AC?

  30. Tom Thomson
    IT Angle

    @Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Occitan in the South East would be a bit of a turn up for the books, I would expect to find it a long way West of there - West of the places where Provencal is still alive (or was last time I was there - a few decades ago) albeit not very alive.

    It would be nice to have translations of EU documents into all those minority languages from France, and or course into Gaoluinn and Gaeilge and Gaidhlig and Gaelk and Welsh, also Cornish if there's even one person who speaks it well enough to translate this sort of stuff. Maybe I could get a job as a translator and give up this IT nonsense.

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