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News • May 30 2004

Lawyers hold sway over translators

Kurt Sansone

The serious mistakes in the translation of the EU Constitution into Maltese revealed last week in MaltaToday are but the tip of an iceberg and linguists fear that the positive impact of having Maltese recognised as an EU official language may be lost if no remedial action is taken.

Translators based in Brussels told MaltaToday that the problem is not one simply linked to the lack of suitably trained translators, but also to the lack of working tools such as technical dictionaries. To make matters worse, the lack of linguistic direction in highly specialised areas is leading to a constant conflict in Brussels between translators and legal experts.

For Mario Serracino Inglott, the vice president of the Akkademja tal-Malti, the problem of lack of technical dictionaries is self-inflicted. “Government should have brought the experts in the various fields and linguists together to develop an acceptable vocabulary,” Serracino Inglott told MaltaToday.

As things stand, translators in Brussels are constantly haggling with lawyers on the interpretation of legal texts. One such example is the translation of the sentence ‘European legal framework’.

Translators prefer to use the Maltese version, ‘Qafas ta’ li©i Ewropew’ but lawyers reviewing the text have opted for ‘li©i kwadru Ewropew,’ which makes no sense.

Serracino Inglott conducted a second review of the Maltese version of the EU Constitution for MaltaToday and identified four main problems in the translated text.

The first mistake is the use of non-existent words (politiki) or words adapted to Maltese that make no sense (li©i kwadru instead of qafas ta’ ligi). The second mistake is the wrong use of existing words (disposizzjonijiet instead of dispoΩizzjonijiet).

A third element is poor sentence construction (il-politika ta’ sigurtà u ta’ difiΩa komuni instead of the correct version, il-politika komuni ta’ sigurtà u ta’ difiΩa).

The fourth problem is the lack of punctuation and the use of long winding sentences, probably because of the legal nature of the text.

“I also noticed that the Maltese version of the Constitution lacks uniformity. On page 201 both the word ‘qafas’ and ‘kwadru’ are utilised to translate the word ‘framework.’ It is clear that more than one person was involved in the translation. There are also some sections of the Constitution written in good flowing Maltese,” Serracino Inglott said.

He insisted that competent authorities such as the Akkademja and the Maltese language department at University should have been consulted on the translation of EU texts. “I don’t know why this did not happen because in the drafting of the law on the Maltese language, both institutions were consulted thoroughly,” Serracino Inglott pointed out.

But government had long been warned about the problems of translating volumes of EU texts. Serracino Inglott added: “On various occasions in the past few years the Akkademja approached government with offers of help. Ministers acknowledged our fears but nothing was done and today we are faced with translations such as ‘i©sma tal-pariri’ and ‘li©i kwadru’.”

Only last week both parties in Parliament agreed on the new law regulating Maltese, which identified the Maltese language rule book published by the Akkademja as the official rule book. But the agreement in Parliament deemed very useful for the development of the Maltese language and identity risks being undermined by the poor translation effort in Brussels.

The Head of the Translation and Law-drafting Unit, Dr Vanni Bruno wrote to MaltaToday (see letter on page 19) lamenting what he described as “excessive” criticism of the EU Constitution translation. He defends the choice of certain translated words such as ‘li©i kwadru’ instead of ‘qafas ta’ li©i’ and ‘stabbilita’ instead of ‘imwaqqfa,’ and argues that MaltaToday did not “appreciate” the difficulty of translating the EU Acquis into Maltese.

While Bruno’s defence appeals to emotion and one can understand the difficulty to translate highly technical documents, there is little to excuse the fact that for the second time running the officially translated EU Constitution contains serious defects.





Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta