The EU espouses a policy of multilingualism. Its institutions currently have 24 official and working languages. Although these languages theoretically enjoy equal status, for around four decades, most interactions took place in French and most publications were originally drafted in French. This means that much of the older English material, including some fundamental legislation, was heavily influenced by the translation process. However, starting in the 1990s, English has gradually taken over, both in spoken and written communication, to the extent that, currently, around 81% of documents received by the Commission’s DG Translation were originally drafted in English, as compared with only 5% in French. Few of the people drafting these documents are native speakers of English, and their English drafting skills vary considerably. Furthermore, there are no systematic procedures for guaranteeing the quality of the texts and ensuring that errors are eliminated prior to publication.
Against this background, the EU has developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English. It includes words like ‘planification’ and ‘comitology’, which do not exist, and others that are rare and lie outside the vocabulary of the intended readership (‘informatics’, for example, or the names of the various beasts of the field). In a further group, normal English words suffer one sort of grammatical change or another, so ‘precise’ becomes a verb, meaning ‘to specify’, ‘expertise’ becomes a countable noun meaning an appraisal by an expert, and, in yet another group, perfectly normal words are used outside their normal semantic fields or collocations.
In this entertaining presentation we will look at how words are misused in the context of EU publications. A recognition of this phenomenon will enable participants to improve their understanding of documents relating to the EU’s activities and make reasoned choices in their translation and editing work.
After receiving his first degree, Jeremy Gardner taught English for 15 years in Italian universities and then moved to Luxembourg, to work as a translator at the European Union’s Court of Auditors. His tasks also include editing original English texts and working as an interpreter/auditor during the Court’s visits to the Member States. In 2012, he published a paper on misused words in EU publications, which attracted considerable attention in the media, and has since been involved in in-house training aimed at improving the level of drafting within the institution. He is also a member of the EU’s inter-institutional styleguide committee and delivers presentations and workshops both in the EU institutions and beyond.