Whose English?

« previous post | next post »

Over at You Don't Say, John McIntyre has been attending to the Queen's English Society (and other "people who set themselves up as morally superior to you"): "Minutes of the Academy"; "A nice mess"; "The self-righteous shall inherit the earth"; "Speak proper, or else". John links to Stan Carey's post at Sentence First, "The Queen's English Society deplores your impurities".

John and Stan — and Graham and Dogberry and Paul — were stimulated by two articles at The Times (of London), "Pedants’ revolt aims to protect English from spell of txt spk", 6/7/2010, and "Do we need an Academy of English? The experts argue for and against", 6/7/2010.

If you follow all those links — and I hope that you do, because every one of them is worth the trouble — you'll learn that the QES is even more illogical, hypocritical and badly informed than you'd expect them to be.  I'll just add three (at best semi-coherent) thoughts, which I'd develop into LL posts if I had the time.

1. Is the Queen's English Society a sort of peevological House of Lords to the Plain English Campaign's House of Commons? Or are they perhaps the would-be Cavaliers and the Roundheads of peeving? If so, can we get them to start fighting each other, rather than bothering the rest of us?

(For more on the Plain English Campaign, see "No foot in mouth", 12/2/2003; "Fed up with 'fed up'?", 3/24/2004; "Irritating cliches? Get a life", 3/25/2004; "Still more on less", 9/4/2008;  "Moving low-hanging fruit forward at the end of the day";  9/26/2009; "Memetic dynamics of summative cliches", 9/26/2009.)

2. Steven Krauwer has suggested to me that the best way to preserve an endangered language is to position it as a luxury product.  (I hope that I can persuade Steven to explain this wise remark at greater length in a guest post.) This idea rings true because the problem for such languages is precisely that they're cognitively  expensive, economically impractical, and surrounded by easily-available alternatives that are much cheaper and more useful. But in my experience, the language preservationists' pitch generally has a demotic rather than elitist vibe.

3. What's the relationship between linguistic fussiness and linguistic nationalism?  One is directed against internal threats, while the other aims at external ones, but there seems to be a common impulse.  Linguistic nationalism is often expressed in non-standard language, at least these days. But note that language-internal peeving has an upward-directed variant as well as a downward-directed one. (And you could see the animus directed at "the vacuous way that managers talk" from either side, as resentment of the bosses or as disdain for those vulgar enough to earn their living in trade.)  In any case, issues of social class seem to be involved.


  1. Marek AKA DawnOfMinstrel said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:23 am

    "In any case, issues of social class seem to be involved."

    It's English. Isn't that always the case?

    Also, regarding the post about non-standard use of language among nationalists: I cannot help, but feel this urge to correct the mayor's name to the proper Polish form with a diacritic.

  2. Gordon Campbell said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:27 am

    The Queen’s English website is worse than I’d hoped. Beautifully clumsy. If you're going to save English from the barbarians, you should at least have some idea about punctuation.

  3. Ed Cormany said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:56 am

    their website really is a gem. it's not surprising that they think that English shouldn't change; they obviously think that the internet hasn't since about 1996.

  4. parclair said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:28 am

    Heh. Loved the Rogue's Gallery; looked like it was straight out of Hogwarts.

  5. John Lawler said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    @Ed – I think it was about 1996 when I posted on another function of the Academy in response to some peeving on alt.usage.english. And here I thought I was being facetious:

  6. Evert said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:44 am

    One of my favourite comments on this was David Mitchell in the Observer:

    "It's decided that English needs an academy so that it can compete with less successful languages such as French and Italian"



    Their website really is a gem IIRC, completely overwritten, next to impossible to satisfactorily navigate and terribly old fashioned (it is very odd to be using the label for a website – but there you go).

  7. Cecily said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:46 am

    Anyone who sets themselves up as some sort of authority is bound to come a cropper, but that doesn't lessen one's delight in pointing it out: the page about the founder mentions "his Mother" (capital M) and has a very inelegant avoidance of a split infinitive: "working out how elegantly to present in English a text originally written (often badly) in another language".

    However, the site has a wider and, in my opinion nastier, agenda than mere old-fashioned linguistic presctiptivism.

    The founder still insists on using "gay" to mean "happy" (a plea repeated on the website) and there's a strange and rather sinister paragraph about homosexuality here: http://queens-english-society.com/gender3.html.

    Also, they are predictably arrogant about American English, saying "we can now consider the differences that exist between British and American English, accept those which are acceptable and reject those that are not." http://queens-english-society.com/britamerican2.html

  8. panu said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    Us non-native speakers is de majority of Inglish yoozers in teh internet and us is who sets de ruulz an' tells kurrectk from rong annyway. Yoo naitivv? You bow an' kowtow to your massa. Me is de massa.

  9. Yorick Wilks said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:59 am

    Krauwer's "luxury product" point feels nice even if hard to make concrete and plausible: certainly the government of the Irish republic held gaelic at least steady (it had been declining rapidly) by making it obligatory for anyone entering the civil service—-the level of most entrants is pretty poor (no better than their French after the same number of years of school) but it has had an effect by giving a low level of competence to an anglophone majority who want a decent job. But is that a luxury product? Maybe not. Perhaps real luxury product languages are the second languages of elites, like French was in imperial Russia (but is now gone along with that elite), German in educated Sweden (and a host of Mitteleuropa societies) and even among educated anglophone scientists until about 50 years ago. Does anyone care about endangered second languages (apart from the organizations of language teachers in schools)?

  10. Lameen said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

    "the best way to preserve an endangered language is to position it as a luxury product":

    I would love to see such a post. In the First World this is feasible, and you could argue it's already happened (some people pay good money to go to a Welsh or Irish summer school!) The trouble is that usually language shift happens at a point when the speakers don't see themselves as in a position to afford luxuries. By the time they feel that prosperous and secure again – if ever – the transmission chain has often already broken.

    [(myl) Indeed. As I recall the context, Steven was talking about things like local varieties of Dutch, and other endangered languages in Europe. But with the right social models to emulate, maybe this could work in some other regions of the world as well. Certainly some young people in Africa (for example) do aspire to luxury products, even when they're having a hard time making ends meet.

    I'm not generally in favor of solving problems with style rather than substance, nor do I like the idea of wasting money and resources on empty symbols like Rolex watches and Fiji water. But Steven's remark made me wonder whether my prejudices point in the wrong direction for solving this particular problem.]

  11. Ray Girvan said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

    The claim that irritates me most in all this is the one that it's about comprehension: how they profess to literally (in the fullest sense) not understand non-standard constructs. They're lying.

    Put these pedants in a room with glass of what they're told may be poison, and tell them they'll be instructed as to its safety. Send in a speaker of non-standard English to tell them, "You don't want to drink none of that." I guarantee that not a single one would take that as an instruction to drink it.

  12. Dan T. said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    But in 1996, most Internet developers still had a clue about the proper use of top level domains, and would have put a site for a noncommercial organization in a .org address instead of the barbaric .com.

    [(myl) Why do you think that the QES is "a noncommercial organization"? They charge £20/year to become a "member". As far as I can tell from their website, the only benefit of membership is the right to pay additional money for a subscription to their quarterly journal Quest. This is consistent, shall we say, with several different business models, most of which feature a net transfer of funds from the public to the society's owners..]

  13. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

    In terms of the "disdain for the vulgar" side of the class angle (and I think it's right to say that there are multiple class angles, not all entirely congruent with each other), I don't know how many of the peevers are really members of the old landed gentry or the trust-fund set. I think it more has to do with the uncertain position in at least Anglo-American class structure of the intelligentsy and what you might call sub-intelligentsy. Regardless of whether its overt political claims totally follow, I think the late Robert Nozick's classic rant/essay "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?" (you can find at least an abridged version online by googling the title) may have a suggestive insight to offer here. Some subset of grownups who were always A students in school feel resentment (perhaps even ressentiment, as the Nietzscheans say) toward the real world for not actually rewarding the same skill set as school did and wish to have something (e.g. pedantic command of fake rules of prescriptivist grammar) with which to lord it over the erstwhile B and C students who were more socially adept than they were back in high school and are now more economically/socially successful in the real world. So this group does look on "being in trade" as vulgar, but is getting there from a rather notably different starting point than the old aristocracy did. This thus gets into another of my recurrent LL commenting hobbyhorses — peevology is often viewed as a right-wing sort of phenomenon (because it's crotchety and often talks about an idealized past from which we have lapsed) yet seems concentrated in practice, at least in the U.S., in occupational groups (journalism, publishing, schoolteaching, lawyering) whose denizens (at present, in the context of the U.S.) generally trend left-of-center.

  14. Josh said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

    Welsh and Irish would be excellent support for the dying-language-as-luxury argument, along with perhaps Hebrew. I've also heard that ethnic Mayans in Mexico are trying to revive Maya in the same way.

    It seems to me you can't just place it in a position of prestige, though, without there being a corresponding ethnic, cultural, or nationalistic pride associated with it.

  15. Stewart said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

    In the "Pedants’ revolt aims to protect English from spell of txt spk" article (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/education/article7145147.ece) they mention the "confusion of “last” and “past”".

    I don't know what they are speaking of here. What is the confusion of “last” and “past”?

  16. The Queen’s English Society deplores your impurities « Sentence first said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

    […] Mark Liberman at Language Log describes the Queen's English Society as "even more illogical, hypocritical and badly informed than you'd expect them to be". […]

  17. Sid Smith said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

    "What is the confusion of “last” and “past”?"

    The notion that you're not supposed to say 'in the last hour'; you have to say 'in the past hour'.

    It's in the Style Guide of The (London) Times, and (I see from their website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide/p) the Guardian also, viz:

    "use past in phrases such as the past few weeks, the past year"

  18. mollymooly said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

    '"What is the confusion of “last” and “past”?'

    It's described in this page on "last", in which the author fights the good fight against the evils of polysemy.

    [(myl) Holding the line against those reckless 14th- and 15th-century inventors of early modern (boo!) English, impetuous tear-aways with no respect for tradition. As the OED explains in its entry for last:

    3. a. Occurring or presenting itself next before a point of time expressed or implied in the sentence; the present time, or next before; most recent, latest. {dag}the last age: recent times.

    1377 LANGL. P. Pl. B. XVIII. 311 And now for thi last lesynge ylore we haue Adam, And al owre lordeship. 1411 Rolls of Parlt. III. 650/1 The last Parlement of oure sayd liege Lord. a1548 HALL Chron., Hen. IV, 18 So muche was their courages abated..with the remembraunce of the last conflicte and batail. 1562 WIN{ygh}ET Cert. Tractates i. Wks. 1888 I. 7 {Ygh}our eldaris in the last aige foresaid. 1598 SHAKES. Merry W. IV. ii. 98 To meete him at the doore with it, as they did last time.

    b. Said esp. of the period, season, etc., occurring next before the time of writing or speaking, as last Wednesday, last Christmas. last day (now dial.), yesterday; {dag}last morning, yesterday morning; last evening, yesterday evening.

    c1340 Cursor M. 16122 (Trin.) A si{ygh}t {Th}at she in hir slepyng say {th}is ilke laste ny{ygh}t. a1400-50 Alexander 2785 Two..{Th}at lost wer nowe {th}e last day. 1502 Privy Purse Exp. Eliz. of York (1830) 110 Tharrerags of the last yere. a1553 UDALL Royster D. II. i. (Arb.) 33 Loe yond the olde nourse that was wyth vs last day. 1560 J. DAUS tr. Sleidane's Comm. 201b, Commyng thither the laste yere in Decembre. 1591 SHAKES. Two Gent. II. i. 86 Last morning You could not see to wipe my shooes.


  19. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

    That picture on the QES's home page with the happy slim black man and the happy slim white man leaning over the happy slim white woman's laptop? I'm sure I've seen that on an inspirational poster. Of course, I'm sure the Society's standards of copyright adherence are as high as their standards of punctuation.

    @Ray Girvan: how they profess to literally (in the fullest sense) not understand non-standard constructs.

    Good job on the infinitive. (And I agree with you.)

    Speaking of which, @Cecily: a very inelegant avoidance of a split infinitive: "working out how elegantly to present in English a text originally written (often badly) in another language".

    No, no, they're wondering what degree of elegance they should translate an inelegant original with.

  20. Elizabeth Coleman said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    Holy Smokes, did you see their article on gender? They seem to be trying to claim that "gender" only refers to nouns, as opposed to being a synonym for sex, but then veer off on this tangent. (Me, I agree we should keep the definitions of sex and gender separate, but for totally different reasons. Without the mind/body split, we end up with attitudes like the following quote.)

    "So why has it become politically correct of recent years to interchange the words? This is not a matter of linguistics.
    It is a purely social phenomenon. This has emerged from the womens'-lib movement in the USA. In their effort to right the balance of power between men and women, that movement created an utterly artificial concept of human gender. No such thing had ever existed before and, despite all their efforts, it still does not exist as humans remain unavoidably defined by their sex as indicated above. These deluded women have not enhanced their status by rejecting their sexual identity in favour of an inappropriate gender identity."

  21. Mark said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

    We should name the impulse to grammar police your language for political reasons Jingoistic Linguistics. It has a nice ring to it.

  22. Karen said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

    : "working out how elegantly to present in English a text originally written (often badly) in another language".

    How elegantly? Very, I suspect.

    But of course, a translator shouldn't be doing that. He should be producing a text which has the same impact (oooo) on its readers in English as the original did on its.

  23. Stan said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:33 pm

    'We should name the impulse to grammar police your language for political reasons Jingoistic Linguistics. It has a nice ring to it.'

    Mark: Nice rhyming compound. How about jinguistics or jingoistics? They're less of a load. There may be interference from the former's Japanese linguistics sense, but I don't know how widespread that is.

  24. Rubrick said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

    "jinguistics" for the win, methinks.

  25. nonpoptheorist said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

    I see they want teachers and students to join them (students get a discounted rate, woohoo! NOT!)

    It makes me wonder if and when they get a subscription base up and running, if leaking it to the world will cause more hate and derision than the leaking of the BNP membership list………….

    …………..and I also wonder who would win in a fight between QES and LL (actually, I think there is a safe bet in there)

  26. Stan said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

    'I also wonder who would win in a fight between QES and LL'

    If the Modal Auxiliary Corps are involved, the fight'll be over before the first restrictive which clause.

  27. marie-lucie said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

    endangered languages as luxury products

    A few years ago I organized a small conference session on "metaphors for language". One person showed that minority people (bilingual in their own and the majority language) who think of their language as a valuable heirloom to be handled with kid gloves are less likely to use it in everyday settings and to pass it on naturally to their children, while those who speak their own language as a matter of course within their community are more likely to continue doing so even though they might not satisfy all the purists in the community. The first set of people are so concerned about language purity that they will insist on never-ending preliminaries such as standardizing the language or making a dictionary, or even on preventing the language (which is "sacred") from being used in other than ceremonial occasions, meanwhile depriving the younger generations of true exposure to the language and thereby hastening its disappearance.

  28. GAC said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:55 pm

    A lovably idiotic passage from their "Spanglish" section:

    No Spanish-speaking person can cope with an initial "s" followed by another consonant. As the letter "s" is called "esse" in Spanish, they always pronounce it "ess". If your name happens to be Esterson, they will pronounce it correctly but write it "Sterson"."

    They have a whole section devoted to foreign errors and misuses, and they seem to take particular offense at foreign languages borrowing English words and "corrupting" either their meaning or their pronunciation. Do British people use the term "alligator"?

  29. David Starner said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 12:30 am

    But of course, a translator shouldn't be doing that. He should be producing a text which has the same impact (oooo) on its readers in English as the original did on its.

    Bah. A translator should be doing what they need to do. There is space in this world for many styles of translations, from Nabokov's ultra-pedantic translation of Eugene Onegin, to an edition shaved and clipped of rhyme and alienating foreign features for a mass-market audience.

    Even if there were one true way to translation, I'm not comfortable with equal-impact as theory. How exactly do you translate Marx so a post-Cold War audience reacts to him as his first readers did? If you manage to translate Aristophanes's Clouds with equal impact, you will have changed Socrates for Ayn Rand or Chomsky; it may have the same impact, but it won't be Aristophanes's anyone.

  30. maidhc said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 2:49 am

    Latin was preserved as a common language among European intellectuals for centuries after its disappearance as a spoken language. That had a practical value as well as a prestige value. But Latin continued to be taught in the British public schools long after it had any practical value (some might add, unless you planned to study medicine). So it must, ipso facto, be a luxury good, or at least a marker of a luxury good, id est, a public school education.

    The one example of practical value sometimes supplied is Sir Charles Napier's one-word telegram "peccavi" announcing his capture of Sindh, although, if the story is true at all, it is difficult to explain why he couldn't have sent the telegram in English.

    I believe Francis Bacon's argument was often cited: "Non inutiles scientiae existimandae sunt, quarum in se nullus est usus, si ingenia acuant et ordinent". (Sciences which have no practical use in themselves must not be considered useless if they sharpen and order the mind.)

    Although a knowledge of Latin was a sine qua non for a male to be considered a gentlemen, it was not normally used in conversation, but reserved for ceremonial occasions. Except perhaps on Oxbridge campuses, whence the story of the don and the tobacco-chewing undergraduate ("Quid est hoc?" "Hoc est quid!").

    In those days a concern for proper usage in English was considered a mark of the middle class. The upper classes gloried in their freedom from English grammar.

  31. Simon Cauchi said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 3:49 am

    Dalhousie responded to Sir Charles Napier with "Vovi", meaning "I've Oude".

    Or so I remember reading many years ago in the bound volumes of Punch at my English prep school.

  32. Simon Cauchi said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 4:05 am

    "The upper classes gloried in their freedom from English grammar."

    The upper classes' grammatical freedom was, if I remember rightly, limited to quite a small range of variant expressions. The one I remember hearing all the time (when I was a temporary master at Sandroyd School) was "I were . . .". The headmaster, Mr H. W. ff. Ozanne, made it clear to me that I shouldn't try to "correct" the boys by telling them to say "I was . . .".

    (I can't now remember what the initial ff. was short for. Perhaps "ffoulkes". Later, when I studied palaeography, I learned that old "ff" simply means modern "F", and it's a mere affectation to continue to write it as "ff".)

  33. Stephen Jones said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 5:24 am

    It's in the Style Guide of The (London) Times, and (I see from their website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide/ the Guardian also, viz:

    "use past in phrases such as the past few weeks, the past year"

    Nice to have further proof that David Marsh's magnum opus is a load of ill-researched subjective bollocks.

  34. Deborah Bennison said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 6:10 am

    The website of the Queen’s English Society? Er – doesn’t the Queen write very good English, then?

    The website is littered with grammatical errors and poor writing. Here’s a cringe-inducing example from the ‘Rogues’ Gallery’ page on which the society has the cheek to highlight errors made by others:

    "This is the page on which no-one will want to appear. If you do find your name here, hang your head in shame because you are by definition a person of English mother tongue with a good education, and you occupy a public position in politics, TV, the press, public service or the like and should know better than to have said or written that which is being reported here."

    ‘No one’ should not be hyphenated. I leave you to judge the clunking prose of the rest of the paragraph ("a person of English mother tongue"? …"and should know better than to have said or written that which is being reported here"?). And could you just hang on a tick while I get my breath back after reading that 59-word sentence. Perhaps the Queen is running short of full stops.

    Spot the random and missing commas on other pages, more laboured prose and inexplicable capital letters scattered here and there. Oh, and here’s a good one:

    "We, the Queen’s English Society, must increase our efforts to seek-out, expose and complain about instances of terrible English standards in the broadcast and print media, particularly when such sins are committed by publically-funded bodies, such as the BBC."

    So – ‘seek out’ should not be hyphenated; ‘publically’ should be spelt ‘publicly’; and ‘publicly funded’ should not be hyphenated.

    Here’s the hubristic statement that follows:

    " …writers, programme makers and the people who appear on TV and radio, or write for our newspapers, must if necessary, be embarrassed into striving for the highest possible standards in the use of English."

    A few red faces at the society wouldn’t go amiss either.

    The society’s website is a prime example of Muphrey’s Law in action.

    And the Queen’s English Society has taken it upon its grammatically challenged self to set up an Academy of English with the express aim of ‘setting an accepted standard of good English’. It hopes to rank alongside such august institutions as L’Académie Française, the Real Academia Española, and the Accademia della Crusca.

    Don’t have nightmares.

  35. R M Maier said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 6:39 am

    Mitchell's rant has also triggered a comment by Brian Harris in his Natural Translation blog (if readers feel ready to leave the hallowed ground of LL for a short while).

  36. jc said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

    So where can we get one of those badges?

  37. jc said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

    Some years ago, I read a more elegant and to-the-point comment on the Language Academy issue, by a French scientific researcher. He was explaining why he publishes all his papers in English. His reason was that, as a researcher, he often finds himself in a position of needing to invent terminology that fits what he's studying, and give precise definitions in his papers. If he were to publish in French, he would face a lot of problems from L'Académie Française, who would insist on vetting his use of the terms. This would bog down his research.

    If he publishes in English, there is no such language enforcer, so he is free to make up terminology and definitions as he likes. He and his colleagues can discuss the terminology, and come to an agreement on the "correct" terminology for their specialty. The usual rules of scientific precedent apply, of course, but one of the rules is that members of a specialty can decree a change if they have (what they consider) a good reason. They don't need to ask a committee of people ignorant of their scientific field for permission to do this.

    He argued that this saved a lot of time on the part of researchers, since they didn't have to both do their job and someone else's; they could concentrate on getting the research and the technical jargon consistent with their current understanding of their subject matter.

    Later on, if some of his papers should become important enough to be translated, a professional scientific translator could worry about how to translate the jargon. He/she could consult with the Académie if necessary for a French translation, and that's a proper part of a translator's job. But this wouldn't detract from the original researcher's schedule, and need only be done when the need of translation arises.

    This is all very reasonable, of course. It might be interesting to hear from other researchers, especially those whose native language has an Academy. This could be one of the reasons that English has become the dominant publication language in most scientific fields.

  38. Guillermo said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

    Hmm.. Maybe motivated by a casual curiosity, I visited the web of the Queen's English Society, and I must say I felt … strange… detached… it's full of nice pictures of blonde and white people. Oh! Sooo beautiful (you know :-) white, blond, and all) I just felt dirty… they don't deserve to be stained by the likes of me… with such a barbaric slang of the real English.
    Maybe I'll become a sort of a street vendor as the "Buhoneros" of the Blade Runner movie and use the lowest, and perhaps more appropriate, form of English.
    But who knows the ways of language? ;-)

  39. Lluc Potrony said,

    June 17, 2010 @ 4:25 am

    About the point in 2, about how 'to sell an endangered language'.

    I think that talking in marketing-like terms is not appropiate. I don't think that ultracapitalist views fit well in linguistics. It's not about buiyng or selling; it's about sharing culture; it is not about using language or culture as instruments for some other ends —usually more materialistic. Usually this kind of views lead to universal monolingualism. This is not a good thing as every language implies differents points of view of human existence.

  40. “Ms.”-ing the point « Motivated Grammar said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

    […] an academy to regulate the English language. The Society have already been clobbered by Stan Carey, Mark Liberman, John E. McIntyre, and David […]

  41. Alice said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 10:44 am


    …."If he were to publish in French, he would face a lot of problems from L'Académie Française, who would insist on vetting his use of the terms. This would bog down his research."
    …"Later on, if some of his papers should become important enough to be translated, a professional scientific translator could worry about how to translate the jargon. He/she could consult with the Académie if necessary for a French translation, and that's a proper part of a translator's job."

    I had a similarly frustrating experience a while ago when discussing an engineering text with a marketing communications person in Spain with no technical background. She claimed that a technical word we'd used in a translation did not exist. Unwilling to believe us or her own technical colleagues, she checked with the Real Academía Española in Madrid and they backed her up, even though the word had already been in use for some years on the websites of Spanish engineering companies operating in that field. The Real Academía also claimed that the abbreviation for minute was "min.", when anyone who works with scientific texts knows that, in SI notation, "min." is the abbreviation for "minimum" and "min" (without a dot) is the abbreviation for "minute". I won the battle in the end, but only by providing citations on both counts.

    These academies are very slow in picking up new terminology. Consequently, I definitely do not think it is part of a professional translator's job to consult them on new terms. And especially not when that translator's first duty is to his or her clients who want to communicate in understandable terms with their own customers or professional community, and who rely on on-time delivery of communication material to meet their own deadlines.

RSS feed for comments on this post