Plainer German in Austria/Amtsdeutsch a.D. in Österreich

Miscellaneous remarks:
Uncle Jazzbeau’s Gallimaufrey reports with what seems justified scepticism the Austrian term Verwaltungsvereinfachungsmaßnahmen. The term is not particularly long to the ear of a German speaker, but the term usually used for simplifying administration (a rich field in Central Europe) is Verwaltungsvereinfachung. The former gives a number of links, all in English, riding on the story that the Austrians are using a long word for the equivalent of ‘plain English’, ha ha. The latter gives more German-language links.

However, the term for plain German is not Verwaltungsvereinfachung, but Amtsdeutsch a.D. a.D. = außer Dienst = retired, i.e. official German retired. A Guardian article of June 9th on Austrian legalese by ‘William J. Kole, Associated Press writer’ must have been the source:

bq. Ironically, though, the German term for measures designed to cut through administrative red tape is a massive mouthful: “Verwaltungsvereinfachungsmassnahmen.”

bq. Waltraud Rumpel, a city hall spokesman, offered this stilted phrase – from an official notice to an Austrian citizen applying for a license to marry a foreigner – as an example of the kind of dense mumbo-jumbo that’s got to stop:

bq. It is herewith asked to pass on the letter, which arrived here from the wedding registrar’s office, to the aforementioned competent official with the request for a translation.”

The term is said to refer to measures intended to cut through administrative red tape, not to simplify language. Perhaps this was misinterpreted by later writers? At all events, plainer Austrian is a subcategory of simpler administration.

Frau Rumpel (good name) makes it clear what problems translators sometimes have. ‘It is herewith asked to pass on the letter’ – this is impersonal and would usually be personal in English. ‘Please’ would do here, but often it’s necessary to say ‘we’ or ‘he’ or ‘she’, and then you’re stuck if you don’t know who did this impersonal thing. Original: “Es wird gebeten, das vom Heiratsamt eingelangte Schreiben mit Ersuchen um Übersetzung an besagten Sachbearbeiter weiterzuleiten” – solche und ähnliche Satzmonster sollen im Magistrat bald der Vergangenheit angehören.

There appear to be manuals on how to write plain German in Linz and Vienna. This kind of book can be extremely useful because of all its examples of non-plain-language (is there a term for that? What’s the opposite of plain English?).

The Vienna brochure is available to those who work in the city administration, in print, on CD-ROM and on their intranet. It was presented to the public on June 8th. Can we get hold of a copy, Adrian? The Linz book can be bought for 21 euros inside Austria and more outside, see link above.

I’ve already mentioned the Amtsdeutsch online on the Austrian government website. Another example in the weblog of the Austrian lawyer Michael Kadlicz.

5 thoughts on “Plainer German in Austria/Amtsdeutsch a.D. in Österreich

  1. Thanks, I should have remembered that. I heard a talk on it at the ITI conference in Cambridge a few years ago – fighting the fog. But that won’t do. The talk was not terribly useful for translators. It was about getting EU people to write better English. I don’t know how far they’ve moved on.

  2. Try for – the Vienna rag – Mag. Hans-Christian Heintschel (not fairy-story teller H-C Andersen) on e-mail hch@m53.magwien.gv.at or his colleague Ing. Karin Zauner on tel. 00-431-4000-81851.

    Our ‘immer noch pragmatisierte’ Beamtin schoolteacher friend with a ‘Bestandvertrag’ on her apartment in the Vienna Woods, funded by a Kreditverhältnis on ‘Terminverlust’ terms might ‘eventualiter’ or subeventualiter’ have the actual publication.

  3. Thanks for the references. It doesn’t sound as if it would go to schoolteachers, though.Robin: OK, I can go along with that. There was a suggestion at Uncle Jazzbeau, but it was rather over the top (anti-bafflegab campaign, taken from The Double-Tongued Word Wrester – nomen est omen).

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