Spaces are not part of language / court decision

This second case on a translator’s invoice is earlier. It was decided by the Oberlandesgericht Hamm (Higher Regional Court of Appeal in the civil and criminal court system)
The translation was from Spanish to German. 145 pages of transcripts of phone conversations in Spanish had to be translated for a criminal case under the Narcotics Act (Betäubungsmittelgesetz). The appeal court conceded the translator the DM 3.20 per line that the translator wanted, but again it insisted that spaces could not be included in the count. Not only was the translation urgent, but the deadline was reduced by 14 days after the translator had started working.

The ZSEG statute does not speak of remuneration for translators, but compensation (Entschädigung) for time spent. The translator was actually promised DM 3.20 per line by the Dortmund public prosecutor’s office, but the court held that such an agreement is not binding. When the translator submitted his invoice, he was at first offered only DM 2.50, which was the lowest permitted line rate plus 25% for urgency.

It is interesting, as in the last case, to read why the court thought the translation was particularly difficult and therefore accepted the translator’s higher line price. It said that the conversations were not in ‘European’, ‘easy/Castilian’ Spanish, but in Latin-American Spanish. ‘This Spanish is harder to translate, according to the applicant [the translator], and the court has no reason to doubt this’. Spanish is actually classed by the guidelines for compensating interpreters and translators as an easy language (Group A).

(Of course, many languages are equally ‘easy’ for those who speak them).Now to the spaces. It is clear from these two case reports that the courts are going to omit spaces from the count, strange and perhaps misguided though this may be. But how does this court express its argument?

bq. Schon der eindeutige Wortlaut von § 17 Abs. 4 Satz 1 ZSEG, wonach als Zeile die Zeile gilt, die durchschnittlich 50 Schriftzeichen enthält, führt zu dieser Auslegung. Leerzeichen sind keine Schriftzeichen (Hartmann, Kostengesetze … Bleutge, ZSEG ….), da sie nicht zu einem System graphischer Zeichen, die zum Zweck menschlicher Kommunikation verwendet werden, gehören (Meyer, Großes Taschenlexikon, 3. Aufl., Band 19, S. 317).

bq. (Translation of the above) This interpretation follows from the unambiguous text of section 17 (4) sentence 1 of the Act on the Compensation of Witnesses and Expert Witnesses (Gesetz über die Entschädigung von Zeugen und Sachverständigen, ZSEG), which provides that the line shall be the line containing an average of 50 characters. Spaces are not characters (…), since they are not part of a system of graphic signs that are used for the purpose of human communication …

Spaces are not part of a written system of human communication! I wonder what authority Meyer’s encyclopedia is there. If I deliver a translation without spaces, the customer will soon see what spaces have to do with communication.

Of course, as long as you know in advance whether spaces will be included in the count, so you can adjust your price accordingly, it’s possible to live with this system. But counting from typed pages always included spaces – indeed, when the court counts it is based on the printout – so it seems strange that the courts would do things that way.

3 thoughts on “Spaces are not part of language / court decision

  1. Or so said a German court in ruling that a translator was entitled to the higher rate he had been promised for an urgent translation by the Dortmund public prosecutor’s office. After the fact, the prosecutor’s office wanted to pay…

  2. My goodness, the lengths clients will go to to squeeze us out of our livelihood! I suppose one could point out that the space is an ASCII character (hexadecimal 20, HTML &032;) that requires a physical keystroke and some brainpower in the decision over whether to put one in (“nobody” or “no body”?) And we could threaten to omit it as superfluous. Let the sons of guns get used to the old Latin scriptio continua again (on which see below):

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