The Frankfurt Rechtsanwaltskammer (chamber of lawyers) has recently given a link to Eurodicautom, describing it as follows:

Ein sehr nützliches Rechercheinstrument im Internet ist das interaktive Wörterbuch der EU zu allen EU-Begriffen. Es übersetzt aus jeder beliebig gewählten europäischen Ausgangssprache in jede beliebig gewählte Zielsprache.

A very useful research instrument in the Internet is the interactive EU dictionary on all EU terms. It translates from any chosen European source language into any chosen target language.

I find this a bit odd. When I first encountered Eurodicautom in the early nineties, I was warned it was a huge conglomeration of varying quality, not giving all languages. It was said it was put online free of charge because the vocabulary had begun to be collected (in the 1980s?) but no note of the source had been taken, so the EU couldn’t copyright it. I hardly ever use it – on the few occasions I might, I tend to forget it’s there – but some translators use it a lot, and its movings from place to place are keenly followed on mailing lists. I would not think of it as a database purely of EU terminology (if I understand that correctly), but of technological vocabulary too. It most certainly has its uses.

Of course it doesn’t have the latest EU languages, by the way.

I wondered how to describe Eurodicautom for someone who’d never seen it, and my search took me to Wikipedia, which has an entry. But what do I find? Just as thin a treatment as above. Of course it’s wrong to criticize Wikipedia without improving it, but I really am not the expert on this subject.

Eurodicautom is the terminology database of the European Union. There are web interfaces as gateways to this free service, allowing the translation of the EU-vocabulary between the official languages of the EU.

Incywincy has a better definition:

The European Commission’s multilingual term bank. Particularly rich in technical and specialized terminology related to European Union policy.

That’s right. It was the Commission that started it. And the specialized terminology is not so much just political, but about anything that EU policy may be about.

There are other terminology databases in the EU, and here is a useful article about them by Alistair Macphail. This article calls for a central EU terminology database to be set up. Eurodicautom is not it.

(Via Handakte WebLAWg)

7 thoughts on “Eurodicautom

  1. Some of the English, French, Dutch and German legal terms on Eurodicautom are not practice-based, but just slavishly copied from Belgian-produced Le Docte’s multi-lingual dictionary for which I find as useful for translation as Brussels sprouts.

  2. Ah,well that explains the copyright remarks I heard. If stuff was copied out of a dictionary in an identifiable number of cases, they could not risk charging a fee for the use of Eurodicautom.

    How do you actually use the sprouts when you’re translating?

  3. When we were heavily involved in the EU “POINTER” project (terminology) back in the mid-1990s, Eurodicautom was one of the resources we examined to see whether it could be repackaged and sold commercially, rather like a European counterpart to the Canadians. It really was a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly at the time, and little seems to have changed since then. There are lots of extracts from various published dictionaries – not just legal, but also technical – and a lot of it is out-of-date now. And of course, the copyright issue was a nightmare: getting the permission of all the copyright-owners, and working out formulas to allocate royalty income, was regarded as simply too complicated to make any commercial venture worthwhile.

    One thing that did become very clear during the course of the project, though, is that while you can copyright an entire published *work*, you cannot copyright individual term pairs. And you can’t copyright a definition, because a definition is regarded as a fact (and facts by their very nature cannot be protected by IPR).

  4. Interesting, Robin. I always understood individual dictionary and glossary entries are incapable of copyright protection. Indeed, it would make almost impossible quotations from a dictionary. I suspect Eurodicautom’s copyright attributions were more a matter of courtesy, rather than a strict legal requirement.

    In English law, the copyright-permission test under the UK Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 is the copying of a SUBSTANTIAL part. Eng. courts have alway applied a quality, rather than quantity, test. Slightly changing the words will take the text out of copyright. This may explain why many of WA Kirkeby’s Norwegian-English dictionary entries look awfully like verbatim transliterations of Vinterberg & Bodelsen’s Danish-English dictionary entries.

    Margaret, eating plenty of Brussels sprouts and tomatoes keeps up the energy levels whilst translating – whilst not effectively improving the overall quality. I recall one Colombian colleague who has sunk without a trace after self-administering more powerful substances.

  5. Adrian, I think the problem with Eurodicautom is that it *does* cite the sources. If they didn’t, they presumably wouldn’t have a copyright issue. OTOH, they wouldn’t be able to claim that the “borrowed” terms are in any way authoritative (though they aren’t in any case, as we know).

    I remember when we looked at glossary copyright issues sometime in the late 1990s (there was a project, but not EU), there seemed to be a general consensus that the “10%” test applied, i.e. more than 10% changes and you have original art.

    Brussels sprouts are Vegetables of Mass Destruction and one of the reasons I haven’t visited my mother over Christmas for 25 years or so now.

  6. It’s just occurred to me that they actually *did* weed out rather a lot of the unusable material in Eurodicautom back in the 1990s, but I seem to remember that the contracts they had with various dictionary publishers meant that they had to keep that stuff in the termbase. Something like that, anyway, and of course being a mere European taxpayer, I’m not privy to those contracts.

    What’s a real pity is that there isn’t enough funding to keep Eurodicautom updated to reflect new legislation in particular, quite apart from the time constraints that evidently apply. For example, when I was revising materials for submission on the new Investment Services Directive, I found myself having to refer almost entirely to primary legislative sources even for instruments that were 7 or 8 years old. It would have saved me a lot of time if I’d been able to find the terms in Eurodicautom, and I can well imagine that the staff translators at the Commission spend a lot of their time researching, rather than translating. Another problem, of course, is that certainly for English terms, a lot of the material is written by non-native speakers from the outset (rather than translated), which is why some decidedly un-English terms get through into the final published documents. Again, I think time and cost play a decisive role here. Robin Stocks has addressed this issue several times at Carob, and I fear it won’t go away (and no doubt the translators will also continue to be conveniently blamed for every infelicity that gets through…).

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