Translation of ‘man’

The German American Law Journal Blog mentions (in German) a recent U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit case between Dr. Leo Kirch and Liberty Media in which the translation of the German man as the English you was queried.

The subject of the litigation was the role of an interview, held in German and translated into and published in English, in undermining public confidence in KirchGroup.

bq. [GALJ] Kern der Berufungsentscheidung ist die strittige Übersetzung des im Englischen unbekannten deutschen Wortes man, das Breuer gegenüber dem Journalisten benutzte, aaO 30. Die Nuancen der Sprache spielen eine so bedeutende Rolle, dass ein deutsches Gericht eher zu seiner Würdigung berufen sein könnte, deutet das Berufungsgericht an.

bq. [Case report] The parties dispute the proper translation of Breuer’s words. In his brief, Kirch asserts that Breuer’s “use of the term ‘you’ [in the phrase “all that you can hear and read about”] rather than ‘I’ is somewhat dissembling in being more general than just Breuer.” Kirch Br. at 32. The defendants respond by pointing out that the German pronoun “man” is a third person impersonal pronoun more analogous to “anyone” than to “you.” Deutsch Bank Br. at 22-24. According to the Deutsche Bank defendants, this makes even clearer the fact that Breuer was basing his comments on public knowledge. Without more than we have, though, it is hard for us to make a sound judgment as to which is the proper nuance of the German phrase.

Here’s the relevant interview (MM bold):

bq. Q. It is more a question of whether someone will help him to carry on.
A. I believe this is relatively questionable. All that you can hear and read about this is that the financial sector is not willing to provide further
debt or equity under current conditions. Hence, only third parties could be interested in a -– as you phrased it -– support action.
Q. Thank you very much, Rolf Breuer.

I haven’t read this in full or investigated it further, and I can’t even say how important it was in the case. At first glance, it looks like a reasonable translation, but it is an interesting example of the potential legal implications of translating such a word.

5 thoughts on “Translation of ‘man’

  1. “… des im Englischen unbekannten deutschen Wortes man.” What about “one”? Not necessarily in this case, just generally? I once was (only half-jokingly) told that only the Queen would use it, so I suppose it might be upper-class speech, but still …

  2. ‘One’ doesn’t always work, but it would work here, as you say. It tends to be formal. In AmE, they often refer back to ‘one’ as ‘he’ (One should remember which side his bread is buttered), which makes it less heavy than BE (One should remember what side one’s bread is buttered). It may be on the formal side in a magazine interview. And sometimes it is wrong – it doesn’t mean the same as man, as you know, because it always includes the speaker. Man will uns verbieten, in der Innenstadt Fu

  3. I can only hope that Deutsche Bank has better lawyers than Bertelsmann did when it lost a claim in the US hinging around the correct translation of the word “Beteiligung”. The claimants won the case by wheeling out some US professor of Germanistik who evidently convinced the court that there is only one translation of Beteiligung, and that is “investment”. This will be news to financial and legal translators, of course, but I suppose that a professor of German pulls rank over a mere specialist translator.

  4. Was ist aus meinem Lieblingsreformwort geworden?
    “hier zu Lande”.
    Erst die reformbedingte Getrenntschreibung erlaubte einen innovativen Blick auf die real existierende Wirklichkeit. Beispiele:
    “die Luftfahrt hier zu Lande” (blieb mir vor etlichen Jahren bei der Tagesspiegel-Lekt

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