Guido Westerwelle

It was widely reported and tweeted yesterday that Guido Westerwelle, the FDP (Liberal) party leader who will be Germany’s next foreign minister, refused to speak English when requested to do so (28th September).
Es ist Deutschland hier

The BBC correspondent asks Westerwelle to speak English, and Westerwelle says that as this is a German press conference in Germany, he can take questions in English but he will answer them in German.

This seems perfectly OK to me, but a lot of other Germans have been making fun of him for this. I admit he gets tactless after answering, when he says in German ‘We can meet outside the conference for tea and speak English, but it’s Germany here’. I hope his manners improve as foreign nminister.

Now Cem Özdemir of the Green Party has made a video Cem Özdemir asks BBC to stay with us promising German speakers of English will be back after the next elections in four years’ time.

I really can’t see that this video does the Greens any good either.

LATER NOTE: The Independent has an article by Philip Hensher, Flummoxed by foreign tongues, supporting Westerwelle too, and mentioning the decline of foreign language teaching and university courses in the UK:

Some people, even in Germany, have criticised Westerwelle for his insistence, and suggested that in fact he couldn’t answer in English. Actually, though his English is certainly not as horribly wonderful as many German politicians’, and he does seem to make some trivial mistakes, it is perfectly serviceable. More curiously, what did the BBC think it was doing, sending a reporter to a press conference in Germany on the German elections, knowing that he couldn’t or wouldn’t speak any German?

See also blog entry by Gabi (in German)

International Translator’s Day/Hieronymustag

(St. Jerome by Rubens, via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is St. Jerome’s Day, which has now apparently become International Translator’s Day, and I am celebrating by translating.

Here are a couple of links, though.

1. Ghaddafi About the story of Ghaddafi’s interpreter collapsing: Richard Schneider has a full account, in German, which suggests that the New York Post was inaccurate when it said the interpreter collapsed after 75 minutes and shouted ‘I can’t take it any more’ – it seems he managed 90 minutes, and the UN interpreter only had to take over the last 5 minutes. The speech was intended to be about 15 minutes long. But simultaneous interpreters usually do about 20 minutes, as far as I know. Ghaddafi said he had brought his own interpreter, because he was going to speak an obscure dialect, but in fact he did not speak dialect. The chairmanship/presidency is currently held by Libya, by rotation, and that is why there was no complaint about the procedural irregularity. (How did Ghaddafi’s French interpreter manage?)

Richard Schneider gibes YouTube links to all sections of the speech. Here is the last one, including the takeover of the interpreting by the UN. These videos may not be accessible online for very long.

2. Becoming a medical translator On her blog, Sarah Dillon has an interview with Andrew Bell, who does medical and pharmaceutical translations and also runs the site Watercooler.

3. White House calls for machine translation Thus Global Watchtower reports.

Last week, the Executive Office of the President and National Economic Council issued its “Strategy for American Innovation.” Among the recommendations was a call for “automatic, highly accurate and real-time translation between the major languages of the world — greatly lowering the barriers to international commerce and collaboration.” In other words, machine translation (MT) has captured somebody’s attention in the President’s inner circle.

This tactic would certainly save all the problems associated with human translators – a potential such was recently held for hours, apparently for having Arabic flashcards in his backpack. (TSA defends itself).

German cat case/Deutscher Katzenfall in Times

Gary Slapper reports on two weird cases in The Times. One of them is a case recently decided by the Frankfurt am Main administrative court (Verwaltungsgericht).

The story begins with Peter Neumann’s cat and its expensive food tastes. The cat, Neumann argued, ate a €500 banknote. Holding some fragments of the note which he said had gone through the cat and been discovered in the litter tray, Neumann then went to the German Bundesbank to ask for a replacement note. … The bank declined to replace the note in this case.

The original German case report is here.

Soweit der Kläger geltend machen will, dass die drei von ihm eingereichten Banknotenteile zusammen mehr als 50 % einer 500,00 Euro-Banknote ergeben, hat das überzeugende Sachverständigengutachten ergeben, dass das Teilstück 2 nicht von der gleichen Banknote stammen kann wie die Teilstücke 1 und 3, sondern dass es sich mindestens um 2, evtl. sogar um 3 Ausgangsbanknoten handeln muss, von denen die fraglichen Teilstücke stammen. Aber auch die Teilstücke 1 und 3, die von derselben Originalnote stammen, ergeben – wie sich aus dem Sachverständigengutachten ergibt – keinen Flächenanteil von mindestens 50 % einer Banknote.

Wie die Beklagte zu Recht ausgeführt hat, ist es durchaus denkbar, dass die Katze – nachdem sie die Banknote zerfetzt hat – Teile der Banknote unbemerkt verschleppt hat und die Banknotenteile später aufgefunden werden oder aber wenn sie die Banknote tatsächlich gefressen hat – die Banknotenteile ausgeschieden hat und die Banknotenteile in den Exkrementen der Katze noch vorhanden waren und je nach Verbleib der Exkremente in diesen noch vorgefunden werden konnten bzw. können. Insoweit wäre es dem Kläger zuzumuten gewesen, die übrigen Banknotenteile in den Exkrementen der Katze sicherzustellen.

The name of the plaintiff is correctly not revealed in the German accounts.

Slapper seems to think the most curious other cat to have challenged the courts was Blackie the Talking Cat in Augusta, Georgia. He may not have heard of the other German case where a man received a fax in the night and jumped out of bed so fast that he frightened his cat, which fell off the scratching post and injured itself. Damages were not awarded.

Die zulässige Klage ist unbegründet, da dem Kläger keine Schadensersatzansprüche bezüglich der Verletzung seiner Katze zustehen. Als alleinige Anspruchsgrundlage kommt vorliegend § 823 BGB in Betracht. Der Kläger macht geltend, daß durch das zur Nachtzeit eingehende Faxschreiben der Beklagten sein Telefon geläutet habe, er aus dem Schlaf geschreckt und zum Telefon geeilt sei, wodurch die Katze vor Schreck vom Kratzbaum sprang und sich hierdurch verletzte.

David Hawkes obituary/Nachrufe

I’ve read The Story of the Stone (the Dream of the Red Chamber) twice this year but I didn’t realize that David Hawkes, who translated the first three volumes, died on 31 July (the last two volumes were translated by John Minford, his son-on-law).

There’s an article in today’s Guardian by Fu Ying, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Remembering David Hawkes. Guardian obituary by John Gittings, Times obituary

Hawkes apparently gave up his chair of Chinese Studies at Oxford to translate full-time.

The translation is a very good read, witty as well as erudite. I love the translations of the names of all the servants and other characters (Baoyu’s servant Ming Yan (Tea Mist) is Tealeaf – although he isn’t a thief, he is resourceful and cunning – the Buddhist nun is Mother Euergesia, and I recall a passing reference to members of the Chinese upper class including ‘Piggy Feng’, which could have come from Evelyn Waugh)

Apart from reading, I’ve also been watching the 1987 TV version on 12 DVDs; a 2009 version is being made. I wouldn’t recommend watching this in reliance on the English subtitles unless you’ve read the novel first: this is some of the worst English I’ve ever seen, and some of the subtitles go past so fast you can scarcely see them, let alone read them, but I assume the film gives a good impression of what the garden may have looked like, the big funeral processions, the arrangements for eating, the plays (operas) and so on. See the chapter titles here for an idea of the English in the subtitles.

Redology (with one d, Guardian) is the study of the Dream of the Red Chamber. One of Fu Ying’s criticisms of the translation is that Hawkes decided not to use the colour red throughout as it is used in the Chinese.

There were, of course, points at which Hawkes was less successful. His reluctance to use the word “red” drew criticism, for “red” is central to the message of the book, referring as it does in Chinese culture to all the good things in life: youth, love, prosperity, and nobility. He avoided ‘red’ in the title of the book which he translated into The Story of the Stone, rather than Dream of Red Mansions. He also translated the hero’s residence as House of Green Delight, instead of Happy Red Court as its Chinese name literally suggests.

Hawkes discusses these decisions in notes and forewords.

Next on my reading list in Dore J. Levy’s Ideal and Actual in the Story of the Stone, which can easily be got second-hand.

Twisted expressions/Drehwortwettbewerb

The German publisher Kiepenheuer und Witsch has a competition for twisted German sayings:

Die Letten werden die Ersten sein. Eva Hasil

Oh nein, ich habe Hochhaus verloren. Daniela Möhrke

Das wird von den Medien ziemlich hochsterilisiert. Marcel Znamenak

Da wurde die Kuh von hinten aufgerollt. Evelyn Kessler

Möge dieser Elch an mir vorübergehen. Ragna Sieckmann

Google reveals a lot of English ‘twisted sayings’, but I haven’t found any really good ones.

Before the Supreme Court/Neues Gericht in England: die Vorgeschichte

In 1980 I qualified as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Judicature. In 1981 it was renamed the Supreme Court of England and Wales.

Now we are to have the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (see below).

Not many non-lawyers know what the Supreme Court of England and Wales is. It isn’t one court, but a collective term for the higher courts of first instance (High Court and Crown Court) and the Court of Appeal.

A friend of mine once created a diagram of the English courts for me on which there was a greyish square backing these three courts. The publisher removed the grey.

Outside these courts are the inferior courts (magistrates’ courts and county courts), various institutions called tribunals, some of them more like courts and some less, and above them all the House of Lords, or rather the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. (There is also the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, but that is not for the UK; and the European Court of Justice (EU) and the European Court of Human Rights (not EU)).

The House of Lords as a court was originally much more integrated into the political chamber. There was an attempt to abolish it in 1873, but with a change of government it was saved. From 1844 no lay peers voted in the judicial business; from 1875, it was staffed by legally qualified judges who were given life peerages. After this, the House of Lords dealt with particularly important cases, in which a point of law was involved.

It did not sit in the parliamentary chamber, but in a sort of committee room. The judges did not wear wigs and gowns. It was presided over by the Lord Chancellor, who was also the Speaker of the House of Lords parliamentary chamber and a member of the government. He was therefore a popular subject for background studies questions, because he was the best example of a lack of separation of powers, being in the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

Suddenly, in 2003, Tony Blair had a cabinet reshuffle and announced that the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords was to be replaced by the Supreme Court of the UK. Apparently Tony Blair was thinking of creating a Ministry of Justice even before he became Prime Minister in 1997. Even then it was reported that his former pupil-master, Derry Irvine, whom he made Lord Chancellor, was against the proposals so they would be deferred. But still, the sudden constitutional changes, apparently without consultation with the judges, were a shock. Were the plans drawn up on a cigarette packet, as has been reported? Or dreamed up over a glass of whisky, as suggested by Lord Neuberger this month? If not, that’s still what it looked like.

In fact, Blair actually abolished the Lord Chancellor (as reported in this blog on 12 June 2003 – Guardian article of the time) but we don’t talk about that now, because it didn’t quite work. At present, Jack Straw is both Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (as Lord Falconer was in 2003, when he took over from Irvine).

The Guardian in 2003:

An astonished shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, said: “To remake constitutions on the hoof, on the basis of personnel changes within the cabinet, is the height of irresponsibility. To announce it in a press release at 5.45pm on a Thursday evening is nothing short of a disgrace.”

The shadow leader of the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, described the proposals as “trendy reforms cobbled together on the back of an envelope”.

Six years on from this little kerfuffle, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 has been passed and the Supreme Court of the UK will start work on 1 October.

Lord Neuberger left the House of Lords to become Master of the Rolls, regarded as a step downwards, a step Lord Denning also took. His remark about the court has been widely quoted. Here is Eursoc on the subject:

Britain’s new Supreme Court is a “frivolous” creation, apparently dreamed up as a last-minute decision “over a glass of whisky” by former Prime Minister Tony Blair. So says former Law Lord Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, who declined to join the Supreme Court.

In an interview with the BBC, Lord Neuberger added,

“The danger is that you muck around with a constitution like the British Constitution at your peril because you do not know what the consequences of any change will be.”

The topic has been discussed by Joshua Rozenberg, who also writes in the TLS on two books about the UK constitution.

So what will change about the House of Lords?

The judges will be called justices (up to now, the only justices in England and Wales have been the justices of the peace)
They will move across the road to a 1913 building, the Middlesex Guildhall, that cost £77m to renovate
They will be more visible to the public
They may in time throw their weight about more
Its constitution will be the same, although there is a voluntary new procedure for choosing justices
Its powers will be the same
Its work will be the same
It will be able to issue a single opinion, or a majority opinion (at present five speeches are given)

Judge John Neilan

Judge John Neilan is a judge at a district court in Ireland. That is similar to an Amtsrichter in Germany. There are judges like this in all countries, I should think. I have seen a couple of links recently to his pronouncements. They were found after an incident last week in which a solicitor accidentally hit him with a shotgun pellet when demonstrating an air pistol in court.

Here’s an article about his earlier claims to fame:

His manner of administrating the law is unusual. His role allows him propound at will from the bench, often on matters that are outside the function of his office.

Last Thursday was a typical day. Mid morning, a Latvian man appears on a drink driving charge. An interpreter, a regular presence in district courts these days, steps forward. Earlier this year, the judge opined that eastern Europeans should be charged for the service of interpreters.

The defendant doesn’t have a solicitor and wants to know how much one would cost.

“I’ve no idea, ” Judge Neilan says. “Four or five hundred euro. When I was doing it 35 years ago you had to wait for a fair day to get a few bob.” He then tells the interpreter not to bother translating the last bit.

and later:

A young Estonian man is up on a charge of petty larceny from a shop. Judge Neilan begins another speech. “There was a Latvian gentleman in Longford a few months ago who was destitute and I asked him did he want to go home instead. I contacted the department and they said there were no resources. Nobody would pay. These offences occur because this man has no resources. If he wants to go home I have no difficulty with that. People are coming from these countries and they quickly fall down.”

The judge then enquires if the man wants to go home, and the interpreter replies he doesn’t.

“No harm in trying, ” the judge says.

Barristers’ chambers on BBC radio/Radiosendung zu Barristern

There have recently been two half-hour programmes on BBC Radio 4 on which members of Outer Temple Chambers speak about their working lives.

There is particular emphasis on the impact of the 2007 Legal Services Act, which is about to liberalize the legal services market.

The programmes can still be listened to online, even outside the UK.