The UK government announced on 7/12 that it compiled the White Paper (104 pages long) on Brexit, which summarizes the exit plan from the EU, and that it has translated the key points—about 11 pages long—into 22 languages. This unprecedented move seems to have been made in part to directly appeal to the various national governments by bypassing
the European Commission. However, its translation has been heavily criticized and UK’s charm offense turned into more of a source of mockery. EURACTIV, a Belgium media outlet that specializes in topics related to EU, reported on 7/19, which went viral on the social mediaafterwards and was robustly covered by the various UK’s media outlets.
According to the news report, the White Paper translation was a joint undertaking between the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Normally, translation of official documents pertaining to EU is conducted by the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission based in Brussels. The Directorate-General handles 552 pairs of languages and with an annual budget of €330 million as well as 2.3 million pages of translation recorded in 2014, it is said to be the largest translation service organization in the world.
The language specialists in Belgium have been critical of how German was handled in the translation. To list some examples, the spelling of Deutsche, meant to denote the German language, was incorrect (now corrected), the use of neologisms were cited, and archaic expressions were used. One German reader said, “It was translated by someone who learned German in school to a decent level but who never really spoke it.”
Many other mistakes were found, and one tweet from a Dutcher reader read, “Dear UK GOVT. We appreciate the effort and you probably have no clue, but please stick to English if you want us to understand you. This is horrible. Kind regards, The Netherlands.”
While English enjoys remarkable international hegemony, the English who speak the language as their mother tongue may perceive foreign languages differently compared to other speakers of foreign languages. It is not clear as to how the British government translated the material, but the media using the word “humiliating” given the amount of criticism for an official document.