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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Lost in translation?

There is a letter in this morning's Western Mail that is not just wrong-headed but also misunderstands the position with regards to the translation of the record of proceedings (Cofnod) of the Welsh Assembly Plenary.

The author starts by referring to the suggestion that we might be able to obtain a fuly bi-lingual Cofnod by the use of Google Translate. Assuming this was sustainable then this proposal would come in at a cost of about £110,000 rather than the £240,000 cost of using external translators. However, Mr. Jones believes that such talk demonstrates an 'English mindset'.

He writes: It is pure racism for anyone to imply or to say that the Welsh language “costs money” which is as perverted as saying that the English language costs money in England or that the French language costs money in France etc.

Every democratic country and anyone who knows the difference between democracy and hypocrisy would agree that the language and culture of a nation is not, and cannot be referred to in financial terms (not for sale). The only way to “save money” is for those who have been told that they can’t speak or understand Welsh were asked to pay for the translations and especially the translations of Welsh to English.

What nonsense! Firstly, there is no comparison between the position of Welsh with that of French in France. France is not a bilingual country and so translation costs do not apply. Equally, because 76% or so of the Welsh population do not speak the language then any contributions in Plenary by Welsh speakers need to be translated for the record.

I am not saying that this is not the situation in reverse. In principle I support a fully bilingual record but it is at this point that priorities have to be applied. Isn't it tokenism to just provide a straight translation? Would those resources not be better used in developing the language across Wales? Those are hard questions that we need to answer our satisfaction before proceeding.

The fact is that public finances are finite and thus decisions taken in support of the Welsh language, whether in the Assembly or in the broadcast media have to be balanced against competing demands for that money including the health service, schools, transport and the environment.

This is not a commercial argument, it is an economic one. Nor does it prejudge any of the decisions that have to be taken by the Welsh Government or the Assembly Commission. Rather it seeks to put them into context and point out that financial considerations do play a part as does value for money. What matters is that decisions are taken within the available resources so as maximise the benefit for the Welsh language.
C'mon Peter. Surely you can see the symbolic importance of a bilingual Cofnod. What's the point having all four parties in the senedd in favour of promoting bilingualism, when they can't even promote it as an essential component of it's own work?

Where I would agree with you is that there's no justification for an external translation company to charge over £200,000 for the translation costs involved for this work. Such greediness does Welsh no favours.

But surely there is a compromise which doesn't involve going down that execrable Google translate route, which is:
ii) doesn't help the Welsh economy at all.

Why can't the Senedd set a top limit on the work, say £100,000, and put the work out to tender to various translation companies in Wales? The Cofnod could then be
b)offer value for money
c) provide work for Welsh company/ies
You clearly missed my comment that in principle I support a fully bilingual record.

What I am suggesting is that we need to look at our priorities in relation to the Welsh Language in the face of limited and finite resources.

If we decide that a bilingual record is needed then we may have to accept the consequences for other Welsh medium services.

As for your commissioning suggestion, I think you need to get out there and see what the actual cost of translation is. £100,000 won't hack it using conventional translation methods.

Not sure why you are prepared to dismiss the Google route so easily. It does have its flaws but it also involves the employment of two additional translators.
I am intrigued by this latest blog because I have made a comment which Cymro i'r Carn mistakenly interpreted as being anti Welsh !
( See 23 July 2011 - Plaid Cymru in turmoil ? )
Please note that I live in Wales and thus help to support the economy in Wales but recognise that only a strong UK Government can provide the financial resources to maintain public service levels, whether or not those services are devolved.
Costs are clearly important at a time of spending cuts and money spent on a bilingual policy has to be found from somewhere whether it is by the Assembly or any other organisation required to offer a Welsh translation.
I am strongly in favour of promoting the Welsh language for cultural purposes only. The business community is currently having a very hard time, and any extra costs certainly disadvantage Welsh companies and thus make them less competitive.
By the way Peter, do you provide a Welsh translation of your blog !?
Your spelling of Sustainable (4th line) is Unsustainable :)
Peter, although I don't have much time for some of the words used in the letter you are commenting on, I am concerned some things you've said in response. I've expressed those concenrns here on Syniadau.
I have used this post as an example of "Google Translate's" deficiencies on my Welsh language blog.

If I use my own human translation to translate back to you, the first clause of your post reads There is a letter in the Post this morning Western that isn't right in the head. Do you think that this is an accurate "official / Assembly sanctioned" reflection of what you have said above?

Would you complain if I stood against you in the next election claiming that Peter Black says that supporters of the Welsh language aren't right in the head"? I know it's not true, but if you had read this post out in plenary that is what the "official record" would have recorded by using Google to translate your words into Welsh, so my slur against you would be confirmed by the Cofnod! Is that a risk that you and others who use the English language in the Assembly wish to take in order to save a bob or two?
Alwyn, the Google Translate option has not been adopted and needs to be further evaluated before a decision on it is made. However, the proposal is to employ two translators to proof read it before publication so your scenario will not apply.

Anon: no there is not a Welsh language version of this blog. I don't speak Welsh and it would be impossible for me to provide one.
Even with two additional translators, the Google route is a non-starter. I can tell you as someone who worked for years in a busy newsroom that the time spent on cleaning up crap translations is pretty much the same as getting the stuff translated properly in the first place.

Given that the Cofnod is also an official record, there may be occasions when differences between the English and the Welsh versions carry important legal implications (something the LibDems have recent painful experience of!).

Oh, and by the way, there is evidence to suggest that the crooks who churn out phishing e-mails (you know, the ones couched in rather odd English asking for your banking passwords, etc.) are using...you guessed it.
I think that those resources that professional translators choose to use in producing an accurate and permanent record of proceeding in the National Assembly should be left up to them, not to unqualified politicians, don't you?
Yes, that is why the Commission will be taking the advice of qualified translators before deciding what is the best use of the resources available to it.
This is a tricky one as I agree in different ways with both sides.
Coming from a country where, apart from the official language of Castilian, Catalán, Valenciá, or Galician are also spoken it is easy to see how some will perceive the latter languages as a very important legacy or the complete opposite.
If there are people in Wales who only speak Welsh, then the need for Welsh translation becomes bigger but then, if it is only a minority, what do you do?
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