Theresa May’s government stepped up its attempts to win over EU member states, but its lack of foreign language skills made its white paper on Brexit a laughing stock.
The German version of the document seemed to have been doomed to failure from page one when the very name of the language was spelled wrong – “Deutsche” instead of “Deutsch” – it was later corrected.
How to deliver an Imperial insult. Put out an official German translation of the new Brexit White Paper that can't even spell the name of the German language right, as well as showing complete ignorance of it. Thankfully the insult was taken with a sense of 'Inglish' humour.— Henry Peter Wilberg (@WilbergPeter) 21 июля 2018 г.
A German speaker told The Independent that the language used in the paper was “old school to the max” and made Brexit sound “very mythical” because of the “archaic and needlessly complex” language.
“Well, it started off badly, when we spelled the German word for German wrong, then it kind of went downhill from there….”— Karina Barker 🇪🇺#FBPE (@posiekins) 19 июля 2018 г.
The blueprint has become a subject of widespread mockery on social media, with Twitter user Oscar D Torson branding the paper as “awful to read” and “not German,” tweeting that “it was translated by someone who learned German in school to a decent level but who never really spoke it, and who is also not a professional translator.”
A fellow user pointed out another mishap: when translating that Brexit was “the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history,” they rendered “democratic exercise” into “demokratische Übung,” which is translated as “practice,” “training” or “drill” in English.
If you fancy reading the Brexit White Paper translated into German, here it is. Apparently the referendum was a "demokratische Übung". https://t.co/pdVAIUOqjI— Dr Ruth Martin (@the_germanist) 20 июля 2018 г.
Another netizen highlighted other German howlers in a Twitter thread, describing the document as a “mixture of archaic grammar and vocabulary and sloppy colloquial use of language”:
3/ Those in the EU who accuse the UK of cherry picking will see their views vindicated. 'praktischen Brexit' might sound like practical Brexit but actually means 'handy Brexit'. Handy for who? pic.twitter.com/WBJIHcsBAe— Axel Antoni (@antoni_UK) 19 июля 2018 г.
4/ The UK Govt also seems to advocate a #PeoplesVote in the document. Though exercise does translate to 'Übung' but democratic exercise not into 'demokratische Übung'. 'Übung' in German is equivalent to practice, as in: practice makes perfect. Glimmer of hope for #FBPE? pic.twitter.com/0hAtPJeEt8— Axel Antoni (@antoni_UK) 19 июля 2018 г.
5/ apart from that the document makes any linguistic purist vomit into their coffees. It's a mixture of archaic grammar and vocabulary and sloppy colloquial use of language. Especially the use of the word 'würde' as a direct translation of would. pic.twitter.com/dDjY717HXb— Axel Antoni (@antoni_UK) 19 июля 2018 г.
6/ The German language is 'würdevoll' (full of dignity) but the use of 'würde' is 'würdelos' (without dignity). Every 2nd grader learns that in school in Germany.— Axel Antoni (@antoni_UK) 19 июля 2018 г.
7/ I would like to end this with a quote from Helmut Schmidt that will be on many politicians' minds when they read the German version of the #Brexit White Paper: People who suffer from visions should go and see a doctor. /end pic.twitter.com/dLMaKfxvup— Axel Antoni (@antoni_UK) 19 июля 2018 г.
Some pointed out other ridiculous mistakes:
Sadly, that anti-Brexit piece seems to have been written by someone who doesn’t speak German either — Fischergemeinde means a “fishing community” https://t.co/mlnOeqZ0Gv— Joe Rich (@joerichlaw) 20 июля 2018 г.
absolutely love this on the "archaic" "mythical" language of the white paper's German translation. “What does ‘Fischergemeinden’ even mean? People praying for fish?”— Barbara Speed (@bspeed8) 19 июля 2018 г.
Apart from a German speaker being quoted as being baffled by the use of "Fischergemeinden".— Dr Annette Neary (@feline_charm) 20 июля 2018 г.
Die Fischergemeinden is a noun. It appears that the author of the translation tried to use it as a verb….
The Twittersphere kept wondering if the UK government used Google Translate to present the White Paper to EU member-states:
Did they do it on the cheap by getting an intern to use Google Translate?— Jill Martin (@landiejm) 19 июля 2018 г.
Bet they didn’t use native speakers with a quality control check before publishing.
Just catching up with the Brexit white paper translation fiasco. Estonia and Finland mistranslated. Invented German words. Dutch words in German version. French told that Brexit is moral issue. And this was all meant to be part of a charm offensive. Sack Google Translate— Alastair Campbell (@campbellclaret) 20 июля 2018 г.
The Dutch version is pretty bad too. Google Translate or something. No native speaker had a look at this. https://t.co/mxzCeG5kYb— Richard Tol (@RichardTol) 19 июля 2018 г.
The horrible translations of the Brexit white paper in EU languages, which look like a barely retouched Google translate (at least the Dutch one does) exemplifies how clueless and insular this government is.— HelenDC #FBPE (@Helenreflects) 19 июля 2018 г.
Monolinguals may not realise, but languages are complex 1/
There were those who suggested that the translation made Brexit sound “mythical”:
I love that it made Brexit sound "mythical". Perhaps they also used the Fraktur typeface.— Matt Steen (@mattsteen) 20 июля 2018 г.
Some claimed that the Estonian and Finnish versions misspelled “Estonia” and “Finland,” while the Polish translation said “Polskie” instead of “Polski.”
The Polish translation of the Brexit white paper isn't that much better. On the front, it says "Polskie" — it should be "Polski".— (((Ryan Konkolewski))) 🏳️🌈🇬🇧🇵🇱 (@MrKonks) 20 июля 2018 г.
Brexit White Paper has now been published in EU languages, incl. Polish.— Jakub Krupa (@JakubKrupa) 17 июля 2018 г.
Funnily, the first translation error can be seen before you even open the file. It should read "Polski", not "Polskie".
Inside the paper the translation is mostly correct, but stylistically dodgy. pic.twitter.com/MhVmGTRHFL
The Dutch kindly asked the British government to “stick to English” to avoid any misunderstanding:
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 pic.twitter.com/5GEJimDxUX— Max den Blanken (@maxdenblanken) 18 июля 2018 г.
French speakers have also pointed out the blunders in the French version, which translated “principled Brexit” as “un Brexit vertueux,” meaning “a virtuous Brexit”:
The funniest translation in the Exec Summary may be "principled Brexit", which became "Brexit vertueux" (how?). "Vertueux" literally means virtuous (as in "virtuous circle"),but also chaste. Maybe they claim that this version of Brexit won't f* anybody (sorry, couldn't resist) 🤣 pic.twitter.com/tJE66dmffn— ER #FBPE #PeoplesVote 🇪🇺 (@ER_EJR) 20 июля 2018 г.
My favourite part of 'The Future Relationship between UK and EU' after #Brexit white paper is that they have translated "A Principled Brexit" to "Un Brexit Vertueux" in the French version LMAO. pic.twitter.com/uAuou3hBWo— Hari Srinivasan (@Hari_sr1) 20 июля 2018 г.
Others couldn’t help but throw jabs at the English version:
Sorry to break it to you but the English version was a mixture of Kipperish and gobbledegook.— Ditch Brexit, Paul O’Connor #FBPE (@POCX100) 20 июля 2018 г.
But it was already incoherent bollocks in English. Why bother translating it?— Isla (@IslaArundel) 20 июля 2018 г.
Makes even less sense in English Alastair.— 🇪🇺 Paddy Briggs #FBPE (@PaddyBriggs) 21 июля 2018 г.
The vast majority of Twitterians dismissed the botched translation of the Brexit White Paper as “very third rate”:
We checked. The Dutch one isn’t Google but, like the others, is very third rate.— Martin Cleaver 🇪🇺 🇬🇧 🇳🇱 (@mcleaver) 20 июля 2018 г.
I have to say that there is a huge difference between translating for basic understanding, and technical translation. It says it all that the UK government cannot find competent native language professional translators to do this. This is how unprofessional they are.— AndrewTrujilloDesign #FBPE (@ATrujilloDesign) 20 июля 2018 г.
Even most monolinguals realise that you need someone fluently bilingual to successfully translate anything (poor subtitles have taught us that) dictionaries may tell us the words but they don’t help at all with the sense… This is shamefully embarrassing 😥— Karen Frances (@bristolboudicca) 21 июля 2018 г.
Last week, Theresa May’s government agreed on the Brexit White Paper – a document that outlines a comprehensive vision for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The paper became an apple of discord in May’s cabinet, and drew harsh criticism from Eurosceptic Tories, which was followed by the resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who were replaced by Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt, respectively.