Sunday, 15 May 2011

Mind Your Language

As a writer with an interest in etymology, particularly the origins of place names, I am well aware how easy it is to misinterpret or misuse a word or phrase. Recently listening to a podcast teaching Dutch to English speakers I was reminded just how important accurate translation is.

Someone had asked for clarification of any stop and search policy in the Netherlands as they had recently been searched while passing through Schiphol Airport. By way of a reply the tutor had contacted a senior police officer at his local police station giving the answer by way of an interview.

Interviewer asked if stop and search by the police is to be expected in the Netherlands. He answered it was legal but should only be expected in certain sensitive areas, such as the airport, government buildings, railway stations, or where large crowds gather, at sporting events for example. The follow-up question was, not surprisingly, under what circumstances can the police justify such a search. Once again the answer was not unexpected, they must show reasonable suspicion that the individual may be hiding weapons about their person or in their luggage.

The interviewer then asked for clarification that carrying any weapon without the necessary permits and documentation was illegal. Had I not realised the police officer's English was poorly constructed and a literal translation, his reponse would have been somewhat worrying, for he answered: "Yes. In the Netherlands the police have the monopoly on violence against ordinary citizens."

Accurate translations in future, please.

No comments:

Post a Comment