By Andrew Ede

This article comes with a disclaimer - “automatic translation, sorry for the inconvenience”. It's not my disclaimer but the government's. “Flesh on the tenterhooks.” This was an introduction some years ago to the peerless standards of translation to be found in all walks of Majorcan life. It was on the business card of a restaurant, you'll be relieved to learn. It should have said something like “tender meat on ...”; well I don't really know on what, but whatever it was, it wasn't tenterhooks.

Back then, and it wasn't so long ago, lousy translations could be dismissed patronisingly as being typical of stupid Johnny Foreigner. Or it could be considered quaint and so also patronising; oh, it just all adds to the charm, doesn't it.

Actually, it didn't add to the charm. It was embarrassing, and the embarrassment was heightened when one learnt from the poor restaurant owner that the print agency responsible for the cards claimed to be proficient at translations. He didn't know any better until someone, i.e. me, told him that flesh quivering in a state of anxiety or nervous anticipation was not the type of advertisement to get the punter beating a path to the restaurant door.

Though it wasn't so long ago, it was in the days before the Google and Bing double-act took to the internet stage, plugged in their machines and performed translations for a worldwide audience which hitherto had been deprived of language understanding. Literal language understanding. Which isn't the same as proper language understanding.

The Balearic Government wishes to educate the children and youth of the islands in three languages (one of them being English). Its attempts at introducing this trilingualism have been ham-fisted, but is it any wonder when one considers the government's own attempts at English (and German and French)?

If you have never looked at the government's website English pages, then I recommend that you do. There are hours of endless amusement to be had, many of them to be spent deciphering the English amidst the Catalan words that simply refuse to be translated. The government has, belatedly, realised just how useless some of this translation is. At the foot of some pages, there is a note in red lettering: “automatic translation, sorry for the inconvenience”. As, for instance on the “beginning” page of the ministry of education, culture and universities, where there is a menu item inviting “help improvement to us the web”. We should all, I would suggest, feel duty-bound to help improvement to them the web in order to remove the inconvenience caused by automatic translation.

Cheap is the only explanation for this inconvenience. Actually, it isn't even cheap. It's free. Some bright spark has taken Catalan text, shoved it into Google and come up with ... . Come up with what exactly? So bad has some of this been that the Ibanat division of the environment ministry has been forced to take down its English (and German and French pages) which give literal translations for some place names.

Why were they even bothering to give translations of place names anyway? A place name is a place name. It doesn't need to be translated. There again, the Spanish show a peculiar enthusiasm for translating proper names. Hence, for example, the British royal family has an Isabel, a Felipe, a Guillermo and an Enrique. The British, on the other hand, leave such names well alone. When have you ever mistook the King of Spain for a one-time Leeds United footballer? You haven't. John Charles is not the King of Spain.

But, seemingly believing that proper names should be translated, Ibanat informed us as to the existence of, among other places, “Sleep Fortuny (sic)”, “The House of Him Share-Cropper” and “Him Broken Bridge”, the latter of which sounds like it was Tonto giving the Lone Ranger instructions.

Overseeing the drive towards trilingualism is Juana María Camps Bosch, now the minister for education. I am pleased to relate that the people of the Balearics can have full confidence in Juana María's ability to drive this trilingualism. Reproduced here is the introduction to her profile on the government's website. I can't bear to reproduce any more. It gets worse. Apologies for the inconvenience: “Juana María Camps Bosch (Citadel, 1965), was a general director of Work and Work Health of the Government of the Balearic Islands. She/It is discharged in law/right for the University of the Balearic Islands and estate agent, and since 1990 until June of 2011 he/she/it practised as a lawyer.”

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