Peter Black and the Cofnod

In his blog today, Peter Black made some comments about the Cofnod, the official record of what is said in the Assembly, that illustrate the major problem with the Assembly Commission's position on translating it.

As I'm sure most people reading this will know, the Assembly Commission, of which Peter is a member, made the decision only to translate contributions made in Welsh to English, but not vice-versa. A few weeks ago they published a paper outlining options for translating it, one of which was to use Google Translate to provide a rough translation that would then be corrected by professional translators.

I want to make it clear that I'm not particularly interested in some of the words used in the letter which prompted his comments. However I am concerned about what his response revealed about his attitude because of his membership of the Commission. He said:

... 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.

But do these contributions need to be translated? As a record of proceedings the Cofnod would be perfectly complete without any translation, either way. If anyone happened to want a version in the other language, they could get a translator to translate it for them ... or even, dare I say it, cut and paste the original into Google Translate and get the results for themselves.

However I think it is a very good idea for the Assembly to translate it, for these reasons: it obviously saves a lot of time and duplication of effort to translate it just once rather than for everybody to get their own translation made; and more importantly, it means there is one official version, not a few dozen that are more or less the same but with lots of minor differences. Sure it costs money, but I think it's money well spent.

So why does it only apply one way? Peter's rather tortured double negative shows his lack of clear thinking. He says:

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.

But why do priorities have to be applied "at this point"? In particular, why does the greasy slide from it being a matter of "principle" to it being a matter of "priorities" come after the decision to translate from Welsh to English has been made, but before taking the decision to translate from English to Welsh? If you treat both languages equally the decision must be to translate either both ways or not at all.

There are good reasons for wanting a translation from English to Welsh ... and in fact they are exactly the same as the reasons for doing it the other way, especially when someone is writing about, reporting or discussing what was said in a Welsh language setting: whether this is on-air, on the internet, in a newspaper, in a debate in the village hall or in a discussion in the pub. Yes, just as with those who want an English translation, it's perfectly possible for people who want a Welsh version to get a translation made or to do it for themselves. But why does it need to be done dozens of times when it could be done just once, and isn't it better to have one official version rather than dozens of different ones? It cuts both ways.

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The blind spot in Peter's thinking is obvious. He and the Commission he is part of consider translation from Welsh to English as an unquestionable "given". It doesn't even enter their heads to question whether it is needed or not, nor even to take the same compromise position that it's somehow important in principle ... but only if we can afford it. For Peter and his colleagues translation from Welsh to English manages to be important in principle ... irrespective of how much it costs.

Now if I wanted to, I could take his rather fatuous argument and say that the money saved by not making translations from Welsh to English could also be better used in developing the language across Wales. But putting it that way only serves to show how silly an argument of that sort is. Or I could take his equally silly remark that:

"decisions taken in support of the Welsh language ... have to be balanced against competing demands for that money"

... and point out that if translating from English to Welsh is considered to be a decision "taken in support of the Welsh language" then translating from Welsh to English must equally be described as a decision "taken in support of the English language". Neither is true. The money is spent to make the workings of the Assembly as transparent and easy to access as possible, to as many people as possible, irrespective of the language used.

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5 comments:

Peter Black said...

"The money is spent to make the workings of the Assembly as transparent and easy to access as possible, to as many people as possible, irrespective of the language used."

Well on that basis, if we are expending resources only to maximise access then we would only have to translate from Welsh to English on the basis that all Welsh speakers can read English anyway. Your logic is equally as questionable :)

MH said...

Read the paragraph that starts, "There are good reasons for wanting a translation from English to Welsh ... " again, Peter bach.

Peter Black said...

And I have never said I am against a fully bilingual Cofnod. I have said I am in favour of it in principle. However, resources are a factor that need to be taken into account.

Glyndo said...

"For Peter and his colleagues translation from English to Welsh manages to be important in principle ... irrespective of how much it costs."

Have you got this the wrong way round?

MH said...

Yes Glyndo, I did put that the wrong way round. But now fixed. Thanks.

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To Peter, I know that you have never said that, but it isn't the point. A principle cannot be applied one way but not the other. I'm criticizing you (and the rest of the Commission of course, but I was just adressing the points you made in your blog) for double standards.

It's rather like this. You're perfectly happy to give money so that one group can have their meals cooked for them for free by professional chefs, but you tell the other group they'll have to make do with cooking their meals for themselves. That's nothing but favouritism.

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