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A decade of Finnish in the EU

This book (first published 2006) contains articles that explore the position and usage of Finnish in the EU since Finland became a member in 1995. Also reviewed are the plans for improving the regulatory quality and bringing clarity to the communication of the union. The articles are written in Finnish but English summaries are available.

The entire text in Finnish:

Summaries in English

Kaisa Koskinen: Finnish Translation in the European Commission

This article provides an overview of how Finnish translation in the European Union institutions, the European Commission in particular, has evolved during the past ten years. It looks at how we have dealt with the newly won status of Finnish as an international language, how translation strategies have developed, how the (Finnish) translators perceive their role within the institution – and how they are perceived by others. It also discusses the effects of computerization and the increasing demands for efficiency and productivity in administration.

Finland’s entry into the European Union 1995 propelled the Finnish language into a status of an international language. Language and translation policies needed to be decided on a very pragmatic level: how to recruit translators and interpreters; what translation strategies to adopt; whether the Finnish politicians were to use their own language or a lingua franca, typically English. These questions still remain. Now that many translators have worked in the EU institutions for a decade, translation activity has been “normalized”, but there seems to be room for improvement. In interviews I found that the Finnish translators feel like “a necessary evil”, and they are both mentally and physically detached from the drafting processes and their role is often forgotten. This can easily be verified in recent high-level texts concerning the EU’s democratic deficit and lack of popular support: in these documents, communication has a central role, but translators and interpreters are not even mentioned although it is mainly through them that the EU communicates.

Marianna Sunnari: Finland and Finnish in the multilingual European Union

We live in a multilingual world. In international cooperation, we can either use one language or adopt a number of official languages. French was the language of international relations for about three hundred years till the end of the First World War, when English was adopted as the second official language of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

The European Union is the only international organization where the languages of all member states have the status of an official language. This was established in the very first regulation (amended after each enlargement) adopted by the Council of Ministers in 1958. The Regulation makes it clear that the member states themselves decide which languages should be the official and working languages of the institutions. The Treaties also lay down the principle of multilingualism and state that every citizen of the Union may write to any of the institutions or bodies in one of the official languages and receive an answer in the same language.

In practice, the right to use one’s own language is guaranteed through translation and interpretation, although these are not explicitly referred to in any of the above documents.

Today, however, the language arrangements of EU meetings vary considerably, depending on the status of the meeting, the requirements of the delegates, and resources available. This involves a balancing act between the principles of equality, respect for diversity and democracy, and the need for efficiency. Especially in internal communication, English and French continue to be the main languages, while the dominance of English seems to be growing as it is the most common option if a member state cannot use its own language. Finnish is one the languages which has been affected by the changes introduced over the last ten years. While flexibility is necessary, we need to ensure that Finnish continues to be used as a means of communication in all spheres of life – unless we are willing to return to a situation where only one language can serve as an instrument of international co-operation.

Anu Sajavaara: Clarifying eurolanguage - seeing through the fog? EU milestones towards better regulation

Simplification of legislation is a relatively new issue on the European Union agenda. The first half-hearted attempts were made in the early 1990s, but it was not until the 2000s that better regulation became one of the key priorities in European decision-making. The fate of the Constititutional Treaty following the referenda in France and the Netherlands, growing euroscepticism, and democracy deficiency have made it necessary for the European Union institutions to bring the European Union closer to its citizens. One way to accomplish this is to regulate less and smarter.

Important milestones on the long road towards better regulation are the Interinstitutional agreement on better lawmaking (2003) and the Joint practical guide for legal drafters (2000). In 2002 the Commission presented an Action Plan on “Simplifying and improving the regulatory environment”. Fight the Fog, a campaign launched by the Commission translators, and two attempts to rewrite European legislation to meet the requirements of what is called plain language called public attention to attempts at improving the quality of European legislation. Unfortunately, the language and style aspects of legislation and other European regulations have become less important in recent years in the regulation process.

Inkaliisa Vihonen: From regulation to communication, EU plain language efforts from 2005 onwards

In the European context the need to simplify and clarify is most often associated with legal language. The constitutional crisis following the rejection of the draft European Constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005 brought up the need to communicate European affairs to EU citizens instead of prescribing them by law. Simplification of non-legal texts does not, however, follow the same rules as legislative simplification. To deal with this new prerequisite, the European Commission has come up with several action plans to improve its communication policies.

The Commission’s simplifications plans from 2005 onwards have underlined the importance of communicating with the EU citizens in a language familiar and comprehensible to them. The EU officials are specifically advised to avoid eurojargon because it is confusing, complicated and often elitist. Despite the foreground gained to communication, it is still difficult to disperse the fog in the EU language. The EU is a legal entity and most of its language practices are dominated by the constrains of legal certainty and all-inclusiveness. These practices should, however, be suited to meet the growing demand for comprehensibility and transparency.

The EU’s simplification strategies should also be concretized. Even if all the recent plans mention the need for clarity, they very rarely refer to language as such. In addition, it is not always clear, what is meant by simplification. The plans also lack concrete means to fight the EU fog. Therefore we need European research on the EU language and its comprehensibility. Concrete results in the strive for a clearer EU language are only gained if we are provided with concrete means to work with.

Aino Piehl: Do the Finnish laws begin to resemble EU directives?

This article discusses the possible similarities between the Finnish version of EU directives and Finnish laws drafted to implement such directives. It focuses on features which are thought to correlate with clarity and comprehensibility and which can be compared statistically. These features include e.g. the length of sentences and clauses, the number of clauses per sentence, the type of subordinate clauses and the number of nominalizations, including clause equivalents, participial modifiers and other expressions replacing subordinate clauses.

The European Union’s impact on the Finnish language has been a focus of debate since the country became a member ten years ago. According to a survey conducted in 1998 among Finnish officials, EU regulations in Finnish were harder to understand than Finnish regulations. The idea that the language used by public authorities – legal language included – should be comprehensible to most citizens has been firmly rooted in Finnish society. In practice the legal texts often fail to meet this ideal, and their shortcomings have often been traced to EU directives.

This comparative analysis of EU directives and their Finnish implementing laws suggests that the former have not affected the syntax of Finnish legal discourse, which remains consistent with developments first observed in the 1980s. Finnish legislation is moving towards shorter sentences with fewer clauses. On the other hand, the changes in legal texts have not only been positive, especially in terms of comprehensiblity: participial modifiers and other nominalizations eventually lessen the number of verbs expressing activity.

Many legal experts still think that the Finnish statutes do show an influence. Several individual cases have shown that wordings of the directives are transferred untouched to the Finnish implementing laws. Preventing the increase of obscure expressions in Finnish legal language calls for measures on both national and community level: the unintended obscurities should be cleared before the directive is adopted or, at the latest, when the directive is implemented. The member states should seriously reflect on their role in promoting good quality of language while drafting the community legislation. They should also consider the  possibilities of multilingualism in enhancing comprehensibility.

Hanna Westerlund: Compounds as potential equivalents in translating EU regulations into Finnish

A translator working on the European Union regulations needs to make several terminological choices on the translation variants for each translation unit. These choices are governed by a number of affecting factors but ultimately the decision of how to transfer a specific concept from the source language to the target language is nevertheless dependent on an overall translation strategy. This article seeks to highlight compounding as a specific lexical choice that the translator has available within every translation strategy.

Compounding can be motivated by need for space saving, or by the lack of terms in the language for specific purposes (LSP) in the target culture. New terms are sometimes coined by combining existing words in the target language to introduce novel concepts into the source culture, sometimes the words are borrowed from the source language either in their orthographic form or via direct translation, and sometimes the meaning of already existing terms in the target culture LSP is widened to enhance new concepts.

The motivation for compounding can be traced to the need of the  multilingual community to be as unified and as consistent as possible in its legal terminology, and where the requirements for good compounding are fulfilled, the compound nouns tend to show good terminological qualities in both consistency and clarity. In cases where the requirements are not met with, the price of the consistency might prove to be poor readability, or increased expectations for readers of the European community legislation to be experts in the legal domain. The length and the heavy premodification of compound nouns might result in growing uncertainty in the readers trying to understand the meaning of a given term. The European community would benefit from clear and consistent legislative language that the citizens of the member states would be able to comprehend.