Volkswagen CEO speaks English

It seems that Matthias Müller was speaking in acoustically confusing surroundings at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit:

Frankly spoken, it was a technical problem. We made a default, we had a … not the right interpretation of the American law. And we had some targets for our technical engineers, and they solved this problem and reached targets with some software solutions which haven’t been compatible to the American law. That is the thing. And the other question you mentioned — it was an ethical problem? I cannot understand why you say that.

(I have the impression that the word ‘default’ is popular with Germans speaking bad English). Colleagues wonder why he was not accompanied by an interpreter. The interview can be heard here. Müller was allowed a ‘do-over’ later:

Mueller: I have to apologize for yesterday evening because the situation was a little bit difficult for me to handle in front of all these colleagues of yours and everybody shouting. OK. Thank you very much for coming again and giving me the opportunity to say some words.

NPR: When we talked yesterday, the key line seemed to be that this was a technical error. Which sounds to us in English, like, “Oops.” When it wasn’t an oops. It was more than a technical error. It seemed to be intentional.

Mueller: Yeah, the situation is, first of all we fully accept the violation. There is no doubt about it. Second, we have to apologize on behalf of Volkswagen for that situation we have created in front of customers, in front of dealers and, of course, to the authorities. …

I don’t quite understand what Müller means by ‘I cannot understand whether you say that'(corrected in this second transcript to ‘why you say that’).

Details of the lawsuit against Volkswagen here.

LATER NOTE: Richard Schneider reports that Müller intends always to use an interpreter in future appearances in the USA. He apparently understood ‘ethical’ as ‘technical’ in the above story.

German juror in hot water

Miklas Scholz, professor of civil engineering at Salford University, caused a trial in which he was a juror to collapse because he researched the defendant on the internet. He claims that when the judge told the jurors they would be ‘in hot water’ if they did this, he did not understand what was meant.

The Independent writes (with mugshot):

“I just did not understand what the phrase ‘in hot water’ meant in this context. It just seems meaningless,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“I have written many journals so I am used to writing in proper English and proper sentences and wouldn’t use words and phrases like being ‘in hot water’ to describe being in trouble because it is not correct.

“They don’t mean anything, definitely not in the context of looking on the internet.

“You would say someone is ‘in trouble’ and the judge should have said that.”

Translating barristers’ language

The Secret Barrister tries to help a work experience student understand criminal court proceedings at Translating barrister-speak: A beginner’s guide.

For example, ‘My client has had the benefit of robust advice’ translates as ‘I have told the stupid dildo REPEATEDLY how utterly rubber ducked he is’.

Legal cheek decodes what a supervisor says to a supervisee.

For example, the supervisor says ‘I hear what you say’, the supervisee understands ‘He accepts my point of view’, but the supervisor means ‘I entirely disagree and do not want to discuss it further’.

This does ring very true.

Is there a spelling mistake on Ian Paisley’s gravestone?

Is there a spelling mistake on Ian Paisley’s gravestone? ask The Irish News. Honorable is really the American spelling. I wonder if this will be followed up?

Further examples are given for Jimmy Savile, Elvis Presley and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

More weight to the argument one should die without a memorial.

It seems Cervantes had the same problem.

In fact it seems common. Although spelling mistakes on tombstones are often referred to as typos, there is no Tippex (is that a Germanism?) to remove them. Here’s how to deal with them.

The courts and language, and Harry Potter

The Trademark and Copyright Law Blog has – or had a few weeks ago – a post on all the court cases relating to Harry Potter – Harry Potter Lawsuits and Where to Find Them, for example:

Smith v. Rowling. In 2010, Elijah Smith brought a pro se claim against Rowling in the Eastern District of California. The allegation was simple: “I’m the author who write Harry Potter. . .” As to the relief sought, Mr. Smith stated:

Mrs. J.K. Rowling will make a great teacher . . . I’ll be gladly to help Mrs. J.K. Rowling after she pay me $18 billion.

Mr. Smith’s complaint was dismissed shortly after it was brought, and his request to proceed in forma pauperis was denied. Mr. Smith, who at the time the complaint was filed resided in a California state prison, has brought similar claims against Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dog and Sam Cooke.

(via Law and Magic Blog)

And Mark Liberman at Language Log links to an article on a court being invited to consider corpus linguistics in deciding the meaning of a term (to discharge a weapon), although perhaps the right judge did not win the argument: “Linguists have a name for this kind of analysis” . The linked article is by Gordon Smith in the Conglomerate: Corpus Linguistics in the Courts (Again).

Wherein hereinafter, hereinbefore and therethroughout are considered

I can’t pass by Trebots’ brief entry on The sad decline of hereinbefore. I have to say I have little use for hereinbefore, but quite a lot for hereinafter. I will counter his with another
Google chart which makes me wonder why aforementioned should be on the rise.

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange calls these pronominal adverbs and links to a list in wiktionary. I have not heard of therethroughout but remember the confusion caused to students when they mistook wherefor for wherefore.

On the same subject, it seems that not everyone regards whereby and wobei as false friends.

I used to use an exercise with students where they had to enter the right form of, for instance, hereof, thereof and whereof. They found it surprisingly difficult – surprising to me because German does exactly the same thing.

There’s some good stuff on this and many other aspects of legal English in Rupert Haigh’s book Legal English. There is a website for the book where there are some exercises, although I could not understand the structure of the one on these words. The website is for the fourth edition of the book, whereas I only have the third edition.

Welcome to the online resource bank to support the fourth edition of Rupert Haigh’s Legal English.

If you are a student you will find a bank of activities and exercises corresponding to the chapters in the book designed to give you additional practice opportunities in using Legal English in a range of scenarios. These will range from simple gap-fill exercises, to multiple choice questions, to written activities, to comprehension exercises based on video simulations of real-life legal situations. An automatic grading facility will help you assess your own progress and identify areas for improvement. You can also email your results to your class tutor if required.

In the video section, you can find four instructional videos, based on the book and recorded by the author, to illustrate concepts discussed in the book.

If you are a lecturer you will find a bank of customisable activities which can be used with small groups in seminars or tutorials to help practice their use of oral Legal English.

Matching exercises
Question 3
The extract below is from an Indian deed of partition. It contains various old-fashioned terms beginning with here-, there-, or where- (e.g. hereof, whereof, thereof, hereby, hereinafter etc), which are still commonly found in documents relating to land purchases. For each numbered gap in the extract, select the correct word from the choices below.

Lord Chancellor’s advice on language

From The Independent: Michael Gove instructing his civil servants on grammar

Mr Gove, who studied English at Oxford University’s Lady Margaret Hall, is notorious for his obsession with correct language. While secretary of state for education, he changed the curriculum so that schoolchildren studied more classical literature. “It’s slightly patronising,” said a Whitehall source. “It does feel like the sort of thing someone would do when they have too much time on their hands.”

It appears there are a lot of style guides for civil servants, most probably not available online, and for a minister to request this kind of thing is not unusual. Apparently William Hague requested all correspondence to be written in the Ariel font, except correspondence to himself, which was to be in Georgia. However (to start a sentence in a way he bans), The Independent is keeping an eye on Michael Gove. He was unpopular with teachers but does have more brain cells than the last Lord Chancellor. But how will he use them?

On the subject of civil servants’ language, here is a PDF on Mandarin English

You will recall that
No you won’t.
You will wish to be aware
No you won’t, it’s bad news I’m afraid.
You may wish to consider [doing this]
Do this or else!
You Should Be Aware
Even worse news – not my fault, honest.

Miscellaneous

I’ve been away for a week and not posted for a month, so while I gear myself up for more, here are a few things:

1. Der Berg kreißt und gebiert eine Maus: a translator had to render this in English and of course the equivalent The mountain has laboured and brought forth a mouse (from Horace: Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus) is even less used in English than the former in German. It depends on the context whether you might use it.
One suggestion was to look at this discussion at English Language & Usage Stack Exchange (‘a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts’). The discussion is interesting. The questioner thinks the expression is Japanese. ‘Without much to show for it’ might work; I have my doubts about ‘I tried to shit but only farted’.

2. It’s probably just as well that I haven’t got time to read this: Pseudo-English: Studies on False Anglicisms in Europe, edited by Cristiano Furiassi, edited by Henrik Gottlieb

3. It was the Naked Bike Ride on Saturday, though I didn’t make it with my camers. On this occasion a tweet by Matthew Scott:

Naked tourists pissing on sacred site, causing earthquake: 3 days jail.

Harmless eccentric breaching ASBO: 30 mths jail.

#NakedRambler

Scott wrote an article in the Telegraph: Naked rambler: why have we spent £300,000 imprisoning this harmless eccentric?

An Asbo was deliberately imposed so that if Gough breached it, he could be imprisoned:

It can be an offence to cause a public nuisance and to “harm the morals of the public or their comfort, or obstruct the public in the enjoyment of their rights”. But as an earlier and more successful nudist, Vincent Bethell, showed in 2001, juries are reluctant to find that merely being naked in the street does anything of the sort.

Mr Gough could have been charged with the same offence but, as Hampshire prosecutors no doubt realised, that would have required them to persuade a jury that his nakedness had “harmed the morals of the public.” Since there was no evidence that it had done so – although some people objected to the sight of him wandering around the streets of Eastleigh – a jury would have been likely to acquit. They could have achieved and did secure a few convictions in the Magistrates’ Courts for minor public order offences, but these were too trivial in themselves to put him behind bars.

4. Gamsbart

This was a word that Obama’s interpreter had to contend with off the cuff last week.

Wikipedia says:

The Gamsbart (German pronunciation [‘gamsbɑːʁt], literally chamois beard, plural Gamsbärte) is a tuft of hair traditionally worn as a decoration on trachten-hats in the alpine regions of Austria and Bavaria.

Originally worn as a hunting trophy and made exclusively from hair from the chamois’ lower neck, Gamsbärte are today manufactured on a large scale from various animals’ hair and are commonly sold by specialized dealers and also at souvenir shops.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on 7 June (article no longer online):

Die wirkliche Herausforderung steht der deutschen Übersetzerin, die Obama begleitet, aber noch bevor. Merkel führt ihn zu einigen Männern, auf deren Hüten eine Art Staubwedel in die Luft steht. Es gibt kein englisches Wort für Gamsbart, aber die Übersetzerin findet offenkundig eine brauchbare Umschreibung und deutet dazu auf ihren Rücken, was an der Stelle sein dürfte, wo sie erklärt, dass die Haare für den Bart vom Rücken der Gams stammen. Obama guckt interessiert und schließlich zufrieden, auch wenn man nicht sicher sein kann, wie er Michelle in Washington erklären wird, dass es in Deutschland Tiere gibt, denen ein Bart auf dem Rücken wächst.

Well, all she had to know was what it is, and she must have realized she was going to be faced with a raft of Bavariana.

(Thanks to Übersetzer-Blog)