The reader will forgive the attention-grabbing title, but would you have read on if it had said “German as a language of the United Nations”? That’s what I thought. If you have gotten beyond this point, the ploy has served its purpose. Besides, I can’t resist poking fun at those wacky English tabloids which are fond of publishing similarly screaming headlines in advance of football matches against Germany (where they usually find themselves on the losing side, but I digress). The above title, except for the “Achtung”, is an actual headline run by the Deutsche Presse-Agentur on 6 October 2009. It went on to say that “A senior Bangladeshi minister... proposed that German and Japanese should be included – in addition to Bangla – in the United Nations official languages list”. While this news item may have raised eyebrows in some quarters, it did not do so at UN Headquarters in New York. After all, the German Translation Section has been a part of the Secretariat since 1975, translating the resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly and the Security Council, as well as many landmark UN documents, into the German language.
So, why is someone still trying to make German an official UN language when it already is? Well, the matter is not as straightforward as it might seem. German actually is not among the six official languages of the United Nations, but it does enjoy offi cial status. The German Translation Section was created by a resolution of the General Assembly (resolution 3355 (XXIX) of 18 December 1974), shortly after the two Germanys became members of the UN. Its establishment was possibly the only joint initiative the two countries ever undertook at the UN, which goes to show the importance both East and West attached to standard, high-quality translation of major documents. Neutral Austria, a UN member since 1955, was also part of the initiative.
The German Translation Section, despite its name, is almost a miniature European Union: there are not only German staff members, but also Austrian, Swiss, Italian, Dutch, and even those who have become American citizens. This multinational set-up helps when dealing with the four nations sponsoring the section: Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. We always have someone who speaks their language. Never mind how similar standard written German is in these countries, the spoken dialects vary enormously from “Hochdeutsch”.
I have already suggested two things that distinguish the German Translation Section from the other language services of the UN Secretariat – the fact that it translates only selected documents, and the fact that it is financed by the German-speaking countries, through extra-budgetary contributions to the “Trust Fund for German Language Translation”. Another factor setting it apart from the other language services, which are able to rely on a number of supporting units, is that this compact Section of only eleven staff members is responsible not only for translating, but also for terminology work, referencing, editing, and desktop publishing. It might more aptly be called the “German Translation, Documentation and Terminology Section”.
In order to cope with its multifarious workload, early on the German Section embraced technological innovations, establishing its own website and making its terminology database DETERM available to the public. This website, the Section’s “window to the world”, can be found at www.un.org/ Depts/german/. It has greatly facilitated the dissemination of UN documents in German.
Who are the users of German UN documents? German is not a language used during negotiations, and even if it were, our tiny Section just would not have the capacity to regularly work overtime in order to produce documentation for next-day meetings. The Section provides a single, authoritative German version of the most important UN documents (rather than four different versions elaborated in each of the four countries) and in contributing to the harmonization of German UN terminology. The Section was established too late, however, to avoid the most vexing problem of all: the fact that there still exist different German-language versions of the Charter of the United Nations – one for Austria, whose translation dates from 1955, and one for Germany, whose translation dates from 1973 and later adopted by Liechtenstein and Switzerland (which joined the UN in 1990 and 2002, respectively). Until the unification of Germany, there even existed a third version, namely that of the German Democratic Republic. Imagine the headaches this creates for translators when passages from the Charter are quoted in other documents!
UN documents in German can also be found at the site of the Official Document System (ODS) at the UN (http://documents. un.org/), although German is somewhat bashfully hidden at the bottom of the entry page. Scroll down and hit “Willkommen”, and Voilà! (pardon my French), you will find the ODS entry page in German. After that, navigation becomes a bit murkier. Whoever came up with the idea to list “German” as “Other”? However, once you have figured this out, you have cleared all the hurdles and may start perusing as many “Generalversammlungsresolutionen” and “Sicherheitsratsresolutionen” as you like. Alas, much to my regret, we don’t call them that any more. It is now merely “Resolutionen der Generalversammlung” and “Resolutionen des Sicherheitsrats”. I miss those longer words.
Within the UN system, the German Translation Section continues a tradition that started with the International Labour Organization (ILO), founded in 1919. ILO conventions and recommendations, International Labour Conference reports and selected other documents are translated into German at ILO headquarters in Geneva. Capacities for German translation also exist at the World Health Organization regional office for Europe in Copenhagen. The annual reports of the World Bank and the annual report of the German Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund are also translated into German. Finally, should you happen to be transferred to the UN Office in Vienna (see www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/de/unvienna. html ), don’t worry: the Language and Communications Programme at the Vienna International Centre offers language training in German, the language of the host country. It will introduce you to “cream-coloured ponies and crisp apple Strudels, doorbells and sleighbells and Schnitzel with Nudels” (with apologies to Oscar Hammerstein) and to the beautiful word “Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän”. As an admittedly biased Austrian, let me assure you of yet another bonus: Austrian German sounds so much better than the German variety!
Question: l’allemand est-il
une langue officielle de l’ONU?
Comme pour toutes les questions les plus épineuses, on pose la question à ODS...
Et sa réponse:
OFFIZIELLE DOKUMENTE DER VEREINTEN NATIONEN
Das Elektronische Dokumentenarchiv (ODS) enthält alle seit 1993 veröffentlichten offiziellen Dokumente der Vereinten Nationen. Es wird aber auch täglich um ältere Dokumente der Vereinten Nationen erweitert. ODS bietet Zugang zu den seit 1946 verabschiedeten Resolutionen der Generalversammlung, des Sicherheitsrats, des Wirtschafts- und Sozialrats und des Treuhandrats. NICHT im Archiv enthalten sind Presseerklärungen (abrufbar unter http://www.un.org/News/Press/full.htm), Verkaufsveröffentlichungen der Vereinten Nationen (Kontakt: http://unp.un.org/), die «Treaty Series» (Vertragssammlung) der Vereinten Nationen und Informationsbroschüren der Hauptabteilung Presse und Information. Ausführlichere Informationen finden Sie, indem Sie Hilfe anklicken.
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