Or so said a German court in ruling that a translator was entitled to the higher rate he had been promised for an urgent translation by the Dortmund public prosecutor’s office. After the fact, the prosecutor’s office wanted to pay him a lower rate; the court said it was all right in theory to break the agreement (!), but the higher rate should apply in this case because Latin-American Spanish is harder to translate than Castilian (!!). On the other hand, the court decided that spaces should be left out of the count because they “are not part of a system of graphic signs that are used for the purpose of human communication” (sie nicht zu einem System graphischer Zeichen, die zum Zweck menschlicher Kommunikation verwendet werden, gehören); supply as many exclamation marks as you like. This fine specimen of judicial bizarrerie comes courtesy of Margaret Marks.


  1. Thanks for quoting. I think the point with breaking the agreement was that a translator is not exactly employed – they use the term ‘compensation’ (Entschädigun) instead of payment in the legislation governing this – and such an advance arrangement with the translator cannot bind the court. But exactly what status the translator therefore has I have no idea. If you are sworn, your name goes on the register of court translators, and only by removing your name from the list (and ceasing to use your stamp) could you escape their clutches – not that they send much work.

  2. It’s certainly reasonable to say spaces aren’t graphic symbols — they are an absence of graphic symbolness? — But you could probably get into a long, fun, ultimately irrelevant debate with a dorm room full of sophomores (or German jurists) over whether they are “part of a system of graphic symbols”.
    BTW do you think the parenthetical exclamation point (!) and question mark (?) qualify as units of punctuation? Have they names?

  3. …Like maybe “parabang” and “paraquery”

  4. Or “enthetithaumasm” and “entheterotesis.”

  5. As for the point about spaces, I say the translators should begin submitting all text without spaces until the court realizestheerrorofitsways.

  6. According to most character encodings, space is a character (or glyph). But what a slippery slope! First you admit spaces and then comes a horde of tabs and carriage returns.

  7. Gee, and if the translator could bill for backspaces to0, he’d be sitting pretty!

  8. Not surprisingly, Borges (or his melancholy Librarian) had occasion to consider spaces as characters. In discussing the format of the books found in his illimitable Library, he says,
    I wish to recall a few axioms . . .
    First: The Library exists ab aeterno.
    Second: The orthographical symbols are twenty-five in number. (1)
    (1) The original manuscript does not contain digits or capital letters. The punctuation has been limited to the comma and the period. These two signs, the space and the twenty-two letters of the alphabet are the twenty-five symbols considered sufficient by this unknown author. (Editor’s note.)

  9. Aha! I think we should send that quote to the 2. Strafsenat des Oberlandesgerichts Hamm; surely they will reconsider their decision given such impressive precedent.

  10. Surely they meant L.Am. Spanish is harder than Castilian for a European translator used to the latter. We can hope.

Speak Your Mind