Denmark’s interpreters join in opposition to ‘unfit’ new system

Several hundred interpreters in Denmark have joined a movement against a new National Police (Rigspolitiet) system which took effect on April 1st.

Denmark’s interpreters join in opposition to 'unfit' new system
A 2012 file photo showing interpreters at a conference in Denmark. Photo: Dennis Lehmann/Ritzau Scanpix

The interpreters communicate with each other via the Facebook group “Tolkeplatformen”, which currently has around 750 members. The language experts are set to start an association, Ritzau reports.

Previously, police or courts who needed the translation services of an interpreter would call a provider from an approved list.

A new system took effect at the beginning of this month after contractors were allowed to bid for the service. The company EasyTranslate won the contract.

But the company has struggled on a number of occasions to provide the necessary interpreters, and translators from the old list have rejected commissions on principal.

Problems with the new system include an incident earlier this week in which police released a Georgian who was suspected of shoplifting, after they were unable to find an interpreter. Charges against the man remain in place. The National Police admitted the issue but stressed the new system was only one week old at the time the Georgian was arrested.

The majority of people involved with the Tolkeplatformen group are interpreters from the previous list, Arabic interpreter Ala’a El-Beltagi told Ritzau.

El-Beltagi is part of an informal group which represents the interpreters, and whose task is to set up the more formal structure of an association.

“The new system is, in our view, deeply unfit for purpose in many regards. The general conditions have been worsened,” El-Beltagi said.

“This includes a reduction of between 15 and as much as 60 percent in commission fees, depending on the type of service,” the interpreter added.

One example of this is written translation, for which rates have been cut from 25 to 10 kroner per line, according to El-Beltagi.

“It is also problematic for us that communication must go through a company, when we previously have used our own names and built up a network,” he added.

Tolkeplatformen’s Facebook group includes translators, state-authorised interpreters, interpreters with academic backgrounds and self-taught professionals.

Many of the members – 684 in total – have signed a declaration stating their opposition to the new system. That includes interpreters with years of experience under their belt, El-Beltagi noted.

The issue is also a matter of principle relating to how interpreters are generally regarded, he said, stressing the importance of quality over cost-cutting.

Tolkeplatformen is set to hold a founding general meeting on April 28th, when a board, mission statement and statute will be selected for a new association.

“The forthcoming association will carry the baton forwards and work for better conditions for the interpretation profession,” he said.

READ ALSO: Denmark introduces interpreter charge at hospitals

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Ask a translator: Sarah Death on Astrid Lindgren’s War Diaries

The Local Sweden's Book Club has been reading the wartime diaries of Astrid Lindgren, in which the children's author documents domestic life alongside world events. We spoke to translator Sarah Death about her relationship with Lindgren and her experience working with the diaries.

Ask a translator: Sarah Death on Astrid Lindgren's War Diaries
Astrid Lindgren pictured in 1977. Photo: Svenskt Pressfoto / TT

What was your reaction to being asked to translate Lindgren’s war diaries?

I don’t normally ‘pitch’ books to publishers because they like to make their own discoveries, in my experience, but in this case I had actually put some effort into telling the British publisher about this engrossing book and my reaction to it. So of course I was pleased to be asked to translate it.

READ ALSO: Book Club: A World Gone Mad – The Wartime Diaries of Astrid Lindgren

Do you have a personal relationship with Astrid Lindgren’s books?

I vividly remember first being introduced to Pippi Longstocking when a teacher at my primary school read it to us in the mid-1960s. More recently my fondest memories are of rediscovering her children’s books when reading them to my own children, who I think liked Pippi and Madicken (Mardie in English) best.

I relished translating the three Karlsson on the Roof books for Oxford University Press’s series of new editions; he is a gloriously selfish and annoying character. I enjoyed translating some of Astrid’s campaigning articles, particularly ‘Pomperipossa in the World of Money’ in which she complained that in 1976 the Swedish state was taxing her earnings at over 100 percent.

How did your impression of Astrid Lindgren, as a writer and a person, change through the process of translating her diaries?

My respect for Astrid grew as I came to see what a vast reading and recording task she had carried out, primarily for her own interest, and that she had been able to combine this with going out to work, raising a family and coping with an increasingly roving and alcoholic husband, all in the in relatively difficult (even in a neutral country) wartime era.

I was perpetually impressed by her ability to sustain her no-nonsense tone and her wit throughout, and her energy in maintaining a wide social circle of family and friends. 


Photo: Staffan Löwstedt / SvD / TT

Did you get a sense of Lindgren’s talent for writing and observing developing throughout the war?

Rather than a steady progression in her skills I felt it was more a case of fluctuations arising from pressure of events. When family life was not in one of its crisis periods she perhaps had more time to think, write and process her press cuttings.

Naturally she only knew what the newspapers and radio, and her friends and contacts, could tell her, so it is interesting for us in retrospect to see that her perspective is inevitably incomplete at some points. The slowly emerging truth about the horrors of the concentration camps is one case in point. The sense of despair about the world that sometimes shows through in her diary entries was quite harrowing to deal with.

Which part of the diaries was most challenging to translate?

As ever with translating, small things can absorb a disproportionate amount of time. Some of the domestic detail was a bit tricky: unfamiliar products or dishes or cartoon characters from a different period, for example.

Dealing with the entry for Christmas Day 1945, trying to identify the English originals of the books she bought as presents for her children, was quite a task. Then there were things like Churchill’s speeches: Astrid’s source was the Swedish translations in the newspapers, so was I to back-translate them, or to try to track down the originals online?

READ ALSO: The forgotten Nazi concentration camp survivors in the forests of Småland

History dies deep in the woods: The forgotten Nazi concentration camp survivors in the forests of Småland
Photo: Inga Ericcson

The diaries were published posthumously. As a translator do you normally have a lot of dialogue with the author, and is there anything you'd have liked to have had the chance to ask Lindgren about the diaries?

The amount of contact I have with the author varies enormously from project to project. In the case of dead authors, their inability to comment brings me both freedom and frustration.

In this instance I was lucky enough already to know Astrid’s daughter Karin, through the OUP Lindgren translation project, and she was very happy to help. She had physically lived the diaries, so to speak, and was an excellent informant. She also understands the working process because she is a translator herself (from English), although now largely retired. 

If I had had access to Astrid herself, I would have liked to ask her how she had the stamina for all this, and how much domestic help she had on a daily basis. I would also be intrigued to know whether her elliptical way of describing her marital problems was because she felt too conflicted, wretched and perhaps ashamed to do anything else, or because she thought the diaries might at some future date reach the public domain.

Why were many of the newspaper cuttings omitted from the translation, and what challenges did this pose for you?

This was the British publisher’s decision. All the press cuttings were reproduced in facsimile in the Swedish edition. From my point of view, it complicated matters because I was asked, as part of the translation process, briefly to summarize each press cutting in English, to help the publisher decide which to use. 

READ ALSO: Pippi Longstocking parrot dies after reaching 'biblical age'

How did you deal with the task of choosing whether to ‘update’ language or not?

As in other commissions, not only fiction set in past periods, but also non-fiction projects like my recent work on the letters of Tove Jansson (to be published in autumn 2019), I tried to steer a middle course, avoiding obvious anachronism in my choice of vocabulary but aiming not to sound too quaint or archaic.

READ ALSO: 12 'untranslatable' Swedish words

Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

What was your favourite part of the diaries to read?

I liked the domestic detail about shopping, rationing, family health matters, decisions around evacuation of the children, visits to her wider family in other parts of Sweden, and so on. It was fascinating too, of course, to experience the moment in time when she was about to take the leap into becoming a published children’s author.

I was repeatedly struck by her apologetic tone in the diaries as someone in a neutral country not suffering the same privations as those elsewhere. This felt sometimes at odds with her acceptance and enjoyment of the material privileges of middle-class life. I was very intrigued by these tensions, in what – as far as one can tell – was essentially a text intended only for herself.

Sarah Death has worked as a literary translator from Swedish to English for over thirty years and sits on the committee of SELTA (Swedish-English Literary Translators Association). She has an informal role as one of the managing directors and editors of small London-based Scandi-specialist publisher Norvik Press and lives and works in Kent in the south east of England.

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