The acquired status of the Maltese language as an official EU language is costing European taxpayers €30 million a year, a study has shown.

The figure was calculated by Peter Agius – the longest serving Maltese official within the EU institutions – in a book about the translation of European Law (It-Traduzzjoni tal-Ligi Ewropea) to be launched in Malta this week.

Dr Agius, who spent many of his initial years in Brussels serving as a lawyer/linguist at the Council of the European Union, warns that Malta has to be vigilant over the quality of the language being produced by scores of translators in Brussels and Luxembourg since it could be quite different from the Maltese used in everyday life.

He also states that although the status of Maltese as an official language is “there to stay”, it is not a foregone conclusion since pressures have been building for the EU to reduce its language costs.

The EU has 23 official languages, meaning that all its legislative texts have to be translated.

As it is an official language, the EU is also obliged to provide interpretation services into Maltese at many of its meetings, including those at Council, Commission and parliamentary level.

Since Malta joined the EU in 2004, the Maltese language has been the biggest employer of Maltese citizens in well-paid jobs in the EU institutions.

However, according to Dr Agius, the quality of the language currently being produced in hundreds of thousands of Maltese documents sometimes leaves much to be desired.

The notorious translation of ‘consultative bodies’ into ‘iġsma tal-pariri’ is still fresh in the minds of many Maltese translators in Brussels and Dr Agius contends that Malta has to make sure that a new EU-Maltese jargon is not being invented in Brussels.

“It is true that the law needs to express itself in a particular jargon, but that does not mean that that jargon needs to take on a life of its own, for its own sake,” Dr Agius said.

The quality of Maltese language used in the EU has improved drastically in recent years with Maltese language departments putting in place quality assurance units to ensure that the language being produced respects the language regime.

However, according to Dr Agius, there needs to be more input from the Maltese linguistic authorities. With the creation of the Council for the Maltese language, itself an indirect result of Maltese becoming an official language of the EU, a channel of communication was created between the services of the EU institutions and the Maltese language authorities, including reciprocal visits and seminars.

However, according to Dr Agius, the Maltese language authorities are still not aware of the pressures, rules and context which regulate the translation for the European institutions.

Dr Agius’s book, to be published by Malta University Publishing, is meant to bridge a part of the gap that exists between Brussels and Malta by laying bare the context in which EU translations take place, and the specific guidelines which could improve this specialised work.

Asked whether, in reality, any of the translated Maltese documents are read by anyone apart from the translators themselves, Dr Agius said that many do take note of certain Maltese documents.

“The regular feedback from government ministries to the legal/linguistic finalisation process indicates that at least government officials do care about the Maltese version. This could be explained by the fact that they know the Maltese version is equally authentic and thus a vehicle of direct rights in Maltese courts and public administrations,” Dr Agius said.

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