How `out of Sight, out of Mind' Came to Be Translated as `Invisible Idiot' ; European Times; BRUSSELS

Article excerpt

ANDREW FIELDING is one of a handful of non-native Greek speakers among the 15,000 employees of the European Commission. Even so, he is grateful for a little help from one of the most important items of gadgetry available in the Europe's constant battle to keep communicating: Systran.

In his office on the sixth floor of the Breydel building, Mr Fielding dispatches a file from his computer terminal in English. Within minutes, the document returns in Greek.

The system was developed at the height of the Cold War, but it is now a mainstay of Brussels life and available to all of the European Commission's fonctionnaires.

Last year, about 600,000 documents were translated by the system, and the European Commission has projects, pioneered with governments or other official bodies, to boost Systran's powers in Greek, Portuguese and Dutch.

With the 11 official languages of the EU likely to double as Europe expands to the east, Systran is an increasingly important tool in the job of keeping the ceaseless chain of paper flowing through Brussels. The service is being extended to include Polish and Hungarian.

That is appropriate, because Systran was developed in the Sixties by a Hungarian emigre in America. Initially it was used there to translate Russian into English but gradually fell into disuse. In the Seventies the European Commission acquired some rights, with a commercial organisation, to develop and operate Systran and sell its services within the European institutions and EU government.

The growth of information technology has made the service easily accessible via the Web, which caused the explosion of usage. Even if the translations can be imperfect, officials know they can get a basic text in minutes. In fact, the translation takes seconds, the e- mail takes the time. …