Continuing our series of language-related blog posts, we have decided to focus on one of our favourite German verbs – vermitteln. Read on to find out why we love this verb and to see why it enriches the life of a German to English translator so much.
vermitteln – Origins
This verb may have evolved over time to signify a fairly wide range of meanings, and have amassed a large number of potential English-language equivalents, but it’s quite obvious at first glance what the core meaning of vermitteln is. You just have to break the verb down into its constituent parts (ver + Mittel + en) to see that it has a lot to do with a person who acts in the “middle” or “between” other parties, either providing a resource or service, or serving as a mediator or intermediary. The verb’s earliest usage dates back to the Middle High German period, placing its origins somewhere between 1050-1350 AD.
vermitteln – Education
One of the key aspects of the verb vermitteln is found in its use within the field of education. In English, you might picture a teacher or trainer, in possession of knowledge, whose task it is to teach their students about a specific subject or train their students in a specific set of skills. The process, at least at its most basic level, is a fairly one-way street, with knowledge passed from the expert to the inexperienced. The concept signified by vermitteln is quite different. One one side you have knowledge, comprehension and understanding, while on the other side you have the knowledge-hungry students or apprentices. The bridge between these two is the Wissensvermittler, who imparts, shares and facilitates the students’ processing of this new knowledge. The same applies to practical skills, with a master imparting their skills to their apprentices.
Not exactly the same, but closely related, is the concept behind phrases such einen/den Eindruck vermitteln. Governments may give their citizens the impression that they have everything under control. An individual may project a certain image or create a specific impression through their words and actions. A retailer may suggest something to their consumers. Each of these verbs in English could have vermitteln as their direct equivalent in German.
vermitteln – Disputes and Conflicts
A second key concept relating to the verb vermitteln is found in its use in relation to the mediation or conciliation process between two or more conflicting parties. Where disputes exist, there are often established resolution procedures designed to avoid a total breakdown between the conflicting parties. For example, the European Commission has launched Alternative and Online Dispute Resolution (ADR/ODR) procedures to settle disputes between consumers and retailers/service providers. The process begins with direct communication between the parties and then makes provision for impartial dispute resolution via a mediator/conciliator, with the final stage, if the first two have proved unsuccessful, a legal resolution before the courts. The work at the mediation stage, for example as carried out by an ombudsman or independent arbitrator, could be described as vermitteln (also schlichten – to smooth out/settle).
vermitteln – Business
Finally, vermitteln is also largely used in the context of organising, brokering, arranging and supplying. An intermediary between vendors and buyers, the one who, for example, organises or orchestrates a sale, could be described as a Vermittler. For those looking for a new job, or apartment/house hunters in need of somewhere new to live, the employment agent or letting/rental agent would be the equivalent of the Arbeitsvermittler or Wohnungsvermittler in Germany. For the unmarried looking to find their ideal partner, the services of a marriage broker (Heiratsvermittler) might be something they are interested in. Or a business may be looking for keynote speakers for an event they are organising, in which case they may also turn to a booking agent who arranges and supplies speakers (Redner vermitteln). People may also turn to a travel agent/tour operator (Reisevermittler) if they would like to have a holiday organised for them, rather than taking care of the planning themselves. In each case, a commission payment, finder’s or broker’s fee may be payable, which in German is known as a Vermittlungsgebühr.
So, as you can see, vermitteln is a multi-facetted verb. In order to translate it succinctly and accurately, it is crucial that a translator has developed a full understanding of the original context within which it is used in the source text. On a positive note, at least there are lots of synonyms to choose from in order to ensure that the target text is varied and not unduly repetitive!
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