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The style, Peter, doesn't seem very useful for a diplomat of today trying to help a compatriot company land a contract or to make conversation, say, at the opening of the 2012 Olympics. I am afraid that Frazer's literary qualities, if he was ever thought to have any, are hard ro see now. The French of course think more of Wilde and Poe than we do and we greatly exceed the Americans in our respect for Arthur Miller. Whether Frazer's picture of constant back-stabbing has any connection wirh modern diplomacy I leave to others.

Peter Harvey

Yes, Ronnie. Oddly, they used to have this kind of literary text then a few years ago they started with more journalistic or administrative ones. Now they've gone back to literature. The Spanish-English text was also literary (Pío Baroja).


Spanish diplomats may not be called upon to cope with such texts in their careers, but they will be called upon to cope with texts of equal difficulty. From that point of view, any source for such a text is as good as any other. Indeed, a text which has no obvious career relevance may be a particularly effective intellectual as well as linguistic challenge.

Peter Harvey

Barrie, you're right in theory -- and I prefer literary translations for the practical reason that I can keep a stock of them for teaching but topical ones have to be decided on and prepared afresh -- but in the context of the exam they seem a little strange.

All the rest of the exam is practical, and this kind translation seems to be an attempt to maintain the idea of a diplomat as a culturally-rounded person. That is a very worthy aim no doubt, but it really does not go with the rest of the exam structure. It sticks out rather like a sore thumb. Also, the uncertainty as to which kind of text will be presented for translation makes it hard to prepare. Of course, it may be that this uncertainty is intentional on the part of the examiners. Certainly the very wide range of topics that the candidates have to speak on ensures that they can make an intelligent impromptu response, in social settings as well as formal sessions, on anything that may arise in the course of any conversation.

I did once have a student who told me that he was reading an English novel and he'd made a list of some words that he didn't understand. Could I explain them to him? I soon realised that there was something odd going on. What was the novel? He was reading Jude the Obscure! 'Well, you know I go fishing in Devon every year and I wanted to read a novel set in that part of the country.' He finished it.

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