The Italian saying “traduttore, tradittore”, which in English means “translator, traitor” was my first encounter with translation issues. During my freshmen year in the English- Spanish Translation Program, one of my teachers introduced us to this saying, which made me think about translation, but I still didn’t fully grasp its meaning. Why would translators purposefully betray people if their purpose is to bridge cultural gaps and facilitate communication? Can mistranslations have a profound impact on the client`s business and image?
Before delving into mistranslations and some of their potentially damaging effects, it is crucial to define ethics.
What is ethics?
I believe ethics is about putting ourselves in another person`s shoes and thus, thinking about the implications of our actions on society. In the conference of Ethics and Interpreter Training, Mona Baker,an Egyptian professor of translation studies, expresses that “ethics is about the implications of everybody in any kind of encounter”. If we want to be professionals, we have to behave as such. If you schedule an appointment with a doctor, you instill your trust in them and you assume they will take care of you. You implicitly know if any health problem arises, they will do their best to diagnose and treat it. The same situation occurs with translators. The client trusts the translator, who, of course, will work to the best of their knowledge to aid in communication. However, what happens when you accept a job for which you are not prepared?
The following video is a dramatization that portrays an ironic situation of an interpreter who, instead of helping the client, causes him to experience an uncomfortable moment in front of his company`s CEOs.
Funny video, but not so amusing when you are the client. Although these situations extreme and rarely happen, it would now be important to clarify what is mistranslation.
Mistranslation implies something deeper than a bad translation; it implies the partial or total loss of the intended meaning of a message. While there could be some minor deviations in meaning like omissions, additions, bad choice of words, unclear ideas and ungrammatical sentences, some major mistakes may have financial and legal or political implications.
Faulty translations may deeply affect the clients. It is not wrong to say no if we are not qualified for or if we think we are not going to meet the tight deadline. In order to avoid mistranslations, we have to make sure we proof read and edit the text effectively, showing our professionalism and expertise.
If you liked this post, you cannot miss next week`s post on cultural differences, neologisms and when to borrow terms. Please feel free to comment. I am looking forward to reading your opinion about this topic.