Trust me, I’m a translator

Before getting started with today’s blog post, I just wanted to quickly mention a recent post I was featured in. Over at the Balance Your Words blog, Sara has started a great new series entitled ‘What’s on your desk?’ that gives translators out there a little insight into their fellow professionals’ quirks and working habits and I was lucky enough to be the first translator featured. Be sure to check out the upcoming posts.

But now it’s time for today’s main course and I want to look at something that has a part to play in every single translation project out there – the issue of trust (I guess the title and the huge flashing image to the right give it away somewhat).

Traditionally, there is a widespread air of mistrust surrounding the translator – this wily, shadowy character who lies between cultures, hides behind their computer screen and turns one language into another in a terrifying act of textual alchemy… It’s not natural, surely!

And in some ways, this sense of unease is quite justified. We are taught to mistrust that which we do not fully understand and the fact that the translator possesses a means of doing something completely alien to the end client will instantly raise their guard. In either turning their beloved text into a strange foreign tongue or producing flowing prose from something that previously made no sense, the client is forced to trust that what they are receiving is the genuine article, so to speak.

This video from the hugely popular series Game of Thrones sums up the dilemma entirely: how do you know that the words you are receiving actually represent those that they should when you do not speak the source language..? In the video, the interpreter (Missandei) is put in the unenviable position of trying to mask her master’s obscene language in order to maintain diplomatic negotiations. Requiring a sharp mind able to produce a complete reinterpretation of the source words in an instant, the role sees her rendering phrases such as ‘because I like the curve of her ass’ as ‘because Master Kraznys is generous’ (1:05).

And this particular conception of trust is something that has been considered by leading translation scholar Anthony Pym. In his 2009 ‘On the ethics of translator’s interventions’ (an intriguing talk that is available in its entirety on Youtube and is well worth a watch!), Pym focuses on the issue of trust and trustworthiness – albeit in a different context to the one explored here – and suggests that as one party is always out of control they must always maintain trust in the intermediary.

Ultimately, that is why professional translators charge what they do: they understand the importance of your message and have spent countless hours learning how to transfer that message as fully as possible to a new culture and audience.

However, I choose to look at trust as a two-way relationship rather than just a single level of faith on the part of the client and this is something alluded to by another leading translation scholar in Andrew Chesterman. While considering the development of a professional code of conduct for translators (his ‘Proposal for a hieronymic oath’), Chesterman highlights trust as one of the key categories involved along with truth, loyalty and understanding.

In labelling his notion of trust as equal and something to be subscribed to by all parties involved, my conclusion coming from his ideas is that, just as the client must trust in the translator, the translator must also trust in the client. Issues such as timely payment, the resolution of problems outside of the translator’s control (source text errors, for instance) and setting reasonable deadlines that are subsequently respected are all examples of occasions when the translator must place their faith in an equally unknown client and this shifts the initial representation of trust that we explored above.

With this taken into account, the notion of trust becomes a reciprocal relationship and should be respected as such: the key to successful collaboration lies in interacting with professionals that share the same standards and expectations as you. My belief is that ultimately, if you can trust yourself to handle a project well, then you can trust your like-minded professional translator to do the best job possible. Trust me, I’m a translator.

4 thoughts on “Trust me, I’m a translator

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