Calling all translators! Tell me about ethics.

Hi everyone, just a quick one today.

As many of you will already know, I’m currently about halfway through writing my PhD thesis on the ethics of translation and I was hoping that you might be able to offer me a little help.

I’ve attempted to retain a sense of practical, professional relevance within my thesis, using real-life translation examples from my own work where possible and always keeping that act of translation in mind, but I’d also greatly appreciate some input from my fellow professionals to get a better sense of what ethics really means to other translators.

Have there been times in your translation practice or your translation career when the question of ethics has come up or when you yourself have had to make ethical choices?

What is your take on a translator’s need to be faithful, accurate or impartial and how do you approach a text with this in mind?

Feel free to discuss anything that you feel is relevant.

I’d love to hear from as many people as possible so don’t be afraid to share this post.

Leave a comment on here, tweet me, email me (, send out a message in a bottle, whatever you want!

Looking forward to hearing from you.



5 responses to “Calling all translators! Tell me about ethics.”

  1. Hi Joseph,
    The only serious ethical issue I’ve encountered concerns money. When passing on a job to a colleague, should I also advise on what to charge or not? Is this fixing the market? Invariably, when this happens, the colleague(s) concerned proactively ASK what they should charge. If they are standing in for me temporarily, say during a vacation, but billing direct, it clearly makes sense for me if they don’t undercut my rates substantially, or the beloved client might hit on the idea of asking me for lower rates when I’m back, so I offer guidance in the form of a min-max framework. If I’m simply passing the job to them or handing them a client I don’t want to work for any more, then I’d say they need to apply their own rates, regardless of what I’ve been charging. In every case so far they still asked what I charged, however, no doubt in the interests of obtaining as high a fee as possible. This is when the issue takes on an ethical dimension for me and I hesitate to name my fee for the client in question. I wonder what you or others think?

    1. Hi Paul,
      Thanks very much for such an interesting reply, I really appreciate it. Yes, payment practices and money seem to be among the most pressing issues judging by the various messages I’ve had.
      I’ve come across situations like these in my own work and tend to act in a very similar way to you. It certainly makes it a lot easier when you can simply leave the whole issue of rates for the client and colleague to sort out among themselves (i.e. when you’re simply passing a job along having not worked for a client).
      However, when colleagues do ask what I’ve charged, I’m usually quite open about it and allow them to decide what to do with that information. I feel that the rates I charge are a fair reflection of the work involved in translation and am happy to help colleagues ensure that they’re in the ballpark for that client when quoting. I suppose what it comes down to for me is a shared responsibility among translation professionals to set and regulate the rates we accept. Very interesting question, maybe your take is completely different from mine!?
      Thanks again, enjoy the rest of your week!

  2. Hi Joseph,
    Great subject!
    Have you thought about launching a survey with all the questions you might have in mind?
    If I can be of any help, don’t hesitate!

    I’ve had some cases, and one of them made me feel VERY uncomfortable. A freelance translator I used to collaborate with asked me to replace him as a reviewer during his holidays. I accepted and all went well – I had to validate some translations for one of his end clients and could do the work without any issue. After 2 weeks, he came back from his holidays and was supposed to keep working on this project, reviewing the new files the client was sending. But he never answered the client, who kept ccing me on the requests and finally, after one week, ended up writing to me only, asking me why their usual reviewer wasn’t answering any of their emails. I called him and asked him to immediately react since I was in an extremely bad position. I couldn’t tell the client anything negative against this person (although I really hated his attitude) and at the same time, I felt I had to answer something to the client. Finally, this freelancer answered his client and, as you can imagine, I never accepted to replace him again afterwards LOL.
    I think it’s totally unacceptable to put someone replacing you in such a situation. On the contrary, one should make his best to make sure that the replacement works in the best conditions and that the client doesn’t suffer at all from this temporary change.

    1. Hi Nancy, thanks very much for taking the time to reply and for your really interesting example. I agree entirely, you shouldn’t have been left in such an awkward situation. I was actually left in a position quite similar to your own a few weeks ago, caught in the middle of a to-and-fro between a client and a project manager, and it was extremely uncomfortable.

      One of the many issues I’m attempting to tackle is that of general professional ethical requirements versus translation-specific requirements and your example feeds into this nicely so thanks again for your help!

      A survey is definitely something that has crossed my mind, this post was a way for me to test the water and try to get an idea of the questions to ask. I’m not really producing a quantitative study but it’s well worth considering a number of different avenues!

      Have a great week 🙂

      1. Great!! 🙂
        If you create a survey and want me to test it first, don’t hesitate 😉
        Have a great week to!

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