Ethics in translation and interpreting

A translator was given a professional profile to translate but was instructed to slant some of the sentences to make the person sound unethical and untrustworthy.

An interpreter was working a meeting in which a person made disparaging asides to his partner about the other people in the discussion. The interpreter stopped and explained that she would translate every word spoken in the room.

A team of translators was given a video game to translate. They reviewed both the images showing violence against women and the vocabulary used and decided they could not, in good conscience, work on the project.

In many fields, the only ethics are those shared by any honest business person. The professional linguist, however, additionally accepts as both a professional and ethical duty the following:            

  • To faithfully move the meaning of the source document to the target language
    • Add nothing; subtract nothing (a principle known as NANS)
    • Do not alter the original meaning to fit the linguist’s own beliefs
  • To produce elegant final texts with appropriate semantics and grammar
    • Use the target language’s word order and grammar to mimic the effect of the source language
  • To consider the final reader
    • Replace source idioms with understandable target idioms
    • Maintain the register of the source language through proper choice of synonyms, sentence length, and word order
    • Produce a text that is appropriate for the reader’s needs
  • To maintain confidentiality and take no profit from information gained during the course of an assignment.

These stipulations obviously require a sound education in the linguist’s native language as well as a deep knowledge of the source language from which s/he translates. In addition, expanding technologies require knowledge of engineering in many forms. A highly litigious society needs translators who are versed in legal research. Today’s top news stories illustrate other areas where linguists can specialize.

For our teams of legal translators, technical translators, and biomedical translators, these qualifications are particularly important. Tembua only assigns texts to linguists who add to their code of ethics

  • To only accept assignments where I have sufficient knowledge, reference material, and experience to produce an accurate target text
  • To consistently work to expand my research skills.

As in other professions, we feel it’s our duty to improve both the quality of the work and the reputation of the industry while we also mentor new linguists. Some established linguists sit on boards of international organizations and work to keep their documentation accurate in many languages. Others are members of industry advocate groups that provide information for the public.

There are many professional organizations in our industry which are organized nationally (AUSIT, in Australia) or locally (Chicata, in Chicago). Some are divided by function and deal with only translators (ATA) or only interpreters (NAJIT). Many of these organizations have developed official codes of ethics.

It is reasonable to ask if the linguist you have chosen for your work subscribes to a code of ethics. At Tembua, every project assignment includes a statement of ethical requirements which the linguist must accept.

I would be glad to share it with you!


About tembua

Tembua: The Precision Language Solution provides comprehensive linguistic services for 100 languages to private industry and government agencies on a global scale. Services include document and website translation and localization; conference and 24/7 telephonic interpretation; glossary development; proofreading, text adaptation, editing, multilingual design and DTP; transcription; technical / custom authoring editing, foreign search engine optimization; translation memory management; subtitling.
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