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Ethics in Translation

Updated: Feb 5

Author: Seda Özmen

Publication date: 21.09.2023

Translation ethics

Translating involves responsibility and making decisions, just like any other profession. That’s the reason why translation ethics show up. In particular, translation ethics are the principles as a guideline for professional translators and interpreters.

Ethics in translation is all about doing the right thing when translating words from one language to another. It's like being a good translator detective who not only finds the right words but also makes sure they're fair, honest, and respectful. Just as in our everyday lives, where we want to be kind and fair to others, translators also have a duty to be fair and true to the words they translate.

In this simple guide, you’ll explore the important rules and principles that help translators make good choices.

What are the Ethics in Translation?

Here are some fundamental translation ethics below:

(Note that there may be some variation in ethical considerations depending on the specific context and professional associations.)

1. Accuracy

Accuracy involves the original text's content, meaning, and intention. Translators’ duty is to provide accurate translations. Their main goal should be conveying nuances and cultural references as accurately as possible.

Suppose you have an English menu at a restaurant, and it describes a dish as "grilled chicken." If the translator mistakenly translates it as "fried chicken" in the other language, it would be an inaccurate translation. Grilled chicken and fried chicken are two different ways of cooking chicken. However, the customers might order something they didn't want if the translation isn't accurate.

2. Neutrality

Translators should refrain from adding their personal opinions, biases, or interpretations into the translation. The tone and style of the original text must be accurately reproduced by the translator. Hence, neutrality helps ensure that people who read the translation get an accurate understanding of the source text.

3. Confidentiality

Data privacy and confidentiality are also ethical obligations for translators. Translators are obligated to maintain the confidentiality of the materials they translate. They are also obligated not to reveal any confidential or sensitive information.

Suppose you are a translator working for a medical clinic. However, you need to translate a patient's medical records. In this situation, you must not share or discuss the patient's medical information with anyone who doesn't have a legitimate need to know. You should also take measures to ensure the security of the translation file and any related documents. For example, you can use methods like password protection.

4. Cultural Sensitivity

Dealing with sensitive or controversial subjects requires cultural awareness. That’s why translators must be culturally sensitive and aware of cultural differences. They should adapt the translation to the target culture while respecting the source culture's values and norms.

For example, when translating a children's storybook, the translator should maintain cultural factors. Let’s say, in the original story, there's a scene where characters celebrate a holiday specific to their culture, such as Chinese New Year. In this situation, the translator should ensure that the holiday is accurately represented in the new language.

The translator should also ensure using appropriate terminology and customs that are relevant to the target culture. If the story is translated for an audience in the United States it can be translated as Thanksgiving to make it relatable to American readers.

5. Transparency

Translators should be transparent with clients about their qualifications and limitations. Translation is a wide field which has subfields. Translators are trained by a specific area they have chosen such as medicine, law and technical. If a translator is not proficient in a particular subject matter or language pair, they should decline the assignment. Seeking help from a more qualified colleague can be another solution for this situation.[3]

Let's say you're a translator working with a client who needs a legal document translated. You have the necessary language skills for the task. However, this legal document involves a highly specialised area of law that you're not familiar with, such as international maritime law. In this situation, it's essential to be transparent with your client.

You should inform them about your expertise and limitations. Being transparent about your qualifications ensures that the translation is of the highest quality possible. Transparency is important in building trust and maintaining professional integrity in translation work.

Fundamental translation ethics

The Path to an Accurate Translation

In conclusion, upholding these ethics is not only a responsibility but also a commitment to bridging linguistic and cultural gaps. Ethics in translation provide a way for an accurate translation to the translators. These principles also promote understanding, respect, and trust among diverse cultures and languages.


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