Let’s talk about ethics on translation?

“An ethics of translation lies in deciding upon the right course of action within the act itself, deciding what is the right or wrong treatment of the text we are translating and knowing how to implement those decisions. It implies an acute awareness of your own role in the translation process and a keen awareness of the impact of your decisions on the world around you”. (Lambert 2013).

Like other professions, our activity has an ethical and deontological code. The central values are fidelity, confidentiality, impartiality, respect, liability, and continued competence. In some countries, emphasis is given to one point, in other countries to another. 

Sometimes there may be an understanding that these standards are strictly professional and that we must set aside our personal views. Is it that simple?

Let’s imagine a client asks a translator or interpreter to work on a topic that makes him feel uncomfortable. What should we do?

Several situations can cause us doubts, which forces us to reflect from a professional and a personal point of view. Very often, we face dilemmas of personal ethics versus professional ethics. 

Anthony Pym’s text “Translational ethics and electronic technologies” starts with the translator’s traditional role, passing through the technological period, and ends with the need for humanization. Let’s see what he says and where he goes, ok?

Traditionally, FIDELITY was the base of translation ethics – the translator had to be faithful to the source text and the author. 

But, the emergence of new realities forced new perspectives on fidelity.

Today, the translator’s traditional fidelity to the text/author is no longer valid. The “sovereign” status of the translator on the text has also ceased to exist.

Currently, a translation job can involve other professionals (terminologists, proofreaders, technicians, project managers, clients) – an entire team is co-responsible for the final result. 

Pym even refers to the European Commission’s Translation Service as a “bureau of scribes rather than translators.”

On the other hand, the text may not even have an author. In addition to this, we have the technology, translation memories, glossaries, style guides, and terminology databases.

All these factors deprive the translator of a large part of the power of choice. Pym even states, somewhat ironically, that Translation Memories impose a collective consistency on an individual fantasy.

Seen in this light, we have reached a dead end. The translator has no choice but to do his job, without options, without subjectivities or personal criteria.

What ethical principles should guide and support a translator’s choices in this scenario? Whether they are intrinsic to the project itself or even to the option of accepting it or not?

With the functionalist theories, Christiane Nord, stated that loyalty is mainly due to the client and the final recipient of the text – in short, to people and the relationships between them. Pym understands that this fidelity to the purpose, albeit indirectly, is a reaction to technology. 

The introduction of technological tools in the translation activity brought time and cost advantages, developed teamwork, and disseminated authorless texts, reducing the ideological influence on the source text. All of these seem to be positive points.

However, these person-centered theories, shaped by the need to introduce the concept of loyalty, seem to demonstrate a reaction to this context. The more the texts become anonymous, the more the work process dehumanizes.

We are looking for a “human face,” and loyalty is the value that personalizes that face—loyalty to people and their goals and, ultimately, loyalty to ourselves as translators.

What do you think about his? Do you face this kind of dilemma in your profession?