A translator’s mandate – room for debate

A translation should be consistent with the source text; that is a reasonable requirement. Sometimes the translator stumbles upon a sloppy text, full of grammatical and spelling errors as well as inadequate terms. Similarly, the text may contain inappropriate or offensive wording, inaccurate facts or generalizations which are not established and sometimes misleading. In such cases the translator must try hard to convey the message clearly and accurately, so that the translation is flawless; this is an ethical and professional duty. That being said, a translator must be consistent with the source text, and therefore he has no mandate to change its meaning.

A professional translator has to be familiar with the rules and grammar of both the source and target languages. For this reason, when he or she finds errors in the source text, they must be corrected so that they don’t show in the translated text. Ignoring this principle will distort the meaning of the source text, which leads to an unprofessional and unreliable translation. Similarly, spelling errors and bad choice of words by the author of the source text, may completely distort the meaning. Let’s look at the following example: “I received your male”. Clearly, the word “mail” is misspelled, which leads to a ridiculous meaning. Similarly the translator can’t ignore the use of inappropriate words or word combinations which again may create a weird and even embarrassing meaning. Let’s look at the following examples:

An ad for donkey rides service in Thailand:

Would you like to ride on your own ass?

Doctor’s office, Rome:

Specialist in women and other diseases

(For more funny example, visit Funny signs)

A translator who ignores such errors in the source text and doesn’t correct them, makes fun of himself.

moreover – a professional translator sometimes needs to look at the source text considering the codes of ethics and aesthetics, and take extra care when the source text is vulgar or offensive. The bad language may offend the readers of the translation. Accordingly, he may consider putting it in such a way that the reader will get the idea without testing their tolerance. For example, several sentence full of swearwords could be reduced to one sentence implying the original meaning, when the target audience is expected to be known as sensitive to such language. A professional translator tries as much as possible to adapt the text to show respect to the target audience and their values. A different, yet interesting case, is the reference of significant dates which the target audience may not be familiar with, especially with calendar which is based on a different system. Of course, this is not about anything wrong with the source text. Consider the Jewish date of the Jewish New Year which occurs on Tishrei (first month of Jewish calendar). In this case, a short description is necessary, as it is assumed that the reader may not be familiar with the Jewish calendar.

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