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A translation dogma that condones prejudice with the aid of the American Translators Association

When I decided to take on translation on a full time basis, I adopted and adapted (to my own views) a text by Chris Durban, “Getting it Right”, published in the American Translators Association’s website (Getting it right) and adopted by many players throughout the translation industry. Although I consider that her text is an essential guide for every translator and customer, and Chris deserves every word of commendation, I must regret I adopted it without sufficient reflexion. After taking part in a “native only” debate (more like a dirty battle really) I came to realize that there is much prejudice in the concept, and how it is used in translation, than its fair value, up to a point where translation competence, language competence and translation quality, and individual merits of course, are tread upon. As I consider this text as a valuable guide, I detail here those elements that I reckon can be considered prejudice (even if Chris never had that intention or it is not part of a concerted imposition of some sectorial English interests). As well, I have modified my adaptation of “Getting it Right” to exclude these prejudices (Producing texts for translation), but temporarily I have left a pair of expressions to show how unfair it can be (i.e. “being native is not synonymous with linguistic competence and it's a fact that many natives overestimate their ability”). The following are those prejudices I see:

1st prejudice: “Tehao Rechargeable shaver RCCW-320: Smuggle the razor blade (reference value around 400 g) on your muscle vertically. Then drag your skin and shave back slowly.”
“Often these are produced by translation software, or are the work of non-native speakers struggling away with a grammar book in one hand and a dictionary in the other.”
--> My point:
Competent translators, of the “non-native” type, would never produce a text like the one above. An incompetent translator of the “native type” can also produce similar or worse blunders. The point is, is it competent or incompetent.

- Further on she tries to “smoothen” her views:

2nd prejudice: “Other translations are technically accurate, yet the sentences do not flow as smoothly as they might; ………They are not particularly effective for selling, but may be good enough for readers who know the subject and can — or have time to — read between the lines.”

I understand these words as: “better non natives might be accurate but are incapable of delivering persuasive writing (selling).”

--> My point:
According to the University of Cambridge, non-natives at a CEFR C1 or C2 level of English, fulfil the requirements for a majority of University studies where persuasive writing is a must. IELTS level 8 (C2 CEFR) competencies --> ”Handles complex detailed argumentation well. “

Other prejudiced concepts are around the topic: if a text has a “foreign accent” it is only worth “for-information purposes”, or is not capable of selling or persuading, or is only equivalent to a cheap whatchamacallit.
These sentences still leave a feeling of untrustworthiness in the reader, something quite far from the variety of competencies from non-natives to near-natives (and also among “natives”).

3rd prejudice: “a translator who flouts this basic rule is likely to be ignorant of other important quality issues as well.”

--> My point:
A translator that disregards this rule might simply be confident enough, and even if he were wrong, that doesn’t mean he’ll disregard quality controls (i.e. have his text reviewed by someone else).

4th prejudice: “Do translators living abroad lose touch with their native tongue? At the bottom end of the market, perhaps. But expert linguists keep their language skills up wherever they live.”

--> My point:
Does this assume that most native translators living abroad are in the bottom end or most NTLAs are expert linguists, or that they move abroad after becoming expert linguists?
At least the stress is put on “expert”, that is, competence. The truth is, that even expert linguists lose linguistic competence when they don't practice the language in demanding environments, or spend all day wassaping, tweeting or living in a dungeon like Kaspar Hauser

5th prejudice: “...many people described as bilinguals overestimate their communication skills altogether.”

--> My point:
Many natives also overestimate the same, but that is not mentioned. Neither does it mention that some bilinguals don’t underestimate their communications skills, are good writers and are competent when transferring ideas back and forth.

6th prejudice: Bilingualism on its own is not a guarantee of written fluency or skill in translation.”

--> My point:
Neither is nativeness, be that the case.

Maybe the best advice given to customers by Chris Durban, is: “If you do not invest time to brief your suppliers, there is little chance that you will get what you want or need.”


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