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The Ethics of Translations

As a member of AUSIT (the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators), I adhere to their published Code of Ethics, the salient points of which I reproduce as an extract below:

1. PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT Translators act at all times in accordance with the standards of conduct and decorum appropriate to the aims of AUSIT, the national professional association of interpreting and translation practitioners.

2. CONFIDENTIALITY Translators maintain confidentiality and do not disclose information acquired in the course of their work.

3. COMPETENCE Translators only undertake work they are competent to perform in the languages for which they are professionally qualified through training and credentials.

4. IMPARTIALITY Translators observe impartiality in all professional contacts.

5. ACCURACY Translators use their best professional judgement in remaining faithful at all times to the meaning of texts and messages. [And from the Code of Conduct:] Translators obtain from the client as much information, terminology or reference material as possible and necessary for the proper and timely execution of the translation commission.

6. CLARITY OF ROLE BOUNDARIES Translators maintain clear boundaries between their task as facilitators of communication through message transfer and any tasks that may be undertaken by other parties involved in the assignment.

7. MAINTAINING PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS Translators are responsible for the quality of their work. They always endeavour to secure satisfactory working conditions for the performance of their duties, including an appropriate briefing and a clear commission. They ensure that they have allocated adequate time to complete their work.

8. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT Translators continue to develop their professional knowledge and skills.

9. PROFESSIONAL SOLIDARITY Translators respect and support their fellow professionals, and they uphold the reputation and trustworthiness of the profession of translating.

Ethics in Practice

Several times I have come across a client who has asked me to do something which is clearly unethical or illegal. The only appropriate way to respond is swiftly and unequivocally.

In the first instance, I translated a birth certificate and returned it to the client. She wrote me back and thanked me for my timely and professional work. She then proceeded to tell me that her name wasn't as written on the document but was, in fact, XYZ - a name which was similar but had a few slight differences, both in the given name itself and in the spelling of the surname.

Of course, I explained to her that there was nothing I could do. I translated the document word-for-word, spelling-for-spelling. If she had changed her own name along the way and was simply using a different spelling, she still had to go through legal and governmental channels in order to change it legally, whereupon she may be issued with a new birth certificate or change of name certificate. I have translated birth certificates from France where even taking out a space in the surname (eg. La Salle > Lasalle) had to be approved by the courts! There was an annotation which detailed this.

Now, the situation with this client could have been totally innocent, but what if it was not?

The second instance - and this made my jaw drop to the floor - was a potential client who emailed me a copy of a Will. The Will was redacted! Sums of money were blocked out, as were names. The gentleman asked me to do a translation and send it back to him in word format! Crikey! I don't really need to explain why I refused this one, do I? LOL.

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