Ethics for Translators


The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band

A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil, recommended, from Amazon

This 1998 relic is as good as any code of ethics I’ve ever seen. Indeed, ethics itself does not vary among professions. Right and wrong are fairly simple, as generalities go.

CODE OF PROFESSIONAL PRACTICES

Competent Translators agree:

1. To translate with the greatest fidelity and accuracy we can command, endeavoring always to give the readers and audiences the impression they would have if they could understand the original.

2. To maintain professional discretion by respecting our clients’ rights, by divulging no confidential information we may have acquired in our professional capacity under nondisclosure agreements, and by refusing assignments we believe would violate contractual rights of third parties.

3. To turn down assignments for which we believe ourselves to be less than qualified in either language or understanding of the subject, except with the prior knowledge of clients or employers; and to turn down assignments that we believe we cannot properly complete within the time allowed.

4. To settle professional differences by arbitration whenever possible, and to seek and accept work only on virtuous or honorable terms.

5. To defend all individual rights of translators, including their right to exercise the profession freely, unvexed by coercive restrictions.

This part about coercive restrictions is apropos in view of current hubris in the ATA Chronicle, published by the American Translators Association (May-June 2019 p. 2). The current ATA was assimilated in the 1990s by the American Society of Association Executives through voter suppression, and revamped so that anyone joining could vote on policy. Before, as of 1981, only those able to pass a translation test could vote or run for office. Since the change, the association has morphed into an expensive lobby for barriers to entry into the profession.

Most vocal among those lately importuning the Texas Legislature to keep interpreters scarce and expensive are folks who have never passed an ATA translation test. Nor have the bulk of them passed a Texas court interpreter test. A large number of incumbents, myself included, were for the longest time “grandfathered” in on what amounts to a bribes-for-work-permits racket, but even that was a farce disguised by tortuous legalese. That law stopped nobody from interpreting in the courts.

Many grandfathered incumbents for over a decade lied about the nature of the law. Those worthies told newcomers the law required them to buy the license in order to interpret in court. In fact, the original Texas law existed only as a pretext, making it easier to dismiss an obviously incompetent impostor during proceedings. It was only repealed after the truth was broadcast, then replaced with an even worse law.

Similar rackets sought in the past to prevent Texas roofers from bidding against corporations. Those were repealed. Spurious and parasitic extortion rackets organize, under color of altruism, to erect barriers to keep young interpreters from working in the courts–except as disposable contract labor on behalf of companies with political pull.

The whole point of ethics–a code to guide your choices and actions–is to thwart such impairment of individual rights.

Words you can dance to

Clarity isn’t oversimplification

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