Monday, May 28, 2007

Translation and Journalism

When reading newspaper articles about the recent elections in France, I kept noticing something interesting. Interviews with French citizens always quoted them in English. But I doubt these people all spoke English, so what I wonder is: why was there no mention of the fact that the interviews were (presumably) conducted in French and translated to English? The same is true of nearly all articles that cover “foreign” events. Doesn’t this influence the reader’s understanding? Shouldn’t readers know which parts of an article were translated and what strategies and goals were used in the translation?

The NY Times had a
short piece from the Public Editor about this awhile back, focusing on the use of interpreters in reporting from other countries, but I don’t think this is a matter that most readers think much about. Wouldn’t it be useful to have a second byline, or even a sentence at the end of the piece, saying who performed the interviews and in which language or who translated the texts that were mentioned and how the translator went about it? Not only would that increase the translator’s visibility, but it would also remind readers that not everyone speaks English and that it is worth thinking about how the people or documents – the items that make up the news, that is – quoted in the article were shaped by the culture and language that they come from.

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