I think ethics is a huge issue when it comes to translation. As translators (or editor/publishers/readers of translations), we have a lot of different responsibilities, and many ethical issues to consider.
As many of you know, I teach in UEA’s MA program in literary translation. We tend to talk about ethics in class because, you know, it’s rather relevant to what the students want to do with their lives. One of the students (who shall, of course, not be named) in the past few years complained to me that we talked too much about ethics and that it actually had nothing to do with translation.
This student made this comment at the end of the academic year, when the cohort had spent quite a bit of time discussing issues such as translating for readers without much power or control (such as children or a minority group) or what to do when faced with potentially challenging situations (such as whether to take a job translating a porn film, or whether to agree to interpret for someone on trial, or how to handle the translation of a racist/anti-Semitic/otherwise prejudiced text, or even how to deal with a client who wasn’t paying).
I was genuinely shocked that a student who had spent a year in an intense MA program was arguing that ethics had nothing to do with their chosen career, and I was left feeling as though this person couldn’t have gotten much out of their studies.
What do you think about ethics and translation? Is it an important topic to discuss? What ethically sticky/challenging situations have you come across in your time as a translator?
Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer
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