Friday, March 9, 2012

Responsibilities of a Translator, Part 2

In Part 1 of “Responsibilities of a Translator,” I discussed whether or not it was reasonable to hold the translator responsible for formatting and other non-translation related work that may be required for a particular project. This time, I would like to bring up another question regarding a translator’s duties:

When exact knowledge of a specific set of terminology is required to effectively translate a project, how much responsibility does the translator have to familiarize himself with said terminology?

Of course, I’m not talking about the terminology or professional jargon of a specific field of translation – for example, if your specialty is medical translations, then you’d better know how to say “double bypass surgery” or “jaundice” in your source and target languages – I’m referring to the specific terminology, abbreviations, and even nicknames used within one specific company, or maybe among a group of programmers of a certain programming language.

Translating a document full of field/industry-specific jargon can be quite a chore, even when dealing with one’s own personal field of expertise. So it goes without saying that peppering such a document with terminology and abbreviations only commonly used and understood by a small circle of people – many or all of which must be individually looked up or inquired about – can make it extremely difficult to translate exactly and efficiently. In this sort of situation, I personally feel that the client (even more so than the Project Manager) is responsible to provide the translator with a certain degree of assistance or guidance.

There have been several times in the past when I’ve received a project from a client, checked the material, requested a terminology sheet or other form of assistance, left to hang in the end, and then been chewed out for mistranslating certain terms or leaving abbreviations as-is. Depending on the situation – i.e. the degree of specificity or rarity of the problem terms – this could be construed as simply bad translation work. For example, if you’re working in video game translation/localization, you’ll probably be expected to understand that “Q.A.” stands for “Quality Assurance” – not “Question & Answer”. However, can you really be expected to be aware that “D.I.H.” means “Done In-House” among programmers of one particular game developer, or that Game Company A exclusively uses “directional key,” Game Company B uses “directional pad,” and Game Company C uses “keypad”?

This was just one example, and to be honest, in the video game industry at least, terminology sheets are often provided by major makers/distributors such as Nintendo and Sony. (And if you work with material from the same maker often, then yes, it is indeed your responsibility to learn and become familiar with this sort of terminology.) But in many other fields of translation, not so much as an “Oh and by the way, watch out for abbreviations” or “If you don’t understand the terminology, we’ll send you a wordlist” is offered. In these instances, I don’t think it’s fair to blame the translator for their lack of knowledge or motivation (“It’s your fault because you should have spent a few extra hours scouring the far ends of the Internet for a few of these terms”). Although it is the translator’s job and responsibility to understand the source/target languages and specific terminology and jargon of their particular field of specialty, it is definitely not the translator’s job – nor even a physical possibility, really – to read the client’s mind. If I had those kind of abilities, I wouldn’t be translating... I’d be too busy running the world.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Any comments or related anecdotes are welcome.