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Dealing with unethical/offensive source material
Thread poster: Kristel Kiesel

Kristel Kiesel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:22
Italian to English
+ ...
Mar 4, 2009

How do you deal politely with requests to translate something you find offensive, immoral, or just not a good influence?

What do you do, for example, if you find that the material includes something that goes against your personal beliefs, or treats your beliefs in a way that makes you cringe, or promotes something you wouldn't want your children exposed to for whatever reason?

How do you deal with source material that makes you uncomfortable--before and after accepting the job?

There's certainly a wide range to what could be considered "offensive," from the mildly insulting to the completely unacceptable. How do you set up your professional boundaries?

Your comments and advice, please.


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Elías Sauza  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 06:22
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
It's simple Mar 4, 2009

I have been asked once to translate something I'm against with to be published. I just said, "No, thanks. I don't translate this type of material."

Shouldn't it be that simple?



[Edited at 2009-03-04 14:58 GMT]


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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:22
English to Dutch
+ ...
Just refuse the job Mar 4, 2009

If you don't want to do it, you don't have to. Every agency will understand.

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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Respect for the human being: me Mar 4, 2009

To me, the most valuable asset we can have in life is peace of mind: anything that takes that away is something that is worth avoiding. If some source material (whatever its nature) makes you feel like you are contributing to something evil, toxic, or damaging in any sense, either to you or to other people, it's better to tell the customer that they caught you in a very busy period and that you suggest that they look for another translator.

The customer might not understand why you would not translate their materials: they have a different set of goals and opinions which could be perfectly sound, sane and positive things but might not be as clear as water to you. So it's best to politely say that you are busy and retain your peace of mind.

Now Kristel, what's so wrong about translating those documents about little yellow rubber bath tub ducks? Can't you just translate them? I just can't understand!!


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Ulf Norlinger  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 13:22
English to Swedish
+ ...
What to do if the customer pays you in advance? Mar 4, 2009

I had this problem one time with an Arabian citizen. I didn't know beforehand that the material was offensive, and was paid before the actual job was done.

I saw no other solution than to make the translation, but tried to use a more "diplomatic" way of writing. I.e. tone down the offensive nature a bit.

[Edited at 2009-03-04 15:11 GMT]


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:22
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Refuse the job and inform the agency Mar 4, 2009

Bear in mind that the agency may not even be aware of the problem, so inform them properly.
Here is one case I had: an agency contacted me that they had a short text, a simple conversation, which they needed to be translated from Hungarian into English, quite urgently. I took a look at the text, and saw that it was a chat session, with horrifying spelling: a young lady skyping with her friends. It was chit-chat, so who on earth would be interested in having it translated? The only plausible explication I could come up with: her partner, who did not understand Hungarian, and who got hold of this text behind the girl's back; parts of the text backed up this hypothesis. Since the agency's PM did not speak any Hungarian, she could not have guessed this, but was very thankful to be informed about it.
Even if they understand the situation, a concise but earnest explanation usually makes a very good impression.
Attila


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Toning down Mar 4, 2009

Ulf Norlinger wrote:
I saw no other solution than to make the translation, but tried to use a more "diplomatic" way of writing. I.e. tone down the offensive nature a bit.


So instead of:
"She then came closer with lusty eyes and ripped my clothes to pieces."

You wrote:
"She then stared at me with an interested look and inquired whether she could help me get more comfortable."?


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xxxwonita
China
Local time: 09:22
Dealing with articles not in line with my belief Mar 4, 2009

Kristel Kiesel wrote:

There's certainly a wide range to what could be considered "offensive," from the mildly insulting to the completely unacceptable. How do you set up your professional boundaries?



Political belief is a matter of education. Even if I don't agree with a certain kind of ideology, I do understand the reasoning behind it.



[Edited at 2009-03-04 15:47 GMT]


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Kristel Kiesel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:22
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
What if the rejection seems petty but isn't so to you? Mar 4, 2009

Thank you for all your comments and examples. I have wondered about this for a long time.

I'd like to be forthright and honest, but in the case of material that seems outwardly innocuous to most others but that you feel strongly about, do you bother to give an explanation?


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Personal reasons Mar 4, 2009

Kristel Kiesel wrote:
I'd like to be forthright and honest, but in the case of material that seems outwardly innocuous to most others but that you feel strongly about, do you bother to give an explanation?


I think you can safely say that you prefer not to translate that sort of material for private reasons. That's all the customer needs --and probably wants-- to know.


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Capesha  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:22
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Exactly Mar 4, 2009

Elías Sauza wrote:

I have been asked once to translate something I'm against with to be published. I just said, "No, thanks. I don't translate this type of material."

Shouldn't it be that simple?



[Edited at 2009-03-04 14:58 GMT]


With Elias comment everything is said.
Personally I don't like to translate texts with "adult contents". If I receive an offer like that, I kindly say "no thanks" and that's all about it
Up to now every agency understood and there are enough other collegaues who are more "open minded" and accept those jobs.


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Mónica Algazi  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 09:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
Personal reasons Mar 4, 2009

I once had a similar experience with a pharmacology paper. Since then, I systematically reject anything that has to do with experiments involving laboratory animals. I just say "I'm afraid I will not be available for this job for personal reasons."

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Taija Hyvönen
Finland
Local time: 14:22
Member (2008)
English to Finnish
+ ...
I don't think we need to justify refusing a job in any way Mar 4, 2009

I am trying to think of material I wouldn't accept for translation, but I don't know what that would be. Probably something outright criminal. I don't really see why every job should be something I can personally agree with. As for "offensive", well, I think I know what you mean by that and I am not that easily "offended"

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Sushan Harshe
India
Local time: 17:52
English to Hindi
+ ...
Kristel, you are correct; “offensive” is a relative concept. Mar 4, 2009

Hi Kristel,
I understood your point; in my case, I look all expressions from freedom point of view, may be belief or entertainment. I believe that everyone has right to criticize my belief too. Where entertainment is concerned, different countries have different laws for same cases, we may see open support for something that was banned else ware/some were. As a professional, I think that I should use my knowledge and resources to satisfy my client in logical and practical way. Where my children are concerned, I cannot save them from those so-called ‘evil winds’. To save them, I must educate them to; distinguish between good, bad and ugly. Therefore, why I never felt uncomfortable after accepting or delivering such a job, and lastly you are correct; “offensive” is a relative concept. To me, everything is perspective.


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
What would be offensive? Mar 4, 2009

Taija Salo wrote:
I am trying to think of material I wouldn't accept for translation, but I don't know what that would be.


This is an interesting comment. Very probably, most of us have never faced something outright unacceptable in our professional life as translators. I think there is a moral, long-term aspect to these "dangerous" materials. People who are against nuclear power would reject a translation about nuclear generation, while others would translate it as any other job; and the same with abortion, drug testing on animals, hunting, political texts you don't agree with, or any -isms you can think of. I reckon it all depends!

In my case, I would reject translations about anything that would conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or that can cause unwanted and unnecessary pain to other living creatures of any kind out there.... even tax officials and lawyers.


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