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Morals and ethics - What would you do?
Thread poster: Fan Gao

Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 15:30
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Jun 30, 2006

This is a kind of fun moral/ethical situation we have found ourselves in and we wanted to share it with you to see what you would do in this situation. In fact many of you may have been in this situation before.

We're currently working on a project translating an article from Chinese into English. Altogether it's about 8 pages long.

During our research we discovered that in fact the article originated in English and had been translated into Chinese and therefore we've been commissioned to translate it back into English. Although we didn't find the whole 8 pages we did find half of it.

So the moral dilemma is, do you come clean and only charge half of the agreed rate or do you keep quiet and pass it off as your own translation?

Now, before everyone starts screaming at me, I/we have decided to be good, honest businessmen and when we deliver the translation later today we are going to tell the client and advise that we will be reducing our rate by half.

Are we doing the right thing? I think so. This is a new client for us so we're hoping that our honesty along with a good translation of the half we didn't find will bring us alot of repeat work.

I have a feeling most people would do the same thing but then again there is that thing about it being a dog eat dog world and with this business being as competitive as it is, it might not make bad business sense to try and pass off an absolutely perfect translation when the opportunity presents itself.

We'd be really interested to hear what others would do / have done in this situation.

Best wishes,
Mark


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
So... Jun 30, 2006

Is the original an exact translation of what you would like to see in Chinese or not? I would venture to say that there could be some diferences of opinion.

Do your job, but do it rght and charge for the whole thing.


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Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:30
Member (2002)
Italian to English
+ ...
Charging half is not enough Jun 30, 2006

This has happened to me once and I told the customer that when I was researching I came across part of the text and gave them a DISCOUNT - but I did not give them the entire bit for free.
After all, you started in good faith and must have spent some time googling before you stumbled across those pages. Your time is certainly worth something! Give them a discount, but don't just factor all those pages out of the equation.
Catherine


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 15:30
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes.. Jun 30, 2006

Henry Hinds wrote:

Is the original an exact translation of what you would like to see in Chinese or not?


The original translator did an excellent job. If the Chinese version wasn't so faithful to the original as this is then we would disregard the original in fear that we wouldn't be presenting a translation at all but an interpretation.

I think we should respect the original author and present his article as it was originally written and intended. If we were to re-translate the Chinese back to English for a second time there would no doubt be some changes in usage even though the original meaning would remain.

On top of that if this circle was to continue into the future then the time would come when it would have been translated back and forth so many times that the original meaning would get lost.

In this particular situation I feel we just have to be honest and present the original version to the client.

One thing that does intrigue me is the fact that I know this article has been translated into other languages and they are being translated back into English as we speak. I wonder if these other translators have come across the original version as we did and what they are going to.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:30
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
First determine what the purpose of the translation is Jun 30, 2006

Chinese Concept wrote:
During our research we discovered that in fact the article originated in English and had been translated into Chinese and therefore we've been commissioned to translate it back into English.

So the moral dilemma is, do you come clean and only charge half of the agreed rate or do you keep quiet and pass it off as your own translation?


Remember, a round-tripped translation is never a 100% round-trip. On each leg senses are lost and senses are gained. If you translate a piece of text back and forth between two languages several times, the last translation will be very different from the first one.

If, therefore, the client had wanted a translation of the Chinese text, perhaps he wanted to know what the Chinese text says. Perhaps he knew or perhaps he didn't care that an English version existed.

I've had such cases where a newspaper article was translated into another language, and then someone who already had the original text had wanted to know what the translation said, so we translated it back for them. Even if we didn't do a "backtranslation" but a proper translation instead, the client still got what he wanted -- to find out if the translation said anything else than the original.

There was a similar thread recently in Proz.com about a person who translated the same text for two people in the same company, only realising it after translating half of it. Search for it.


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Beth Dennison  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:30
Chinese to English
+ ...
Check purpose Jun 30, 2006

One thing that does intrigue me is the fact that I know this article has been translated into other languages and they are being translated back into English as we speak. I wonder if these other translators have come across the original version as we did and what they are going to.


I would strongly recommend checking the purpose of this translation

If this article has been translated from English into other languages and is now being translated back into English, surely the purpose of this back translation is to ensure that the original English article has been translated correctly into these other languages. If this is the case, you should translate the Chinese text you have in front of you, disregard the English you have found on the web and charge full price for it.

I would check with my client.

I would also like to add that I did once find myself in the position of being asked to translate a technical text which, after a little Googling, I found in its entirity in English on an official Chinese government website. I pointed this out to my client, they decided that the English translation on the web was good enough for their purposes, and thanked me for my honesty.

Beth


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 10:00
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Honesty should be rewarded too Jun 30, 2006

I would bring the matter to the client's attention ask her what should be done. If she is as magnimous as you are, then she would in all probability recompensate you fully for the translation.

This way you will still be able to hold the high moral grounds, retain repeat work and not lose monetarily, that is several birds with one stone.

Having said that, this irksome discovery would have actually made your work more difficult. Now you are faced with the onerous task of merging two different translations done by two different sets of translators. It will involve issues of style, uniformity of terminology and sentence structure.

The third issue may be legal, are you (or the client) authorised to make use of an existing translation whose copyright may be owned by someone? Wouldn't it involve taking the permission of this translator or whoever holds the copyright?

Considering all these point, I wouldn't blame one if she simply puts aside the translation she has found and goes ahead and does a fresh one. It is after all just four pages.

[Edited at 2006-06-30 08:20]


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 15:30
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not so fun after all... Jun 30, 2006

Thanks everyone for your replies and comments. At first I thought this was just an amusing situation as I never considered it might be because they are already aware of the original version and want a back-translation done.

Due to the time difference I can only email the client so I am now waiting for a reply as I have just advised them of the situation.

My hope is now that they are oblivious to the existence of the original version and will accept that at a reduced rate (thanks Catherine, for the advice on the reduction) because if they do want it back translated, by the time they reply it will be very close to deadline and those 4 pages will be even harder now that we've been influenced by the original.

Thanks again,
Mark


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Susanne Schnitzler  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 06:30
English to German
Writer's rights Jun 30, 2006

I really like your handling of the matter, but there is one other point I am missing in this discussion.


Chinese Concept wrote:

I think we should respect the original author and present his article as it was originally written and intended. If we were to re-translate the Chinese back to English for a second time there would no doubt be some changes in usage even though the original meaning would remain.




I do not think that one should only respect the author as a person but his rights. There might be copyrights infringements involved and I would deeply recommend to give a hint to your client.

In our country it is forbidden to do a translation without the written consent of the author (or publishing company). Well of course: You can do one for yourself, but you shall not make money out of it.

And I myself would be mad as a hatter if anyone came up with a re-translation of my short story

Cheers
Susanne


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 15:30
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Reply from client... Jun 30, 2006

A bit strange but the reply was that they knew that this article had originated from another language but it sounds like they didn't know it had originated in English and therefore we don't need to translate these 4 pages and we can just send her the original article.

We're relieved we don't have to rush through these 4 pages but also a little miffed as there was no acknowledgment of our price reduction, no "thank you" or anything. Maybe it was a test to see if we'd tell them:)

Thanks for your comments Susanne and you're right, I didn't take the copyright issue into consideration so I know I've done the right thing by handing it over to the client to make the decision.

Totally agree with you about being mad if someone translated your work. I would be too and even more so, like Samuel said, if it went back and forth and then lost it's original sense.

Thanks to Balasubramaniam for your comments. Our honesty hasn't gone rewarded but then that wasn't the intention and we're just content knowing that we did the right thing.

A good learning experience all round:)

Thanks to everyone for your advice and comments.

Mark (Chinese Concept)


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Clarisa Moraña  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 01:30
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Don't send them the original article Jun 30, 2006

Chinese Concept wrote:

A bit strange but the reply was that they knew that this article had originated from another language but it sounds like they didn't know it had originated in English and therefore we don't need to translate these 4 pages and we can just send her the original article.


Mark (Chinese Concept)


Yes, you have found the original article. Now, the agency has to look for it browsing the web.

Regards

Clarisa


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Areknaz  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:30
Spanish to Russian
+ ...
Is it a translation of an advertisement? Jul 1, 2006

If it is so, normally the agency ask for the back translation to check if the main idea/concept of the advertisement was not lost in the previous translation. Anyway, I would say it to the client, and put aside the previous translation, as Balasubramaniam advises, and charge the work I have done.


Regards,

Areknaz.


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 15:30
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not an advertisement Jul 1, 2006

It was just a plain article so they didn't want a back translation, they were happy enough with the link to the original publication on the net.

Mark


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:30
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
You trust the client, don't you? Jul 1, 2006

Susanne Schnitzler wrote:
I do not think that one should only respect the author as a person but his rights. There might be copyrights infringements involved and I would deeply recommend to give a hint to your client.


Although you have a point, I think it is overdone. You trust your clients that they have permission from the authors whenever you translate something for them, right? I mean, you don't issue a stern warning to all clients by default about the dire consequences if they don't really have the right to commission a translation. So when you encounter a situation in which the text has already been translated, why the sudden paranoia about whether the client has that right?

I have another point to make, though... I'll post a separate post for that point.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:30
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Right to the translation doesn't mean right to the original Jul 1, 2006

Chinese Concept wrote:
It was just a plain article so they didn't want a back translation, they were happy enough with the link to the original publication on the net.


Let us suppose the client was the legal owner or licensor of the text which turned out to be a translation of an earlier text. That doesn't mean the client necessarily also owns or has the right to license that earlier text.

For this reason you can't simply send the client that earlier text in lieu of a translation, because you may be infringing on the earlier text's author's copyright. Don't you agree?


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