When the text is illegible
Thread poster: Chris Bruton

Chris Bruton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:30
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
Feb 26, 2006

I was recently contracted to translate a Mexican birth certificate on which nearly all the information was handwritten and thus illegible. I told the client as much and he urged me to proceed. Then when I delivered the translation he consulted with the owner of the certificate and forwarded to me the content of the illegible text. My question is can I ethically sign off on this "second-hand" content when it is not legible in the source document? My instinct is that I cannot. Thank you in advance for your views.

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Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:30
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
Definitely not. Feb 26, 2006

The text must be legible to YOU. If it is not, you cannot in good conscience base your translation on what someone tells you it says.

Kevin


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Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 07:30
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
illegible text Feb 26, 2006

What I've been doing is just using [illegible] as an indication that, as a translator, I cannot provide a reliable translatior for a term that I cannot read due to the fact that the handwritten text is scribbled or that the copy is smudged.

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gad
United States
Local time: 10:30
Member
French to English
It depends Feb 26, 2006

If you have to provide some sort of certification of this translation for the courts, I would not recommend going by this "second hand" method. If you are not required to sign such a (usually notarized) certification, then it is really up to you. But you should also trust your instincts as a professional, and to me it seems that your instincts here dictate that you should not translate this as they have asked you to do. If they really need this done, they should send you a more legible copy. I am sure that they can get a hold of one.

Let us know how it worked out.:)


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
All good advice Feb 26, 2006

Everyone commenting above has given good advice. If it is not legible to you, that's it. Tell them you will translate it when they get you a copy you can read.

I've seen a lot of those, I know how bad they can be.


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Orla Ryan  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 15:30
... Feb 26, 2006

I've seen a lot of those, I know how bad they can be. [/quote]

Absolutely - I've had to translate numerous handwritten doctor's notes and letters from WW2 (seperate projects) from German to English in my time ... by the time you get them, they've been creased up, faxed, smudged, faded with age, photocopied, words scribbled out, had coffee rings on them, written in old Gothic font or goodness knows what else done to them... it's just as well I have good eyesight.

But definitely, if I cannot make out what the word says, I am not going to take a stab at it in case I am wrong - in my case, if I were to do this, my error could potentially cost someone else down the line a lot of money... and I don't want that!

So if you still want to go ahead, write an accompanying mail saying that you have translated to the best of your ability and have marked the parts that you cannot read as [illegible] in the text. Perhaps if you can ask another colleague to read the source file, maybe that would help as well.

Orla


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Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:30
French to English
+ ...
How illegible is it? Feb 26, 2006

Illegibility covers a wide range of situations ranging from text that is difficult to clearly discern to text that is completely unintelligible. There are times when handwriting that is difficult to read can be deciphered if you have outside evidence of what it might say. You must always base a translation on the source text, but extrinsic information may enable you to find meaning in what would otherwise be an unreadable scribble.

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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:30
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Did you ask for a better copy? Feb 26, 2006

This is probably really obvious and you certainly did it... but for anybody else that might find themselves in the same situation, this is what I normally do (in fact, I am doing it with a current project, for the same reasons):

If the copy they send me is fine: proceed with the translation
If not: 1) Advise the customer that the document is not legible (in full or in part), and 2) Request that a better copy be sent.

If a better copy is not available, and the copy at hand is really too bad to provide any meaningful translation, refuse the project; otherwise (if the copy is only partially illegible, but enough of the document can be understood): Advise the customer that the translation will contain gaps, which you will mark as appropriate ([illegible]; [handwritten words, probably:], etc.).

Certify that you did your translation "to the best of your ability": which means exactly that - if you could not read a word, than you couldn't, and if you thought that you could, but you read it wrong, that was still "to the best of your ability".

Do not sign on information allegedly present in the document if you cannot personally read it ("oh, yes, that's my grandmother's name for sure: it was written Jane Doe"): if you cannot make "Jane Doe" out, do not certify that it is there.

Hope this helps,

Riccardo


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 16:30
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Another possibility..... Feb 26, 2006

chris bruton wrote:

I was recently contracted to translate a Mexican birth certificate on which nearly all the information was handwritten and thus illegible. I told the client as much and he urged me to proceed. Then when I delivered the translation he consulted with the owner of the certificate and forwarded to me the content of the illegible text. My question is can I ethically sign off on this "second-hand" content when it is not legible in the source document? My instinct is that I cannot. Thank you in advance for your views.


...would be to incorporate the text supplied subsequently into your original translation but marked in some fashion:

- between quotes
- in italics, bold....
-whatever you prefer

And simply add a Translator's note at the end to the effect that the text so marked was translated from a source document supplied separately, pehaps adding ("by xxxxx")

I suggest that this would enable you to provide a "complete" translation and at the same time make clear the circumstances in which the document was produced.

Cheers,
Andy


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Chris Bruton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:30
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
What about Andy's solution? Feb 27, 2006

Andy Watkinson wrote:

chris bruton wrote:

I was recently contracted to translate a Mexican birth certificate on which nearly all the information was handwritten and thus illegible. I told the client as much and he urged me to proceed. Then when I delivered the translation he consulted with the owner of the certificate and forwarded to me the content of the illegible text. My question is can I ethically sign off on this "second-hand" content when it is not legible in the source document? My instinct is that I cannot. Thank you in advance for your views.


...would be to incorporate the text supplied subsequently into your original translation but marked in some fashion:

- between quotes
- in italics, bold....
-whatever you prefer

And simply add a Translator's note at the end to the effect that the text so marked was translated from a source document supplied separately, pehaps adding ("by xxxxx")

I suggest that this would enable you to provide a "complete" translation and at the same time make clear the circumstances in which the document was produced.


Cheers,
Andy



---Yes, this might satisfy the client, but is it commonly done? Another concern is that the client wants the translation notarized.


[Edited at 2006-02-27 14:33]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:30
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Is the text still illegible? If so, then say so. Feb 28, 2006

chris bruton wrote:
Then when I delivered the translation he consulted with the owner of the certificate and forwarded to me the content of the illegible text. My question is can I ethically sign off on this "second-hand" content when it is not legible in the source document?


Sometimes we have difficulty reading a piece of text, but after having been told what it says, I can read it clearly. But sometimes even after being told what is says, to me it still looks like gibberish (or only vaguely represents what I'm told that it says). In all cases the final question is whether the text is legible to you (regardless of whether you were told what it says or supposedly says). If it is legible, translate it. If it is illegible, say so.


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When the text is illegible

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