Accuracy in Translation

Table of Contents


Accuracy in translation. My moto is pretty much: add nothing, remove nothing, be absolutely faithful to the original text.

This entry is going to be about some of the crazy things I have heard over the years about translation.

This is not a serious post. It is meant to be fun and I hope you enjoy.

Accuracy in translating a recipe book

The recipe book and changing butter for olive oil.

This was in Spain a few years back.

We were working on the translation from USA English to Spanish of a recipe book.

The book contained mainly recipes for cakes and pastries.

One individual who was quite high up in translation at that time said to us:

“Change butter for olive oil”. Your average Spanish housewife is never going to use butter, she is always going to use olive oil.

I was dumfounded!

Here were my objections to the olive oil ingredient.

First: we did not write the book, we do not get to change the content, the authors of said book are professionals and know exactly what they are doing.

Second: in a tiny minority of cases we might write to our client and suggest an idea if we think that there may be something that they are not familiar with and that our information would be welcomed and useful.

Third: we are not so very keen to find ourselves in a legal case due to altering text and meaning without permission. Not something we want to get into.

Fourth: we do not know what the average Spanish housewife thinks and we very much hope that we do not know who does the cooking in the home in 21st century Spain.

Translation accuracy in politically sensitive texts

Don’t upset the other side.

We were considering an article written in English that was very critical and not a little offensive about a system on government in a certain country at that time.

Clearly the author did not like the country and its political system and wanted to say so loud and clear.

The advice we got was: soften it, smooth things over, water it down, add a little sugar.

Now why would we do that?

Our client is paying us to find out what is being said not what is not being said.

We do not decide what people find offensive and we certainly do not hide unpleasant things from our client

Court case translation accuracy

The mafioso, the judge and the interpreter in the middle.

This was a court case and the man on the stand was a pretty ruthless gangster.

He had a particularly aggressive manner of communication and quite a lot of vocabulary that you might not find in every dictionary.

The sort of vocabulary you pick up on the streets rather than in school (we hope!).

Our interpreter gave it to the judge just exactly as it was said.

The judge did not like being spoken to in that manner and made this very clear to the interpreter.

Our interpreter had to apologise and go along with what the judge demanded.

For the rest of the case the judge got a rather cleaned up version of what the capo was saying.

Conclusion on accuracy in translation

Clearly accuracy in translation is not only about precision.

It is also about how you interpret the author’s true intention.