The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020 - 23

terminology question is probably a few
clicks away) and a curse (sometimes
you must reuse previous language,
unchanged). In both settings, corporate
and institutional, translation is an inside
job that's carried out collectively.

CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL
INSTITUTIONAL TRANSLATION
To be successful, the institutional
translator must:
Lose Their Individual Voice: A salient
characteristic of institutional translation
is the need for the final product to be
entirely anonymous, without a trace
of the personal voice of an individual
translator. Think of it as a chorus
singing in perfect harmony, where the
result is the sum of multiple voices, but
each of them must be indiscernible.
There are several reasons for this. The
most obvious is that the translated
document, just like the original, belongs
to the institution, which is its sole
author, but there are other practical,
very compelling considerations, such as
the need for consistency.
Be Stylistically Consistent: One
reason for stylistic consistency is
that many originals are broken down
into two, three, or maybe 20 pieces,
each going to a different translator.
Everybody agrees that splitting a
document is not ideal, but there simply
is no other way to handle a report that's
over 200 pages long and needs to be
formatted and circulated in a week.
To complicate matters, there's often
no time for a final, unifying round of
revision. In another setting this would
be a recipe for a Frankenstein monster,
but institutional translators are used
to following "the house style," which
may be stilted and sometimes awkward
but highly consistent. And consistent
writing lends itself very much to a
seamless outcome.
Adopt the Institution's Working
Methods: Splitting a source document
among several translators is not the
only counter-intuitive practice in
institutional language services. Another
one that's sure to puzzle newcomers is
the nonlinear processing of documents,
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which means working on an interim
version of the source while it's still being
negotiated or refined. This requires
working on the assignment twice, first
with the draft and then with the final
version, not counting the multiple
corrections and minor updates that
may materialize along the way. Nobody
likes to work like that, but, again,
sometimes it's the only way to meet
deadlines. And sometimes the translator
updating the interim translation is
not the same one who worked on it in
the first place, which showcases the
relevance of uniformity and adherence
to conventions.

If the meeting has to stop
because of a translation issue,
the credibility of the entire
document is compromised,
and that might impact the flow
of negotiation.

Learn to Write Like Everyone Else:
Another reason for stylistic consistency
is that most assignments involve some
degree of recycled text from a similar
original. Again, if the translator gave
in to the temptation to show off their
talent and knack for elegant prose, the
result would be a messy patchwork.
The ability to write just like everybody
else is one of the most valued strengths
of an institutional translator. Mastering
it requires a great deal of attention and
humility, but it's worth cultivating.
Adhere to Vetted Terminology: Strict
adherence to vetted terminology is
another way to achieve consistency
within and across documents.
Most institutions have their own
terminology databases, which are
living organisms that grow and evolve
daily. These databases are maintained
by terminologists who are themselves
translators, or at least work in close
proximity to translators.

A lot of work and research goes into
each entry, and there may be excellent
reasons why a certain term is translated
"this way" instead of "that way," even
if "that way" is the preferred term in
another institution or if the translator
knows for sure that "that way" is also
correct or, possibly, better. A term
with an entry in the database must be
translated "this way," provided that the
context matches. If the translator thinks
there is a compelling reason to depart
from the database (and sometimes
there is), a good approach is to ask a
terminologist or a more senior translator
for guidance. If the term is not in the
database, the translator should do some
research and submit a proposal to the
terminologists. All of this takes an awful
lot of time.
Adhere to Precedent: Adhering to
precedent is also very important for
consistency and integrity. This means
that, whenever there's a quote from or
a reference to a previous document,
no matter how long or short, you
must assume there exists a previous
translation that needs to be found and
reused. It would certainly be easier, or
at least faster, just to translate it from
scratch, but that would be bad practice.
In the best case scenario, your
key document will be referenced
explicitly, right there, as in this
example: "The Chairperson's endof-year report, published in January
2020, acknowledged there had been
'unexpected outcomes' that warranted
shelving the project." You can't just
translate "unexpected outcomes," you
have to dig out the chairperson's end-ofyear report in your target language and
find out precisely how the phrase was
translated. While you are at it, check for
"shelve" and its variations.
Hidden quotations are trickier
because they are hard to recognize.
These would be words taken verbatim
from a previous document, but with
no quotation marks around them.
If the coincidence involves a whole
sentence or paragraph, chances are our
computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool
will alert us, but what if it's just a partial
match, or just a phrase? Here's where
experience and institutional memory,
American Translators Association

23


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The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020

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