The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020 - 24

GOING INSTITUTIONAL: A PRIMER ON TRANSLATION FOR INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS continued

The house style, terminology, conventions, and procedures can be
taught, but a translator has to come on board in full command of the
target language.
together with good technique (i.e.,
systematically checking databases for
suspicious phrases), are priceless.
For example, imagine your original
has a sentence that reads: "In Albanta,
delegates pledged to provide a strong
impetus to inclusive prosperity and
welfare for all citizens." You may just
see a sentence here and simply proceed
to translate it to the best of your ability,
but you would be missing a hidden
quotation. The delegates got together
in Albanta sometime in the past and
agreed to an institutional declaration
that read precisely like this: "We
pledge to provide a strong impetus to
inclusive prosperity and welfare for all
citizens and to take special care of those
struggling with inequalities." Most CAT
tools would miss the coincidence. It's up
to the translator to recognize it and find
the right reference.
But how would you know there's even
a reference document, let alone find it?
In this case, you have a strong hint: the
word "pledged." Pledge is not something
delegates do casually in their own time.
It's a deliberate commitment, and there
has to be an institutional record of it. If
24

The ATA Chronicle | May/June 2020

you've been working for this institution
long enough, you may be very familiar
with the Albanta Declaration, so there
you go. Otherwise, be alert and heed the
"pledge" hint, and scan your databases
for key words such as "impetus" and
"inclusive prosperity" in case there is
a coincidence. It may take a while, so
don't give up too soon.
Not all precedent has to be followed
all the time. It depends, mostly, on the
hierarchical value of the reference. If
it's a legacy document (i.e., a treaty,
agreement, or institutional declaration
such as a resolution or decision),
you need to reproduce the language
verbatim. Otherwise, there may be some
leeway, but the general rule is: follow
precedent, unless you have a good
reason to deviate. Not being aware of
the precedent is not a good reason
to deviate.

SOME GIVENS ABOUT
INSTITUTIONAL WORK
An institutional translation must be
linguistically flawless. This is a given,
and it's not something that can be
learned on the job. If a translator has

trouble with dangling modifiers in
English or the proper use of gerunds
in Spanish, or whatever high-level
difficulty their target language might
present, they may still have a bright
future in translation elsewhere, just
not in an international organization.
This is one of the reasons why passing
rates in access exams are so low: the
house style, terminology, conventions,
and procedures can be taught, but a
translator has to come on board in full
command of the target language.
Another given: translations must
be submitted on time. True, meeting
deadlines is important everywhere,
but in other settings many project
managers build buffers into their
planning because, well, life happens.
In the institutional world, life happens
too, but the consequences of a delay
may be extreme. Don't submit late,
ever. And if you absolutely must, be
proactive. Let the scheduler know
as soon as you become aware of the
extenuating circumstance so they can
make alternative arrangements (i.e.,
someone else will pull an all-nighter to
finish your work).
Accuracy is another hallmark of
institutional translation. In addition,
you have to be extremely mindful of
political and diplomatic considerations.
Nuance and emphasis must be carefully
weighted. The safest approach is to stick
very close to the original, sometimes
closer than you would like. The result
may not flow as beautifully as that other
rendition that came to your mind; it
might even be unnatural or clunky.
But, as long as it's faithful, that's the
right translation.
Conversely, institutional translation
is not necessarily idiomatic. In an ideal
world, it definitely would be, but your
focus has to be on the must-haves
above. If you have to give up something,
give up idiomaticity. Did the original use
two adjectives that sound redundant in
your language? Go ahead, be redundant.
That's better than raising eyebrows and
having someone question the integrity
of your translation.
How about ambiguity? Should
institutional translation aim for an
unequivocal, crystal-clear message? Not
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