The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020 - 25

necessarily! There is a lot of deliberate
ambiguity in the originals. A translator's
goal has to be to detect any ambiguity
in the original, which is easier said
than done, and recognize if an obscure
passage is accidental or intentional, and
ask for clarification when necessary.
The translation may need to mirror the
ambiguity in the target language, which
also requires skill.
By the way, there are a few fascinating
cases in history where ambiguity was
elevated to a form of art in the world of
diplomacy, but that is beyond the scope of
this article. If anyone is curious, go check
"constructive ambiguity" on Wikipedia.
And what if the original has an obvious
error? Outside of the institutional
setting, you may be tempted to just
translate what's in front of you without
questioning it, or you may consider just
fixing the mistake in your translation.
Neither solution would work in an
institutional context. Instead, you are
expected to raise the issue with someone
in a position to contact the author for
clarification and correction. Otherwise,
you'll end up with mismatched versions,
a problem that might be compounded if
there are multiple languages involved.
In addition, there's always the risk
that you misunderstood something,
or that you "fixed it wrong." See, for
example: "The index increased from 596
in the first half of 2017 to 577 in the
same period of 2018." There is clearly
an error in this sentence, but is it that
the index, in fact, decreased, or are the
figures swapped? Or is there a typo in
one of the figures? There is so much
opportunity to make an error worse!
Bottom line: don't assume anything!

WHAT IS QUALITY IN AN
INSTITUTIONAL SETTING?
One might want to summarize all the
above under the umbrella of "quality"
and say that institutional translation
must be of the highest quality, but things
are not that simple. What, precisely,
is quality in an institutional setting? A
translation that contains no errors? Does
this mean no stray commas, no typos,
no misplaced footnote calls? No nuance
lost? It depends!
www.atanet.org

The important thing to understand
is that there's no external,
objective definition of quality in
institutional translation.

The important thing to understand
is that there's no external, objective
definition of quality in institutional
translation. Quality is defined by
the organization, and it's documentspecific. A quality translation is one
that meets the institution's expectations,
whatever those may be, for that
specific document. The term of art
is "fit for purpose." There are many
factors involved, but the main ones are
visibility (including political aspects),
shelf life, and legal/financial impact.
Given an unlimited budget and
timeframe, we would all strive (with
more or less success) for absolutely
perfect translations. But reality has
a way to bring us back to earth, and
the fact is that budgets and deadlines
are often tight and shrinking, so
the best practice is for the team in
charge to assign the right amount of
time and resources to each project so
that the institution's commitment to
multilingualism is duly honored. If the
assignment is for a working internal
document that will undergo several
rounds of negotiation, the bar will
correctly be set much lower than for
the final version of an institutional
declaration that will get quoted, referred
to for generations, and possibly sculpted
in marble, figuratively or even literally.
In practical terms, a translation is fit
for purpose if it goes entirely unnoticed.
If it's delivered on time and nobody
raises concerns-success! If you're a
freelancer translating for an institution,
fit for purpose also means delivering
a translation that requires little to no
intervention by the in-house team.
And remember, it's emphatically not
up to the translator to define what the
standard of quality is for any given
document. It's up to the institution.
The translator's responsibility is to do

the best they can in the time assigned,
without cutting corners.

NOT FOR EVERYONE, BUT
VERY REWARDING
I said at the beginning that institutional
translation is not for everyone. It
requires skill, experience, and the
right tools, as well as good instincts
and a deep understanding of the
particular institution and its workings.
In addition, the institutional translator
has to be willing to check their ego
at the door and sing in harmony with
everyone else, and to take the time
to submit terminology proposals, ask
the right questions, and learn all the
conventions. The learning curve is
very steep and not all assignments are
exciting or interesting, with hundreds of
pages of tedious budgetary documents
that are, nonetheless, equally crucial
and demanding of your full attention
to detail.
Why, then, choose this field? First, it
offers an environment of steady work
and predictable income, which are
nothing to scoff about in the industry
these days. It also provides daily
opportunities to be on top of world
affairs and to work on assignments that
make a difference. And, interestingly,
what makes it hard is also what makes
it easy, with those gigantic multilingual
corpora and databases at your fingertips
and many brilliant colleagues, right next
door, all sold on teamwork and willing
to coach the newcomers and share
their burden.
Izaskun Orkwis, CT has been
a translator for more than 20
years, both as a freelancer and
in-house, working mainly for
international organizations.
She is currently a staff
reviser for the Spanish translation service at
the United Nations Secretariat in New York. She
has a BA in Romance languages and an MA in
institutional translation. She is an ATA-certified
English<>Spanish translator, a certified court
interpreter in Virginia, and a sworn translator in
Spain. Contact: izaskun@gmail.com.

American Translators Association

25


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The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020

Contents
The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020 - Cover1
The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020 - 2
The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020 - Contents
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