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Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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5.8 Mediation and power

Being plurilingual puts individuals in a powerful position. It is through mediation between languages that they can exercise this power, but with power come responsibility and duty. In order to provide a faithful translation of the original, it is the mediator’s duty to be impartial, to follow ethical principles, and to remain true to the source.

Activity 47

Are there cases where it may be acceptable for a translator or interpreter to leave out or even alter part of the message conveyed?

Consider the following situation. You are informally acting as mediator in a social conversation and decide not to translate some details that you think are not relevant to the other person. Is that morally acceptable?

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There is no right or wrong answer here. There is a difference between remaining impartial and leaving out irrelevant information, and trying to keep one of the parties uninformed. However, deciding what is and isn’t worth translating for the listener could be perceived as patronising.

In a social situation such as that described in this activity there are ways for mediators to explain what they are doing and to seek confirmation that they are taking the right approach. For example, they can ask questions about the level of detail to translate, or whether a summary is acceptable.

A translator working on written text usually also has the opportunity to check that what they intend to do is acceptable to the parties concerned. In the next activity you will look at an example of this in practice.