Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Translator's Oath

I don't think I've made this confession before on this blog, but I've been working in the translation industry for the past 6 years. More specifically, in the software localization industry, which is the evil, albeit more interesting, sister of the translation industry.

Today, being forced to do some research on the Rosetta Stone, something hit me. What if, 3,000 years on, they will have no other record of my mother-tongue, except for this over-rated, over-priced piece of software I'm currently working on? What if something I translated becomes the only method future people will have to decipher my language? Will the translation stand from a linguistic and stylistic point of view? Will it at least be useful? Or will the Champollion of the year 5011 look confused and say: “OK, this language seems to have a vocabulary of maximum five hundred words and only a present tense”?

I bet the people doing administrative paperwork (or rather, administrative stonework) in Demotic, Egyptian and Greek weren't aware of the importance of their endeavor. Most likely they were cursing the pay, the deadline and the quality of the source text, like the rest of us.

Maybe we need a Hippocratic Oath for translators. We can call it the Rosettan Oath: “I solemnly pledge to convey the meaning of the source text as accurately as possible, while doing no harm to the target language. I will protect my mother-tongue the same way I protect my trust fund investments, and I will insure the best representation of its interests against today's clients as well as against future alien races that will attempt to communicate with us.”