This is not a news blog or an advice blog or any sort of company blog. It's more of an opinion blog.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Quick No-Nonsense QA/QC for Legal Translation

This will be one of the apparently very few posts here that do not involve the 'politics' of the translation 'industry'.

So, this is to give you some pointers as to what and how to check for, hence a sort of checklist, for legal translation:

  • Unless you have perfect memory and consistency, write down a glossary, either general or for every larger project, to make sure that you translate the same term or meaningful expression consistently throughout the text. This includes especially making sure that, as long as it makes sense to do so, you use no more than one translation of the same term and translate no more than one term with the same translation.
  • Go through numbers, address, dates, prices etc. to make sure that they follow the correct format and always the same format (unless the original uses different date formats in different places, for example because of varying the register or quoting some other document).
  • Make sure you got them all right, e.g. no confusion between decimal separators and thousands, no zeroes (or other numbers) added or missing, that you've got the right currency or unit of measurement etc.
  • Make sure numbers written out verbally in your translation agree with the verbal numbers in the original. Note that this means the words in the translation have to agree with the original, not that the words have to agree with the numbers in the translation if they did not in the original. Use CTRL+F for this purpose and check them all one by one.
  • Do the same for anything like the names of parties to a contract, such as Buyer and Seller but especially something like Lessor and Lessee (use Tenant and Landlord if possible), Interviewer or interviewee etc. Just to be sure, CTRL+F all appearances of them in your text, by original or by source, using some sort of formula that makes sure you don't miss any location in which you could possibly have confused them.
  • It's probably worth checking specifically for any missed negations (any words such as 'not' that you may have omitted, and trust me, it happens to the best of us and more often than you think).
  • Things need much more checking and much more scrupulous checking if you are (or were) tired, sick, hurried, distracted or in other way different from, for lack of a better expression, your usual way of being (reactions, inclinations, habits etc.).
  • Actually read everything, every sentence. Make sure the syntax is correct and legible. Sometimes legible is more important than correct. Many graduates these days, including arts people and professional writers, struggle with syntax and grammar these days, largely because of how deficiently it is taught at schools, or even not at all. For legal translation it doesn't need to actually be perfect, but you need to make sure it's reliable.
  • Avoid gibberish, especially if the original is both correct and clear. Clarify if necessary. Your client won't bite, or at least shouldn't. An agency than shuns questions from translators and won't forward them to the client is not acting professionally. This can have serious ramifications.
  • Pay especial attention to subjunctives, conjunctives, conditionals, future-in-the-past sort of structures, formulaic expressions, customary formulaic expressions and anything else you don't use in everyday speech, especially if you also don't even read anything that uses that sort of language (e.g. 90% of the language you use actively and passively is modern, colloquial and not particularly strict on the rules).
  • If you can do so without altering the meaning, keep it simple, keep it real and even (gasp!) cut the crap. Don't sacrifice content for form, but do think whether you really need to keep all those words (and in that exact order) from an unrelated language.
  • Don't, however, fall into the trap of thinking — or being made to think — that an extremely challenging original, complex and convoluted, requiring a lot of education, both general and field-specific, somehow has to produce a translation that is easily understood by a child or uneducated person. That's not your job but the lawyers'.
  • Try to get familiar with modern drafting in the target language, but don't go on a crusade translate legalese into a working man's language.
  • Identify any places in which you are markedly departing from some semblance of formal equivalence (i.e. your choice of grammar, syntax and vocabulary is completely different from the original while hoping to preserve the actual sense). Make sure you aren't embarking on unwarranted interpretation or trying to fill in the gaps.
  • If you're catching yourself being afraid of intelligent literal translation and taking great pains to avoid literal translation even where it makes the most sense as compared to alternative translations, then you need to consider your choice of specialism, as in this area of translation you need to be acting rationally and pay great attention to fidelity, as well as the client's interest. Jeopardizing the fidelity of translation simply to avoid being 'accused' of literal translation puts your interest above your client's, where it should be the other way round.

Hope it helps.

For the record, this is not legal or any other sort of advice, and in any case you are not my client. To fully appraise yourself of your rights and obligations you need to get both legal and professional advice from reliable sources that take your local and otherwise specific circumstances into account. You will also need to make inevitable judgement calls that are ultimately your responsibility to figure out. You need to pay attention to any specific arrangements you have with your client.

P.S. If this kind of thorough check is too tiring or takes too long to be realistic, increase your rates and make your deadlines longer until it stops being a problem. Alternatively, stop doing legal translation (as well as medical or anything else that could do serious damage if it goes wrong).

Also, consider checking this out again in a couple of days — I might add one or two things later.