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To sign or not to sign? Chris Durban strikes again

by Catherine Jan on April 13, 2011

Chris Durban is a Paris-based freelance translator specializing in finance and capital markets (French to English). A past president and board member of the Société Française des Traducteurs (SFT), Chris is a member of the ATA (American Translators Association) and a Fellow of ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting, UK). She also writes the “Fire Ant & Worker Bee” advice column in Translation Journal and in October 2010 published a revised compilation as The Prosperous Translator.

Should translators sign their names on their translations?

Chris Durban thinks so. She pushed for the benefits of taking credit (and responsibility) for translations at two SFT seminars I attended (Réussir son installation in 2009 and Style Matters in 2010), at Tralogy, a Parisian translation and technology event in March 2011, and in The Prosperous Translator.

Chris will soon strike again, this time in Washington, DC, at the TCD conference on April 30-May 1.

I interview her for Catherine Translates.

***

Catherine: Why are you so adamant about translators getting credit? What’s the point of signed work?

Chris: The quick answer: to promote transparency, and let everyone reap the benefits it brings. Well, let me temper that: everyone who takes this business seriously.

I would prefer that the cynics, jokers, sellers of snake oil and just-making-a-buckers exit left ASAP, and I see signed work as one way to achieve that. Note that when I talk about signing your translations, I’m referring not just to books, but to corporate, technical and other types of translation as well.

One feature of our market is that many (most?) buyers simply cannot judge what they are getting when a translation is delivered to them. This distinguishes us from providers of other intellectual services. And it makes clients particularly vulnerable to glib or clueless vendors who weave a convincing quality narrative to clinch the sale, only to deliver shoddy or downright unacceptable translations.

Catherine: You sound like you’re speaking from experience.

Chris: I am. For years I wrote a column called The Onionskin that ran in various professional magazines (and ultimately led me to write the little Getting It Right booklet of advice for translation buyers, now translated into a dozen languages).

For my Onionskin articles, I researched good and bad translations in the public domain—celebrating the good ones (and yes, there is some very good work out there) but also moving up and down the supply chain to identify exactly how, when and where flawed work had skidded off track.

It was fascinating but also frustrating. And beyond a certain point, downright embarrassing for the translation industry as a whole.

Because when caught out, the vast majority of slipshod suppliers (both freelancers and agencies) ran for the hills, declining responsibility for the work they had produced and/or brokered and sold. A surprising number refused to admit their paternity/maternity or spent vast amounts of energy hiding their connection to their offspring. When pushed, others admitted their powerlessness to enforce quality standards—and with it, the hollowness of the claims on their websites and in their own brochures.

Catherine: So at one level this “sign your work” campaign is a truth-in-advertising issue.

Chris: That’s right. I am aware of no suppliers who claim in public that they are producing “so-so” or “moderately good” work, and certainly no one is crowing about selling garbage. But hey, the mediocre translations are out there for all to see. And one thing is sure: they are not all being produced by low-cost suppliers in the third world, students grubbing for pocket money, or wannabe bilinguals concocting silly texts in-house with a dictionary in one hand and a grammar book in the other.

It’s time for our industry to face up to it: many LSPs (again, both freelancers and agencies) are producing and selling work that makes the cut only because clients can’t judge how poor it is. I like to think the chickens will come home to roost at some point. But in the meantime, sloppy translations tarnish everyone’s image.

Catherine: What are some of the benefits of signed translations?

Chris: The beauty of signed work is that everybody sees who does what. Clients and peers alike. So genuinely skilled translators and quality-oriented intermediaries can get their names out and about at zero cost (did I mention that inserting your name in credits costs nothing?).

It’s also straightforward: there’s no need for a costly certification procedure or endless negotiations by industry leaders at venues around the globe over a 5 or 10-year period. Anyone who understands the point and wants to buy in can simply agree it’s a good idea and… do it. Starting tomorrow morning at 8.00 a.m. or tonight at midnight. Whenever. You take responsibility for the texts you produce and sell by asserting your maternity/paternity.

The good news is that taking responsibility means you get the credit too. And with that comes leverage that most translators and translation companies don’t have now (along with a superb client-education tool). More about that in a minute.

Finally, signed work promotes best practice among translators by encouraging us all, whatever our size and market segment, to think twice before over-committing ourselves.

So if you claim to sell high quality work and your name is going to be out there on the text you deliver, well, you will probably decide to give that 15,000-word job for delivery a day from tomorrow a miss—either that or negotiate a longer deadline. With signed work, good translators and agencies that might be tempted to cut corners are actively encouraged to not just talk the talk but also walk the best-practice walk.

Catherine: When do you request that your name be added to your translation? When you send in the quote or when you hand the translation in? Do you mention it in your Terms & Conditions?

Chris: It appears as point three in a one-page summary of Terms & Conditions that I send to first-time clients before a job starts. As FA&WB readers know, I’m not a big believer in glossy brochures, but a sheet like this is a useful way to give new clients a clear idea of what they are getting into and what their role is.

Catherine: How do you word your request?

Chris: It’s a statement, not a request. That’s important. (Just as when you make annual adjustments in your prices and announce this to your clients, it’s not a good idea to phrase it as a request.)

Most of my clients are native speakers of French so I communicate with them in that language, but an English version of point three would go something like this: “If texts are changed in any way or reset, we revise and sign proofs before the document goes to press, failing which we apply a 100% surcharge (since translators’ names appear in credits for most of our translations).” You can raise that to 200% or 500% if you like. The point is not to apply it, rather to draw your client’s attention to this particular condition.

Catherine: Yes, on page 49 of The Prosperous Translator (from Lulu.com), you refer to this penalty surcharge for unapproved changes. To me, this appears threatening and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. How do clients usually react?

Chris: In most cases, first-time clients ring back immediately, concerned that a hefty price might head even higher. And this is the magic moment—the chance for me to explain, pleasantly, that I do not want to apply the surcharge: that is not the point.

The sentence is in there, I tell them, because I’ve found that money focuses the mind and experience has taught me that it really is very important for the client’s image and my own to run a final check.

I give them an example or two—if a well-meaning French client or printer adds an “s” to “Information” on the grounds that “there are several” (or removes an “s” from “headquarters,” for that matter, because “there is only one”) and my name appears as the translator, I’m the one who takes the hit; my reputation and brand suffer. I may also remind them that they don’t fiddle around with the content of their financial statements once the auditor has signed off. Above all, I point out that it is silly for them to have spent a lot of money on their translation and then trip at the last hurdle.

Concretely, I have them make note of this essential revision-of-proofs stage and include it in their production schedule.

If for some reason time runs out and there is no time for revision, I inform them, regretfully, that they will then have to take my name off — “It’s too risky for my reputation.” Interestingly, that sentence alone is often enough for them to find the time and extend the deadline. If not, they strike my name from the credits and pay me my normal fee (of course). Encouragingly, I have not yet had to apply the surcharge.

Occasionally a new client will say “Right! So this clause is a standard thing for professional translators, then?” To which I always reply, “Yes, for the serious ones.” Because in my opinion it should be a standard thing.

Catherine: Do you ask for a link back to your website or social media profile?

Chris: My own customers find me almost exclusively through word of mouth and my presence at client-industry events, so this doesn’t really apply. But for translators who rely heavily on a website, blog or other social media, yes, this would be a good idea.

Catherine: Any other comments about this public display of who translates what?

Chris: I’ve been going on about signed work for about thirty years, and run into the same reactions from translators all the time. Some get it immediately. Others start “yes, but-ing,” which I think is a pity. Let me recycle a few of the latter reactions here:

“My clients would never allow it.”

Response: have you asked them? I used to nod understandingly when translators pulled this one, but have now stopped. The fact is, translators tend to project their own worries and fears onto clients (this applies to jitters about prices, too). They may be the first to weigh in with opinions on discussion lists and blogs, often expressed very articulately. But when it comes to standing up in public with “this is what I produce and sell” they twist, turn and shuffle, using a million tactics to keep out of what they apparently see as the line of fire. Which says a lot about their self-confidence.

In contrast, quality-oriented clients understand exactly what the point is. Many have experience with formal QC and QA procedures, in which identifying who does what at each stage is a given. So they don’t have a problem with signed work. On the whole, it’s insecure translators and brokers unwilling to stand behind their work who do.

One of the very few exceptions I’ve experienced first-hand is in-house client departments that want to pretend they’ve done the translation themselves. And I have no problem with that. As I’ve written elsewhere, you certainly don’t have to sign every single text you translate. But if you don’t sign any at all, well, that says a lot.

“I’d love to, but everything I do is 100% confidential.”

Er, yup. And agreed if we are talking about, e.g., contracts and such. But let’s be serious: claiming that every single translation you’ve produced for the past ten years has been confidential is the sign of a terminally anxious translator, full stop. Get a grip. Be brave. Translator up! (In fact, your work is probably very good, but how will the praise and future clients reach you if you don’t dare tell anybody you did it?)

“Clients change things after I’ve finished; I have no control over what happens to a text when it leaves my computer.”

That can happen. But isn’t it about time you reclaimed control of at least a few projects a year? The penalty clause discussed above gives you that control.

If you don’t participate actively in client education, if you buckle under each time and accept conditions that you know are incompatible with quality, surely you are part of the problem. Here’s a free tool that will help you move everybody ahead!

It is even more interesting to me to hear large agencies use a variation on this “clients insert errors” argument to explain why they must remain anonymous. Hang on: does this mean a freelance translator can gain control of the process while you, with all your staff and processes and giant contracts can’t—even as you continue to write screeds about your company’s 100% commitment to excellence? Surely there is something wrong with this picture. At the very least, you might consider adding “platinum service” to your portfolio: in this case, you proudly sign a small percentage of the work you’ve produced because it is so very very good. And leave the— how to put this? pretty darn good but not signable?—gold, silver and bronze-level jobs as orphans.

“By signing my work I reveal who my clients are, and a rival might steal them away.”

If you can lose your clients that easily, the problem lies elsewhere.

In translation, there are many ways to reinforce your ties to the businesses in your client portfolio. Making signed work your standard actually reinforces your value proposition: it’s a differentiator that confirms your pride in your work and helps you stake out your section of the premium market.

“We are a top-end translation agency; we add massive value—why should the translator’s name appear when we do most of the work?”

If you are convinced that is the situation, by all means sign with your agency’s name. But somebody sign, please. And in a few years, your agency may be brave enough and secure enough to take a page from our photographer friends’ book and use both agency and translator name: Spanish text: José Bloggs for International Global Translation Excellence Group & Partners.

The fact is, when nobody takes responsibility (and credit) and opacity reigns, the people who interest me—clients and good translation suppliers—all suffer.

If LSPs (freelancers and agencies) were to get into the habit of signing even 50% of the commercial, technical and other translations found in industry and elsewhere, we would be well on our way to a healthier market in just two or three years. And that’s a shake-out I would really love to see.

***

Thank you, Chris! Now I’d like to hear from other translators. Are your names on your translations? Are your clients enthusiastic about publishing your name? Would you like to sign your work in the future? (And if you liked this post, please share it on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn and leave a comment.)

{ 25 comments }

Sara April 13, 2011 at 08:44

Interesting interview! We don’t have a “signature” clause or penalties in our T&C, but we do sign those projects over which we feel we have sufficient control, usually print documents and rarely websites (control issues). We keep a portfolio which we bring to client meetings and translator events. We also do about 2 to 3 case studies a year (with the participation of our clients). To give you an idea: http://www.sfmtraduction.com/etudes-de-cas/
We feel these are more credible than a simple list of client names and they enable us to communicate meaningfully about work we can’t sign for whatever reason. Our opinion is that the active client participation in these case studies make them meaningful/credible. We can directly attribute one sale to a prospect reading a case study, calling us, and saying “I want you do to the same thing for me!”.
Right now we are doing a big corporate website, but we were brought into the project a bit late and the project management in-house is a bit chaotic, so unfortunately we won’t sign this one…this is a reality we have to deal with. We did consider refusing the project because we had not been brought in early enough in the process, but we had been courting this client for years and this was our big chance (and has already led to orders from other departments even though the website is not yet online)…In the future I hope we have the luxury of turning down any project that feels “out of control” or where the translator is brought in too late in the process to do top-notch work…but that is not the case (yet)!

Patricia Lane April 13, 2011 at 12:39

Love this interview! A good, swift kick in the okol’e (Hawai’ian for one’s behind) for those who don’t sign their work, don’t dare insist on doing so or forget to mention it right up front, when the conditions are right of course.

Aside from all of the advantages a signature policy offers a client and the professional translator, getting credit just plumb feels good.

I’m seriously starting to consider adding a signature policy to my T&C – Chris’ version is surely gutsy and attention-getting! Getting clients to agree to case studies for large projects you can’t sign – because of lack of sufficient control or because they are not in print or published (such as speeches, presentations or grant proposals) is also a good solution and speaks to one’s savoir-être as well as savoir-faire.

Right now I am on two brochures and I may have to have my name removed on one of them. The graphic designer is so behind that the review phase might get zapped, regardless of the alarm bells I’ve pulled. Frustrating, to say the least!

@Chris: Have you ever had a case where you *did* apply your penalty clause because something got tweaked after you signed off?

Anne de Freyman April 13, 2011 at 13:03

Great interview. The topic really resonates with me and I’m in total agreement with the principle advocated by Chris, having far too often seen my work massacred by “know better” in-house staff who can’t spell or punctuate, or by type-setters with no knowledge of French and no comprehension of the value of a final check before going to press. Or even type-setters who won’t be convinced that accents are not just there to look pretty!

In spite of my best endeavours, I have sometimes – not always – found it near impossible, when working through agencies, to keep control of a project. Most just won’t tell the end client that what they produce in-house is no good for fear of annoying and losing said end client. Or, like me, they struggle to make the end client understand that being French doesn’t necessarily mean you can write good copy in French and the in-house support staff isn’t best qualified to finalize a translation.

One of my favourite ongoing jobs is one just like that. Everything I do gets changed by the end client and invariably very badly. It’s a prestigious tourism website about my favourite part of the world and it breaks my heart to not be able to claim it as my work on my own CV. And sadly, I can say the same for other jobs. However, like Sara, I don’t have the luxury of turning down these “out of control” projects… as yet!

Thankfully, other clients are very receptive and I have been able to sign some of my work. Chris is right on every point about the value of signing one’s work. I always ask for it when I feel it’s appropriate and it has so far paid off.

Well done Catherine and Chris for highlighting this issue and raising translators’ awareness of it. I too would very much like it to become a trend, as much amongst freelancers as amongst agencies.

Sara April 13, 2011 at 13:14

I really like the idea of adding the clause (even if never enforced — and I doubt I would enforce it — it forces you to discuss this point up front with the client) and we are also thinking of systematically discussing up front (at the proposal stage) whether or not we can communicate on a given project (in a case study, press release, etc.). We are trying to eliminate projects that “just pay the bills”. There has to be something in it for us besides money (an enriching experience, permission to communicate on the project, etc.). One thing I have noticed in big corporations is that if the person is not high enough up in the organization (and the marketing/comm manager, our main contact, often is not) they are not willing to commit to giving you permission to do anything at all using their company name…

Caroline Subra-Itsutsuji April 13, 2011 at 14:19

Merci à Catherine Translates de publier cette ode à la transparence.
Un sain principe qu’intègreraient plus facilement les entreprises anglo-saxonnes ? Pour parler de mon expérience, sans encouragement préalable de ma part, celles-ci me demandent souvent d’attester au bas du document traduit que je suis bien l’auteur de la traduction. Une démarche entièrement distincte d’une certification d’une traduction conforme à un original qu’effectuerait un traducteur expert. Valorisante pour le traducteur qui revendique la paternité de “sa création dérivée”. Rassurante pour le Client, qui traite avec un prestataire engageant sa responsabilité.

Pour compléter l’entretien, je copie-collerai cet extrait de la recommandation de Nairobi (titre III – lettre h) :

“le nom du traducteur devrait figurer en bonne place sur tous les exemplaires publiés de la traduction, sur les affiches de théâtre, dans les communications accompagnant les émissions de radiodiffusion ou de télévision, dans les génériques de films ainsi que dans tout matériel de promotion”

Source disponible en six langues ! http://portal.unesco.org/fr/ev.php-URL_ID=13089&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

Paul April 13, 2011 at 15:47

This is an excellent piece.

I am a strong advocate of the principles behind the idea of signed translations – transparency and taking personal responsibility not the least amongst them. Sometimes there are practical difficulties – some of which are discussed in the interview – which make this approach inappropriate.
In some related industries, “signing off” work is standard practice. When a team has worked on a project I like to see a certificate issued which states the names of the translator(s), reviser(s), proof reader(s) etc and that any QA measures requested by the client have been duly undertaken. The certificate should be signed (at least) by the person who took overall responsibility for the job.

Taking personal responsibility is often not easy and carries a certain risk. But there is a strong relationship between risk and reward. Those who take the risk of putting their name to their work are likely to be rewarded more than those who prefer to remain anonymous. This applies to companies as much as it does to individuals.

Chris Durban April 14, 2011 at 00:23

I’m glad respondents enjoyed the interview. Note that I don’t see myself as some kind of avenging angel, but do very much like the idea of us all realizing and acting on the fact that we do have some control over our work and practice (if we want it).

@Sara: I really enjoyed hearing how your examples landed you a client — that’s *exactly* why showing what we do is a very good idea! As noted, the point of the penalty clause is not to apply it, rather to catch the client’s attention and use this as a jumping-off point for discussions of how they also have a role to play in the translation process.

@Patricia: I’ve only had one case where a client went to press with errors they’d introduced in the text and my name in the credits. Aaargh. But they were so very apologetic about the whole situation that I waived the mark-up (and something tells me that brochure has now been swallowed up in the sands of time). Ultimately, what you want is the leverage that the clause gives you. So that you are never again in the position of having to swallow and accept nonsensical changes to a carefully formulated text; I’m not saying client changes should be rejected out of hand, simply that they must be discussed (and often a third way found).

Patricia Lane April 14, 2011 at 10:24

@Chris: You and an incident a couple of years ago have convinced me – the “shock treatment” client clause is going to go into my T&C. Ex-post facto well-intentioned tweaks or file errors *can* happen, even without the client knowing.

In this incident, one (of many) large silk-screened panels had gone through endless content and graphic design changes – there were too many cooks in that kitchen. Each person responsible (myself for the English text) signed off on the last file. The wrong file was sent to the printer. Thank goodness we noticed the problem when the panel came back. Would the client have ordered a reprint had it been 10k copies of a brochure?

That clause, I hope, will help me and the client retain the last bit of control before things are completely out of our hands. The “I sign my work with the proviso I sign off on the proofs” can sometimes not be enough, as you well point out!

Gio Lester April 27, 2011 at 15:02

Thank you, Chris, for persevering :o) It is not easy being a pioneer of ideas and concepts. I do not argue with my agency clients but my direct clients know that I have the last say. I have not thought of a fee in case they fail to send the material back for review, nor have I insisted (except for a book I did) that my name be mentioned. I have “fired” clients who insisted on changing my work, and, like you, have requested that my name be removed from the credits in order to protect my professional reputation. It is a battle, but the victories are sweet. And there have been enough to keep me going for 31 years.

Chris, thank you for all you do for the class. And thank you to Catherine Translates for bringing this to my attention.

Mario Chávez May 1, 2011 at 01:37

A refreshing interview. Chris Durban says many things that I’ve kept hidden in my mind for years. At times, I have signed my own work on InDesign or Quark Xpress files in tiny font size, and I have argued for inclusion of the names of the software localizers that have translated the software in a couple of companies I worked for. I think this topic is huge! I wonder if there has been a presentation at ATA or another conference in that regard.

This interview has kept me thinking. Thanks!

Steven Capsuto May 1, 2011 at 14:59

I’m all for giving literary translators credit and ensuring that they are involved in any rewrites or revisions. But outside the literary field, I don’t see the point of this crusade.

I do my job well and get paid – end of story. If clients wants to screw up the text afterward, that’s their right. It’s a work for hire: they own it and can do as they please with it. The best I can do is draw problems to their attention after the fact if they choose not to include me in the revision process. People have every right to make appalling business decisions and I don’t feel the need to get paternalistic with my clients.

Similarly, the plumber I use (who, of course, does not sign the pipes) probably doesn’t care whether his customers take an axe to the commodes he installs, as long as he gets paid for installing them. He certainly doesn’t make me sign a document agreeing to pay him a fine if I do something to the toilet that he disapproves of.

christinedurban May 11, 2011 at 19:20

I actually see a lot of parallels between “official” creative texts like literature and texts that are written to persuade or sell.

But for the purposes of the signing business, how about if we ratchet everything down to simple QA/QC: if each person involved a production process signs off, it’s easier to catch and correct errors.

And of course I really do believe that taking responsibility and credit brings in new clients. I see it regularly.

Re plumber analogy, I’m not convinced. Or how about this: what if you sign your guy up to install the bathroom fittings and he sends a 16-year-old apprentice along in his place? Or his ol’ drinking buddy Fred (nice guy and enthusiastic DIYer, but not a trained plumber). You would at least *see* that you were dealing with somebody other than the real guy, and could presumably complain if things went wrong. With intellectual services delivered over the internet it gets a lot trickier a lot faster.

Last but not least, the clients I deal with do not find this approach paternalistic — especially the ones that have been burned by a cascade of sub-contracting down through the translation equivalents of the apprentice and Fred.

That said, each of us ultimately finds the clients we are comfortable with.

Grace Bosworth May 1, 2011 at 21:30

My main issue with the debate is that it is a good argument for already established agencies and translators, and it is a lot like any political campaign, great for “some” but not “all.” I have no problem signing off on my agency’s translations, but we are a newer agency. We are slowly building onto our already established customer base, and this is a competitive environment. I find it amusing when some translators insist on a higher than market price and something like a surcharge. That’s great, but we will find someone else to work with if the translator becomes too “high maintenance.” Same with customers, I think some customers will agree to a surcharge or agreement but a lot of them will balk, and we feel that our overall services are too good to lose even one customer on a minor sticking point.

I see a “changing of the guard” in the translations world to companies like mine that are young, quick, flexible, efficient, and technologically sound. Feel free to stand by your values but, if we can provide the same quality service with less hassle, customers will come to us. And we can provide the same quality service; one thing I have learned in this business over the years is that no one company has a corner on “quality,” and we can show our skills and build a name for ourselves without insisting on what the customer must do or not do. In my opinion also, a customer can do what they want with a translation….we know the truth and as long as the fault does not lie in us, I do not pay attention. I am already on the next project!

Steve Dyson May 3, 2011 at 15:51

Great interview, Chris. Some good points made here in the comments section too.

Sara May 3, 2011 at 16:37

@Grace, I think you are totally missing the point. Why would you assume that anyone who uses Chris’ recommended practice of signing/signing off on all work is “high maintenance” or practices “higher than market prices”? (And what are “market prices” by the way? Hint: they are not set by agencies and many agency owners would probably be shocked to learn just how high translation rates can soar on specialized niche markets.). Or that translators who use this practice are not “young, quick, flexible, efficient, and technologically sound”? Or that incorporating a sign-off step into the production process creates “hassle” for clients? This is just the kind of stereotypical dichotomy that pits translators against agencies (and vice versa) in a totally sterile debate.
This is all about providing the ultimate in quality and making sure that the client shares your commitment to achieving it. And it is about delivering more than just “words”. It is about advising the client on the best possible process to achieve high quality deliverables and throwing in a compelling (financial) reason for them to follow that process.

Lakshmi R. Iyer May 5, 2011 at 13:02

Thanks Catherine for publishing this interview and thanks Chris for the inspiring points you make.

Steven, I’m just wondering. Suppose you’d signed the text. Would it still be OK by you if they screwed it up?

I can tell from reading your post that you’re a good writer. How many times have you turned a crappy source text into good, readable English? So why shouldn’t you get money AND credit for it?

You enjoy reading good writing, right? So do I – and not just when I’m reading fiction. I like to see whoever produced that prose getting credit for it. If I’m struggling to figure out how a new appliance made in Germany works and John Doe translated the user manual into clear, understandable English for me, I’d like to see his name mentioned on it, ‘cos he saved me time.

And how about personal satisfaction? I’m only human. I get a kick out of seeing my name in print on a nicely done job. And I HAVE noticed that when it’s signed work I’m a lot more inclined to go the extra mile – e.g. hunt down the absolutely perfect term, not just one that’ll do.

Don’t know about you, but if I thought I was spending eight hours a day in the only life I have doing work for hire, I’d do something else.

Moisés Hernández-Amateau May 8, 2011 at 20:11

I fully endorse Chris Durban’s stance on this matter. As a certified court interpreter who engages in providing translations for judicial proceedings in a district where a considerable number of people are routinely bilingual in both English and Spanish, all my renderings must have my name for them to be considered certified by the court. My signature is an indication to the court that I stand behind my work and that I certify my rendering of the original document as a true and exact version of the source language to the best of my knowledge, skills, ability, experience and professional judgment.

My client end users are well aware that they may not incorporate changes to my translations without my review and permission. I hold the final word of approval for any change. Rarely do I have changes proposed, even when most of my clients, all attorneys, are fluently bilingual and bicultural and keenly watchful over the words written in their documentary evidence. Furthermore, the judges of the district are also fluently bilingual and bicultural and have direct supervisory powers over the interpreters and translators admitted before the court. Failure to heed a court-ordered summons to explain any questions on a translation can lead to the exclusion of the evidence and the banning of the translator’s work. Rarely have I had customers asking me to replace “bucket” for “pail” or for trying to make a distinction between one cuss word and another in a criminal setting. As to agencies reviewing and revising the work of translators, I definitely believe that the ending signature should read: “Translated by X, Reviewed and Approved by Y.” Thus, in an increasingly litigious world, any and all liability claims for professional malpractice of translations may be directed to the parties that should indeed be held accountable.

Peter / 9monthswithcmos.blogspot.com May 10, 2011 at 21:18

Chris, I agree 100%. I’d love to hear you respond to “I do my job well and get paid – end of story. If clients wants to screw up the text afterward, that’s their right.” It’s something I’ve heard a lot.

christinedurban May 11, 2011 at 22:39

@Peter — see my response to Steven above. :-)
I’ve just read your latest blogpost (great blog!) and despite the frustration blips that some clients can cause, I’m still convinced that the approach adopted by each translator determines how much s/he earns and how much fun s/he has doing the work. Both are important.

Arle Lommel May 12, 2011 at 20:53

I just ran into this today, so I’m a little late to the party. But I really like this idea. While I have worked for years in the industry, I do very little translation, in part because my field (Hungarian → English ethnomusicology) is pretty limited, but all of my translations have born my name on them. This has been both good (when one of the books won a major award in Hungary) and bad (when the publisher took an unproofed very preliminary draft translation I had shared with the author and ran it to press without my approval and without giving me a chance to make corrections). The latter case there has caused me grief for years since because people who buy the book in question have come to me and asked why I did such a bad job of proofing. That single experience led me on future jobs to make it a condition up front that I had sign-off.

Sometimes it has led to problems when a press tries to impose wrong conditions (a Hungarian press once refused to believe me, or the Chicago Manual of Style for that matter, that continued lines of poetry needed to be indented, not set flush left, and simply overrode me, making me look a little ignorant of poetic forms in my translation), but overall my clients have been understanding of my desire to have control, in part because they viewed translation as a collaborative process between author and translator and had respect for my contribution to the process. (So, for example, they would permit me to rewrite sections entirely if they just wouldn’t make sense to a non-Hungarian audience, and there it is important that I take responsibility for that drastic act of translation.)

At the risk of going off topic too much, I would just relate that the strangest translation problem I faced was one where a press in Hungary would not permit me to translate the names of places in Hungary prior to World War I into their modern place forms (e.g., Pozsony” as “Bratislava” or “Koloszvár” as “Cluj”). This is a non-issue for the Hungarian text because it was just using the Hungarian form (just as I would write “Munich” in English instead of “München”), but English speakers can’t be expected to know these names. I even offered to have text that read like “Kolozsvár (now Cluj, Romania)” and they refused. So they ended up with a text that used place names very few English speakers would know or find. The reasons had everything to do with political issues related to “Greater Hungary.” Despite that problem, I was happy to have my name attached to the book. (Interestingly, translation issues were raised in reviews of the book: see http://www.indiana.edu/~jofr/review.php?id=1049, and my response at http://www.indiana.edu/~jofr/review.php?id=1079

Best,

Arle

Andie Ho July 21, 2011 at 00:24

I’m even later to the party than Arle, but I find this idea fascinating. How exactly is this applied? Does the translator’s name literally appear at the bottom of the published translation? I look forward to reading more blog posts!

christinedurban July 21, 2011 at 10:55

Hi Andie, it’s fairly simple.
In documents where credits appear (usually in a block at the end: printer, photographer(s), layout),
- a freelancer inserts “English [or whatever language] translation: [your name].
- if you’re an agency that is inching into signing mode or that is convinced that its input is what counts (for whatever reason); “English translation: Acme Language Services”.
- if you’re an agency that buys in to both the spirit and letter of the approach: “English translation: [name of translator(s)] for [name of agency] — because you realize that your added value is such that nobody’s going to cut you out of the action, and you know that this type of acknowledgement will win you the loyalty of that particular translator (whose work you value, right?)
I’ve just finished some work on part of a website for a major French entity, will post the link as soon as that text goes live.
It goes without saying that you discuss this with the client up front; not meekly and humbly (a Dickensian “please sir, could I have some more?”), but certainly not arrogant and swaggering either. Just “this is how we work; it’s in your interest and mine.” Direct clients generally have no problem “getting it.” See you in the Maplecrest! (www.translateinthecatskills.com)

Steven Capsuto August 3, 2011 at 08:16

Lakshmi asked, “Steven, I’m just wondering. Suppose you’d signed the text. Would it still be OK by you if they screwed it up?”

The point is I don’t care whether they change it or not, and therefore in most cases I prefer not to sign it. I don’t wish to be an annoying, paternalistic, high-maintenance control freak of a language service provider. What they do to the translation once it’s sold is none of my business, as long as no one tries to hold me liable for changes I didn’t make.

Literary translations are a different matter. If my name is going to appear in print (and I would want it to), I don’t want changes made without my authorization. The same applies to any original writing I do as an author.

As for Chris’s analogy about the plumber who sends in a teenage apprentice: the analogy would work if I had someone else do the translation for me. But in this case we’re discussing what my clients do with the text they’ve bought. It’s not like the plumber having an underqualified apprentice do the work; it’s more like the plumber’s client having a teenage nephew mess with the professional’s work ex post facto. That doesn’t affect the plumber’s professionalism, since the plumber had nothing to do with the changes.

Valerij Tomarenko October 9, 2012 at 23:34

I realize I am late joining the comments, however I am just back from a translation conference http://bit.ly/UMW0h1 where Chris Durban showed the slide with this interview and the discussion thereof, so perhaps I will be not the only one to revive the subject. While I endorse whole-heartedly the idea of signing my translation (and have been trying to put in into practice, wherever applicable), I somehow miss (here and also in The Prosperous Translator) the analysis of the underlying right of the translator to his/her product. The right over translation memories evokes more controversy, but the right to one’s own plain translation is also far from consensus. It would certainly encourage more fellow translators to take responsibility, insist on signing their work (when debating this issue with a reluctant client) and state their ground more firmly if they could refer to some generally accepted definition of the translator’s right to his/her product. I am not aware of such definitions, standards or rules, but perhaps it’s just my own ignorance. This is not to be understood as another “yes-but” statement from a timid and uncertain contractor but as an attempt to find more arguments to make signing your name on the translation good practice.

Ulrike Heiß October 16, 2012 at 15:20

Today I was asked to submit my slides to the BDÜ Conference server where I stumbled upon Chris Durban’s slides with the link to this site. To me, reading this interview was like getting an official “go ahead” for something I had planned anyhow.

In a workshop held by two representatives of the Directorate General for Translation of the European Commission at the BDÜ Conference a small discussion took place about transparency in the translation supply chain. There I realized that almost every translator says they are delivering good quality – but few are willing to commit to certain quality standards or even to define quality (or, for example, to have their work proofread by a colleague). Having translators sign their work is a win-win situation: for the client (accountabiliy) and the translator (visibility).

A few months ago I drafted the standards that I would like to apply to my work and that I would like to hand out to my clients and to the colleagues I work with. I think, I will need to amend them and really go ahead with this!

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