Understanding institutional translation

Understanding institutional translation

  1. Understanding institutional translation


Translation within a Salesian context will almost always be a case of ‘institutional translation’, if we understand that term to mean translating in or for a specific organisation, in this case the Society of St Francis de Sales/Salesian Society/Salesians of Don Bosco.

Is institutional translation so different from any other? Perhaps not at a basic level, but it certainly has different characteristics (here referred to the SDB institutional context):

  • There are six languages that ANS and sdb.org consider to be the ‘official’ languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Polish. These are not listed here in any specific order other than to acknowledge Italian as the accepted prime language of the Congregation and often, but not always, the original source text.

  • There are or should be (since these often do not exist) glossaries, style guides and other conventions or ‘house rules’. Individual translators usually have their own glossaries and house rules, but there may not be many common ones. We know that the EAO Region certainly has a published glossary/dictionary for the Italian-English pair, and other internal pairs or triples (e.g. Chinese-Italian-English) in some provinces, though we do not know the extent to which they are used. An English style guide exists online (sdb.org, SDL, BoscoLink), though we do not know if it is followed.

  • There will be reference documents (hundreds of them in a document-heavy Congregation such as the Salesians of Don Bosco), and these need to be consulted in every instance where source documents use them or refer to them explicitly or implicitly.

There are also some particularly salient aspects of the Salesian institutional translator’s work that make it different from non-institutional translation:

  • The translator’s personality or ‘voice’ needs to be less obvious or not obvious at all. Just as the original document belongs essentially to the institution (even if from the Rector Major so long as he is writing in that role), so does the translation. If the texts are the ‘choir’, then the translator is the ‘conductor’ – and readers have come to listen to the music, not watch the conductor!

  • Translated texts need to be consistent in stylistic terms, especially if the document is a large one and has been translated by several people (as has been the case with some major documents from the Formation Department). The only way to ensure stylistic consistency is by following agreed-upon conventions in terminology and style. A style guide and a terminological list or database are truly essential for institutional translation.

  • RMG’s working method needs to be followed. This can often mean (as has been the case with follow-up material from GC28) that one may be translating a document that is still going through a negotiated process – obviously the case for day-by-day translation during a General Chapter, but also sometimes the case for documents that follow it. There will be corrections and updates. Hence the need to maintain consistency of style, avoidance of elegant prose on the part of one or other individual translator which might make a version stand out (discordant note in the choir, or is it change of conductor mid-performance?).

  • Adherence to precedence. Given the number of existing institutional documents, any reference to them has to be followed up, and that prior version adhered to, not re-translated for today. This sometimes means working with bad grammar, even mistranslation from earlier times! Of course, while the rule is to follow precedent, there can be good reasons for deviating from precedent, and these have to be discussed.

  • In institutional translation it is not the case that one simply translates what is in front of one. There might be an original error. It then becomes the translator’s duty to alert the author or other responsible individual to the error, asking that it be given consideration. It would be inappropriate to fix the error without this discussion – it may be fixed wrongly!

1 All of which raise the question of quality

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2 Any conclusions we can draw?

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