I have never had a problem with editing translations produced by other translators. Nor for that matter have I had a problem, in principle, with others editing my own work. As far as I’m concerned this is just good practice; most professional activities require a second set of eyes to ensure quality and to catch those little booboos that crop up every so often. Over the years, of course, I have had to lock horns with overzealous editors who missed the point of editing and tried to impose their own stylistic preferences on my translations when they were supposed to be looking for inaccuracies, checking terminology etc.
The thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion that sometimes the editor is secretly a little miffed that they weren’t asked to translate the text and that they are “just” the editor” but that’s a different story.
This idea of editing is an essential part of ensuring the quality of translations and we owe it to our clients and to ourselves to do this. Recently however, over on the Translation Journal blog I discovered that there is something of a question mark over whether translators should edit the work of others. To be honest, I finished reading that post with the feeling that the author and the person who posted a comment were just a couple of grumpy sods. You get them in every profession and you get used to the way they can see the negative in pretty much anything. One of the conceivable abuses of editing that the article mentions is an agency who is not willing to pay the translation rates of a good translator so instead pays the lower rates of a “bad” translator in the knowledge that the “good” translator can be paid for 2-3 hours to fix the mistakes and stylistic infelicities in the translation.
So basically, you’re getting a good translator’s translation, without paying for it. As cynical as this might seem, I have thought on occasion that this was being done to me – simply because the translations I was asked to edit were so bad and involved so much work to bring them up to scratch. I did raise it with the client and it turned out that the translator was actually a trainee in-house translator so my edits were serving two purposes: fix the translation, obviously and also “train” the translator because I tend to include comments and explanations for my changes (force of habit from being a lecturer).
There are various benefits for editing another translator’s work but recently I’ve been wondering about the ethics of self-revision. I have been asked on several occasions to do “translate and edit” jobs. You may be asking how this type of job differs from a typical translation job. Shouldn’t all translators check their work? Of course they should and the vast majority do carefully proof their translations before they send them back to the client. This type of job is different because the client was an agency and their clients, large multinationals, specifically requested translation and review, which is a separate service in addition to the revision a translator does as a matter of course. The customer assumes that one person will translate and another will edit.
For whatever reason, the agency decided that it was preferable/acceptable to have the translator do both but I wonder whether this is sensible. There must be ethical, moral and possibly even legal questions to be answered. Is it the same as doctors treating themselves?
You could argue that self-editing is as questionable as self-prescribing medication. But is it? Lots of us have seen the curmudgeonly Dr House on TV throw fistfuls of painkillers down his throat while wrestling with the ever-changing facts of complex medical dilemmas. There’s even the doctor in France who “cured” his alcoholism by prescribing himself insanely massive doses of muscle relaxants so there’s obviously some mileage in this self-medication gig but as a translator can you really spot and fix the types of errors that an editor can when you’re reading you own work? Most of us know that when you’re looking at the same piece of text for a long period you go a little snow-blind and stop noticing even obvious things.
By the same token, if you make a mistake because of a lack of knowledge, for instance, you can’t really be expected to spot it afterwards can you? But ethical quandaries for the translator aside, I wonder whether this practice is not just a little bit dishonest. By paying for a second pair of eyes to look at the translation shouldn’t the client get just that, not just the same pair of eyes but with a different hat on? Instead of getting a doctor, the client might unwittingly be buying snake oil from the back of a wagon.