Posts Tagged ‘audience’


What is quality in translation? This question is inevitably raised every time I go to a conference or a meet-up in the translation industry. I believe that in order to be able to answer this question we should first define what is a good translation. Sometimes progress in a discipline can only be made if the right question is being asked.

Although there are different schools of thought on this subject, many have argued that a good translation is one that conveys the same meaning of the source text.

However, this claim inevitably leads to the question, what is meaning? Linguists (and philosophers) have debated over this question for centuries without reaching an agreement.

I believe that meaning doesn’t only depend on the source text but also on the interaction with the intended audience, the purpose of the text and the specifications.

Audience and purpose of the text:

Playing on the tradition in elementary schools of having troubled students write a phrase several times on the blackboard as punishment, an American advertising company thinks of the phrase Do not tell lies repeated many times, for an ad about a copy machine for the US market.

After they run the ad in the US, they decide to use the same poster for the Japanese market and they ask a translator to translate the sentence into Japanese without any context or explanation. The translator returns a perfectly acceptable translation: 嘘をついてはいけません

Problem: in Japan, writing a phrase on a blackboard many times as a punishment in front of the entire class is not a common practice.

Result: the Japanese people who saw the ad were puzzled and did not understand it.

Therefore, if you ask me if “嘘をついてはいけません” is a quality translation of the source text “Do not tell lies”, the answer is yes. However, if you ask me if the Japanese translation fulfills the purpose of the source text, the answer is no.

In this case, the appropriate Japanese translation would probably have a Japanese (not necessarily a student) laboriously copying some phrase by hand, in a context that makes Japanese people think that a copying machine would be a good idea.

The example above illustrates why audience and purpose of the text are critical in translation. It also explain why specifications are equally important: The translator wasn’t given the correct instructions and did not know the conditions into which the translated text was being released.

Based on these considerations, the answer to the initial question of this post “What is quality in translation” is the following:

Translation quality is the degree to which a translation complies with the requirements of the agreed upon specifications.

ASTM F2575-06
The approach of agreeing upon project-specific specifications and applying those specifications is also implemented in the ASTM Standard Guide to Quality Assurance in Translation and Localization (published in 2006 as ASTM F2575), and is intended as a standard for the American translation industry. As the document’s name suggests, it is a guideline, informing stakeholders about what basic quality requirements are in need of compliance, rather than a prescriptive set of detail instructions for the translator.

Francesco Pugliano