Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Professional Translator versus Expert:Translator: the Case of Malta

This blog has always distinguished between the terms professional translator and expert translator. The defining characteristic of the former is practising translation as a means of livelihood; but professional translators also have other important characteristics that were listed in a post last year. To retrieve it, enter professional in the Search This Blog box on the right. The same post also discussed the difference between the professional and the expert. The general public, on the other hand, conflates the two under the single label professional translator. Understandably so, because if you pay professionals good money for their work, you expect it to be of expert quality. However, those of us with experience in the profession know that 'it ain't necessarily so.' This is possible and even widespread because translating isn't by and large a regulated profession. There are sectors of it that are regulated, for instance court interpreting, but even then only in certain jurisdictions. Elsewhere there is nothing to prevent any bilingual setting herself or himself up as a translator or interpreter and touting for business. Therefore translatologists should be more discriminating in their terminology than the general public.

Recent and not-so-recent events in Malta highlight the danger of confusion, Maltese (a derivative of Arabic with an admixture of Italian) used to be a little-known language outside its native island, but its profile and that of its translators rose overnight when Malta joined the European Union in 2002 and thus Maltese became one of the Union's official languages with rights of use in Brussels, Strasbouurg etc. However, the sudden elevation caught the country unprepared and complaints followed. It's led to situations like the following:
"When Magistrate Aaron Bugeja entered the court room, lawyer Giannella de Marco, who together with Steve Tonna Lowell was representing Mr Bailey [the Englishman who was accused] asked for the identity of the interpreters.
The court provided Dr de Marco with a list of practicing lawyers and a woman who was qualified in French rather than English.
After consulting her client, Dr de Marco requested a professional simultaneous interpreter who would be qualified as an interpreter in Maltese and English and insisted this was important in the interest of justice.
Magistrate Bugeja pointed out that while Dr de Marco had a right to this request, it would prolong proceedings. The case was put off to a later date."
That was in 2016. Here's the latest, from the Times of Malta.
"What is wrong with the training of the so-called qualified translators in Malta? What is wrong with the training of the so-called qualified [i.e. professional] translators in Malta?… Why is it that incompetence reigns supreme in Malta, especially when it comes to official documents? Why can they not train people properly? How dare people even translate from or into languages they do not understand correctly and do not master?"
This seems to reflect badly on the country's principal training institution, which is the Department of Translation at the University of Malta. But the Department blames the authorities.
"The lack of a warrant [i,e, accreditation] system for professional translators and interpreters meant unqualified individuals could produce sub-par work for use in official documents and court cases, staff and students at the University's Department of Translation have warned.
In a statement decrying the existing unregulated state of affairs, members of the Department of Translation, Terminology & Interpreting Studies called for Malta to introduce an accreditation system for trained translators. It is unacceptable that one of the highest institutions in Malta, and a pillar of our democracy, is resorting to people who are not qualified to act as interpreters and translators," they said."
The situation isn't likely to improve in the near future. EU member states have until August 2018 to compile a list of professionals certified to translate public documents. "There has as yet been no attempt to compile such a list,"

There are many other places where the situation is no better. Our point is not that Malta is particularly bad but that translatologists seeking accuracy in their research must beware of equating professional translator with expert translator.

Historical footnote
When Napoleon's fleet sailed fro Toulon in the summer of 1798 on his ill-fated but scientifically enriching expedition to Egypt, he made a stopover of a week on Malta. He foresaw that he would need to promulgate his proclamations to the Egyptians in Arabic.
"He brought hs own translators and interpreters with him, including some Muslim sailors whom he had captured in Malta. These 'foreign' translators prepared the Arabic circular that Napoleon distributed on landing in Alexandria, a circular designed to reassure the Egyptian populace and to incite them to rebel against their rulers. The circular, like much of what these foreign translators produced, was grammatically unsound and stylistically poor." (Mona Baker citing al-Jabarti, the leading Egyptian chronicler of the period)
 As a result it was met with derision.

Call for professional interpreter delays Papaqli case hearing: lawyer argues that client had right to professional interpreter. Times of Malta, 28 October 2'16,

Marie Paule Wagner. Incompetent translators. Times of Malta, 15 February 2018.

Mona Baker. Arabic tradition. In M. Baker et al.(eds.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. Routledge, 1998, p.322, for the Napoleonic episode.

University of Malta in Maltese.


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