On Ethics: Conflict with the Code?

This panel will discuss ethical issues for translators/interpreters in a range of situations and invite input from the audience. The mix of presentations on interpreting and literary translation deliberately seeks to rethink the habitual separation of activities seen as very different and thus, having different ethical demands.

Chair: Jean Anderson, Victoria University of Wellington


Trudy Agar, University of Auckland:
Translating and Interpreting with Asylum Seekers: Facing Ethical Conflicts in the New Zealand Context

One of the key principles that informs our work as translators and interpreters is that of impartiality. Unlike the Code of Ethic’s principle of accuracy, which implicitly recognises the practical limits of performance, the principle of impartiality in our Code is stated as absolute.
Like accuracy, however, the degree to which translators and interpreters will be able to “remain unbiased”, depends on their mental and emotional state, familiarity with the context and on the environment in which the communication is taking place. Impartiality further depends on how much they know about their interlocutors, their personal opinion about them, as well as on their own personal code of ethics. There are situations in which the NZSTI Code of Ethics may very well come into conflict with our personal code. I will argue that impartiality is best understood as an ideal toward which we should strive, just as we strive to achieve the most accurate translation of a text in any given project.
I will discuss some of the challenges faced when translating and interpreting with Francophone asylum seekers, in the hope of better understanding the role we play in legal proceedings and the risks associated with such work.

Sian Robyns, Victoria University of Wellington:
Ethics in Literary Translation

Loyalty, fidelity, responsibility: the task of the translator is frequently described in terms freighted with moral and ethical imperatives. And with good reason – in fields such as medicine, law and commerce, translations can have a material impact on outcomes for individuals. Codes of Ethics adopted by professional organisations in these domains include such core principles as professionalism, accuracy, impartiality, confidentiality, competence, role clarity and solidarity.
But what does ‘ethical’ mean in the context of the creative endeavour which is literary translation? Do concerns for the accuracy of the text conflict with the desire to produce a translation which is also a work of literature? Can this conflict be resolved in different ways depending on genre? Is there more to it than the timely delivery of clean, accurate copy? Sian Robyns will discuss her experience of translating the literary and personal memoir, Le Complexe de Caliban by the French writer and essayist Linda Lê.

Francesca Benocci, Victoria University of Wellington:
Is it even ethical to translate poetry in the first place?

According to many scholars, translators and poets from Dante Alighieri to Roman Jakobson, translating poetry is simply an impossible task. This viewpoint is based on the assumption that no translated poem could ever be accepted as equivalent to its original. From a conflicting point of view, others maintain that poetry translation is not only possible, but also there are multiple ways of doing it. After all, poetry has been and continues to be translated. The crucial question, therefore, is not “Can one translate poetry?” but rather “How does one translate poetry?”― a shift underscored by a metaphysical understanding of translation. Bearing this in mind, are there ethical boundaries which the poetry translator encounters, particularly with regard to the often conflicting requirements that preserving the form and content of the original work present? If so, to what extent and at what cost can the translator of poetry trespass such boundaries? Francesca Benocci will discuss her experience as a poetry translator using as a case study a poem by the NZ author Hinemoana Baker.



About the Presenters

Trudy Agar Trudy Agar is a senior lecturer and head of the French Section at the University of Auckland, and a translator specialising in cases involving Francophone refugees. Her research focuses on Francophone women’s writing, violence in literature, love in literature and postcolonial autobiography. She has also presented research on the impartiality and invisibility of translators and interpreters.
Francesca Benocci Francesca Benocci is a PhD candidate in Literary Translation Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and holds an MA in Literary Translation and Text Editing and a BA in Languages, Literatures and Cultures both from the University of Siena. Her doctoral dissertation features an annotated anthology of contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand women poets in her Italian translation, and a critical discussion of the ethical and aesthetic issues specific to poetry translation. She is also poet, short-story writer, editor and blogger. Her poetry translations appear regularly in Journal of Italian Translation (US) and Atelier (Italy). She has recently coedited Translation, Transnationalism, World Literature (Novi Ligure: Edizioni Joker, 2015, 426pp, in print), a volume of essays by established and emerging scholars from around the world on current issues in Translation Studies.
Sian Robyns  Sian Robyns is a PhD candidate in Literary Translation Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Her doctoral project is a translation of and critical commentary on Linda Lê’s Le Complexe de Caliban. Sian turned to translation after a career as a journalist and columnist, a parliamentary press secretary and a strategic communications specialist in central government. She holds an MA with Distinction in Literary Translation Studies and a BA Honours (First Class) in French from Victoria University of Wellington, and a BA in Politics and History from the University of Waikato.