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Translator Ethics: From Cooperation to Risk and Trust

Centre for Translation (September 24, 2020)

SEMINAR SERIES : Translation Seminar Series

MAJOR SPEAKER : Pym, Anthony
LENGTH : 112 min.
ACCESS : Open to all
SUMMARY : How does a translator know which strategy to use? What is the overall aim of our work between languages and cultures?

An ethics of cooperation posits that the goal of cross-cultural communication is to achieve mutual benefits for all communication partners, including the mediator. Any strategy is good if it achieves that aim in the particular situation concerned.

This goal has nevertheless been misunderstood in several areas of translation studies, warranting a careful restatement: cooperation does not assume or entail equality, neutrality or symmetry, merely the possibility of mutual benefits. Look for the benefits, then decide how to translate.

Cooperation can thereby superficially be contrasted with other possible goals: translation as a weapon for one-sided advancement, for example, or translation as a multiplier of otherwise unheard voices. It will be argued that a robust concept of cooperation can embrace such superficial alternatives, providing a foundation for further ways of analyzing cross-cultural communication.

First, if cooperation is the general goal, then we can talk about the risks of non-cooperation. The basic concepts of risk management then enable us to talk about why some translator performances are better than others (no need for fidelity, equivalence, or stale binarisms opposing one side to the other).

Second, if cooperation is the goal, then participants need to trust each other and trust the mediator. Trust itself becomes a necessary condition for the success of other goals, which may in turn require degrees of trust: understandings, then coordinated action, then behavior change (no need to assume an essentialist Skopos). This talk will thus seek to connect a restated ethics of cooperation with more recent models of risk management, trust, and behavior change, mostly with examples from COVID-19 communications.

(Response by Professor Anthony Pym to the questions raised in Chat during the online seminar can be found at  [Go to the full record in the library's catalogue]

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