Ewan McGregor and Bruce Willis – Translator’s Blues

Ewan McGregor and Bruce Willis – Translator’s Blues

Time and again sloppy, careless translations, either written or visual, hardcopy or virtual, practically scream out at readers or listeners from websites, movie subtitles, marketing copy, news headlines, articles, books, or wherever they may be found. This irks me no end, as I am sure it does all truly professional colleagues, because it is nothing but a consequence, or fallout – a collateral damage, if you will – of the quest for the lowest quote, and a total devil-may-care attitude towards quality that has become a common trait with some outsourcers or agencies.

I feel that there is little to be done against such poor business and professional practices, outside of denouncing them in the strongest possible terms, and as frequently and by as many professionals as possible. Not only is it a discredit to translation as a serious profession – and one of enormous import, for where would we be today, knowledge-wise, without the gigantic contribution of translators? – but also a show of total disrespect for the target user of the end product.

Let me cite some cases in point to illustrate this “anything-goes” attitude toward translation. In “Deception” (USA, 2008), a movie starred by Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams, the character played by Ewan McGregor, Jonathan McQuarry, is an accountant performing corporate audits. In one of these audits, he comes in and is welcomed by an executive of the company, who sits him at a desk and tells him to ask the assistant controller for anything he, McQuarry, may need. All right, this is the setting. Now, how do you think that “assistant controller” was translated in the Spanish subtitles? It was translated as “Asistente de control”. Which is totally wrong. I should know, for I was, myself, a Bank’s controller’s assistant (ergo, an “asistente de control“) for almost two decades…..To explain it in simple terms: what McQuarry was told, in the movie, was audit SOP, or standard operating procedure: any documentation that he might need to see in the course of the audit, would be supplied by the “subgerente financiero” or the “subgerente de control” — i.e., a deputy controller of sorts, not a controller’s assistant, i.e., a controller’s secretary of sorts. It might be argued that the distinction does not affect the outcome of events in the movie; quite true. But it might affect the translation if it were part of another context; say, an accounting or audit report.

Which reminds me of yet another subtitling “jewel”: in “Live Free or Die Hard”, (USA, 2007), starring Bruce Willis, repeatedly (that is, definitely more than once during the movie) Fort Knox was translated in the subtitles as “Fort Kong” – how ignorant can you get? I refuse to insult my readership by expounding on this blunder…..

There is a widespread misconception going around, among self-declared translators and public alike, that it is enough to know or speak two – or more – languages to be able to translate professionally. Wrong. As completely wrong as stating that knowing how to write is sufficient to turn you into a writer. A huge amount of knowledge and skills must be acquired and are involved in being and becoming a translator – which is why, along with experience, professional credentials should always be required. While credentials may not be, per se, a guarantee of quality, they certainly go a long way towards assuring end clients that a well thought-out, researched product will be delivered. Something worth their money.

So, I rest my case. I just had to get it off my chest, and keep harping on the fact that quality is, and should remain to be, paramount.