How to be an impartial translator (and not die trying)

As part of the series of posts on translators’ qualities, today we will talk about impartiality, which is closely linked to empathy – the topic of our previous post. There is no clear line between both, as in order to be objective you must have some empathy, and in order to really walk in another’s shoes you must be impartial.

Our responsibility as translators forces us not to change the text in any way, and impartiality is a good ally to this end. To illustrate this situation, let us suppose that a vegan translator who is opposed to bullfighting has to translate “the bullfighter X did a great job killing two bulls in one afternoon”. Of course, the translator must ignore his ego and find the closest translation to the original text, which conveys the same enthusiasm and does not change its meaning. In this way, English, Russian, and Icelandic bullfight lovers will be able to share the same emotion as the person who wrote the original text in Spanish. The good news is that we will not always face such extreme situations.

There is no road to impartiality in translation: impartiality is the way. Tweet it!

How do you become impartial? Luckily, we are not machines, but we have many other resources. In this case, there is no need for complication. Things are much simpler. Thus, adapting one of Mahatma Gandhi’s most famous sayings, we could say: “There is no road to impartiality in translation: impartiality is the way”.

Probably, along the way we will find ourselves in a sort of fascinating bipolarity: on the one hand, our heads should remain as cool as cucumbers; on the other hand, we must focus on reflecting the intentions of the author of the text we are translating, bearing in mind that we shouldn’t change it in any way. Difficulty level: low.