In our daily and professional life, the word “quality” is often used as a synonym for “excellence” or “high standard”. If the word “quality” is used to define a job, it usually means that this job is accurate. However, as I have previously proposed (Eugeni 2020), diamesic translation modes such as professional reporting, transcription and subtitling differ depending on how we define accuracy. The definitions of reporting, transcription and subtitling may vary considerably depending on country, language, context and the level of language they refer to: phonetics, lexicogrammar, pragmatics or semiotics.
Given such a heterogeneous scenario, what does “quality” mean in diamesic translation? How can we relate to this issue without running the risk of considering quality simply as “the way I do it”? According to ISO 9000:2000, quality is the “degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirements”, where requirements are stated needs or expectations, generally implied or obligatory (Hoyle, 2011:10). In diamesic translation, needs and expectations are those of the user, which can be a specialised audience (as in court reporting), a general audience (as in parliamentary reporting), or an audience with special needs (as in TV subtitling/captioning or text-to-speech reporting).
The next question, then, is: how do we define quality standards that can be used as a reference by professionals? To answer this question, translation theorists have often adopted a linguistic approach: the translation should mirror the original text as much as possible. However, starting from the 1970s, German linguists Hans Vermeer and Katharina Reiss, among others, have created and developed the so-called skopostheorie (see e.g. Munday, 2001). According to this theory, the text that each translator produces is, first of all, an original production, as its production is determined by its skopos, or the reason why the text was produced.
This implies that the translation can never exactly mirror the original text. The original can only serve as a basis for the translation, which, by definition, serves a different function in terms of language, culture, or function. For example, a parliamentary report differs greatly from the MPs’ original speeches as it is aimed, not at debating a proposed law, but at informing citizens about how this was done by the MPs in a parliamentary session. This means that a professional reporter must produce a text that makes sense to—and is usable by—its intended readers. To do so, the reporter has to apply changes to the original text that are necessary to meet the goal of the report.
However, this apparent freedom that the professional reporter has in the diamesic translation process does not mean that the intention of the speaker can be altered. For example, because a report is to be read, a reporter can adjust the original speech to make it more readable, by adding punctuation or by omitting features of orality such as slips of the tongue, fillers, extra sounds, reformulations, etc. Or they can slightly adjust grammar—though there is no consensus about this —by correcting agreements between the different parts of a sentence, by selecting a better concordance, or even by increasing the register of a speaker. What is absolutely forbidden worldwide is changing the meaning the speaker intends to convey. All in all, the reporter is the translator of the meaning of a text, from the spoken language to the written language. How this is done depends on variables all falling into the wide and heterogeneous notion of quality.
Carlo Eugeni is lecturer in Audiovisual Translation at the University of Leeds (UK) and chairman of the Intersteno Scientific Committee.
Eugeni, C. (2020) “What’s in a name?” Tiro – The Journal of Professional Reporting and Transcription, 1.
Hoyle, D. (2011) ISO 9000 Quality Systems Handbook (4th ed.), Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. Munday, J. (2001) Introducing Translation Studies: Theories