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  • Writer's pictureClare Rainey

Ethics and Translation. An introduction.

I am starting my blogging experience as I mean to go on, by tackling the fairly meaty subject of ethics in translation. This first post will act as a brief overview of the subject area and will be followed by a series of related posts that will look in-depth at a variety of ethical issues within the field of translation.

Broadly speaking the term ‘ethics’ refers to the moral values governing our behaviour, that is, the making of decisions and the actions we take (ethics, n.d.). In translation, however, ethics has largely and historically been linked to notions of fidelity (Van Wyke, 2012, p548). The most up-to-date ITI Code of Professional Conduct provides members with a list of professional values to which they should subscribe. The first of these is to, ‘convey the meaning between people and cultures faithfully, accurately and impartially’ (ITI, 2016, p5). Later in the document, conflicts of interest are referred to with ‘complete impartiality’ the desired stance of the translator (ITI, 2016, p6). Yet, the translator is not and cannot be, a neutral conduit for a text. It is too simplistic to view the translator as no more than a passive medium through which the author’s supposed intended meaning is simply re-coded for the reader.

Postmodernist discourse offers an alternative to these constrictions in its assertation that meaning is not stable but constructed thus the essence of a translator will always be found within a translated text. It is equally important to note that translation is an intentional action with, therefore, a purpose and an end result. As such, translators are continually required to make decisions that will affect the function of the text. An increased focus on the importance of skopos then allows the translator to move away from the rigid confines of absolute fidelity to the author, which in turn confers a level of accountability on the translator (Vermeer, 1986, pp.191-201). It is this combination of the potential end effect of the translated text and the inevitable footprint of the translator that renders ethics central to translation theory.


ITI Code of Professional Conduct. (2016). Retrieved from:

Van Wyke, B. (2012). Translation and ethics. In C. Millán & F. Bartrina (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of Translation Studies (pp. 548-560). Retrieved from

Vermeer, H.J. (1989). Skopos and Commission in Translational Action. In L. Venuti (Ed.), The Translation Studies Reader. (pp. 191 - 202). Retrieved from:

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