Client obligation!

As a translator I am ALWAYS asked to transform some meaning from one language into another. That’s what I am paid for. And clients therefore EXPECT me to provide “perfect” translations. However, this may not always be as simple as it sounds (or some dictionaries try to make believe). For example, the other day I was asked to translated some materials for a company intern presentation. I just got a list of words, no context. And the terms are “insider jargon” that cannot be understood without additional explanation and, naturally, do not in any dictionary. A while AFTER I submitted my translation WITH a number of questions, the client provided some of the required specific information and a few links to relevant websites. But before I obtained this information, the agency asked me to go over the text again and “carefully consider” the selection of tranlation terms. I wrote them back that I am always carefully considering what I do AND can rely on 20 years of experience. Yet, that does not mean that I can always decide all by myself what is the “most appropriate” translation for certain terms. The agency then continued “We can understand your feeling of confusion regarding the lack of sufficient background knowledge …” Yet, this is NOT a matter of feeling. Clients are trying to communicate = share meaning with other people. My job is it to help them, but use ONLY THE WRITTEN WORD. That means, there is no gesturing, body language, voice pitch etc. Maybe  a few graphics or even pictures. Still, the written text carries most of the message (as opposed to spoken language!). In that case the words MUST have a well defined meaning readily understood by both parties. If those meanings are left mostly or entirely to assumption(s) by the various parties that try to share the information, a meaningful communication is close to impossible. It might be of interest to hear what specialists like cyberneticians, computer scientists or just plain linguists would have to say about this matter. (Scientists like to DEFINE everything they are going to do/say, in order to eliminate ambiguity.) By the way, this very foundation of information exchange had already been established and of pivotal importance in ancient Greek philosophy! If the source text / material is not clear, people should NOT blame the translator for doing a poor job, because s/he can work only with the material provided. (Actually, in my special fields I provide a lot more, even correct errors of the manuscript during the translation.) So, if the original material is ambiguous or of poor quality, you cannot really expect anything but a poor quality translation or even outright nonsense. A carpenter cannot build a nice house with rotten wood! In the document mentioned above almost none of the problems encounter could be solved by using dictionaries, because it was INSIDER LANGUAGE that does not appear in any dictionary! It needed the topic specific information from the client – first hand!  So, I think it would be only fair that a translator can demand of the client (through the agency) to provide clear (both in meaning AND visual appearance) source texts AND whatever subject specific information they have. This is an obligation the clients have, when they wish to obtain translations that are well received by the people for which they are intended!