La diceria del traduttore (english version)

Once upon a time there was a translator, a good one, a certified translator from Italian into Arabic who had also his Italian Language certified. He was one of those who have an ethic, a professional one for sure, but also a personal one. One day, the coordinator of a translation’s project asks him for his CV and a copy of all he has translated till then because of an important project. So does the translator. Mister X, I will call him like this from now on, reads everything, says to the translator “Very good” and proposes him a translation job. Not an odd one, THE translation of a life. The translator has to buy himself a copy of the novel to translate and after having read it, he tells Mr. X it is impossible to translate a book like this in the two asked months. The Italian novel, apart from being written in a high Italian language, has words and expressions in English, German, Latin, it contains references to world literature, classical poetry, classical music and so on. That’s why terms of delivery are renegotiated and Mr. X informs the translator in the end that the publisher will send him the contract.

To translate the novel the translator works almost a year a though job and, upon Mr. X’s request, he sends him the chapters as soon as he translates them. After having translated far beyond half the novel he receives the contract, written only in Arabic and begins to think there is something wrong. The contract states at point Jim that the publisher can decide not to pay the job:

ج.  يوافق السيد  […] على ترجمة الكتاب المذكور  كما  يوافق بأن […] تمتلك الحق لتقرر وفقا لتقديرها الخاص ما إذا كان المترجم قد وفر مستوى جودة الترجمة المطلوبة منه أم لا، وعلى ذلك تستطيع أن تعد العقد لاغيا دون أية التزامات من […] إزاء المترجم إذا أخل بأي بند من بنود العقد، ولا يحق له أن يطالب بأية تعويضات أو مكافآت

“Mr. […] accepts to translate the novel cited and he accepts also that […] has the right to decide upon personal considerations if the translation is of quality or not and therefore […] can consider this contract null without any engagement towards the translator if this does not respect the contract’s terms and the translator] does not have the right to ask for a reward”

He begins to suspect something but what can he do? He has already translated much more than the half of the book. He ends the translation and sends it.

You can easily figure out the end: this translation has been refused. So Mr X writes to the translator:


صغتَ الترجمة بلغة فجة ومبتذلة أسلوبها أقرب إلى الدارجة الضحلة منه إلى اللغة الأدبية. […]

 نظرا للضعف الهيكلي في مجمل العمل   […] تقرّر  رفض النص لأنه لم يستوف شروط الجودة المطلوبة.


“You did the translation in a trivial and rough language, and its structure is closer to a lower dialect form than to written Arabic […] in the end the text structure is weak so it has been decided to refuse it as not corresponding to the quality standard required”

Our translator is shocked. He sends his translation to an Arab professor who teaches in a University in the Arab World. This is a Professor of Arabic Language, he himself writer and poet, who knows Arabic language very well. Not someone who has a degree in Agronomy and teaches Arabic. This one reads the translation and writes to the translator what follows:


بدون مجاملة أقول لك وانا زعيم بأنني أتقن العربية إلى حد كبير جدا، إن لغتك قد فاجأتني إلى حد لم يخطر ببالي وقد راجعت ترجمات اخرى قبل ترجمتك وأشهد أن لغتك كانت أرقى بكثير مما راجعت، وأنها أبعد ما تكون عن وصف هذا الناشر المزعوم.

كل ما اعتقده هو ان الناشر كان يبحث عن ذريعة ما كي لا ينشر الترجمة.

لا يهمك هذا فأنت وجهودك أكبر بكثير مما يقول صاحبنا.


“I tell you without exaggerating – and I am aware to know Arabic very very well – that your language surprised me in a way I didn’t expect; I revised other translations before and I assure you that your language is much better than those I have revised and far away from what described this supposed editor. I think he was searching for an excuse to refuse publishing the translation. Don’t worry because your competence is much higher than what our friend says”

I also think he was looking for an excuse.

Here the story ends. Our translator was not paid. After having deposited his work by a lawyer he sent a letter to Mr X and too the publisher warning them not to use a single part of his translation. But in the end the fact is that he has not been paid.

My commentary (with final surprise)

1. Who knows what I’m talking about will recognize the story’s players. For these, and for those who know Arabic, I post here the first chapter of the translation, so they can make their own considerations. What is sure is that this project was highly advertised in the press and on the net, and I wonder why the Italian partners of the project did not care of verifying the contract’s conditions for translators, as in this contract they are treated as slaves. As usual people boast themselves at the somebody else’s expense.

2. The translator was imprudent. He should have begun the translation only after having seen the contract. Anyway I invite translators who read me also if they do not know Arabic to sustain this translator.

3. Final surprise and it could not be different as we live in Italy: Mr X –i.e. the one who edits these translations from Italian into Arabic is him. Yes him. Fantasy is often overcome by reality.

4. I decided to do something. Because it’s time to say that’s enough! Therefore I invite all who read me to advertise this post the most and to send an e-mail to the following addresses:

[email protected]

[email protected]

with the following text:

Dear Sirs,

I think you could find following link of your interest.

I read the post and I firmly ask for paying the translator involved.

Best regards

Asking for paying the translator and linking to this post. You should do this not for this single translator but for the respect required to a professional worker.

Maybe for the first time the moral and material damage will be healed. And for the first time we can stop people who destroy the professional and private life of other people. It deals with rendering dignity to people who work honestly.

“La giustizia non esiste per se stessa, ma solo nei rapporti reciproci e nei luoghi dove si stipula il patto di non fare e non ricevere danno” (Epicuro,Massime XXXII)

Una risposta a “La diceria del traduttore (english version)”

I commenti sono chiusi.