Volume 17, No. 3 
July 2013

  Izak Morin


Front Page

Select one of the previous 64 issues.


Index 1997-2013

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
My Career in Translation and Interpreting
by Bruni Johnson

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant and Worker Bee
Rosetta Stone and Translation Rates
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  In Memoriam
In Memoriam: Maggie H. Rowe
by Walter Bacak, CAE
In Memoriam: Prof. Yuanxi Ma
by Di Wu

  Nuts and Bolts of Translation
Naive Translation Equivalent
by Midhat Ridjanović, PhD

Translation and Politics
Unduly Free Translation and Its Consequences
by Izak Morin

Literary Translation
Two New Chinese Translations of Hamlet Introduced and Compared
by Xiaonong Wang
Translation and Symbolism in Drama: Four Case Studies of W.B. Yeats’s Plays
by Mehdi Ghobadi

Financial Translation
Los efectos de la crisis en el sistema financiero europeo: repercusiones en el mercado de la traducción financiera
Elena Alcalde Peñalver

Translator Education
New Trends and Challenges in the Translation Profession: Coaching for Translators
by Dra. Concepción Mira Rueda
Information Management in the Translation Process
by Luis D. González León

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal
Translation & Politics

Unduly Free Translation and Its Consequences

by Izak Morin
Cenderawasih University (Papua-Indonesia)


This article discusses the impact of unduly free translations on both translator and his/her employer institution. Although this kind of translation is considered unacceptable for some reasons, it was done by two translators for different purposes. The translator who works for the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) deliberately adds some information considered inappropriate by the court of law in his or her translation material for security and political purposes, while the one who works for the Chinese copper company Xiangguang was criticized by the Australian company when he or she professionally explains the truth behind the hidden business information for commercial purposes. These cases appeared in the Australia-based newspaper—Sydney Morning Herald—on March 13, 2010 and May 1, 2010, respectively.

The analysis of both cases indicates that unduly free translation is intentionally used to serve particular purposes. The institution’s intended purpose accomplished by the translator resulted in some positive and negative consequences affecting the six parties involved in both cases. The positive consequences mostly refer to financial and psychological benefits whereas the negative ones relate to financial loss, violation of legal principles and institution values, and damage to reputation.

1. Introduction

n practice, there are three main kinds of translations: “literal translation,” “meaning-based translation,” and “unduly free translation” (Larson 1984, pp.15-17). Larson argues that “unduly free translations are not considered acceptable translations for most purposes if they add extraneous information not in the source text” (p.17). However, it can be argued that these translations can be considerably acceptable if the translator responsibly adds accurate and appropriate extraneous information to his or her work. This additional information may be intentionally left implicit by the author of the source text because he or she may assume that his or her readers already have that information. Therefore, it is the task of the translator to decide what necessary implicit or hidden information in the source text should be explicated in the translation. This explication can have both positive and negative consequences. On the other hand, consequences also ensue if such additional information is not implicitly stated but it is made up for a certain purpose.

2. Material and Method

The goal of each institution and/or translator is to produce a translation for a purpose.
Referring to the topic of this article, a search for electronic documents was conducted for any related articles, stories, reviews and comments between 2010 and 2012. In this respect, the four Australian electronic newspapers Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, the Daily Telegraph, and the Age were selected as the primary sources of information in the search. Reading techniques such as skimming and intensive reading were mostly used to classify the relevant documents during the search. The result reveals that only two articles from the Sydney Morning Herald are relevant to the topic. The first one is in http://www.smh.com.au/business/cudeco-blames-media-translation-for-quotes-20100312 . This is a business-related translation issue that appeared in the e-news on March 13, 2010. The second is in http://www.smh.com.au/world/accusations-lost-in-translation-20100430. It relates to security and political translation issues published in the e-news on May 1, 2010. Both documents were carefully studiedwith respect to unduly free translation and the results are presented in Section 3, followed by a discussion in Section 4, and concluded in Section 5. The following sub-sections are a summary of the documents.

2.1. The Chinese media, translator, and unduly free translation

The Chinese media reported that the Australian copper company CuDeco had a deal to sell a 15 per cent stake in its Rocklands copper project in Queensland to Xiangguang Copper, which was expected to generate a revenue of $960 million a year. This report released CuDeco from the strict disclosure ruloes of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and caused its share price to rise early that week, leading to an initial ASX query and a more detailed investigation later. The company was allowed to continue trading in the ASX and, by the end of the day, its shares had risen 26 cents to $4.74. Referring to such a financial loss, CuDeco blamed the Chinese media and its translator. CuDeco briefed the ASX that the Chinese media got the message wrong when quoting its chairman, Wayne McCrae. “He did not mention revenue numbers." Mr McCrae alleged that he had spoken very, very briefly to the media and that a translator was involved. On the issue of a 15 per cent stake in Rocklands being sold to Xiangguang Copper, CuDeco said that it had talked to the company but that the talks had not focused on any particular figures and there was no deal as had been reported in the Chinese media” (Barry FitzGerald, Sydney Morning Herald, March 13, 2010).

2.2. ASIO, translator, and unduly free translation.

Based on the information collected from various intelligence sources, ASIO branded Sheikh Mansour Leghaei, the Sydney sheikh, a threat to national security. He arrived in Australia in February 1994 on a three-month business visa to act as an inspector of halal meat exported from Australia to Iran. He was sponsored by both an Australian export company and an Iranian import firm, but his position also required the endorsement of the Iranian government, which vouched for his authority as a sheikh and inspector. However, for security reasons, he was suspected as an agent of terrorists. As a consequence of ASIO’s report, on his return to Sydney Airport in July 1995 after a brief holiday to Iran, Leghaei’s bag was searched by airport officials. His luggage included $10,000 in Australian currency which had not been declared. He was taken to a room and body-searched. While there, officers took an exercise book from his bag and copied about half of its 150 pages. The book contained his notes when he was a university student in Iran. He quoted scholars on the subject of jihad. This book would become very significant. But it was not until 2002, when he filed legal action against ASIO because there was a disturbing translation that suggested he supported violent jihad, quoted by Feneley as follows “It did not resemble my work,'' Leghaei says. The translation, he says, added inflammatory material about killing infidels. It listed the ''enemies of Islam'' and said: ''It is a Muslim's basic duty to wipe out the above classes.'' Leghaei cites this as an example of many offending lines that did not appear in his original notes. ''The word 'infidel' doesn't appear in my book.'' (Rick Feneley, Sydney Morning Herald, May 1, 2010).

3. Results

The study shows that the unduly free translation had both positive and negative effects on the parties involved. Those effects are presented below.

3.1. Positive Effects.

3.1.1. Financial Benefit

Two Australian institutions financially benefited from the unduly free translation. First, the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) took advantage of the figures revealed by the Chinese media to trade with CuDeco. As a result, this company’s shares rose 26 cents to $4.74. This was a significant profit gained from the trading. Second, the Australian Court also gained financial benefits from ASIO and the victim for its legal services. Besides, the lawyers were also paid by ASIO and the victim.

3.1.2. Psychological Benefit

Unlike CuDeco, Xiangguang Copper accepted the announcement of the figures reported in the media, although such figures had not been discussed in the business meeting between the Australian and the Chinese companies. In addition, the journalist and the translator involved in the reporting were not accused of releasing wrong figures. This implies that the Xiangguang Copper was happy about those figures because they would motivate the company to work harder to earn such revenue. It is a promising future in this business. Thus, by having these figures publicly disclosed, the company, the government, and the Chinese community may feel confident that such an overseas business venture is a successful one.

3.2. Negative Effects.

3.2.1. Financial Loss

CuDeco, ASIO. and the Sheikh suffered a financial loss. CuDeco’s shares rose 26 cents to $4.74 after the ASX traded with the CuDeco on the basis of future expected revenues. Meanwhile, ASIO and the Sheikh paid some amount of money to the court and their lawyers for their services. ASIO paid one-third of the victim’s legal cost—AUD$30,000—after the court decided that the unduly free translation made by ASIO’s translator was flawed.

3.2.2. Bad Reputation

Xiangguang Copper’s translator, ASIO’s translator, ASIO’s management, and the Sheikh were considered irresponsible in their respective positions. Both Xiangguang Copper’s translator and ASIO’s translator were accused of adding wrong extraneous information to their translations. Meanwhile, the credibility of ASIO as an institution and of the Sheikh as a Muslim leader and as an Iranian import firm's representative may have been ruined by the work of ASIO’s translator. Indeed, this court decision may damage the leadership and the professionalism of both the intelligence analyst and the information collection officer working on this particular case. Their language knowledge and skills may also be put in doubt by the public.

3.2.3. Violation of Business Culture in Australia

Disclosing the expected revenue to the public through the media is common in the Chinese business culture. But in Australia, this is not the case because “the mere mention of Chinese interest in an Australian resource project has an effect nowadays—even if there is no deal on the table” (Barry FitzGerald, Sydney Morning Herald, March 13, 2010). Therefore, the unduly free translation of the business minutes of a meeting between the Australian and the Chinese companies violated the business culture in Australia.

3.2.4. Violation of Institution Values

ASIO was established in 1949 as Australia’s national security intelligence service. “Its main role is to gather information and produce intelligence that will enable it to warn the government about activities or situations that might endanger Australia’s national security” ( http://www.asio.gov.au). This role is played by both the Intelligence Analyst and Information Collection Officer. A translator known as a professional linguist in ASIO will specialize in one of these two roles following completion of the Intelligence Development Program (IDP). He or she will transcribe and translate large volumes of communications from foreign languages into English. Close collaboration with linguists in other language groups is necessary in order to complete multilingual tasks. Some key parts of this role are (a) derive information of intelligence value from the material; (b) evaluate and report on the broader context of material processed, and explain subtle differences in meaning; (c) produce daily written reports in clear and concise English. In addition, the linguist may also demonstrate through his or her daily performance two of the four important values to ASIO such as excellence and integrity. For excellence, he or she should produce high-quality, relevant, and timely advice and display strong leadership and professionalism. For integrity, he or she should be ethical and work without bias while maintaining confidentiality and security in his or her work. In fact, the Australian court’s decision implies that ASIO’s translator had violated those two values. His or her work shows neither excellence nor integrity. Such violation caused financial loss for the ASIO and psychological damage to the translator.

3.2.5. Violation of Legal Principles

Violation of legal principles in a court of law occurred as a result of the unduly free translation. This translation was considered flawed because ASIO’s translator added extraneous information which was not stated explicitly in the source text. This action is regarded as a violation of the legal principle concerning the nature of the material evidence that should be presented before the court. A judge can only decide on the basis of a comparison between the original notes and their literal translation or meaning-based translation, but not unduly free translation.

4. Discussion.

Regarding the first document, there are two conflicting business cultures coming to the fore to confront the values of fidelity and faithfulness in translation. On the one hand, the Chinese company is proud to announce the revenue numbers because they indicate a promising future for the business. There is no any financial risk at all for declaring such amount of money. On the other hand, disclosing these numbers to the public means financial turbulence for the Australian company because “the mere mention of Chinese interest in an Australian resource project has that sort of affect nowadays—even if there is no deal on the table” (Barry FitzGerald, Sydney Morning Herald, March 13, 2010). Sadly, the translator/interpreter becomes the scapegoat in such an important business transaction for explaining the truth implicitly embedded in the source text. It is believed that these numbers are transparently reported on the basis of rational and careful estimates made by the journalist specializing in business news. It is common practice for both a journalist of the national media and a translator/interpreter to be always invited to accompany businessmen in any overseas business trip. This business journalist in collaboration with the translator is strongly believed to have the background knowledge in this field for a precise analysis and calculation of future business trends. So, ethically, both the journalist and the translator may have already cross-checked the contents of their message with the Chinese investor before translating and publishing it. Therefore,they are unlikely to produce a wrong message in the news media due to an unduly free translation. The translator is committed to maintaining the fidelity and the faithfulness between the source text (Chinese) and the target text (English). In contrast, in the second document, these translation values were violated by the translator. This is, of course, understandable because it seems that in the name of national security and political stability, the intelligence translator has to do the unduly free translation to influence the judges in the court of law to make a biased decision on the case. Presumably, ASIO’s motto of “it’s not about what you do; it’s about what you’re doing it for!” ( http://www.gov.au ) may come true because it influenced the translator’s mind and work. So, this translation is strongly driven by the translator’s decision to be more faithful to his or her institution than to the source text as required by translation principles. Of course, it is a dilemma for the translator to decide whether truth and trust or bias would be the priority in the translation of the security-related and political materials. However, from the perspective id translation ethics, the values of ‘truth,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘understanding’ (Chesterman in Baker 2009, pp.37-42) may have governed the translator’s analysis or interpretation of the original document. Such extraneous information added to the translation can be trustworthy because he or she may have collected some other relevant information such as written documents about the Sheikh and his religious sermons, observations during his daily activities or consultation with Arabic linguists to understand the meaning behind each word, clause, or sentence. All this may contribute to a decision to produce the unduly free translation.

5. Conclusion

The goal of each institution and/or translator is to produce a translation for a purpose. If a translator is assigned by a particular agent to do translation for a certain purpose, he or she has to pursue this purpose. In this regard, the Chinese company and ASIO have business purposes and political purposes, respectively, in commissioning their translators to do unduly free translations. As a consequence of doing this kind of translation, truth and bias emerge. The truth behind the business text explained by the Chinese company’s translator was seen as a bias by the Australian company’s officers. Similarly, ASIO’s translator made an effort to reveal the truth hidden between the lines of the political text, but, from the legal point of view, the Australian court ruled this translation to be biased. Thus, positive and negative impacts are inevitable when doing such a translation.


Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. http://www.asio.gov.au

Feneley Rick. Accusations Lost In Translation, Sydney Morning Herald, May 1, 2010. http://www.smh.com.au/world/accusations-lost-in-translation-20100430

FitzGerald, B. CuDeco blames media, translation for quotes, Sydney Morning Herald, March 13, 2010. http://www.smh.com.au/business/cudeco-blames-media-translation-for-quotes-20100312

Larson, M. (1984). Meaning-Based Translation: Guide to Cross-Language Equivalence. Boston: University Press of America, Inc

Baker, M. (2009). Translation Studies. Volume III. London and New York: Routledge.