11 January 2008

Translator as a Native Speaker of the Target Language

Translators associations and translation agencies generally require that a translator must be a native speaker of the target language. Thus, the golden rule reads 'a translator should only translate into his or her native language.'

This rule may be based on the assumption that a native speaker has better language mastery than a non-native speaker. Therefore, a translation produced by a native speaker will be better than that produced by a non-native speaker.

It seems that the rule is still valid these days. I support and agree with the rule. But how can an agency identify that a translator is a native speaker of the target language? The task must be simple for a translator like me, who speaks Indonesian as my native language and speaks English as my foreign language, who was born in Indonesia to an Indonesian father and an Indonesian mother, who has never lived in an English speaking country.

What is the native language of a translator who was born in Indonesia to an Indian father and a Malay mother, who attends Indonesian-speaking schools since elementary to secondary schools, and after leaving the secondary school he/she lives in Australia?

Of course, the definition of native language is quite clear. Some linguists define it as primary or first language spoken by an individual. Some other linguists define it as the first language a person learns and usually is known as a person's mother tongue. Some others just call it the language of the home. Still some others consider it as the preferred language or language the person is most fluent. Finally, other linguists define it as the language that a person has spoken from earliest childhood.

All these definitions are theoretical and conceptual in nature. Apart from the translator's declarative claim that he/she is a native speaker of a certain language, how can an agency identify and conclude for sure that the translator is a native speaker of the language?


Azmiel said...


Nice to konw you. Might be you can teach me to be improve my english skill such as conversation.

Best Regards

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Hipyan Nopri (Mr) said...

It's a pleasure to know you Azmi. 'might be' should be 'maybe,' and 'to be improve' should be 'to improve.'
Anyhow, it doesn't matter. No learning without mistakes. :)

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