Several linguistic experts and translators on Monday voiced concern over the cross-strait service trade agreement, saying the nation’s translation service industry could become a tool for China to manipulate Taiwanese public opinion if the pact is implemented.
“Taiwanese should be particularly vigilant after the agreement takes effect, as it would open the door to the nation’s translation industry to Chinese investors and allow them to purchase translation rights for foreign publications in the name of Taiwanese translation companies,” said Chen Chao-ming (陳超明), a chair professor at Shih Chien University’s Department of Applied Foreign Languages.
Chen said the public’s right to information could be severely undermined if Chinese investors obtained the right to decide how content should be translated and interpreted, and to edit parts that run counter to their ideology.
Taiwanese translation companies provide a wide range of services, including general text translation, business document translation and interpreting services, Chen said, adding that demand for the last two types of services has drastically declined following an exodus of Taiwanese firms to China in recent years.
Chen said Taiwanese publishing houses began to entrust China-based firms to translate general text about eight years ago because they offer lower rates.
“However, these publishing houses often ended up spending more money because the quality of translation done by translators in China was so poor it often required revisions,” Chen said.
“That is why most Taiwanese publishers have run back to local translators for higher-quality work over the past years,” he added.
Chen said while Taiwanese translators could undoubtedly stand up to competition from their Chinese counterparts, he was concerned about Chinese firms buying out Taiwan’s translation rights for certain publications.
Taiwan Association of Translation and Interpretation (TATI) chairperson Yang Cheng-shu (楊承淑) said the industry is already in bad shape because of a government policy setting fee charges for translation services.
“Establishing a fee-charging system rather than letting the quality of translation determine the value has resulted in a vicious price war,” Yang said.
The service trade agreement should enforce the same rules for Taiwanese and Chinese businesses to put them on equal footing, Yang said, adding that the government should keep its eyes open when signing treaties.
Leung Yan-wing (梁欣榮), chairman of National Taiwan University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature and a skilled translator, said the policy has stifled the industry’s development and undermined the professional image of translators.
“Why doesn’t the government establish a fee-charging standard for legal services? Does this mean that translators are less professional than lawyers?” Leung asked.
TATI supervisor Lan Yu-su (藍月素), an associate professor at Chang Jung Christian University’s Department of Translation and Interpretation Studies, said the industry has been battered by China’s low labor costs and the emergence of machine translation technologies.
“Hopefully, the agreement really does expand Taiwan’s translation industry as the government has promised and bring in more translation job opportunities from China to the country,” Lan said.
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