24 September 2013

FT columnist Gillian Tett discusses an idea that has crossed the mind of many a translator

On 23 September 2013, esteemed FT columnist Gillian Tett posted an article entitled Science can help to spot symptoms of executive hubris. While the science discussed is a long way from the thoughts that cross the minds of translators working on political and business texts tainted or suspected of being tainted with hubris, some of the comments are nevertheless very familiar.
"How can an investor tell if a bank is heading for danger? ... But why not analyse the words of the person running the bank?" ...
"Researchers have been looking at the speech patterns of leaders such as British politicians and bank chief executives. And this has revealed a point that we instinctively know but often forget: power not only goes to the head, but also to the tongue." ...
"Hubris has long fascinated poets, philosophers and political scientists"
... and, I would add, translators...
"Four years ago David Owen, a former British foreign minister who happens also to be a psychiatrist, tried to give the idea a firmer framework by listing 14 markers of hubris." ...
"... analysis (of letters to shareholders issued by the chief executive of a European bank) showed that during the eight years that he was in power, this chief executive also displayed rising hubris in his speech, with excessive optimism and a growing use of the royal 'we'." ...
Questions: Were these letters to shareholders drafted directly in English by the CEO or translated?
And if they were translated, shouldn't the researchers have considered (a) the originals rather than their translation and (b) to what extent 'linguistic biomarkers' are dependent on language or culture?

Gillian adds:
"If this work sparks a little more scrutiny of the people who run institutions such as banks – and helps puncture the hype – that can only be a good thing."

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