great wall of china

Even Homer Nods! How Chinese Walls showed it was good to talk

One downside to being the only linguist in your setting and with the knock-on of limited exposure to your target language is a lack of opportunities to discuss intricacies of usage. This issue can of course lead to an inadvertent usage, or use of a non-inclusive term. The scenario was this: I was engaging on a post on LinkedIn about why it is good for translators to be able to talk to one another in projects where multiple translators work on the project.

The isolation as a translator means that you can often become blinkered in your vision (and thinking!). As wonderful as stable customers are – and they are increasingly rare in the cut-throat “first-finger-first” world of getting translation work. Established translators have interesting ideas: translation slams, retreats, networking events and the like. All aimed at talking. Collaboration can be a very rewarding experience – this is why I appreciate the opportunity of reviewing EBA Guidelines – I get to ask questions, look at the translation through a different prism or lens.

Regarding collaboration and communication in the post in question, my well-intentioned comment was:

[…] collaboration thrives on direct communication between translators – sometimes agencies throw up unnecessary Chinese walls between translators working on the same project (I remember once working on a large project where we were all only allowed to “chat” through a moderated anonymous portal – such was the fear of the agency that we might build a team that would compete against the agency we were working for!) In another crazy situation years ago, where a large project was carved up between two agencies, I discovered that I was providing terminology support for the same project I was translating part of for the other agency.

Bang. And then it was. A careless choice of words, although one I knew from a professional context.

Even Homer Nods…

The poster responded by pointing out that “Chinese walls” was an outdated and offensive term for some. I chose to own my mistake, accepted their insight and replied that I would refrain from using it in the future. A hollow promise? No. I immediately acted on it. How did I act?

  1. I immediately accepted the mistake – and said that I would refrain for using it in the future. With reflection, and hindsight too, I realise that the analogy is also incorrect/lazy – both in terms of my usage and in a financial context. The Great Wall of China (and walled cities throughout history) served for protecting territory, but not to prevent citizens from leaving. Suitably chastened, the next goal was to find a more accurate term for the required context.
  2. I asked the original poster whether they can suggest “a suitable, succinct and more inclusive replacement for its use in the sense of “a barrier to avoid potential conflicts of interest” e.g. between advisory and trading divisions (as used in investment banking)?” The OP promptly offered terms like “firewall” and “screen”. My own research also yielded “ethics walls” and “ethical walls” – as mentioned by Judge Low in Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. v. Superior Court (1988). Low’s suggestion also works particularly well for preserving the concept of “hiring over the wall”. This is an internal staffing move of hiring someone from the other side of the ethics wall.
  3. I amended the terminology entry for Chinese wall(s) in my MultiTerm termbases. It now appears as non-inclusive (an additional field at term level used in conjunction with a QA tool for inclusive language). This means that in the event of any German term translated as “Chinese wall(s)”, I receive a warning that the term is to be avoided, to allow me to then correct it as I go. This is particularly useful in terms of fuzzy matches. In addition I have a MultiTerm export routine that allows an export of non-inclusive terms. Its purpose is to increase awareness by circulating this list regularly, to help non-L1-colleagues.
  4. Checking existing usage in publications. For the website, I ran a google search for “Chinese wall”. Hits appeared mainly in downloads from external sources, or from historic documents – on both the German and English versions of the site. These I can’t change, because they are the words of other stakeholders. When we used SiteImprove, I used reports (e.g. about the use of Chinese *AND* wall). Using reports in SiteImprove frequently identified obsolete terminology for correcting it. I contended with a lot of “inherited” translations from numerous translation sources, prior to becoming our English web editor. I discussed any mentions found in the German version with post/page authors.
  5. Checking existing usage in translation memories. I check both the source and target texts of segments for usage of “Chinese wall(s)” and how it was translated. For example, the English source spoke of “Chinese walls” but the German target spoke of “Informationssperren (sog. “Chinese walls”)” In some cases, I remove the translation unit from the Translation Memory. In other cases I add a quality penalty (I use a numerical quality field from aligned texts that I used to build up my initial translation memories, based on their quality (e.g. 95-100 for aligned texts of legal acts from Eur-Lex (with penalties for age), 85-90 for aligned texts of publications where the emphasis of the translation was not such a strict word-for-word rendering, (with penalties for age)). I delete translation units “past their sell by date”. (I’ll deal with TM housekeeping in a future post).

However, I didn’t beat myself up over it. Instead, I used it as a way to test my processes and workflows, which work well. I also used it as a way to think of several initiatives for informal networking events to could draw positively from the experience. And I took it on board as a shortcoming of living outside of my L1-target language culture. All of which show the importance of collaboration and talking.

It’s Good to Talk…

Reverting to the original post that I commented on, I remarked about my first physical meeting of my Working Group in Athens after the pandemic that “It’s good to talk!” In this regard as a lone in-house existence is similar to that of many freelancers in that it is a relatively isolated one. However, only if I choose it to be. This is why I try to exploit opportunities to talk to my colleagues in my department about their policy areas. This is how I remain alert to new policy information, legal acts, soft law instruments, issues encountered in operative supervision. These are important for my improved understanding of operative banking supervision.

Some pearls of wisdom yield new aligned texts (e.g. new guidance on aspects of banking supervision). Part of my non-translation remit is also keeping a watchful eye over our banking supervision processes. This is a quality assurance and quality management process, and provides useful insights for translation purposes about legal developments. Translators talking and collaborating helps them to discover new opportunities, gather different perspectives and bounce different approaches off one another.

When I outsource a piece to someone, I believe they should receive as much information as necessary. I believe in being approachable where they have questions and to discuss terminology issues. Otherwise I ensure that they can directly access the author of the piece to translate. After all the author knows best what they mean to say. In my response about translators being able to communicate, even someone pointing out my error confirms the value of communication.

The final word…

Dialogue is a two-way street – the more you give/contribute, the more your receive. In addition, this episode resulted in connecting with the OP, whose content I have read for a number of months, coming up with a creative idea for the future, and a blog post.

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