I’m curious what others think about transcribing, say, journals and letters written in shorthand for someone who isn’t the original owner of those items. We sometimes see pleas for such help. Do you think it’s ethical? Obviously, such persons who take the trouble to write a journal or letter in shorthand most likely have a strong sense of privacy. So when is it ok? Is it ever ok?
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I found on a French Facebook shorthand group a while ago a short text about transcription ethics and I was agreeing with it.
In short, what was written in this text was that each case should be assessed individually. Some texts can be public, other privately transcribed and others not transcribed at all… I suppose that decision has to be accepted by everyone otherwise it cannot be effective. So I suppose this credo is shared by everyone in this group.
Apart from universities and museums, nearly all of the translation work I do is for people wanting to learn more about their deceased relatives, or relatives who have become mentally incompetent. Before I accept a translation job, I always, ALWAYS ask about the current circumstances of the person who wrote the document, and that person's relationship to the person who is hiring me to translate. Of course, I have to take their answers at face value, but I have yet to run across anyone who is just trying to be nosey about someone else's private documents, or trying to find out where grandma hid her jewelry so they can get to it before the other relatives.
I know for a fact that many of the translations I have done have provided emotional healing for many of my clients. And for the few translations I have done that provide disturbing information, I have yet to have a client regret seeking the translation; though disturbing, the information often provides a deeper understanding of the person who wrote it – often a parent or a grandparent.
Bottom line, I do think there is an ethical obligation to ask some questions before providing a translation, and to turn down those requests when the client's motives are nefarious. But those situations are few and far between.