I would like to write a letter in response to the Phnom Penh Post’s May 4 article on the translation problems at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, “KRT forced to face translation crisis.” In this letter I would like to present DC-Cam’s experience in the translation of the Khmer Rouge texts.
At DC-Cam we do extensive translations, both from Khmer to English and English to Khmer.
Translation is not an easy task, but one can speed up or slow down output by changing the quality of the translation.
One can translate very quickly by giving a very basic and brief summary of the original text. This type of translation does not take into account much of the context surrounding the original documents.
A second way of translating is to look very closely at the most exact words to use in place of the original words. If one is able to do that he can represent exact mood and meaning given in original texts. This process of translation takes a very long time to complete.
A translator who can do that is hard to find. However, one can rest assured that the translated text is reliable, even usable in court.
There are several obstacles in following the second process. First, to get the same meaning is not so difficult, but to get the same mood and contexts is bit harder. This is primarily caused because Cambodians express meaning and feeling distinctively from an English speaking person.
The situation with French might be less difficult as 90 years of colonial rule might close the gap between Cambodian and French cultures.
The problem is also accentuated by the fact that the Khmer Rouge themselves seem to have a distinctive dialect different from today’s version of Khmer.
Therefore the Khmer-English/French translator needs to understand quite well the Khmer Rouge history.
Also, the 16,000 pages of documents are not visibly related and this causes problems for the translator trying to understand contexts.
The ECCC cannot overcome the translation backlog of the 16,000 pages by attempting to do the second type of translation; that is, to understand all contexts and meanings.
Even when they have more money to do it, they do not have enough experienced Cambodian translators to handle the job within the ECCC timeframe.
They can overcome this problem by first translating a summary of meaning of the Khmer Rouge texts, which is quick, and then prioritize particular documents for detailed translation usable in as evidence.
By the way, in response to [Khieu Samphan’s] defense lawyer [Jacques] Verges, genocide speaks neither French nor English. It speaks only one, same language.
Documentation Center of