The Moral And Ethical Use Of Persuasion In Translation

As Certified Translation professionals, we are frequently asked to translate highly persuasive marketing pieces, sales collateral and other material.  In our personal and professional lives, we also bombarded by the frequent display of persuasion on television, magazines and the radio.  The term persuasion means to sway beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, and behaviors.  Your neighbor, friend or family member might make use of persuasion when they attempt to get us to lend them money, help them move or loan them our truck for a day.  Even as we drive to work, we are exposed to hundreds of billboards that all contain persuasive advertisements and illustrations. It’s easily understandable how one language Chinese translator in Chicago once wrote an interesting article about how persuasion is our most frequent use of language.  Today, having the best solution to address a problem is only a small portion of what it requires to get what we want.  Getting what we want means having the ability to sway the beliefs; attitudes and behaviors of others into thinking our solution are optimal.

But to many people the term “persuasion” often connotes beliefs such as trickery and deception.  The reason that this term often manifests uneasiness in the minds of people is because we understand persuasion as a potent power that has perhaps more often than not has been used for malevolence rather than decency.  While the persuasive nature of President Ronald Reagan brought to parties together to create useful legislation that solved problems, murderers like Charles Manson used it to recruit followers who would kill innocent people.  As translators, we can only hope that the material we produce will be used ethically.  Yet because persuasion is so powerful, we have decided to devote a few blog entries on it.