here was hot news for the translator community in September, 1998: after sixteen long years, JUCERJA, the Rio de Janeiro Registry of Commerce (Junta Comercial) published Resolution 106, stating it would conduct a competition for the office of Tradutor Público e Intérprete Comercial (Public Translator and Commercial Interpreter, abbreviated TPIC in Portuguese). The last one had been in 1982. Several TPICs appointed as a result of the 1982 competition had retired or passed away during the sixteen intervening years.
What is a TPIC?
A TPIC is a combination of translator and notary public. All foreign-language documents submitted to Brazilian authorities must be accompanied by a sworn translation into Portuguese prepared and signed by a TPIC under seal. In addition, TPICs function as court interpreters. The work done by a TPIC is a matter of public record and copies must be kept forever.
Being a TPIC is no guarantee of financial success: they are not Government employees and must fend for themselves. Some are very successful, others are not. Fees are set by each State Junta and are not always very rewarding. There is a lot of red tape to cope with, too many jobs from individuals, and it can get very boring: how many driver's licenses can you translate in a single day before falling asleep on your keyboard?
However, it also does have its rewards, among them the fact that many clients think TPICs are super-translators and prefer them over the rest of us even when there is no need for a sworn translation; thus, the title works as a kind of government accreditation, which it is not. Most TPICs are competent professionals, but no super-translators, among other things because they are specialists: they can handle legal and commercial documents of any sort, but will be out of their depth in literature.
Where Can I Find a TPIC for Dutch?
The fact that the last examination took place in 1982, has presented a problem. Many of the translators then appointed had retired or passed away and, for instance, there was no longer a TPIC who could provide a sworn translation from the Dutch language. There still isn't, for the examination was postponed several times and was not held until 2009, eleven years after Resolution 106and the results of the oral test have not been published as of this writing.
How did Rio de Janeiro cope with the problem? Well, the same way as the other statesnamely through a combination of outsourcing and ad-hoc appointmentsbecause the situation is not peculiar to Rio: the interval between examinations averages over twenty years and in some states there has never been one.
In some cases, public translators are appointed ad-hoc, meaning that they do not go through an examination. The basic idea behind the ad-hoc appointment is that it is not possible to have regularly appointed TPICs for all languages in the world and should a Quechua speaker have his day in court, the court can appoint any Quechua speaker they happen to know as an ad-hoc TPIC. But ad-hoc translators are often appointed as a simple means to bypass the examination requirement.
Some of those ad-hoc appointees are top-notch professionals and many have accreditations from other countries that are not formally recognized in Brazil. Unfortunately, not all of them are in that category. In a recent competition held in the sate of Minas Gerais, ad-hoc appointees that had been serving the public for years flunked the examination and had to be removed from the official roster. This regrettable situation does not affect Minas Gerais alone.
In some cases, translations are done by out-of-state TPICs, which is perfectly legal and a lot better than appointing somebody's cousin ad-hoc.
In other cases, there are TPICs, but they are too few to handle the traffic and it is no secret that, often non-TPICs do the work and TPICs merely sign it. Outsourcing is also common where the number of TPICs available is sufficient, yet it is said that most sworn translations are not done by TPICs. This is difficult to prove, but seems to be very close to the truth.
Is outsourcing legal? Opinions range from those TPICs who claim that they have to write out every single word of a translation themselves, to those who say that they can ask a specialist translator to do a job for them and double check the translated text until it becomes "their own translation," to those who say they have a team of trusted helpers whose work is revised on a sample basis, to... well, you know how it goes.
Many TPICs complainnot without reasonthat every time a sworn translation is outsourced to a non-TPIC, a job is stolen from other TPICs. They also complain that the quality of outsourced translations is very low, which in many cases is true. On the other hand, many of those who took the examination in Rio made no bones about the fact that they had learned the TPIC trade by working for a TPIC and we know at least one TPIC that worked undercover for someone else until she was appointed and has always been more competent than the person she worked for.
Regardless of who actually does the translation, it must be printed out under seal, signed by the TPIC and registered. In theory, at least, this would allow the Juntas to keep some kind of control over outsourcing since there is a practical limit to the production of any translator. However, we do not know of any TPIC penalized for outsourcing, which might indicate that the Juntas are not losing any sleep over the matter.
Some TPICs conduct a constant war against outsourcing and often use public forums to lambast both colleagues who outsource work and those who accept outsourced sworn translations. The war is not very effective, though. Filing suit would probably produce better results, but nobody seems to be too keen on that.
Another interesting point is created by the use of translation memories. TPICs are allowed to take "non-sworn" work and many of them run small to medium-sized agencies and outsource part of their non-sworn work and, of course, add the translations to their translation memories. What happens when translation units contributed by non-TPICs crop up in sworn work? This and other questions have led some translators, both TPIC and non-TPIC alike, to say that the whole idea of TPICs needs revising.
How many TPICs for German?
TPICs are said to hold an "office," which in fact they do, although they are not paid by the state. Resolution 106 lists offices for 25 languages. For some reason, they treat Flemish and Dutch as different languages and also list Lebanese as separate from Arabic. The Resolution also lists the number of offices for each language: 120 for English, 50 for French and so on.
How did JUCERJA arrive at those figures? How did they come to the conclusion that there should be ten TPICs for Swedish? Why not five or fifteen? The very fact that there is a stated number of offices is a source of much controversy. Some people claim that in many cases there are already too many TPICs. For instance, there are more than 250 French TPICs in São Paulo State and some say that this is more than the traffic will bear. Others claim that the policy is wrong, because the purpose of the examination is not to guarantee work for all appointees, but to provide the public with the best possible service, and that the public would be best serviced if all those qualified were appointed.
Another issue goes hand-in-hand with this: a TPIC receives an appointment for life, not a commission for a limited period, but even TPICs will concede that some of them have gone slightly gaga. However, most TPICs would consider a periodic recommissioning procedure little short of insulting. It might not be a bad idea, though.
JUCERJA itself had to deal with a related problem when the grapevine began to whisper that some sworn translations had been signed by translators who were no longer alive and decided to require all TPICs to update their registration data. Quite a few did not (probably because they were dead) and their title was revoked, which proves nothing in itself, but raised a few highbrows.
Finally, the Examination...
JUCERJA did not seem to be in a hurry, for the competition took place only in late 2009, a full eleven years after it had been announced. Why it took so longand why it does take so long in all other statesis a matter of much discussion.
Many claim that the powers that be, namely a few powerful agencies and TPICs that dominate the market, did what they could to prevent admission of new translators to the TPIC roster. Others claim that the Juntas Comerciais are not really interested in whatever happens in the TPIC segment, for they are state agencies and TPICs only pay federal and local taxes, but no state taxes whatsoever. Perhaps a combination of the two.
Some of those who took the examination were out-of-staters, although the law says that all TPICs must be residents of the state where they are appointed. It is far too easy to obtain a false proof of address. Most out-of-staters, if approved, will not move to Rio, but operate from their current home bases and usually will apply for a transfer as soon as possible, so that they will be listed by their own Juntas. This is a ruse to bypass the lack of examinations in their own states. However, since the number of offices is limited, an out-of-stater who gets appointed is in fact reducing the number of offices accessible to locals.
The basic idea was to have a written examination first and allow those who made the grade to take the oral examination. This made a lot of sense and was cost effective.
Other things did not make much sense. For some reason, the into-Portuguese text is something legal, like an agreement or a charter party; but the from-Portuguese text must be chosen from "a good author," construed to mean belles lettres, which is absolute nonsense, because charter parties and agreements are part of a TPIC daily routine, but belles lettres are not. But this is the law, not a JUCERJA choice.
On the other hand, JUCERJA chose to provide test graders with model translations, a move that met with general disapproval. JUCERJA alleged that the models were just guidelines and that deviations would not be penalized if they meant an improvement over the model. Fair enough. On the other hand, whereas the sample translation for the from English test was crude, to say the least, the sample into-French translation was cribbed from a highly polished published translation by two well-known translators. Who supplied the translations used as guidelines by the graders? Who were the graders themselves? Nobody seems to know and, yet, serious conflicts of interest might be involved.
... and the Grades!
The tests were graded on a scale from zero to ten and most grades were humiliating. Many candidatesincluding prominent professionalsgot a zero. The rules allowed candidates to file an appeal but they were not allowed to see the graded tests: the copies available on the Web had been scanned before grading and thus did not show what the graders had found wrong. As a consequence, there was nothing specific the candidate could claim. We think the most surprising fact is that there are not many intermediate grades: either they are really good or really bad. According to our experience, that is not what usually happens in tests at all.
However, many filed a sort of a general appeal and received a reply. We have seen a few of them but could not make much sense of the answers. Sometimes it seems that papers were graded haphazardly and that the graders did not really know what they were doing.
In the Manner of a Conclusion
At this writing it is not possible to foresee what will happen in Rio. Some of the people who failed the examination have gone to court and it may take a long time before any of the cases become res judicata, given the labyrinthine nature of Brazilian civil procedure. ABRATES, the Brazilian Association of Translators, filed a report with the Office of the Rio de Janeiro State Public Prosecutor, but it is too early to anticipate results.
There is no doubt that many of those who failed were simply not competent enough. There have been allegations that some of those who passed did not deserve the grades they got, although there is no hard evidence to support those allegations. However, the whole thing is a little fishy, as we hope this article shows.
There have been several suggestions to improve the system, ranging from the complete extinction of the TPICs in favor of the system adopted in English-speaking countries, to a federal system controlled by the Judiciary as Brazilian notaries public are. Given the interests at play, we very much doubt that anything will happen soon.
A Final Note
Neither of the authors has a personal interest in the matter: we are not TPICs, we have not taken the test and we do not do "underground" sworn translations.