The ATA Board versus the English Language

Each time a federal judge explains through me, the interpreter, what an "accredited legal representative" is, I have to smile. If those ignorant judges had only read the 55˘-a-word Hamm Report, they would know that there is no such thing –that "Accreditation" is a term used for a conformity assessment process by which experts in a particular field define standards of acceptable operation for organizations and measure compliance with them. Diplomats are another lot which could use some continuing education in that regard, for more than a few of them are infatuated enough to believe themselves accredited just because they have delivered their letters of credence to the government to which they are officially accredited as representatives. Then of course there is the press, and many is the reporter who was left out in the cold for lack of some sort of press accreditation with which to elbow his way into a high-level meeting back in the Iron Curtain days. So if translators fall for the same fallacy after listening to a judge, studying history, thumbing a newspaper or looking up the word in their Random House Unabridged, at least they are not alone. The discrepancy can easily be resolved by simply rewriting the English language to coincide with the Hamm Report.

Another term bandied about quite a bit in courts and State Assemblies is "member." Members are much like consultants. On the one hand they are those elusive people some of whose "input" the Board seeks out whenever it decides to put it to the rest of us. Then again, they are also the folks whose benefit is always uppermost in the minds of the members of the Board of Directors. In everyday ATA parlance, however, members are those benighted and selfish souls who imagine that just because they pay dues and meet quality standards for voting they have some sort of ownership claim to the pertinent rights so prominently highlighted in our bylaws. But here again, just as judges, diplomats, reporters and lexicographers fail to grasp the subtle nuances of accreditation, so the New York state senators and assemblymen balk in bovine incomprehension before the mysteries of "membership."

For instance, in Chapter 35 of the New York State Consolidated Laws, which covers not-for-profit corporations, ARTICLE ONE, Section 102, Definitions, Clause (9) dares to claim that "Member" means one having membership rights in a corporation in accordance with the provisions of its certificate of incorporation or by-laws. Now this is no laughing matter, for this is the legislation under which the ATA was granted its corporate charter, and which contains provisions regulating the bylaws of our chartered corporation. Yet they presume to speak of "rights" as though they were something had by "members" under the law, when anybody can read Ann Macfarlane's Proclamation and plainly see that what we in the ATA have are "member benefits," not rights.

The math gets a little tricky at this point, because the quotes surrounding "member benefits" are Ann Macfarlane's in her May 21st, 2001 e-mail broadcast to all members. Yet that expression is nowhere contained in the ATA bylaws, in applicable New York law, nor in the 55˘-per-word document which supersedes and replaces those bylaws, the Hamm Report. It is therefore difficult to ascertain which verse and chapter she quoted. Nevertheless she was kind enough to explain in that e-mail that what the ATA bylaws falsely present as pertinent member "Rights and Privileges," are really no more than "member benefits" which the ATA Board of Directors, in its infinite majesty, has seen fit to bestow upon us -- not as a right, mind you, but a "custom" which "goes back a long time." Now, since the Board giveth, it follows that the Board also taketh away at pleasure . Such is the Path of Progress along which old customs are discarded and new ones adopted in their stead.

Yet the New York State Legislature doesn't see things that way at all. By its lights, it is the legislature, not the ATA Board "which reserves the right, at pleasure, to alter, amend, suspend or repeal in whole or in part… any certificate of incorporation or any authority to do business in this state, of any domestic or foreign corporation, whether or not existing or authorized on the effective date of this chapter." (Section 9, Reservation of Power) Those same politicians also believe that bylaws adopted by the board (where there is provision for such) can be amended or repealed by the members, that the Executive Committee has no power in such matters and that members may even remove boardmembers if they so choose. Finally, they plainly provided by law for an amendment process "to strike out change or add" provisions relating to "the rights or powers of its members..." Anybody who wants to can read these words at, where they are posted bigger'n Dallas.

This uncooperativeness on the part of the New York legislature poses some interesting dilemmas for the ATA Board of Directors. The stone tablets they paid Michael Hamm 55˘ a word to bring down from the Mount plainly prescribe that with a "high-quality" national certification program "International markets are often pursued." Granted, they were spending someone else's money to hear that but it was money just as good. The conclusion it paid for is all the justification Ann Macfarlane needed to issue her Proclamation and get on with "opening the examination to anyone who wishes to take it…" If this turns out to mean that the agency owners on the ATA Board of Directors will suddenly have much easier access to rightless pauper labor in countries starving under the burden of Progress, so much the better for them. And certainly one doesn't expect anyone working for less than 3 centavos, millipiasters or microdrachmae a word to have money left over to pay ATA member dues, now does one?

If through the benefit of no-strings ATA "certification" nonmembers overseas were to manage to increase their rates to perhaps twice that, they would not be bound as we are by any United States antitrust laws against price-fixing or anti-competitive collusion. U.S. residents, on the other hand, could look forward to some healthy competition coming from places like India, where the population is one billion, the official language is English, and the prevailing wage scale and standard of living is somewhat different from what, by custom, we have in the United States. Perhaps this is what Ann Macfarlane meant when she spoke of our organization as "presumed to serve society as a whole, not merely our own members." It may be worthwhile to see if the Federal Trade Commission sees things that way.

As you'd expect, an agenda like this calls for single-party elections in which the agency slate runs for office unopposed. (ATA Chronicle August 2001 p. 7) If a large enough number of naive rookies can be persuaded to give them the power to export at no charge the testing rights for which we paid our own money, the ATA Board of Directors and its lawyers should have no problem getting its agenda acceded to. But so long as the power to vote, however, is held by persons willing and able to produce actual evidence of translation ability, these hidden agendas are in for some very tough sledding. The obvious solution, of course, is to either change the New York corporation laws or place control over the American Translators Association into the hands of impressionable youngsters short on ability but long on willingness to elect officers based on the toothiness of their smiles and the vagueness of their platforms. Getting rid of the Accreditation program by transforming it into a monstrosity would accomplish that nicely.—JHP