The Translation Process

Portrait of Henry Williams
Henry Williams translated the draft of the Treaty into Māori overnight.

In 1840, William Hobson asked Henry Williams, a native English speaker, to translate the draft version of the Treaty of Waitangi into Māori in haste – the signing was meant to take place the following day! Williams produced the translation overnight and, unsurprisingly, it was not reviewed.

The unfortunate translation choices he made led to key differences in meaning between the English and Māori versions of the Treaty, most notably in regards to the concepts of governorship and sovereignty. Needless to say, the translation process that was followed at the time was deeply flawed and very far from the professional standards the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters promotes today.

The Treaty Times 30 project aims to highlight those differences in meaning between the Treaty and Te Tiriti, while also showcasing high quality translation and professionalism. Today’s standard process in the translation industry consists of 3 steps:

  1. Translation: A qualified translator translates a text from one language to his/her native tongue.
  2. Revision: Another qualified, usually more experienced, linguist reviews the translation and makes necessary corrections.
  3. Proofreading: A final quality check is carried out to make sure the translation meets professional standards.

Given the national significance of the Treaty Times 30 project, the organising committee decided to implement a robust translation process that exceeds the industry’s standard practice to ensure the best outcome.