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Ethic dilemmas for interpreters
Thread poster: LidiaCentrich
LidiaCentrich
United Kingdom
New user
English to Spanish
Jul 12

Hi Everyone,

I am currently studying the Interpreter’s Code of Ethics and I would like to provide reasons why ethical dilemmas are among the most difficult situations for an interpreter to deal with.

Would be good to have different opinions and points of view.

Many thanks,

Rose


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erika rubinstein  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:30
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
What kind of dillemas? Jul 12

Examples?

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The Misha
Local time: 18:30
Russian to English
+ ...
Have you actually done any interpreting yet? Jul 12

I have - for the past thirty years or so - and never had any "ethical dilemmas". May I suggest you concentrate on your languages and practice interpreting rather than "study the Interpreter’s Code of Ethics". You'll be glad you did, and your bank account will thank you.

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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 00:30
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes indeed... Jul 12

For an example of a classical interpreter's dilemma and one of the two ways out of it, I'll quote an esteemed colleague from an ancient forum topic that resurfaced just yesterday:

Aurora Humarán wrote:

A Spanish speaking bandit held up a bank in Tucson. The sheriff and his deputy chased him. When they captured him, and the sheriff, who couldn't speak Spanish, asked him where he'd hidden the money. "No sé nada," he replied.

The sheriff put a gun to the bandit's head and said to his bi-lingual deputy: "Tell him that if he doesn't tell us where the money is right now, I'll blow his brains out."

Upon receiving the translation, the bandit became very animated. "¡Ya me acuerdo! Tienen que caminar tres cuadras hasta ese gran arbol: allí está el dinero."

The sheriff leaned forward. "Yeah? Well..?"

The deputy replied: "He says he wants to die like a man."


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Texte Style
Local time: 00:30
French to English
in the absence of a like button Jul 13

Anton Konashenok wrote:

For an example of a classical interpreter's dilemma and one of the two ways out of it, I'll quote an esteemed colleague from an ancient forum topic that resurfaced just yesterday:

Aurora Humarán wrote:

A Spanish speaking bandit held up a bank in Tucson. The sheriff and his deputy chased him. When they captured him, and the sheriff, who couldn't speak Spanish, asked him where he'd hidden the money. "No sé nada," he replied.

The sheriff put a gun to the bandit's head and said to his bi-lingual deputy: "Tell him that if he doesn't tell us where the money is right now, I'll blow his brains out."

Upon receiving the translation, the bandit became very animated. "¡Ya me acuerdo! Tienen que caminar tres cuadras hasta ese gran arbol: allí está el dinero."

The sheriff leaned forward. "Yeah? Well..?"

The deputy replied: "He says he wants to die like a man."


that is an absolutely brilliant joke!


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Kaspars Melkis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:30
English to Latvian
+ ...
another example Jul 13

There once was a court interpreter on Proz who told the story about being asked by the judge to translate the identity card of someone who had applied for political asylum. The interpreter knew that the address on the identity card was not consistent with the story provided by the refugee, however, the judge apparently did not know this. Would it be ethical or even professional for an interpreter to provide this extra information to the judge?

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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:30
Portuguese to English
+ ...
No ethical dilemma here Jul 13

Kaspars Melkis wrote:

There once was a court interpreter on Proz who told the story about being asked by the judge to translate the identity card of someone who had applied for political asylum. The interpreter knew that the address on the identity card was not consistent with the story provided by the refugee, however, the judge apparently did not know this. Would it be ethical or even professional for an interpreter to provide this extra information to the judge?


It's not the interpreter's place to withhold information or help any sides in the exchange. In fact, if the interpreter did not interpret the information on the ID, they'd be in breach of the impartiality rule, to say the least.

[Edited at 2017-07-13 17:25 GMT]


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erika rubinstein  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:30
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
No dilemma Jul 13

[Would it be ethical or even professional for an interpreter to provide this extra information to the judge?]Kaspars Melkis wrote:

It would be unethical and unprofessional not to tell the information. And the interpreter would be liable to prosecution in such case. I dont see any dilemma here, it is an obvious case for me.


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Kaspars Melkis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:30
English to Latvian
+ ...
I don't think it is clear cut Jul 13

What is the reasoning why it is not ethical to not disclose the extra information? One could argue that an interperter's duty is to be impartial to the information he is translating. Even if the person is lying, it would not be professional to add the remark – “he is clearly lying”. That is up to the court to decide as long as the meaning is clearly transmited.

It that case it was about a person living in a village and an ID showed an address in the city. The interpreter was only asked to translate what it says on the ID. He or she translated everything precisely – house number, street name, city name etc. The only issue was that villages did not have that type of addresses in that country.

On the other hand, an interpreter's duty is to not only translate the meaning of the words but also provide cultural context. However, one would think that the court is supposed to be qualified in these matters as well. There is a risk of offering an unsolicited advice and annoying the judge or maybe even causing the defence to complain of an unwanted interferrence.


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MollyRose  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:30
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
context Jul 13

According to Kaspars' reply which includes the actual facts in that case, we see that this is not a matter of contradictory info. Apparently the guy had a physical address and a mailing address, so to speak, so there´s no lie here.

But in any case, it is the interpreter's job to interpret everything that is said, putting the non-(whatever language) speaker on an equal footing. So the conversation should go something like this:

Judge: Interpret what is on xxx's ID card.
Interpreter: Interprete lo que dice el carné de identificación de xxx. (saying exactly the same thing the judge said)
Then, if xxx doesn´t have anything to say in way of explanation, the interpreter can go ahead and sight-read the ID card. If xxx does say something, then the interpreter only repeats in the judge´s language what xxx said.

On the other hand, the interpreter can avoid ethical dilemmas such as lying or withholding of info by not being alone with any of the people he interprets for. That way they can't tell him one thing and then something different to the judge.


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MollyRose  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:30
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
to interpret or not interpret something whispered Jul 13

Example:

Judge: I am placing you on probation with these conditions ...
Interpreter: (interprets all that the judge said)
Defendant: Yes, sir.
Interpreter: (interprets)
Defendant (only the interpreter standing by him can hear what he says): I'm not going to do it, you [blankety-blank].

Dilemma: Since the defendant didn't intend for the judge to hear what he said, then I would suppose the interpreter isn't supposed to repeat it, right?

Unless, of course, you see that the judge noticed and is looking at you, waiting for the interpretation. Or if you couldn't tell if the judge heard, but then the judge asks you what he said, and then you would interpret it.

But if the judge asks the DEFENDANT, "What did you say?" then the interpreter remains silent while waiting to interpret whatever the defendant says (whether the same thing he whispered or something more polite). And not repeat what he whispered unless the judge asks you, and then you would tell.

Right?


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liviu roth
United States
Local time: 18:30
Romanian to English
+ ...
It was the situation I presented Jul 14

No ethical dilemma here 13:25

Kaspars Melkis wrote:

There once was a court interpreter on Proz who told the story about being asked by the judge to translate the identity card of someone who had applied for political asylum. The interpreter knew that the address on the identity card was not consistent with the story provided by the refugee, however, the judge apparently did not know this. Would it be ethical or even professional for an interpreter to provide this extra information to the judge?


It's not the interpreter's place to withhold information or help any sides in the exchange. In fact, if the interpreter did not interpret the information on the ID, they'd be in breach of the impartiality rule, to say the least.


Sorry, Erika and Diana, you misunderstood the case:

The respondent told the judge that he lived in a village with his grand-mother and that the neighbors killed his grand-mother and their livestock. When the government's trial attorney asked the interpreter to sight-translate the ID (buletinul de identitate), the card indicated that the guy lived in a city in an apartment building. Should the interpreter tell, the judge that the respondent is lying? That was the ethical dilemma.


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erika rubinstein  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:30
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
In an absence of a like-button.. Jul 14

Just +1111! for Misha`s post.

And Liviu, I understood it correctly. Of course the interpreter should have said to the judge...

For me no dilemma.
I am a conference interpreter for more than 20 years, never faced any ethical dilemmas.


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:30
Portuguese to English
+ ...
It's not the interpreter's place to tell ANYONE whether ANYONE is lying Jul 14

liviu roth wrote:

Sorry, Erika and Diana, you misunderstood the case:

The respondent told the judge that he lived in a village with his grand-mother and that the neighbors killed his grand-mother and their livestock. When the government's trial attorney asked the interpreter to sight-translate the ID (buletinul de identitate), the card indicated that the guy lived in a city in an apartment building. Should the interpreter tell, the judge that the respondent is lying? That was the ethical dilemma.


That is for the police and court services to decide. We interpret what is being said, full stop.


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Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 23:30
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
I had a case Jul 15

I had a case where two Romanians were caught with fake Lithuanian passports and the girl (ythe first to be interrogated) was insisting she was a Lithuanian.
However, she had no a clue about tje place indicated in the passport nor a single idea how the Lithuanian language works.
In fact, I ended up interpreting English-Portuguese rather Lithuanian-Portuguese.
I didn't say anything to the judge but it must have been written on my face as the lady judge asked me, "What do you think?"
Thinking better, we should report false declarations - not as interpreters but as citizens.


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