Article: His Excellency and His Interpreter
Thread poster: Staff Staff
Local time: 20:14
Jun 26, 2005

This topic is for discussion of the translation article "His Excellency and His Interpreter".

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sviaggio  Identity Verified
English to Spanish
His Excellency indeed... if subtly so Jun 22, 2007

A very interesting and thought-provoking article indeed. But... "Always" and "never" are adverbs that should be banned from a discussion of interlingual mediation. As a matter of fact, that I know of, our activity know one and only one truly universal rule that bears no exception whatsoever, and it reads: IT DEPENDS!

If Lula's interpreter had taken upon himself to edit the President's speech, he would have probably -repeat, probably- overstepped his deontological boundaires. But he did nothing of the sort. On the very contrary, knowing full well that he was putting himself on the spot, did what a loyal, politically savvy interpreters (the ones political leaders who really know how decisive a good mediator can be, systematically choose) ought to do: let his client (his client is the President, not anybody else, and his loyalty is entirely to him) know that he is about to make a mistake and give him the chance to avoid it. I can tell of many cases, both from other colleagues' experience and my own (I retired from the UN after 31 years of service, the last 15 as Chief of the Interpretation Section with the UN Office at Vienna, have taught at some thirty schools of T&I and published more than fifty articles and a book in two languages, so believe you me, I do know whereof I speak).

I myself have saved many a delicate negotiation by "diluting" my own boss's ex-abrupta - and have been duly thanked and congratulated for it. In such cases, I have often used the "third person, indirect speech". Here's one telling example. Negotiations with our Italian counterparts re a very important meeting on Transnational Organised Crime to be held, of all places, in Palermo (you can see the Italians' political point, right?). The Italians being Italians, things look quite messy. My boss, a no-nonsense Scandinavian whose earlier assignment had been getting the UN out of Somalia (no softie, as you may guess), was raving mad: If I don't see twenty computers on those desks by tomorrow, the meeting is off! It was obvious that he was not happy, so my leeway was limited by the speaker's tone and body language. Now the addressee of this rustic diplomacy was none other than a Police Colonel who had been wounded eleven times in the line of duty (no softie either!). So I interpreted "My boss is extremely worried and fears that if the computers are not on those desks by tomorrow the meeting may be cancelled". "Tell him not to worry, they'll be here first thing tomorrow morning". II kenw that my boss was lying: the computers were not needed for another week. And I knew the Italians were lying: there was no way the computers would be there the following day. But I also knew that both we, the UN, and they, the hosts, were equally interested in the success of the conference. So I reasoned: how can I, on behalf of the UN, my client, help the success of the conference: nby faithfully interpreting my boss and have all hell break loose, or by doing what was best for the metacommunicative purposes of communication?

How did I dare? Simple: I knew perfectly well what the stakes were, I knew my boss (and had repeatedly told him that his was not the right pragmatic approach), and I knew our counterparts' culture. And I am extremely proud of the way I handled that and many other potentially explosive situations that was in the interest of the people to whom I owd my loyalty to diffuse.

At aonther point, my boss said, "We leave tomorrow morning at 9:00", and, knowing that he meant it, I interpreted "We leave tomorrow at 8:00", knowing that the hosts would be an hour late. When the Italians started gesturing in despair, I told him wha I had done. "Good for you, Mr. Viaggio. Keep it up!" was his reaction.l

In my General Theory of Interlingual Mediation (Frank & Timme Verlag, Berlin, 2006) I discuss the decisive importance of face, and introduce my own notions of convergent, compatible and divergent face and the way they ought to influence an interpreter's (or translator's) mediation. I also add to Nord's concept of overt and covert translation (or, as I call it, mediation) that of active and passive mediation. Mediation is covert when people are unaware of the mediator's interventions. Mediation is active when the mediator deviates from his mythical -and spurious- role as a neutral intermediary who just translates faithfully back and forth whatever the social consequences. In the case above, my mediation was covert (neither the Italians nor my boss were aware of my "manipulation") and active. Once I earned the trust of both, I had no qualms in mediating actively and overtly, since I had been de facto empowered by the parties.

The real issue is that of social empowerment, itself a function of the social prestige of our profession, a function in turn of its scientific foundations. Interpreters who are not conversant with the last insights of communication theory and have nothing but their personal intuition and experience to guide them are bound to fell -AND be- socially powerless.

A surgeon has the "right" to amputate the client's arm (provided it is for his client's own good), a plumber has the "right" to cut off his client's water (provided it is for his lient's own good), but an interpreter has no right to manipulate his client's speech even if it is in the client's own good. Paraphrasing Tennyson, "ours is not to reason why: ours is but to do and... bye!"... and screw, for instnace, the social consequences of our client`s lack of knowledge of the host culture.

So there you have it: dilution cum manipulation cum indirect speech. And I would do it all over again... and


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