Letter from the Editor

What can we infer from the ways in which others talk about translation and interpretation? Here are a few thoughts on some common misperceptions and clichés.

A title for all seasons

The frequency with which articles on translation begin with "lost in" is mind-numbing. From editing this modest webzine, I know that it is not easy - maybe not even always desirable - to avoid commonplace expressions that ring a bell for many, but this one has definitely been beaten into a lifeless pulp. This past week I even found it over an article highlighting good communication across cultures thanks to competent interpreters! It's definitely time to put this shibboleth on the "use sparingly and with caution" shelf.

People understand each other when they speak the same language

An implication of the "lost in translation" approach to misunderstanding is that translation is always the problem and rarely the solution. Thus, it's assumed people will understand each other better without an intermediary. Quite an assumption! Forget about people who don't share a mother tongue or cultural references; consider a conversation between people who do and moreover, know each other well. One will still misinterpret the other and clarifications will be asked for: "Sorry, could you go through that again, not sure I understood?" I have to admit that even when talking to myself I sometimes need to ask for explanations.

Machines are perfect

Many people still assume that a machine is better than a human for any kind of work. Recently I have seen announcements for interpretation software or devices that promise to eliminate human error, implying that perfection will be the result. Yes, of course, this is the PR firm talking, but that is precisely what is noteworthy: the image mavens seem to believe that this image sticks. Who am I to say that one day interpbots won't replace us, but the last I heard humans were still monitoring the machines and not vice-versa.

Speak for the interpreter

The morning session is about to begin, but first an announcement from the chair: "Ladies and gentlemen, when you take the floor please speak slowly and clearly so that the interpreters can follow." While I appreciate the intention, I cringe at the formulation; speeches and comments are for the participants, some or all of whom may have to follow the proceedings through interpreters. Many participants will listen to some speakers directly, but in their second, third or fourth language because there is no interpretation into their native tongues. Good public speaking is clearly not for the interpreters: let's all make the effort to avoid falling into this misrepresentation.

The interpretation is for non-English speakers

The setting: an international conference in the Oth Republic. The stated intention: to share knowledge and opinions. Languages: ENG and OTH. Interpreters have been hired and hundreds of pocket-size receivers with headsets can be seen on a table just outside the door. The first presenter has spoken English and now the chair introduces the second, a prominent local. He goes to the podium and says in English: "I'll speak OTH" Lo and behold! Not one person at the head table has a headset. Indeed, almost no non-OTH speaker in the room has one. General confusion and embarrassment. Question: why was it that we were all here?

A specialist is better than an interpreter

You've all heard this one before: "It's a very technical/specialised meeting, so we'll have a medical student/engineer/staff member who knows some German/Chinese/Portuguese handle the translation." The assumptions: any level of knowledge of a language is enough to interpret and expertise in interpreting brings no added value. But the insider can easily fail outside his own area of expertise. Those who use interpreters regularly don't make this mistake. They have seen that professional interpreters know how to prepare for an assignment and learn quickly - and they reap the benefits.


This Issue

We lead off this issue with three articles revolving around Danica Seleskovitch, a pivotal figure in the practice, teaching and professionalization of conference interpreting.

In the first Anne-Marie Widlund-Fantini introduces her recently published biography of Danica.  

We continue with a review by Jennifer Mackintosh: "With this book, her first, Anne-Marie Widlund-Fantini, tells the story of a remarkable life.  As the title indicates, Seleskovitch was indeed an interpreter of and witness to the 20th century."  

The Prix Danica Seleskovitch was created in 1991 to honor and carry on her lifework. It was awarded for the sixth time in March 2006 jointly to Jennifer Mackintosh and Christopher Thiéry. Christopher has generously contributed his acceptance speech to Communicate!.

Our following article takes us across the world to SE Asia with a brief history of interpreting in Thailand by Duangtip Surintatip.

Book reviews are always popular and we've been fortunate to receive more of them lately. In the issue Mary Fons examines The Symbolic Species: the Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain by Terrence Deacon and suggests some related reading.

We wrap up with Language in the News: "Radio and video, interviews with interpreters, translation in the media, and a featured author are all just a click away."

If you have an article on any language-related matter in any language, feel free to submit it to us for consideration: webeditors@vnwn1.aiic.net

Recommended citation format:
Luigi LUCCARELLI. "Letter from the Editor". aiic-italia.it April 17, 2007. Accessed July 9, 2020. <http://aiic-italia.it/p/2657>.