Translation and interpreting

Translation and interpreting (or more commonly in the US: interpretation)

Translators translate and interpreters interpret? Yes, but interpreting is a form of translation. Newspapers are going to go on referring to people translating in court, Afghan translators and so on. Get over it, people!


And I can’t agree with the argument for the distinction that interpreters have to translate on the spot so they are allowed leeway, i.e. interpreting is called interpreting because it involves understanding and conveying a message – as if translation didn’t, see here:

In fact, it is this real-time comprehension, analysis, and accurate reformulation of one language into another that poses the greatest challenge. The interpreter is both listener and speaker, working in real-time, without a safety net, and with little room to correct errors. The simultaneous, or virtually simultaneous, nature of the work combined with a lack of control over the content of the original speeches mean that the interpreter performs his or her work in demanding conditions that leave little room for error.

However, the importance of the translator’s work must not be overlooked: the absence of immediate time constraints allows the translator to apply more mental resources to the task of finding the correct solution. The translator always seeks rigorous solutions, not solutions that will just ‘get the job done’. To do so, the translator applies thorough research and consulting techniques and uses specialist databases to broaden their understanding of the subject matter.

just because ‘interpret’ has a double meaning doesn’t mean that the two meanings merge.

While I’m on the subject, Werner Siebers, the German criminal defence attorney blogger, has reported on an interpreter who was removed from a case because he translated too freely.

Er versteht sich selbst mehr als Ausleger und Interpretierer denn als Übersetzer. Er meint, „das Gesetz“ – welches auch immer er meint – schreibe ihm vor, gerade nicht wörtlich zu übersetzen, vielmehr müsse er gleich den von ihm erkannten – vermuteten? – Sinn zu Papier bringen.

The comments get a bit hair-raising:

Batman schreibt:
11. Mai 2016 um 11:59

Also wenn der Zeuge sagt: „It was raining cats and dogs“, soll der Dolmetscher übersetzen, dass es „Katzen und Hunde“ geregnet habe??

rawsiebers schreibt:
11. Mai 2016 um 13:41

Selbstverständlich muss er zwingend so übersetzen, er hat nichts zu unterpretieren und auszulegen, er ist lediglich Sprachmittler. Gestattet ist ihm, eine Anmerkung zu machen, dass es sich um eine Redewendung handelt, die eine andere Bedeutung als die wörtliche Übersetzung haben kann (z.B. es regnet Bindfäden oder wie aus Eimern oder einfach stark). Vorrangig ist aber zunächst selbstverständlich und zwingend die wörtliche Übersetzung.

However, it appears that the interpreter was indeed very free: he said “Dafür habe ich kein Geld” (I haven’t got enough money for that) instead of “Mir sind die Hände gebunden” (My hands are tied).

There was a bit of a discussion about this blog post on a translators’ mailing list and some remarks were made by court interpreters – police, public prosecutors or judges ask the interpreter to instruct the witness:

“Herr Dolmetscher, sagen Sie ihm bitte, er ist … schwarzgefahren und hat das Recht… etc.”

oder “Ach ja, ich habe vergessen den Zeugen zu beleheren. Herr Dolmetscher, sagen Sie ihm… Ähm.. Sie kennen doch die Belehrung, gelle? Also, sagen Sie ihm, dass er als Zeuge berechtigt ist… und alles andere, das Übliche, halt!”

Google helping the police in Essen

In December 2015 the police in Essen questioned a speaker of Arabic who they suspecting of stealing a jacket and some drinks from a supermarket. As they could not understand Arabic, they consulted Google Translate, RP Online reports. As the paper points out, this appears to be an infringement of the right to a fair hearing (Anspruch auf rechtliches Gehör). The police say they used the program to establish the man’s identity. It looks as if there will be no conseqences, since the man was given an interpreter the next day and at following hearings. The public prosecutor’s office in Düsseldorf confirmed what had happened, but did not answer the question as to whether the police often use Google Translate.

(via law blog: Google übersetzt für die Polizei)

A mere conduit?

Under the E-Commerce Regulations, an ISP can escape liability for content because it is a mere conduit.

Conduit in the figurative sense: the OED says

4. fig. The channel or medium by which anything (e.g. knowledge, influence, wealth, etc.) is conveyed;

But currently in the USA, there is an argument as to whether an interpreter or translator is a mere conduit.

I suppose that’s how some customers see us.

When the police use an interpreter in an interrogation and do not record the defendant’s words but only the translation of them into English, can the interpreter be challenged legally? Lawrence Solan writes in his Balkinization blog:

An interesting question concerning forensic linguistics is making its way through the appellate courts: When the police use an interpreter during an interview (or interrogation) of a suspect who later becomes a defendant in a prosecution, and the defendant’s words in her original language are not recorded, does the defendant have a constitutional right to confront the interpreter? As a cost-saving measure, more and more law enforcement agencies, and some courts, have been retaining services that interpret the interview over the telephone. One of them, Language Line Solutions., has found itself in the middle of this constitutional question.

courts should be more realistic in their understanding of what interpreters and translators can do. First, courts should stop relying on the “conduit” theory of translation. Compare two reputable translations of any work of literature. They will be similar in some ways, different in others. To the extent that word choice matters in the context of a criminal prosecution, nuanced differences may affect a case’s outcome. Second, interpreters make errors. The legal system should recognize this. Third, courts should not accept as accurate representations that the entire professional staff of a private firm retained by the government is dispassionate and of high professional character. Surely the defendant need not accept such representations.

Solan recommends that at least the original statements should be recorded as potential evidence.

Start your interpreting career in an Austrian prison

Ausländische Gefangene in österreichischen Justizanstalten und Polizeianhaltezentren (PDF) (the work of a multinational group) gives some information on the various forms of imprisonment you might enjoy in Austria: Verwahrungshaft, Untersuchungshaft, Strafhaft, Unterbringung im Maßnahmenvollzug, Verwaltungsstrafhaft, polizeiliche Haft, fremdenpolizeiliche Haft.

Fair Trials (via Prisoners Abroad) tells you what’s what if you’re imprisoned in Austria, but it doesn’t tell you you might find yourself acting as an interpreter for other speakers of your language.

Verbesserungsbedarf gibt es vor allem im Bereich der Kommunikation. Das Sprachproblem ist in Gerichtlichen Gefangenenhäusern viel größer als in Strafvollzugsanstalten, wo Insassen meist erst hinkommen, nachdem sie bereits einige Zeit im Gefängnissystem verbracht haben. Vor allem mit Leuten aus dem osteuropäischen und ex-sowjetischen Raum gibt es oft keine gemeinsame Sprache, was Misstrauen, Ängste und Unverständnis erzeugt. Manche Beamte differenzieren wenig und bezeichnen Moldawier, Tschetschenen, Georgier, Armenier, etc. pauschal als „die Russen“, eine Gruppe, der zahlreiche negative Eigenschaften zugeschrieben werden.
Auf Dolmetscher wird im Alltag nicht zurückgegriffen, das sei zu aufwendig und teuer. Meist übersetzten andere Insassen oder Justizpersonal. Sogar bei Ordnungsstrafverfahren wird kaum je ein professioneller Dolmetscher eingesetzt.

An article in Heute, Justiz setzt Häftlinge im Häf’n als Dolmetscher ein, gives examples from a prison in Styria – the photo shows the prison governor. One of the interpreters is a member of the Pink Panther jewel thieves gang.


Happy interpreters video

A video showing happy interpreters at the UN in New York.
Happy Interpreters
from Empanadilla de Atún 1 day ago / via Final Cut Pro Not Yet Rated

To dispel the tower of Babel and other clichés about us we thought that this holiday season we would show you what we really do and what we are really like. Don’t be afraid- no other humans or animals suffered during filming, no extra budgetary resources were required. Not even the need to talk about multilingualism, cost cutting, increased efficiency, doing more for less or any of those buzz words. We have managed to use a universal language and we hope it makes you feel HAPPY.

Apparently this is not the first cover of Pharrell Williams’ video.

Thanks to Elm.

Court interpreters as spies/Gerichtsdolmetscher als Spione

1. Werner Siebers, the criminal defence lawyer, reports in his blog that the public prosecutor’s department in Kassel wants to prescribe what court interpreter he uses on a first visit to a potential client in prison. He is concerned that the public prosecutors may be using an interpreter to report back to them on conversations between defendant and defence counsel.

Wenn ein Dolmetscher vereidigt ist, werde ich ganz sicher nicht zulassen, dass mir die Staatsanwaltschaft dazwischenfunkt. So verkniffen, wie die Staatsanwaltschaft die Sache angeht, werde ich das jetzt auch sehen.

Die wollen vielleicht einen Dolmetscher “einschleusen”, der dann brühwarm berichtet, was mir der Beschuldigte erzählt hat. Das fehlt mir noch.

2. Carsten Hoenig takes up the topic in Verraeter-Dolmetscher (excuse English keyboard). He comments that some interpreters may be prepared to act as the prosecution’s ears, but this is rare. But he reports on a situation he experienced. There were five defendants in a case, all speakers of a rare language, and each by law should be represented by a different interpreter. On the way to prison, the interpreter said he’d already interpreted for two of the other Ds and had been there at the first police questioning. Hoenig then did not question the D on important matters. On the way back, the interpreter reported numerous details of the private conversations with the other defendants – perhaps not dangerous in this case, but all the defense counsel decided not to use this interpreter again.

Auf dem Rückweg aus dem Besuchertrakt der Untersuchungshaftanstalt berichtete mir der Dolmetscher freimütig einige Details aus den Gesprächen der anderen Verteidiger mit ihren jeweiligen Mandanten. Es war nicht Wildes dabei; aber allein der Umstand, daß der Dolmetscher überhaupt solche Geheimnisse mit Dritten – also mit mir – teilte, war für mich – und dann auch für die Berliner Strafverteidiger – Anlaß genug, uns für die weiteren Mandanten-Gespräche nach anderen professionell arbeitenden Dolmetschern umzuschauen.

Hoenig adds an account to show that nearly all interpreters are reliable.

3. Here’s a report from Austria – in German – on a situation similar to the ALS problem in the UK: Dolmetsch-Misere in Traiskirchen (thanks to Brigitte for that).

Interpreter’s oath/Dolmetschereid

Here’s a curious question from an ITI member. This is the interpreter’s oath, which is taken by all interpreters in courts in England:

I swear by Almighty God that I will well and faithfully interpret and make true explanation of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to the best of my skill and understanding.

Gosh – haven’t they modernized that one?

The colleague thinks that ‘to the best of my skill’ is wrong and should be ‘to the best of my skills’, because ‘best’ is a superlative adjective and it implies comparison between at least two objects (actually, as a superlative, it would have to be three, because ‘better’ applies to two). He wants it changed.

I can’t see this at all. I am familiar with the legalese expression ‘to the best of my knowledge’ and ‘to the best of my ability’. These are uncountables, as are ‘skill’ and ‘understanding’ in the oath. ‘Skill’ can be countable too – a good source for information on countable and uncountable meanings is the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, which is now online. Now if ‘skill’ should be plural, then ‘understanding’ must be wrong too – which it isn’t! I think both ‘to the best of my skill’ and ‘to the best of my skills’ are correct English. However, although I find 27,000 ghits for the plural, I only find seven of them on UK sites. So if you are in Canada or India or the USA, ‘skills’ is OK here.

Most interpreters in Germany swear an oath, a sort of permanent oath, when they are appointed, so they don’t have to swear in court. I did manage to affirm when I became a court-certified translator, although the courts seem fairly unfamiliar with that procedure here.

In an article on ProZ, Marta Stelmaszak, a Polish-to-English interpreter, also gives the affirmation.

The Interpreter’s Oath
“I swear by Allah/Almighty God, etc. that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to my best of my skill and understanding”

The Interpreter’s Affirmation
“I do solemnly declare that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to my best of my skill and understanding”

(That should be ‘the best’, not ‘my best’ – but ‘and true explanation make’ is apparently the recommended word order).

LATER NOTE: A commenter would have added the following affirmation as used in Oxford magistrates’ courts:

I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to the best of my skill and understanding.

I imagine there is a lot of variation over the country, or should I say over England and Wales. Apparently Scots are permitted to raise a hand when swearing.

Children of Deaf Adults/Wer kann dolmetschen?

Liaison interpreters (Verhandlungsdolmetscher) are trained to be more than people who just understand two languages.

Die Zeit did not take a trained liaison sign language interpreter when it decided to arrange for an interview with a deaf man and a blind woman (are we allowed to say that?).

Um Karina Wuttke und Mario Torster kommunizieren lassen zu können, ist eine Dolmetscherin gekommen, Rita Spring, Kind gehörloser Eltern. Ihre Gebärdensprache soll die Brücke zwischen beiden sein.

This is commented on in the blog of a deaf woman, Jule, die welt mit den augen schauen.

She calls the interpreter a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). CODAs often have to help their parents outside the home. The interpreter doesn’t give a complete translation for the deaf man, who comes over as a bit slow in consequence. She also says at the beginning that it’s impossible to say as much in sign language as in speech (that even struck me as odd).

Die Dolmetscherin lässt wieder ihre Hände fliegen, Karina Wuttke horcht in die Stille, Mario Torster liest aus Frau Springs Gesten. Er sieht die beiden Frauen reden, lachen und muss auf eine Erklärung warten. Wer denkt, ein Gehörloser habe es leichter, weil er ja »nur« nicht hören kann, hat sich in diesem Fall getäuscht. Es ist ein Interview mit Zeitverzögerung.

The interpreter’s hands start flying back and forth again, Karina Wuttke listens to the silence, while Mario Torster reads Ms Spring’s gestures. He sees the two women talking and laughing and has to wait for an explanation. If you thought the deaf had it easier because the only thing they cannot do is hear, you can think again. There is a time lag in the interview.

Why on earth did the interpreter not interpret simultaneously, or rather, more simultaneously? Well, there is always a time lapse in interpreted interviews, but that would not call for any comments.

The very idea of interviewing a blind person and a deaf person is not well received by this blogger, nor by the Behindertenparkplatz blogger, from whom I got the links.

Despite the problems, for me it was interesting to read in detail about how the two of them use the internet, or how useful mobile phones are to them. Or how a blind person forms an impression of Gerhard Schröder:

Typischer Macho. Der Stimme nach ein absolut arroganter Mensch, selbstherrlich, überstülpend.

SDI on Youtube

Richard Schneider links to a Youtube videoclip made by students of the SDI in Munich, advertising the school.
The SDI has a Berufsfachschule for secretaries, a Fachakademie (the staff there, unlike in Erlangen, coyly pronounce it F-A-K rather than as a word) for translators and interpreters, and since 2007 a private university for other courses – but the film explains it.