Saturday, September 2, 2017

But I could never say that!

Let's talk about interpreting off-color language, which is honestly among my favorite topics. Firstly because I love colorful language in all its forms, and part of me finds it entertaining to interpret swearing in venues where normally I would (personally) only use the most formal of language. But more importantly, I love to talk about this because the idea that an interpreter has to interpret anything (yes, really, anything!) that is is said is probably one of the least intuitively understood principles both by interpreters and non-interpreters alike, should they stop to think about it. That, and the other great accuracy-related principle, interpreting in first person - but that's a topic for another day.

It's always very interesting to discuss cursing in training, because in every class I've taught, in all the years I've trained interpreters, it always goes almost exactly like this.

Me: So interpreters have to interpret accurately, right?

Class: Yes!!

Me: What would happen if an interpreter decided to leave certain parts out?

Participant: The whole message wouldn't get through. It would be wrong for the interpreter to leave parts out of the message.

Me: Right. Now, this applies to literally everything that is said. Some people are surprised when I tell them this, but it applies to curse words and offensive language, too.

(the class starts to murmur)

Participant: But it would be rude for us to say those words. People would be offended. I think maybe we should just tell the other side that the person is cursing or using rude language, but not give any details.

....And then we spend probably the next three days litigating this point on and off, until the entire class finally buys in, minus usually one or two particularly proper hold outs. That is their great loss, and I hope they change their minds before they ever interpret professionally in a matter that could have a significant impact on peoples' lives.

What does this mean? It means the impulse to be polite is strong! It means that in training and in our professional conversations, especially with new interpreters, we have to emphasize that interpreting accurately means interpreting everything. Even when it's shocking. Especially when it's shocking.

And isn't there a certain mischief and mirth in that?

I'll leave you with this great 1-minute video from Clarity Interpreting on the topic. I also have been playing around with the Amara subtitling platform again (see my stuff!) to do some captioning of training videos as part of a favor for the wonderful folks at Ayuda here in DC who are offering The Language of Justice this month and are letting me join that training. So that's why this very easy to understand video happens to have English captions. Enjoy!