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DO INTERPRETERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO IMPROVE UPON THE ORIGINAL? THE ETERNAL TUG OF WAR BETWEEN EXPECTANCY AND PROFESSIONAL NORMS

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The question is often posed as to the interpreter's (or, for that matter, translator's) right to improve upon the original. Put that way, the issue appears, in fact, to be one of norms-the kinds of behavioural regularities that "are
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  DO INTERPRETERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO IMPROVE UPON THE ORIGINAL?THE ETERNAL TUG OF WAR BETWEEN EXPECTANCY AND PROFESSIONALNORMS 1 by Sergio Viaggio The question is often posed as to the interpreter's (or, for that matter, translator's) right toimprove upon the srcinal. Put that way, the issue appears, in fact, to be one of norms  the !indsof behavioural regularities that "are accepted (in a given community) as being models or standards of desired behaviour" (#hesterman 1$$%, p. &). s #hesterman points out, we candistinguish two broad classes of norms production norms  having to do with method and processes, and product norms  having to do with the form and endresults of processes. sers of interpretation (and translation) have certain e*pectations about the product of our wor!  theyhave expectanc  norms, while interpreters (and translators) have certain principles that guide theway we arrive at such product  we have p!"#e$$%"na&  norms. +very profession is governed by professional norms subect to e*pectancy norms. The difference between translation-interpretationand better established professions is that, in the case of the latter, e*pectancy norms have become based on professional norms, so that no patient will question the surgeon's "right" to amputate, provided it is the best alternative under the circumstances  best for the tas! in hand, i.e. doingwhat is best for the patient. hy then should the user (and many a translator-interpreter himself)deny the mediator the "right" to improve or otherwise "tamper with" the srcinal, provided it isthe best alternative under the circumstances  best for the tas! in hand, i.e. doing what is best for two (or more) interlocutors (or set of interlocutors) wishing to communicate effectively/The answer, to my mind, is sociohistorical physicians have (as have architects, engineersand the rest) scientifically, practically and therefore socially established themselves as e*perts intheir field, and in so doing they have earned the trust of users of their services, who, at worst, arewilling to give them the benefit of the doubt. This they have managed not through a flashy or cunning public relations campaign, nor by being more intelligent, but by centuries of actuallystriving to grasp more and more thoroughly the laws obectively governing relevant phenomena,and ever more effectively to put them to practical use. Their scientific competence (i.e.theoretical, 'ec&a!at%(e  !nowledge  " knowing that  ") informs their performance (i.e. their  practical, p!"ce')!a&  !nowledge  " knowing how to "), ensuring its validity. The most obvioussocial consequence of it all is that their titles are recognised and protected, and that, through their  professional organisations, they have the right to regulate practice.Translators and interpreters have not succeeded yet in theorising their pra*is, andtherefore in establishing themselves and the profession to a similar e*tent, which ma!es them feelmuch more at the mercy of their users than other professionals. The reason is, 0 submit, anobective vulnerability lthough they do normally have the linguistic and thematic competencenecessary for effecting most meaning (i.e. basically semantic) transfers adequately,translators-interpreters generally lac! the declarative competence to inform and ensure thecommunicative validity of their performance  i.e. to accomplish their metalingual tas! that of ensuring communication not only through language, but, more often than not in manycircumstances, despite language. 0t is here, at the metalinguistic, communicative level themediator's highest instance that the translator-interpreter's "right" to improve or otherwise"tamper with" the srcinal is posed. y (and most translatologists') contention is that ma!ing thelinguistic, terminological, stylistic, rhetorical, cultural and other adustments in the second speechact that completes the communication circuit between spea!er and addressee is neither a "right"nor a "duty" but an unavoidable necessity the relevant identity between sense as intended by the 1   1 This paper is a rewor!ing of my !eynote address at the 2lova!ian Translators3 ssociation #onference,4udmerice, pril 566&.  2 spea!er and sense as comprehended by the addressee (i.e. the combination of sameness of meaning at different levels and cognitive and qualitative effects) is impossible without at leastsome degree of adaptation at all other levels. The question, then, is not whether but to whate*tent and in what circumstances an interpreter can legitimately  improve his verbalisation of sense, i.e. without overstepping the boundaries of what 7ord 1$$1 calls loyalty (not reproducingthe spea!er's foreign accent or diction defect, correcting his syntactic and other mista!es is, after all, improving upon the srcinal, and 0 simply dare any interpreter to lisp or stammer as thespea!er8). 2uch e*tent as indeed the e*tent and nature of any other adaptation touches uponthe deontological and can be thus loo!ed at from the standpoint of norms. To what e*tent, then, is improvement or any other adaptation or, if you prefer,9manipulation:, legitimate and when/ The answer cannot but be based on the best !nowledgeavailable about the empirical rules obectively governing communication. Thus, the !ind of declarative !nowledge necessary to understand the need to ma!e what !inds of adaptations in thesecond speech act, and of procedural !nowledge to come up with the best possiblecommunicative product under the circumstances goes far beyond the sheer linguistic and thematiccompetence most professionals assume to be sufficient. ithout such declarative buttress, eventhe best intuitions fail to assert themselves procedurally, whereby professional norms are not based on the best scientific !nowledge available about the essence of the phenomenon at hand,which, in fact, is not mere meaning transfer but mediated interlingual interculturalcommunication. That, and not the whim or intuition or bureaucratic imposition of the uninitiated,must be the solid and ever evolving basis of our professional norms. ediators should educatetheir clients ( an'  administrators) the way physicians educate theirs no more  no less.To this day, unfortunately, mediators have been in no position to provide such education,so that e*pectancy norms are mostly naive. To boot, users tend to believe that they !now as wellas or even better than the mediator (which is sometimes sadly true). 4lissfully ignorant of thesubordinate role of language in communication and unaware even of the most elementary rules of interlingual transfer, the user especially if in a position of power e*pects the poor interpreter to"translate e*actly every word", li!e the tribal chief of so many bad films e*pecting theshipwrec!ed white doctor to save his dying daughter while denying him the "right" to give her aninection  let alone e*cise her tumour. e, the sophisticated audience, laugh or frown at theuncouth savage's endearing or threatening ignorance  while the ;alen often ends up impaled. sthe marooned physician, the interpreter is at a loss to e*plain to his customer the reasons for his professional behaviour of the professional norms behind it in a way that the latter canunderstand and accept. nli!e the physician, in many cases the interpreter cannot blame it somuch on the user (who cannot realistically be e*pected to !now better) but on himself. hen heis, indeed, able to voice the declarative !nowledge upon which his procedural !nowledge restswhen he can e*plain the theory behind his practice he is as adequately equipped to defend hisscientifically derived choices as any other professional 5 . 2   5 hile 0 was wor!ing on this piece, in my days as #hief 0nterpreter with the nited 7ations <ffice at =ienna,0 received the following informal written complaint from the chairman at one of our meetings (the delegate inquestion would stop after every clause to wait for the interpretation into +nglish without realising that the +nglishinterpreter, who did not !now the source language, was relaying form >rench) "I think somebody should tell the English interpreter to stop consecutive interpretation sincethe XXX ambassador always waits until she has finished!"  To which 0 promptly gave the following informal written reply "Interpreters are professional experts at their task hey do not presume to tell speakers how to speakbut by the same token they will not allow laymen to tell them how to interpret If an interpreter waits it is because he does not yet have anything meaningful to say and is waiting to get the speaker#s drift Interpreters do not interpret for the speaker but for the audience"   3 Presumably an indispensable interlingual intercultural mediator that he is and e*pertcommunicator that he ought to be the interpreter (conference or community, simultaneous or consecutive) is there to help communication, not to stand indifferently by or, worse in the way.?eontologically, he has a professional responsibility towards both (sets of) interlocutors   andwhoever has hired him as a mediator  a responsibility that goes far beyond decoding semanticrepresentations from one language and encoding them in another. 0n this perspective, loyalty tothe interlocutors and the client is a higher instance than fidelity to an oral or written utterance.hat intuitive practitioners fail to see or fully ta!e into account is that sense does not depend onthe spea!er alone, that it is equally constructed by the addressee through a process of activeinference based on the principle of relevance (2perber @ ilson 1$AB-1$$C)D that a te*t is but ane*tended e*plicature, which can only become an effective message once the addressee has beenable to infer the relevant implicatures. s a mediator, therefore, the translator-interpreter's loyaltyis both to the spea!er and to the addressee (although in different circumstances it may glide moretowards either)D as a matter of fact, faithfulness to the srcinal is but the most obvious form of loyalty to *"t+  interlocutors  if the only one to be intuitively perceived and accepted by the layuser and the communicatively naive translator-interpreter, and then e*clusively visEvis thespea!er.0ndeed, it can be asserted that the mediator is not responsible for the spea!er's intendedsense, or for the utterance's semantic or stylistic adequateness to it (i.e. for the spea!er's ability or willingness to ma!e himself understood), nor for the addressee's willingness or ability tounderstand  but this is true only up to a point and in certain circumstances, especially at the beginning of an e*change.  good mediator is normally able to help both processes, so that thespea!er can tailor his verbalisation more and more accurately to the interlocutor's linguistic andcultural competence, and the interlocutor can hone his sensitivity to the spea!er's. This the good practitioner can achieve in two complementary ways by ma!ing both interlocutors (or, at least,the more sophisticated one) aware of the mismatch in their culture, !nowledge or e*pectations aswell as of the possible remedies, and-or by himself effecting the necessary adaptations in his ownrendering.s an interlingual mediator, his responsibility is obviously languagerelated. 0n mye*perience, most spea!ers (whether at international gatherings or being interviewed by a socialwor!er) are not very good at verbalising their meaning meant. 2ometimes they are not spea!ingtheir mother tongue, sometimes they do not spea! their own language very well, but more oftenthan not they are simply less than efficient rhetorically by unwittingly flouting all ma*ims of conversation they minimise relevance, thereby torpedoing their interlocutors' will to cooperate. 7ote the unwittingly  above if any such flouting is %ntent%"na& , the interpreter must, in principle,render it faithfully  or rather, loyally, since he is not being faithful to a formal feature of discourse but loyal to the intention behind it, to the spea!er himself. 7ow, if obscurity, ornatecircumlocutions and the li!e may indeed be intentionally resorted to in order to hide a point or dodge an issue in which case, again, the rendition is to be equally obscure and convolutedaw!wardness at obscurity or circumlocution are seldom intentional nobody, not even the mostasinine spea!er, wants to come through as an imbecile. The interpreter may reoice in letting thespea!er's rhetorical inanity shine through, and that is his legitimate right to vengeance (asmilitantly illustrated by Fobinson 1$$1 % ), but he also has the duty to try and help his audienceunderstand. 0n other words, unless there are valid reasons n"t  to perform rhetorically as a goodcommunicator and vengeance may sometimes be one of them the interpreter does n"t  have 3   % "The ironic translator, or the translator in an ironic mood, sic! of ... building good arguments out of garbage,doing for the writer what the writer should have done for himself... will be faithful to the letter and the spirit of the te*t  not out of a fanatic adherence to a principle, but from an e*tremely gratifying form of malice... Gerefaithfulness... becomes an insult to the writerD selfeffacement becomes a !ind of aggression by omission, a passive violence mar!ed by an active refusal to do violence to the te*t" (pp. 1H%1H&, italics in the srcinal). +verysingle word can be e*trapolated to the interpreter or any other mediator.  4 the "right" n"t  to be as good as he can.s an intercultural mediator, his responsibility is culturerelated. True, the interculturalaspect of interpretation is somewhat obscured at most international diplomatic gatherings, where,for all practical purposes, delegates tend to share the same "conference" culture, but it comesvery much to the fore in most other cases, and above all, 0 submit, in all manner of dialogicinteraction. ay 0 hasten to clarify that 0 am referring here to culture in its widest possible senseas the system of habits, norms and e*pectations that filter and organise e*perience  includingone's perception of other people and communicative situations. >rom such a perspective, we canrightly spea! of child-teenage-adult culture, female-male culture, professional-social-religiousculture, etc. s 0 have stressed, the interpreter ought to be on the loo!out for significantmismatches in culture and bac!ground !nowledge that may stand in the way of pragmatically aswell as cognitively successful communication and try and help whenever possible to overcome,correct or compensate for them. 0n other words, unless there are valid reasons n"t  to performculturally as a good communicator and, again, vengeance may sometimes be one of them theinterpreter does n"t  have the "right" n"t  to be as good as he can & .hat prevents many an interpreter from understanding that, unless there are political,legal or other valid reasons not to, he must do his best actively to help both interlocutors is, thus,a misconception of interpretation as a sheer e*ercise in interlingual transfer, whereby loyalty tothe interlocutors is mista!enly equated with faithfulness to form (whether at the semantic,syntactic or le*ical level). 0n olden times (and in some quarters to this day, unfortunately), theinterpreter, unaware of the true nature of his mediation, not all too confident on his own linguisticand social competence, saw the spea!er or the client (as a rule, one of the interlocutors' agents)as his despotD nowadays, a professionally competent mediator should fear nothing else than beingunable to do a linguistically and culturally competent ob  or incapable of scientifically e*plainingand defending any contested choice. True, in most highlevel instances the interpreter must beunconditionally loyal to whomever pays him (and that is why interlocutors bring their ownTurumans to be their voices), and this loyalty may well entail ma*imum faithfulness to formalfeatures (including semantic form C ). 4ut even in such e*treme cases, his professional e*pertiseshould not be questioned or superseded. 0t is a long and uphill battle of selfassertion, for  professional, social and personal dignity and, by short e*tension, for proper remuneration. The professional essence of this battle is, therefore, for the establishment and acceptanceof truly scientific norms. s 0 have pointed out, there tends to be a chasm between the stagnante*pectancy norms of lay users of interpretation (and all other forms of mediation, includingtranslation) and the constantly evolving !nowledge of the rules that obectively governcommunication (see #hesterman 1$$C). s with the practice of any other discipline, the professional norms of interpreters must closely follow scientific insights into the wor!ings of communication. s is both natural and unfortunate barely half a century after the birth of the profession of interlingual intercultural mediation (n.b. not of the practice, but of the profession),and merely a few years after the first insights into its communicative nature, most interpreters arenot aware of its truly communicative essence, imposing or mee!ly suffering to have imposedupon themselves communicatively naive norms. t this stage, then, the real battle is to be waged 4   & <f course, even the best mediator will find himself at times inadequately equipped for his tas!. The typicalcase is when he is called upon to interpret into a language that is not his mother tongue for people with whoseculture he is but superficially conversant. hat can he do in such cases/ gain his best, hoping that it will provegood enough. Gere, especially, the interpreter does not have the "right" n"t to be as good as he can. 5   C Iet us remind ourselves that the semantic content of a sentence is not the content of the utterance thesemantic content of a sentence is the semantic #"!,  of the utterance's sense. henever the sentence #it#s raining#  is uttered, its semantic content remains invariable, whether the intended sense (i.e. the communicative content of the semantic form) be literally that #it is raining#  , or #shut the door#  , or #let#s stay at home#  , or #why not go to amovie#  , or #I do not want to talk about it#  .  5 at home the interpreter must strive to become an ever more competent, fle*ible, polyvalent,effective interlingual intercultural mediatorD which demands not only superb linguistic competence(well above the levels sometimes obtaining) and deep encyclopaedic and thematic culture, butsomething more a thorough understanding of the empirical rules governing communication ingeneral and interlingual intercultural mediation in particular, plus the practical ability to mediateaccordingly. >or that, individual intuition, acumen and e*perience are far from enough hatever the uninitiated layman or the intuitive professional may thin! or say, there is no interpretational practice without a theory of communication (whether conscious or unconscious, contradictory,haphaJard, ad hoc  or otherwise unsound), and there can be no good practice without a goodtheory. Genceforward, procedural !nowledge must be based on, buttressed by and develop with asolid declarative !nowledge. 0 hope that the concepts propounded in this paper contribute to it. 
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