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I have just been reading the transcript of oral arguments (PDF) before the US Supreme Court.

in KOUICHI TANIGUCHI v. KAN PACIFIC SAIPAN, LTD, case no. 10-1472, the "famous" ongoing case where translation and interpretation will hopefully and authoritatively be said to be two different things - it's anyway always a delight to read court transcripts where distinguished judges interact with learned counsel other than by adjudicating on petitions, objections etc :-) - and was struck by the exchanges on what was referred to as both sight T and sight I.

  • IMHO it makes no sense to use as a qualifier something which is common to all instances of what one attempts to qualify, ie all translation is SIGHT translation because in sight of the original text, even though it may have been transcribed from an oral utterance...
  • all the more so when the difference in input does not change the actual operation undertaken, ie looking at what really happens and the techniques used it's no less interpretation because the original is read instead of spoken
  • therefore, although interpretation normally deals with discourse and does not require a text, in those frequent occasions when speakers do read out a text, what happens nevertheless remains interpretation,
  • ergo I see no reason to re-christen it when the interpreter "feeds" directly off the text.

Wouldn't you thus say that "sight T" is a misnomer and it must be "sight I"??

asked 22 Apr '12, 14:04

msr's gravatar image


edited 03 May '12, 09:50

...the opinion of the Supreme Court - affirming that "interpreter" taxable costs do not cover translation ones - has been published, along with a dissenting opinion, both covering the sight T vs. I issue I mentioned :-)

(21 May '12, 23:12) msr

Whether you call it translation or interpretation, the process is the same:

  1. You read the source text (like translators do)
  2. and you provide a simultaneous translation orally (like interpreters do)

It's fact of life that there are different names for the same thing -- or place -- like Death Cab for Cutie sing so well.

The casual reader may wish to refer to the Unprofessional Translation blog for some useful background on this question

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answered 22 Apr '12, 18:32

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

edited 24 Apr '12, 07:35

Thank you very much, Vincent. I do agree this question of mine and/or answers thereto will in all likelihood not change the universe as we know it ;-), I however do not think that six and half-a-dozen convey the exact same thing, as any owner of a dozen will tell you... and we are, in other professional contexts, paying the price for not having been able/willing to take ownership of some of our terminology, ie consecutive. When you find the time to read the transcript, I hope you'll see that I WAS singing for our supper, much like in your welcome link :-):

(22 Apr '12, 18:46) msr

Well @msr, I may be wearied at quixotic fights, especially when bona fide ignorance is at play. Quoting from Unprofessional Translation: US Supreme Court Justice Scalia drew laughter when he offered a suggestion to explain why lower courts have sometimes allowed the billing of translation costs as interpretation:

'Stupidity, madam, sheer stupidity,' Justice Scalia said, quoting 18th-century author Samuel Johnson."

(22 Apr '12, 19:12) Vincent Buck

Thank you very much again, Vincent :-). One man's "quixotic" fight is of course another man's Supreme Court case... and I have always tried to distinguish between ignorance, bona fide or otherwise, and stupidity... but hey, it's a big, wide world :-) and I still hope to elicit some substantive replies.

(23 Apr '12, 08:09) msr

+1 I agree. See also the related question on "translation" and "interpretation" definitions:

(26 Apr '12, 06:30) Delete ♦

Being a real fan of sight translation for interpreter training purposes, I have done some research into the subject. What I have learned is that there are two differente techniques, one is "sight translation" and the other one is "first sight translation". To explain this in a few words it suffices to say that in the former case you give your students a text that they can read and analyze for a few minutes before starting to actually translate it orally. In the latter case you give your student a text and without any previous analysis they have to start translating "on the fly". Perhaps we may call this last case "sight interpretation". Although I believe that it is only a terminological difference. What matters is the purpose that these techniques serve, but that will take pages and pages to explain.

For what it is worth, I wrote an article on "traducción a primera vista" that you can find at La traducción a primera vista: el primer paso en el camino de la interpretación simultánea if you want to know more about the use of this technique in interpreter training programs.

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answered 29 Apr '12, 12:09

Vero's gravatar image


edited 29 Apr '12, 19:48

Thank you very much, Veronica, I'm afraid your link did not make it. I've got a PhD thesis on the subject (for the life of me cannot remember how it made it into my hard drive!) by Amparo Jimenez Ivars, at Universitat Jaume I, dated 1999, "La Traducción a la vista. Un análisis descriptivo", yours for the asking :-) - pdf,439 pgs.

(29 Apr '12, 13:44) msr

Thank you, Manuel!!!! Now, the link is visible. Has your phD thesis been published at the CIRIN Bulletin? If it has not, you should let Daniel Gile of its existence. I would love to read it!!!

(29 Apr '12, 19:50) Vero're very welcome! Have just emailed it to you... and really don't remember whether Daniel ever published it, have just quickly checked a dozen bulletins after '99 and found no reference, will ask him :-)... in the meantime, have found a link to the thesis, here goes

(29 Apr '12, 20:35) msr

For what it's worth: At Leipzig University, we use(d) to call this "Dolmetschen vom Blatt" (interpreting off of a sheet [of paper]).

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answered 23 Apr '12, 14:35

Alexander's gravatar image


Thank you very much, Alexander... is that the common designation in German or only at Leipzig?

(23 Apr '12, 15:58) msr

In fact, in the German University I studied, we called it "Vom-Blatt-Übersetzen" so here again the limits of "translation" and "interpretation" are very blurred. See

(26 Apr '12, 06:33) Delete ♦

Thank you very much, Nacho, the more the merrier :-).

(26 Apr '12, 10:26) msr

What about "Stegreifübersetzen"? That's how we called sight translation at my alma mater in Germany. Not that this really matters... :)

(15 Jul '13, 21:54) Annie

Thank you very much, Annie... Stegreif/offhand/au pied levé are indeed colourful designations... but they would, in your case, apply to Translation, not Interpreting as the case was in Alexander's instance. Anyway, as I hope has become clear, the ax I'm grinding is more political than lexical, ie however we qualify it, CI's should IMHO call it interpretation, not Translation :-).

(15 Jul '13, 22:51) msr

That's good to know! To be honest, I had no clue there was any difference. Thanks for pointing it out to me, MSR. My German interpreter trainers in Paris still call it "Stegreifübersetzen", though. I'll ask them why when school starts again in October. :)

(15 Jul '13, 23:04) Annie
showing 5 of 6 show 1 more comments

Dear Nacho, please if you have the thesis you mentioned in English language post it to me here; becz i do really need any article or thesis related to "Sight Translation" and i will be very gratifying to you Yours, Ahmed

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answered 10 Jun '12, 08:32

Ahmed%20Ali's gravatar image

Ahmed Ali

edited 10 Jun '12, 08:40

In Finnish we don't have that problem either, we just use the Italian expression "prima vista".

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answered 10 Jun '12, 16:06

Sirpa's gravatar image


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