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En una reciente conferencia sobre protocolo y ceremonial chino, la oradora indicó que los chinos suelen ser muy amables y no quejarse abiertamente sobre un tema. Por ejemplo, un empleador podría decirle a su empleada "¡Qué vida tan activa que llevás! Veo que hablás mucho tiempo por celular", cuando en realidad se está quejando de que trabaja poco.

Dado que el concepto de "save face" (mianzi?) es muy fuerte en la cultura china, y se trata no solo de guardar las apariencias sino de no avergonzar al otro, mi pregunta es: En caso de tener interpretar el mensaje del empleador ¿deberíamos traducirlo literalmente o aclarar el sobrentendido? Muchas gracias de antemano. Alejandra

asked 03 May '12, 12:07

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Alejandra Jorge

edited 03 May '12, 12:23

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Thank you both. I know Vicky can read English so I will post my answer in English. First, in the example, the situation was me interpreting a Chinese boss (speaking in English with all the "subtones" of his/her Chinese culture) to an Argentine employee.

Of course, I could use irony in my tone of voice so that the Argentine employee would immediately pick up on the intention.

My question does not have to do so much with understanding (or interpreting) understatements but as to how far I could go if the Chinese person does not want to offend the person. That is why I posed it as a question of ethics, also. The lecturer was quite adamant about the fact that the Chinese are extremely careful not to hurt somebody else's feelings, and save face at the same time. I wonder how much of that we can interpret.

Any Chinese- English or Chinese-Spanish interpreters can shed a light on this?

As to the "I have a headache" comment... Could you use another culturally viable excuse? Just a thought... Thanks again. Alejandra

(06 May '12, 13:42) Alejandra Jorge

Thank you very much for your kind comment - by all means, don't let my butting in stop you from using SP! :-)

To my mind and from atop my regrettably vast ignorance of matters Chinese, your question is not so much Chinese-specific but interpretation-specific, ie your very pertinent instance of how best to go about respecting the speaker's wish not to offend his interlocutor - while delivering his true message, which he accomplishes by saying something that cannot be all he means, in light of circumtances - can be discussed as part of the wider issue of how explictly to interpret utterances whose words can be construed in different ways, also including form/intonation cues, IMHO an issue relevant to communication at large and therefore to all languages/cultures.

Again, my yardstick would be loyalty to the message, which includes explicit and implicit content, and form in so far as possible (the latter oftentimes conveying the non-explicit meaning) ... that is to say if making true meaning (in your opinion...) more apparent (which the principal chose not to do...) can only be done by making explicit your take of what was implicit (and which, to boot, you know to be culture specific) and thus alter the message... my advice would be not to.

If the recipient misunderstands the message, ie doesn't get the implicit meaning and believes the explicit one to be it, despite cultural cues, s/he'll do so due to his/her ignorance of a lot more than you can fix as an interpreter... all the more so if s/he does not ask for clarification - whereupon the principal would probably make the message a bit more explicit, as would your interpretation then be :-).

(06 May '12, 17:55) msr

Not sure if I have any rules of thumb (I'm EN-ZH) but I find this much easier when you can see the speaker (and audience) from a short distance away. In SI with a remote view it's much more about guesswork. Basically the non-verbal element is crucial - what's the expression on the person's face? How annoyed do they look and feel? Are they being sarcastic? What "theatrical" effect are they having in Chinese?

We have fewer "stop playing with your phone!" situations in formal conferences, and I'm not sure the boss/employee situation comes up very much there. Intuition takes you a long way - and I find that people are already expecting some funny stuff to happen - including things that would be a loss of face if this was a televised all-smiles no-discussion opening ceremony kind of conference in Chinese only.

The 4 character proverbs - again not much of an issue. People tend to avoid them with international audiences, just out of instinct, really. You get them in Wen Jiabao speeches - and they've been given to the interpreters in advance. Apart from that, you only really get the ones that come up in everyday speech.

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answered 09 May '12, 05:35

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William White

Hi, I would not add anything to the original Chinese statement because for 1, the message can be and will eventually be picked up by the other interlocutor. 2nd, if he's not culture sensitive enough to pick this up, he has to learn, or his boss will have to learn to speak more directly, in a way more susceptible to Spanish ears. Our job as interpreters is only to pass on the linguistic part of the statement on to the other party, not the cultural part. the latter is for the interlocutors to learn from one another. that's where I draw the line, and that's where i believe my buck stops.

this kind of situation happens to me all the times, but in a different guise: the famous 4 character proverbs. Each one of them has an whole story behind it, coming down to us after thousand of years. Chinese crystallize them succinctly in just 4 Chinese letters /syllables, which makes it very difficult to handle in simultaneous. A lot of times, I've seen my colleagues, incl. myself, would just translate them literally, giving out something very elusive to a English ear. If the audience doesn't catch it right, then it's their responsibility to raise the hand and ask for an explanation. For the speaker, if you are afraid of not being understood, then tune your speech to your audience and do not talk like your are talking to your fellow Chinese. as an old saying has it: speaking in elegant Chinese proverbs is like winking at a pretty girl in a dark room.

In cross-cultural communication, each party has to tune itself to the difference in cultures. Each one has to come to the conversation prepared to be not understood or misunderstood and to be willing to learn from mistakes. Interpreters can not and should not take up all the responsibility, it is a joint effort of all 3 parties.

having said that, nothing stops you from running extra miles to explain to the employee what his boss really means. but that is an "extra", and be aware of what you are taking on: does the boss want you to do this for him? maybe he thinks you are just making him sound rude. and if neither side doesn't learn from mistakes, you are probably taking on a job of constantly running between them, explaining what "he actually means by this", and if you are doing this, sooner or later, you are going to find out that you are biting off more than you can chew.

I've noticed in the answers by colleagues from other booths that they tends to think there's always a way to get around to it. This kind of optimism stems probably from the fact they are dealing with languages that share the same western culture. To me, Chinese culture and its idiosyncrasy is just incompatible to the western one, and working between Chinese and western languages is like to be asked to convert constantly between imperial and metric systems, only that in our case, the conversion ratio changes every single time.

so my answer is a bit different from that of my other colleagues who had answered before me. IMHO, even if you see clearly the statement will not otherwise be understood, even if you are absolute positive that what you are going to add is what he meant and will be approved by the speaker, do not try to overstep your line in the sand. in order for a conversation to fly, both parties have to be on the same wave length. As the interpreter, we are here to convert the waves not to modulate them, by overdoing, we risk to scramble the message.

just my 2 cents from a Chinese point of view.

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answered 07 May '12, 08:05

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...other than having gratefully been educated by your insightful reply, let me thank you for your kind sharing of that delighful saying: I only wish I could say that this "pretty girl" thanks you for your wink :-).

(08 May '12, 00:26) msr

Hi Alexandra :-).

The example you quote " que vida tan activa etc" was it used by the speaker/reported by the speaker as having been used by the boss... and you wonder whether you should give further examples... in that interpreting situation or had you been interpreting between boss and employee, is that it?

Just how many examples to give (or how clear) with a view to clarifying something... is indeed a relevant matter, but IMHO acceptable only if you feel that your target audience will not otherwise understand the speaker - not forgetting that some messages are purposefully ambiguous or unclear... as was also discussed here .

Personally I would not add anything to your example, because not being Chinese myself ;-) I could nevertheless very easily have said something similar, in a similar situation, with a clear expectation of being "understood" w/o any need for further clarification... and I believe so would most western counterparts.

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answered 03 May '12, 12:31

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edited 03 May '12, 12:32

Muchas culturas entienden los sobreentendidos y no necesitan una explicación: por ejemplo el 'hoy me duele la cabeza, querido...' La pregunta de Alejandra podría resolverse con un comentario más puntual: '¿ya terminó su trabajo? puesto que la vi hablando por teléfono supuse que así era y le traje más que hacer...' Pero el del 'dolor de cabeza' no sabría cómo resolverlo pues no estoy segura de que todas las culturas lo entenderían...

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answered 04 May '12, 15:10

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Vicky Massa

Para solucionar este tipo de encrucijadas recurro a la entonación. Reconozco que es esto es posible en la lengua de Cervantes, la del Dante, y algunas otras que pueden ser más expresivas y en las cuales los hablantes son más gestuales; incluso en inglés me ha resultado. No sé si es posible en otros idiomas.

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answered 06 May '12, 14:18

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question asked: 03 May '12, 12:07

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