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Does a conference interpreter always have to be neutral and be loyal concerning the message in any given circumstance?

asked 10 Dec '13, 11:20

Marenthe's gravatar image


edited 17 Dec '13, 04:57

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Maybe you could rephrase your questions to make it less abstract in order to get more replies. E.g: "have you ever been in a situation / can you think of a particular situation where the interpreter chose not to be loyal and had a good reason to do so?"

(10 Dec '13, 12:58) Gaspar ♦♦

There is one interpreting scenario I can think of where interpreters must be extra careful to be as neutral as possible and NOT to second guess the intended meaning of a statement to be interpreted (which can turn out to be quite a challenge since we think on our feet and tend to have a good idea of what the speakers actually wanted to say): namely during legal proceedings, hearings or during depositions. Whenever any linguistic ambiguities turn up, we must stop, explain to counsel, jury and/or the judge why we need to ask for clarification and only interpret once we really know the intended meaning of a statement, question or testimony. It is then up to the parties involved to follow up on what was said.

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answered 11 Dec '13, 18:44

AlmuteL's gravatar image


Altough in theory you always should be neutral (if by that, you mean repeating in the target language what has been said without any alteration), the list of known and imaginable exceptions is long. People never agree if whether what has been done was wrong or right. François Hollande's visit to Japan is a recent example of the many one could think of. Ask 10 interpreters and you'll get 11 opinions on the subject matter. And all of them will be convinced that their answer is the only obvious and logical solution to the question. ;-)

Correcting or not correcting, tuning down or not tuning down... It's a split second decision and a call you have to make under pressure. While people who will analyse the decision and possibly criticise it will be able to do so in the comfort of their home while they sip their morning coffee.

My take on such cases is not to tell what should have been done or how I would have done it. As a matter of fact, I don't have the slightest idea how I would react. I guess it's a 50%-50% chance.

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answered 10 Dec '13, 13:22

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Gaspar ♦♦

edited 10 Dec '13, 13:27


Thank you, Gaspar, for the link - my tuppenceworth: I think the journalist described what the interpreter did quite aptly by writing that they were: "rendering the sentence as it was intended." -> IMHO we have an obligation towards the intended meaning (albeit in our limited /preliminary understanding).

Occasionally, this may not be the same as transliterating the exact words (i.e. Japan/China). But extactly this is our craft/ideally, our value added: Second guessing the meaning and not just transliterating the words). Hence the name interpreter;)

*Famous example: Ages ago. Slip of tongue by a German chancellor (Moskauer Punsch instead of Moskauer Putsch). Without flinching, the interpreter rendered "Moscow Coup" - and got one of those rare favorable mentions in a newspaper for her largesse. I guess there are lots of similar incidents that go unnoticed. I suppose it's just part of an interpreter's job (then again, it probably all depends on context).

(11 Dec '13, 17:08) Tanja

I'd tend to agree with you about correcting the obvious. BUT we're also supposed to give all parties the same elements of understanding. And in the Hollande case, it did backfire a bit: During the Q&A with the press, a French journalist referred to Hollande's blatant mistake... A reference which the Japanese speaking audience couldn't understand, since they weren't aware of the mistake. Should (and has) the interpreter then clarify(ied) his previous correction to ensure that all parties had the same degree of knowledge?

(11 Dec '13, 18:37) Gaspar ♦♦

...loyalty to the message - or rather to the interpreter's understanding of the message - is indeed the foremost loyalty a conference interpreter should operate under, as I see it; more often than not we operate under several loyalties that may conflict...

Neutrality as in not taking "sides" applies perhaps more elsewhere than in CI... but of course languages are never neutral, ie naming systems oftentimes draw on ONE feature of what they're naming to name it, thus "favouring" one such feature/shade over others...

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answered 10 Dec '13, 13:25

msr's gravatar image


I always teach my interpreting students to be loyal to the original message as much as possible. There are exceptions to the rule, however, for example, when the MC made fun of a speaker in a disrespectful manner (yes it did happen), when the speaker made a blatant mistake about dates or numbers(with the correct ones showing on the powerpoint screen).

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answered 14 Dec '13, 05:35

duangtip's gravatar image


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question asked: 10 Dec '13, 11:20

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