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Here is unique query I, a literary translator (among other things), have for simultaneous and consecutive interpreters. How does one approach translating dialect-specific colour when interpreting in real time? What if that dialect or word is unintelligible to the interpreter?

One of my biggest joys yet challenges is translating patois from French and Arabic... that is, expressions, puns, words... particular to a given dialect that has no translation either in the standard form of that language, or, go figure---the target language; most especially within the context of humour. My solution as a translator is being creative when I write, researching, and providing footnotes when necessary.... I have time, dictionaries, books, and human resources on my side.

Example: a humourous Acadian Francophone from Louisiana trying to pass a French joke to a Parisian (and, let's say... Irish) conference audience. Hypothetical problem A---The French can't understand the Cajun patois; problem B---the English interpreter can't understand the patois; problem C---the interpreter can understand the patois and joke, but it doesn't translate any which direction... and the French and Irish still aren't laughing.

Thank you!

asked 04 Apr '12, 00:53

jdecamillis's gravatar image


edited 10 Apr '12, 15:54

I still have a very lively memory of a trade unionist from northern Scotland... In the case of dialect, I would never try to convey or imitate somebody's dialect or sociolect for that matter. That could easily be perceived as if I was making fun of that person. On the other hand, trade unionists, for example, are very careful to use another register than their counterparts in the company management, for instance. And that register is very important to render. It would be odd for the trade unionist listening to me if I interpreted his comrade's slang and jargon into standard language. But then again, it is probably odd most of the time for him (because it's usually a him) to listen to his male comrades through a woman's voice.

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answered 04 Apr '12, 01:38

tulkur's gravatar image


I'd say it depends on the interpreter's perception of the speaker's intent.

If the speaker's use of colourful dialect is just a way of being, adopting a neutral style is probably better. As @tulkur says in this thread, you don't want anyone listening to believe that you're goofing on the speaker.

Now, if the speaker is clearly using dialect or colourful language for stylistic effect, it's an entirely different ball game, and essentially one more ball for the interpreter to juggle with.

Assuming that the interpreter is not struggling too much with the dialect, patois, etc, he or she may try to ginger up the translation a bit. Some interpreters will pull that off beautifully but that's clearly a situation where the interpreter's style and personality matter enormously.

Of course, the message always comes first. So if you're struggling to understand the speaker because, say, Glasgow Patter does not come naturally to you, save whatever energy you have to decipher the speech. The worst thing that can happen to an interpreter is cognitive overload.

Also, don't forget that the voice matters as much as the words. As an interpreter you can convey meaning through expression to match the perceived speaker's intent.

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answered 04 Apr '12, 10:47

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

edited 04 Apr '12, 10:49

To Tulkur's and Vincent's excellent answers I would just add that if part of the audience can understand the speaker's dialectal colour in the source language, there will be more pressure on the interpreters to try to get the humour across in their rendition for the benefit of those who are following the interpretation. I can just picture a few people staring at me in anticipation of what they expect will make them laugh just like the members of the audience who understand the speaker's language directly.

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answered 04 Apr '12, 14:41

Laura's gravatar image


edited 04 Apr '12, 16:19

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question asked: 04 Apr '12, 00:53

question was seen: 6,281 times

last updated: 10 Apr '12, 15:54 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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