Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Was Koko, the 'talking' gorilla, bilingual?

Many people felt a pang of sorrow last week at the news that the most famous and most studied of gorillas, Koko, had died peacefully in her sleep in California . Koko herself had felt such a pang when she was given the news  that first her beloved adopted kitten and later her friend the actor Robin Williams had died. How do we know that? Because Koko communicated her feeling to her carers in her language, Gorilla Sign Language.

The extent and nature of Koko's language ability is a matter of special interest to the Followers of this blog. It's long been  hotly disputed, though it's generally agreed she did have some and that she used the medium of sign language to transmit it. The signs she used were drawn from the American Sign Language (ASL) widely used by the deaf. It wasn't the full ASL – therefore it's misleading to say that she "mastered ASL" as some obits have done – but a modified subset of it, a baby sign language. Still, she learnt 1,000 to 2,000 signs -- accounts vary -- which is quite a big vocabulary.She wasn't the first primate to learn some sign language -- it had been done by chimps -- but she was the first gorilla.

The amount of ASL that Koko knew is unimportant. It probably wouldn't have been of any use to her to know more. Her cognitive ability was equivalent to that of a young human child, and in general people only learn as much language as they need at their age. Nobody knows the whole of, say, English. However, there's another feature of Koko's language that's of interest to translatologists. Although she only produced sign language, she could understand some spoken English. Apes don't possess the organs of phonation needed for producing the sounds of English so she had no possibility of speaking it; but it's not uncommon for humans also to be able to understand a language yet not speak it. What is documented is that Koko could be asked a question in English and answer it in sign language.

In a 1978 paper on translation by young children (see Sources below) we called this kind of interaction bilingual response. It's a variety of what linguists code switching. Can it be considered a kind of translating?  In the 1978 paper we classed it among the pretranslation phenomena in children which precede translation as it is generally understood.  But translation or not, it involves a transfer of thought between symbolic systems. It therefore implies that Koko was capable of what we have elsewhere called conversion. (For more on conversion, enter the term in the Search box on the right,)

There are many other indications that animals, and not only primates, are capable of conversion; but Koko's 'bilingualism' is an important one. It raises the tantalising question of whether some of the seeds of translating may already be planted in lower animals than humans

Koko: Gorilla death coverage rekindles language debate. BBC News, 22 June 2018. Click [HERE].or go to

Washoe (chimpanzee). Wikipedia, 2018. Click [HERE]. or go to

Brian Harris and Bianca Sherwood. Translating as an innate skill. 1978. Click [HERE]. or go to

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Ethos of School Language Brokering

First a terminology round-up. The term language brokering came into use in the 1990s in the USA. The story of its later subdivision into child language brokering, etc., has already been told on this blog. To find the relevant post, enter school language brokering in the Search box on the right. As usual, the thing existed before the word for it: an early paper a Canadian school teacher and myself classed it as a form of "community interpreting" (see Sources below). As that early paper showed, the ability to interpret is not the preserve of exceptionally gifted youngsters; it's quite everyday in immigrant communities.

Child and adolescent language brokering in schools has been commented on favourably in this blog. However, there are admittedly some disadvantages and dangers. They are discussed extensively in the Cline-Crafter report listed below. It's therefore desirable for a school or related organization that uses students as language brokers to have an explicit policy that lays down what the latter can and can't do. The Cline-Crafter team has produced a Guide to Good Practice. Here's a more recent 'job description' from the EMTAS movement, which has pioneered SLB in the UK.
"Young Interpreters are trained to welcome new arrivals and make pupils with EAL feel settled at school. For instance, Young Interpreters might give tours of the school, play a game at break time, demonstrate routines, take part in activities which promote multilingualism, etc. The role of Young Interpreter is not to replace bilingual staff or professional interpreters. Pupils operate in situations which only require everyday language and do not miss out on their own learning to help others.
"At times, Young Interpreters may rely on their languages when these are shared with their buddies. At other times, they will tap into other skills to welcome pupils with whom they do not share a language: pupil-friendly English, visuals, body language, etc. This means all new arrivals can feel welcome from the start, even when no one else speaks their language. Young Interpreters therefore interpret in the broad sense of the term but most importantly, they are empathetic friends.
"As such, Young Interpreters can and should be selected from amongst bilingual learners as well as learners who only speak English and who have much to bring in terms of kindness and friendship. By selecting EAL and non-EAL pupils to train as Young Interpreters, the co-ordinator will send strong messages to the whole school community: everyone can welcome new arrivals, from the multilingual to the monolingual."
This is a view of SLB that goes beyond simple transposition of language and recognises brokers as facilitators of understanding between diverse cultural groups.

Tony Cline (University College London)  and Sarah Crafter (Institute of Education, London). Child Language Brokering at School. London: Nuffield Foundation. Click [HERE] or go to

Astrid Dinneen. What it means to be a Young Interpreter within the ethos of the scheme. Young Interpreters Newsletter, No. 31, Hampshire EMTAS, April 2018. Click [HERE] or go to

Carolyn Bullock and Brian Harris. Schoolchildren as Community Interpreters", 1995. Click [HERE]  or go to

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

NPIT4 at Stellenbosch

Today the 4th International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT) opens at Stellenbosch University near Cape Town. and lasts for three days. It covers many of the topics treated in this blog. The programme is available by clicking [here] or going to

As usually happens at such conferences, a few papers creep in that seem to have little to do with the subject. For instance the opening paper Generativity and the Practice of Translation; but appearances can be deceptive. As a whole the papers are wide ranging and draw attention to NPIT in Africa, though I would have liked a balance that had more from the wide world beyond Europe and the USA. One of the pioneers of dialogue interpreting studies, Cecilia Wadensjö of Sweden, is participating.

One paper in particular seems relevant to a topic that was raised on this blog only a few weeks ago and was dubbed inverse child language brokering. (To retrieve the post, enter inverse in the Search box on the right.)  It's the paper by Elena Garcia Gandia of the University of Nevada and graduate of my neighbour the Jaime I University at Castell√≥n de la Plana (see below.)

To anyone at the conference who may happen on this post, my best wishes for a happy stay in South Africa.

Elena Gandia Garcia. Evaluating the  training needs of ad-hoc interpreters working with unaccompanied minors who seek asylum in the US. Paper to the NPIT4 Conference, Stellenbosch, 2018.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Karl Marx Bicentenary

Today, 5 May 2018, is the 200th anniversary of birth of the great German-British sociologist Karl Marx. British? Yes, Marx became stateless and he lived the most productive years of his life in London, where he's buried.  I used to walk past his home in the Soho district every day on my way to work, and do my research as he did in the reading room of the British Museum up the road,  Moreover his thinking was influenced by what he observed of British commerce and industry in Manchester, where his collaborator and benefactor Friedrich/Frederick Engels ran a successful business, and they would drink together at the Red Dragon pub in nearby Salford.

From among the many laudatory and critical articles published for the occasion in today's papers. I concur with the following in today's Guardian:
What makes Marx worth reading now is not his Panglossian prognoses, but his still resonant diagnoses…"The bourgeoisie,” Marx and Engels wrote, beautifully, “has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self- interest, than callous ‘cash payment’. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.”
I had thoughts like these while listening to Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook testimony to the US Congress las week.

Marx wrote mostly in his first language, German. His ideas and his influence couldn't have spread as far and as fast as they did without the help of his translators, so it's fitting to draw attention to the latter on this occasion. The early ones were NPIT Marxist acolytes whom Marx and Engels sought out or who did it on their own initiative. There's a tribute to a few of them in a short paper on the web page that's the companion to this blog (see below).

And the labour of translating Marx continues, now professionalised, and is probably never-ending. The centre of activity has shifted from Russia, where it was in Soviet days, to China. At the Central Bureau of Compilation and Translation in Beijing, Gu Jinping, a highly professional and highly specialised translator now aged 85, continues to work with his colleagues on translations of Marx and Marxism.

Stuart Jeffries. Two centuries on, Karl Marx feels more revolutionary than ever. Guardian Unlimited, 5 May 2018.

Christopher Hooton. Pub where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 'discussed communist revolution' shuts down amid redevelopment. The Independent, 8 August 2017.

Brian Harris. Marx's earliest English translators., 2010-2017. To retrieve it, click [here].

Xinhua. China focus: for tranlators, Marxist works a lifetime labor of love. Xinhuanet, 8 May 2018.

Friday, April 13, 2018

We Are All Translators

Boguslawa Whyatt
In a post last October I lamented that "my mission of recognition for the importance of Natural Translation is not yet accomplished and it won't be in the short working life left to me," Then I added, "Hopefully it will be taken up by another generation."

Well, that next generation may already be among us in the person of Prof, Boguslawa Whyatt, head of the Department of Psycholinguistic Stuies at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland. The title of her paper in the NPIT collection (see References below) says it loud and clear: We are all translators. A title after my own heart! Here's an abstract, in her own words, of the book on which the article is based.
"The book explores translation as a human skill in its evolutionary perspective from the predisposition to translate to translation expertise. By assuming that the human mind is intrinsically a translating mind all people who know two languages are able to translate but only some develop their natural ability into a more refined skill, fewer choose to acquire translation competence, and few attain the level of expertise. Starting with a thorough analysis of the bilingual foundations on which translation as a human skill is built the natural ability is analyzed and followed by an up-to-date account of translation as a trained skill with the underlying translation competence. To account for the developmental nature of translation as a skill a suggestion is made that the acquisition of translation expertise can be seen as a process of learning to integrate knowledge for the purpose of translating."

Why do I like this so much? First because it starts from the perspective that there is a "predisposition to translate… assuming the human mind is intrinsically a translating mind [and] all people who know two languages are able to translate." It's the basis of the Natural Translation Hypothesis, and before me it was affirmed by the Bulgarian semiotician Alexander Ludskanov, who was perhaps the first to declare, "All bilinguals can translate." Whyatt does not discuss whether the predisposition is in some way inherited, but she does reference my paperTranslating as an innate skill.

Second, she views the sophisticated skills of expert translators as the outcome of a progression of learning and experience beyond the initial predisposition. Here's her diagram of the process.

This can be compared with the diagram I posted on this blog in 2010; to retrieve it, enter bandies in the Search box on the right. Her diagram does not show a division between the path of formal training and accreditation and that of self-learning by observation and experience. However, she does so in her text. But it's misleading to say about the latter route, as she does, that "it might apply only to some limited communicative contexts or some talented individuals." This category of what I call (following Toury) Native Translators includes. for example, the large and influential tribe of literary translators, few of whom have ever followed a formal course or training in translating. Indeed, even in Whyatt's own data, among the professional (and presumably expert) translators whom she surveyed, only 57.5% attributed their expertise to a "translation training programme" or to "mentoring."

And third, she recognises that translating expertise requires extralinguistic knowledge and cognitive development as well as language proficiency.

In the 40 years since publication of  The Importance of Natural Translation, despite what Whyatt describes as "the criticism from translation scholars" with which it was received, a fair amount has been said to support it, and all the more with the emergence of such phenomena as child language brokering and crowdsourcing. Whyatt's article gives a well-written roundup of the research. All serious translatology specialists should read it.

Boguslawa Whyatt. We are all translators: investigating the human ability to translate from a developmental perspective. In R. Antonini et al. (eds.) Non-professional Interpreting and Translation, Amsterdam. Benjamins, 2017, pp. 45-64. For the book, click [here].

Boguslawa Whyatt. Translation As A Human Skill: from predisposition to expertise. Poznan: Wydawnistwo Naukowe (Adam Mickiewicz University.Presss), 2012. 447 p., bibliography. Hard to find in libraries but can be ordered from the publisher at

If you want to follow Prof. Whyatt`s research, see her pages on the ResearchGate and the websites.

Alexander Konstantinov Ludskanov (or Ljudskanov).  Prevezhdat chovekat i machinata [Human and Machine Translation], In Bulgarian. Sofia: Nauka i Izkustvo, 1967. There are German, French and Italian translations: see WorldCat..

Brian Harris. The importance of natural translation. 1976. Click [[here]. 

Brian Harris and Bianca Sherwood. Translating as an innate skill. 1978. Click [here].

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Inverse Child Language Brokering

Followers of this blog know well what child language brokering (CLB) is, but for newcomers we repeat that it's the interpreting done by children and adolescents, typically from immigrant families, for their family members and other close acquaintances. There's a considerable research literature about it, some of which is listed in the Bibliography of Natural Translation (see References)

However there's practically nothing about the opposite situation where it's adults who interpret for children. Yet this raises a number of questions. How prevalent is it? Do the interpreters adjust their language register to match the age of the children, perhaps even using baby talk? Do they edit and censor the content of the message to make it more suitable or palatable for youngsters? Do they add explanations? And so on.

While looking for examples of CLB on YouTube, I was surprised to find examples also of the opposite. Here's one that's delightful. Most YouTube viewers will understandably be fixated on the child in it, but we should also consider the activity of her interpreter, without whom the interview could not have been conducted. To see it, click [here] or go to

For lack of an established term for this kind of interpreting, I propose that we call it inverse child language brokering.

Anke Chen and Ellen DeGeneres. 6-year-old piano prodigy wows Ellen. The EllenShow, 2017.

Brian Harris. An Annotated Chronological Biblography of Natural Translation Studies with Native Translation and Language Brokering, 1913-2012. Click [here] or go to

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Ministerial Child Language Broker

There's plenty of material available, some of it on this blog, about child language brokers, immigrant children who act as interpreters for their families and sometimes for other people such as their schoolmates. (To retrieve the blog posts, enter brokers in the Search This Blog box on the right.) However we hear little about what becomes of them later in life. Therefore it comes as a something of a surprise to find one of them as a government minister.  The background is the language situation in present-day Britain, where, according to the.minister himself, "There are 770,000 people in England unable to speak English well."

The minister is Sajid Javid MP, a name tand title hat already tell us much. His family came from Pakistan. Now he's the Communities Secretary in the government of Theresa May and "one of Britain's most high profile Muslim politicians."
"Describing his early childhood in Rochdale [a town in Greater Manchester], he said that segregated sommunities meant that women like his mother could spend much of their lives speaking Punjabi and not interacting with people from other ethnic groups.
"I used to go to the doctor's surgery with her -- not because I was ill but because I had to interpret for her. I was six or seven and an interpreter."

Anushka Asthana. Sajid Javid: 770,000 people in England unable to speak English well. Guardian Unlimited, 14 March 2018.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day, 2018

(This post has now been combined with another one to form a short paper on my site in Its title is "Marx's Earliest English Translators". To read it, click [here] or go to

Today, 8 March, is, as you're no doubt aware, International Women's Day. Here in Spain there's a Women's Strike (la Huelga feminista) against mistreatment and discrimination. The serious newspapers like El Pais are running stories of women whose contribution to scence, literature and the arts has been downplayed, often to the benefit of their husbands.

In my own experience of Expert Translation, it's been an 'equal opportunity' profession. I worked with more women conference interpreters than men, and at the University of Ottawa I had a majority of female colleagues; and we were all paid on the same fee or wage scales. Lkewise I constantly had a majority of women students. But elsewhere it's not always been so equal.

There have been great women translators. A few, like Constance Garnett, the early English translator of Tolstoy and many other Russian authors, have been amply lauded by their peers and recognised by publishers. (There's a Wikipedia article on her.)  Others less so. Back in 2010 there was a post on this blog in recognition of one of the latter, Eleanor Marx Aveling. Here, as a contribution to the Day, is a repetition of that post.

Marx and Daughter

Today, May 5, is the birthday of Karl Marx. So what better day for me to take up from where I left off last weekend, which was with the English translations of his classic Communist Manifesto and Capital?

The first volume of Das Kapital was published in German in 1867. He and his alter ego Friedrich Engels had difficulty finding a translator, and it was already in its third German edition before the English translation appeared 20 years later. Engels himself says, in his Preface to the translation:
[A]n explanation might be expected why this English version has been delayed until now, seeing that for some years past the theories advocated in this book have been constantly referred to, attacked and defended, interpreted and misinterpreted, in the periodical press and the current literature of both England and America.
At his death in 1883, Marx had left – Engels continues –
a set of MS. instructions for an English translation that was planned, about ten years ago, in America, but abandoned chiefly for want of a fit and proper translator.
So Engels then turned to the same socialist lawyer-judge who translated the Manifesto: Samuel Moore of Manchester. Moore embarked on the work, but he wasn’t a Professional Translator:
[B]y and by, it was found that Mr. Moore's professional occupations prevented him from finishing the translation as quickly as we all desired.
Therefore a second translator had to be sought. Engels found him right on his doorstep, as it were. He was Edward Aveling, the common-law husband of Marx’s youngest daughter Eleanor (see photo). Aveling too wasn’t a Professional Translator. He was, “a prominent English biology instructor and popular spokesman for Darwinian evolution and atheism.” Engels coordinated and revised the work of the two translators and he details in his Preface the contributions of each.

But there was another translator involved. She’s not credited on any of the bibliographic records; however, tucked away in the Preface is an acknowledgement from Engels:
Mrs. Aveling, Marx's youngest daughter, offered to check the quotations and to restore the original text of the numerous passages taken from English authors and Blue books and translated by Marx into German.
She played the role, on that occasion, of what today might be called a Translation Assistant. But she was more important than that. Of all the translators I’ve mentioned, she was the only Professional Translator. Let’s turn to her.

Eleanor ‘Tussy’ Marx (1855-1898) was an early bilingual. She was born and brought up in London, but in a German and Yiddish-speaking household. She also learnt French, perhaps from her father. She became, quite naturally, a militant socialist. She was also an occasional actress. That she was unconventional is shown not only by her personal ‘relationship’ with Aveling but also by her professional work for the avant-garde publisher Henry Vizetelly. She translated Madame Bovary for him, a brave thing to do in prudish Victorian England. She said about it herself,
Certainly no critic can be more painfully aware than I am of the weaknesses...; but at least the translation is faithful. I have neither suppressed nor added a line, a word.
She also translated another socially avant-garde writer, Ibsen.

Professional life wasn’t easy for Eleanor. She wrote to Havelock Ellis in 1874, "I need much work, and find it very difficult to get. ‘Respectable' people won't employ me." Vizetelly went to prison for publishing English translations of Zola and Maupassant, and it broke his health. Seems incredible today.

Eleanor had one other important pioneer distinction in the realm of translation. She was an accomplished Native Interpreter of English, French, German and Yiddish, As such, she interpreted for delegates to the International Socialist Workers Congress in Paris in 1889. That makes her an early modern Conference Interpreter. (Large international conferences had only recently been made feasible by the extending network of railway and steamship lines.) Certainly, to my knowledge, she was the first woman Conference Interpreter.

Karl Marx. Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production.
Volume 1. Edited with a Preface by Frederick [sic] Engels. Translated from the third German edition by Samuel Moore and Edward Bibbins Aveling. London, 1887.

Edward Bibbins Aveling.

Jonathan Kaplansky. Eleanor Marx: translator, interpreter and unconventional Victorian woman. Circuit (Montreal) 66.29-30., 1999. There are other biographies of her in print and on the web

Gustave Flaubert. Madame Bovary. Provincial Manners. Translated from the French édition définitive by E. Marx-Aveling. London: Vizetelly, 1886. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Professional Translator versus Expert:Translator: the Case of Malta

This blog has always distinguished between the terms professional translator and expert translator. The defining characteristic of the former is practising translation as a means of livelihood; but professional translators also have other important characteristics that were listed in a post last year. To retrieve it, enter professional in the Search This Blog box on the right. The same post also discussed the difference between the professional and the expert. The general public, on the other hand, conflates the two under the single label professional translator. Understandably so, because if you pay professionals good money for their work, you expect it to be of expert quality. However, those of us with experience in the profession know that 'it ain't necessarily so.' This is possible and even widespread because translating isn't by and large a regulated profession. There are sectors of it that are regulated, for instance court interpreting, but even then only in certain jurisdictions. Elsewhere there is nothing to prevent any bilingual setting herself or himself up as a translator or interpreter and touting for business. Therefore translatologists should be more discriminating in their terminology than the general public.

Recent and not-so-recent events in Malta highlight the danger of confusion, Maltese (a derivative of Arabic with an admixture of Italian) used to be a little-known language outside its native island, but its profile and that of its translators rose overnight when Malta joined the European Union in 2002 and thus Maltese became one of the Union's official languages with rights of use in Brussels, Strasbouurg etc. However, the sudden elevation caught the country unprepared and complaints followed. It's led to situations like the following:
"When Magistrate Aaron Bugeja entered the court room, lawyer Giannella de Marco, who together with Steve Tonna Lowell was representing Mr Bailey [the Englishman who was accused] asked for the identity of the interpreters.
The court provided Dr de Marco with a list of practicing lawyers and a woman who was qualified in French rather than English.
After consulting her client, Dr de Marco requested a professional simultaneous interpreter who would be qualified as an interpreter in Maltese and English and insisted this was important in the interest of justice.
Magistrate Bugeja pointed out that while Dr de Marco had a right to this request, it would prolong proceedings. The case was put off to a later date."
That was in 2016. Here's the latest, from the Times of Malta.
"What is wrong with the training of the so-called qualified translators in Malta? What is wrong with the training of the so-called qualified [i.e. professional] translators in Malta?… Why is it that incompetence reigns supreme in Malta, especially when it comes to official documents? Why can they not train people properly? How dare people even translate from or into languages they do not understand correctly and do not master?"
This seems to reflect badly on the country's principal training institution, which is the Department of Translation at the University of Malta. But the Department blames the authorities.
"The lack of a warrant [i,e, accreditation] system for professional translators and interpreters meant unqualified individuals could produce sub-par work for use in official documents and court cases, staff and students at the University's Department of Translation have warned.
In a statement decrying the existing unregulated state of affairs, members of the Department of Translation, Terminology & Interpreting Studies called for Malta to introduce an accreditation system for trained translators. It is unacceptable that one of the highest institutions in Malta, and a pillar of our democracy, is resorting to people who are not qualified to act as interpreters and translators," they said."
The situation isn't likely to improve in the near future. EU member states have until August 2018 to compile a list of professionals certified to translate public documents. "There has as yet been no attempt to compile such a list,"

There are many other places where the situation is no better. Our point is not that Malta is particularly bad but that translatologists seeking accuracy in their research must beware of equating professional translator with expert translator.

Historical footnote
When Napoleon's fleet sailed fro Toulon in the summer of 1798 on his ill-fated but scientifically enriching expedition to Egypt, he made a stopover of a week on Malta. He foresaw that he would need to promulgate his proclamations to the Egyptians in Arabic.
"He brought hs own translators and interpreters with him, including some Muslim sailors whom he had captured in Malta. These 'foreign' translators prepared the Arabic circular that Napoleon distributed on landing in Alexandria, a circular designed to reassure the Egyptian populace and to incite them to rebel against their rulers. The circular, like much of what these foreign translators produced, was grammatically unsound and stylistically poor." (Mona Baker citing al-Jabarti, the leading Egyptian chronicler of the period)
 As a result it was met with derision.

Call for professional interpreter delays Papaqli case hearing: lawyer argues that client had right to professional interpreter. Times of Malta, 28 October 2'16,

Marie Paule Wagner. Incompetent translators. Times of Malta, 15 February 2018.

Mona Baker. Arabic tradition. In M. Baker et al.(eds.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. Routledge, 1998, p.322, for the Napoleonic episode.

University of Malta in Maltese.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Young Translators Champions 2017-2018

The European Commission has just announced the winners of its latest Juvenes Translatores (Latin for Young Translators) competition. This is an annual contest that it runs for 17-year-old secondary school students across the European Union. This year's winners, all 28 of them (one from each member state), will go to Brussels on 10 April to receive their trophies and diplomas. There's no overall winner; it would be too difficult to judge one, especially as there are considerable differences between the styles of the various texts.

The competition has been building up for some years since it was launched in 2007, and consequently there's already quite a full commentary on it spread over several posts of this blog. I won't repeat it all here because you can retrieve the series just by entering juvenes in the Search This Blog box on the right. But here are a few reflections on this year's results,

Some figures. There were over 3,300 contestants, up from about 2,000 in 2010.  This indicates that enthusiasm for translation as a competitive skill has by no means waned. It illustrates that translating can be done for pleasure, as a hobby, as a game; as what we called ludic translation in 1987 when done by young children. It can be a mind-tickling game like crosswords or Scrabble.

In view of the constant (and justified) complaints in the United Kingdom about the decline of language teaching in the schools, it's particularly encouraging to see the large number of contestants from there (312 from 73 schools), surpassed only by Germany (370), Italy (352) and France (333).

There's no doubt that one of the reasons for the large number of UK contestants is the continued tradition of language teaching in the grammar schools (see Term below), a tradition that includes translation exercises – the kind of syllabus I went through myself. There are no fewer than 13 such schools in the list of participating schools. The UK winner was Daniel Farley from Manchester Grammar School for a Spanish to English translation. His school was founded in 1515 by the Bishop of Exeter to provide "godliness and good learning"' to poor boys in the city of Manchester.

The winning entries are available on the first EC website listed below; and so also  – if you would like to try your hand at one of them – are the source texts.

Grading 3,300 translations is no mean job. The staff of the EC who were involved should be thanked warmly for their dedication

European Commission. Juvenes Translatores 2017 Contest., or click [here].

European Commission. Juvenes Translatores: announcing this year's winners of the of the European Commission's translation contest for secondary school students. Press release, 2 February 2018. or click [here].

Grammar school. A UK secondary school of a type with Renaissance origins that stresses academic rather than a practical or vocational education. There are over 100 of them. They got grammar in their name because they taught the grammar of Latin and other languages. Nowadays they've become controversial because of their selective admission. My father went to the King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham, where he won a prize for German in the form of a beautifully bound anthology of German poetry.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Inspirational and Inspired Interpreting

We kick off 2018 on this blog with a post about church interpreting, a function which is mostly performed by non-professionals. It has been an unusually long time since the previous post, and for this the pandemic of flu of the long-lasting, misnamed 'Aussie flu' variety is mainly to blame. My apologies for not wishing all you Followers a Happy New Year.

The conventional image of the ideal interpreter is that of a neutral, colourless transmitter of information who neither adds to nor subtracts from nor influences the message. This is what is taught in the training schools due to the long tradition of professional interpreters themselves conducting training and research, and no doubt it fits a great many interpreter functions such as court interpreting, most conference interpreting and community interpreting. Nevertheless there are important areas that it doesn't describe, or at any rate not adequately.

One such area is religious or church interpreting. Far from it being marginal, a researcher, Adelina Hild, finds "clues that point to the fact that IRS [interpretation in religious settings] might be one of the most widespread types of interpreting activities in certain communities." Therefore my interest was awakened recently when a student wrote to me from Taiwan – this blog travels far – about a thesis she's thinking of doing on interpreters who work for missionaries. Missionary interpreters are an important subgroup of religious interpreters and there are missionary interpreters worldwide; Evangelical Christian, Mormon, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist etc. Her project reminded me that religious interpreters must not only convey information; indeed that may not even be their primary function. Like the speakers for whom they interpret, their task is to persuade or convince their listeners. For this they may even go beyond words. The first description of a church interpreter on this blog was about a church meeting in Cameroon where the interpreter mimicked the body language of the pastor, something that would be a no-no in conference interpreting. [To find it, enter Buea in the Search box on the right.] An interpretation in neutral language and flat, colourless tones lets down an inspiring speaker. The interpreter too should inspire. Therefore I call such interpreting inspirational interpreting. As one inspirational interpreter puts it, "Taking such an active participant role is in stark contrast with the professional ideal of neutrality or impartiality,"

Like myself, the student in Taiwan has been an admirer of the Finnish Pentacostal interpreter Sari Hokkanen since we heard her speak at the first NPIT conference [see Sources below]. Hers was a paper that should be read by all student interpreters because it gives a very different view of interpreting. What she brings out emphatically is that such interpreting may not only be inspiring, it may also be inspired.
"Pentacostalism emphasizes personal religious experience, defined as encountering God, making it a salient feature of the social context of the volunteer interpreting context. Therefore I study spiritual and practical levels of preparation… In addition, I examine ways in which a personal religious experience, especially 'hearing from God,' can take place while interpreting, which speaks of my active participation in the interpreted service… the goal of preparation is not only to achieve a personal religious experience, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to mediate religious experience in others."
Lest it be thought that strong religious belief makes religious interpreting unique, consider what Sari herself says: "Religious interpreting settings may have plenty of similarities with non-religious settings that have a strong ideology." I myself felt it when interpreting in Canada for some political speakers. There are situations where inspiration makes the difference between a good interpreter and a great interpreter, just as it does between a good speaker and a great speaker.

Aeltje Chen (Taiwan). Personal communication about missionary interpreting. Email, 15 November 2017.

Sari Hokkanen. Simultaneous interpreting and religious experience; volunteer interpreting in a Finnish Pentacostal church. In R. Antonini et al., (eds.), Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 2017. pp. 195-212.

Sari Hokkanen, Simultaneous church interpreting as service. The Translator, vol. 18, no, 2, pp.201.309, 2012. Abstract at

Adelina Hild. The role and self-regulation of non-professional interpreters in religious settings: the VIRS project. In R. Antonini et al., (eds.), Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 2017. pp. 177-194.

Sari Hokkanen. Source: University of Tampere.