Thursday, May 16, 2019

Indigenous Interpreters

Indigenous:: originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native,  eg "the indigenous peoples of Siberia."
Synonyms: native, aboriginal, local.

We’ve had two examples recently of indigenous interpreters on this blog. First the contemporary example of the Nicaraguan Akateko and Q’anjob’al speaker Carmelina, who calls herself a native interpreter (a synonym); and then the historical example of the Aborigene BungareeScroll down a few pages to find those posts. Bungaree was the first ‘Australian’ English interpreter, but he wasn’t the first Australasian one. That distinction surely belongs to Tupaia, who had originally been recruited some thirty years ealier by the British naval officer and explorer Samuel Wallis (1728-1795) and then passed on to James Cook’s expedition. Tupaia was born in the Society Islands near Tahiti. He was a very different character from Bungaree. The latter was a ‘rough diamond’, whereas Tupaia was highly educated and respected in his own culture and became a leading priest for his people. Bungaree was popular with Flinders’ sailors, whereas Cook’s crew found Tupaia too haughty. But both of them contributed qualities that made them invaluable to their European employers beyond their language skills, as often happens with indigenous interpreters. Bungaree saved lives by his courage. In the case of Tupaia,
He was also taught [by his people] how to be a star navigator. His memorized knowledge included island lists, including their size, reef and harbor locations, whether they were inhabited, and if so, the name of the chief and any food produced there. More importantly, his memory would include the bearing of each island, the time to get there, and the succession of stars and islands to follow to get there."
 His employment by Cook was, however, not all plain sailing:
“Tupaia joined [Cook’s ship] Endeavour in July 1769 when it passed his home island of Ra'iatea in the outward voyage from Plymouth. He was welcomed aboard at the insistence of Sir Joseph Banks, the Cook expedition's official botanist, on the basis of his evident skill as a navigator and mapmaker: when asked for details of the region Tupaia drew a chart showing all 130 islands within a 2,000 miles (3,200 km) radius and was able to name 74 of them. Banks welcomed the Raiatean's interest in travelling with Endeavour to England where he could be presented as an anthropological curiosity. Australian academic Vanessa Smith has speculated that Banks also envisaged conversation, amusement and possibly a genuine friendship from Tupaia's company during the voyage. As Cook at first refused to allow Tupaia to join the expedition for financial reasons, Banks agreed to be responsible for the Raiatean's welfare and upkeep while on board."
Tupaia was also an artist (see Image), and ten watercolours of his survive as well as the map he drew for CookThough he wasn’t a Maori speaker, his Polynesian language was sufficiently close for him to be able to communicate with the Maori when Cook reached New Zealand, and eventually to become highly respected by them.

On the opposite side of the globe, a few years later, there was the famous case of Sacagawea (aka Sakakawea or Sacajawea), who was pressed into service as interpreter for the Lewis and Clark transcontinental expedition of 1804-1806. She earned her fame on several counts. First because she was that rarity: an interpreter who has made it into popular history and legend. She did it by her skills, bravery and hardiness; secondly because she was a woman;  and thirdly, but not least, because she was a Native American whose aid was invaluable to the nascent United States. There was a post about her on this blog that you can retrieve by entering sacagawea in the Search box on the right.

Later in the nineteenth century, indigenous interpreters became institutionalised by government pay in the American west. Thus we read in Dee Brown’s  tragic book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee:
“Most Indian leaders spoke freely and candidly in councils with white officials, and as they became more sophisticated in such matters during the 1870’s and 1880’s, they demanded the right to choose their own interpreters and recorders... Millions of their words are preserved in official records. Even when the meetings were in remote parts of the West, someone usually was available to write down the speeches, and because of the slowness of the [consecutive] translation process, much of what was said could be recorded in longhand. Interpreters quite often were half-bloods who knew spoken languages but seldom could read or write. Like most oral peoples they and the Indians depended upon imagery to express their thoughts, so that the English translations were filled with graphic similes and metaphors of the natural world. If an eloquent Indian had a poor interpreter, his words might be transformed to flat prose, but a good interpreter could make a poor speaker sound poetic.”

Tupaia, Bungaree and Carmina represent three phases in imdigenous interpreting: respectively the exploratory, the colonial and today’s migratory. I myself took part in some training for colonial indigenous Indian and Inuit interpreters in the Northwest Territories of Canada; but for the most part indigenous interpreters don’t receive training. One reason is the difficulty of finding teachers who know their languages. It’s basically the uncommonness of their languages that makes them indispensable.

Tupaia (navigator). Wikipedia, 2019.

Samuel Wallis. Wikipedia, 2019.

Dee Brown. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. 1970.


A Maori man and Joseph Banks exchanging a crayfish for a piece of cloth, drawing by Tupaia, c.1769. Source: Wikipedia.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Eighteen TED Translators

Back in 2011 there was a post on this blog about the volunteers who translate articles for Wikipedia and about the research being done on them by Julie McDonough Dolmaya of York University in Toronto. To retrieve it, enter julie in the Search box on the right. Now there's another ‘knowledge distribution’ organization that depends on crowedsourcing its translations. It’s TED. “TED Conferences LLC (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization that posts talks online for free distribution under the slogan ‘ideas worth spreading.’”  There’s a link between the two groups in that the level of discourse in their texts is roughly the same; that is to say, serious and often scientific without being extremely academic. It requires expert translators who can satisfy critical editors and readers.

Interesting translator information is available about the 2019 TED Conference, which was held in Vancouver this month (see Source below). It’s unusual for organizations to provide so much data about their translators but TED obviously believes in their importance. It musters 33,527 translators, who together have done 145,577 translations into 116 languages. Imagine what this would cost if TED had to pay for it! TED doesn’t say, however, whether it also uses machine translation.

The translators
According to TED itself, “TED Translators are a global community of volunteers who subtitle TED Talks.” They should be fluently bilingual in both source and target languages. They should be especially fluent in the transcription language (i.e., the language in which the talks are transcribed for written distribution in the original language). They. should be knowledgeable about subtitling best practices. They have available a free online subtitling tool called Amara to subtitle talks and collaborate with other volunteers. Note that a translator training or qualification is not a requirement; although, as we shall see, many of them do have one.

For TED2019 there were supposed to be 18 translators, though I’m ashamed to say three of them were refused Canadian visas.. Let’s divide them into two groups.

a)  Professional Expert
Karin Valles (Mexico). A professional freelance translator. Born and raised in Ensenada, Mexico. Her passion for languages led her to study translation at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), where she developed a keen interest in multimedia translation. 

Carolina Aguirre (Brazil).  Translator and subtitler. Lives in São Paulo. Has had an intense interest in languages – particularly English – from an early age, but it wasn’t until she discovered TED and TED Translators that she realized her passion for translating and subtitling too. This discovery also inspired her to switch her profession from law to full-time translation, and she says she’s much more satisfied by her current work. 

Tatiana Lebedeva (Russia). Born in Ekaterinburg. Now lives in Prague, where she studies English literature and linguistics, teaches English as a foreign language and works as a freelance translator.

Moe Shoji (Japan). PhD student. Originally from Japan but has lived in Sheffield, England, for the last seven years while studyng for her PhD in theatre and performance studies. Has an MA in the same field, in addition to degrees in both French and English literature. Teaches Japanese. Says that translating is “very much intertwined with my PhD studies – so much so that my first submitted thesis contains this acknowledgment: ‘I would also like to say thanks to TED Translators, which has been a productive procrastination for me to engage with whenever I find myself in a writing cul-de-sac.’” Thus her prolific output as a TED Translator. Aside from studying and translating, she is an aspiring literary translator.

Silvia Allone (Italy). Sales manager and translator.  Lives in Milan. Has an MA in foreign languages and literatures (English and French) from the University of Milan. Currently a sales manager for several Italian and multinational companies, and also works as a freelance translator. About her experience with TED Translators, she says, “TED Translators has made me realize how amazing and rewarding it is to help spread powerful and inspiring ideas to people all across the world who don’t speak a second language – particularly since I strongly believe that communication brings people together more than anything else.”

Masoud Motamedifar (Iran). Translator and coordinator from Bam. MA in both translation studies and business management, and currently works as a translator and an office coordinator at a holding company in Iran. His passion for learning and sharing insightful knowledge and content is what led him to join TED Translators. “I wholeheartedly believe that translating and spreading powerful ideas as far and wide as possible can effect substantive change in the world”. Enjoys traveling and immersing himself in different cultures.

b)  NPIT translators
Seongje Hwang (South Korea). Software engineer. After studying computer engineering at university, he began his career as a financial technology developer and, propelled by his fascination with cutting-edge technologies, utilized TED Talks to school himself on such advancements. He also cultivated a deep interest in TED Talks which address sociocultural issues. He joined the TED Translator community in order to share far and wide the talks that inspire him, as well as to discover talks that animate his fellow translators.

Talia Breuer (Iarael). Born and raised in Haifa. Currently manages a team at a startup enterprise that’s working to implement a sharing economy in the country.

Bianca-Ionidia Mirea. PhD student. Originally from Romania, she has spent much of the last decade living, studying and working in various parts of the world, including China, India and the UK. She credits her time in these three countries especially for introducing her to an array of new ways of thinking and living.  She recently completed her MA in human resources management from Leeds University Business School, and she's about to begin pursuing her PhD in the study of the emergence of new forms of work in the digital economy.

Ly Nguyên (Vietnam). Born and raised in Vietnam. Currently finishing her studies in architecture at Hanoi Architectural University. In addition to her fascination for the aesthetics of words in both the design and calligraphy mediums, she “loves languages and translation.”

Jinchuan Ge (China). From eastern China. Now a student in economics and commerce at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He’s been both a TED Translator and involved with various TED and TEDx conferences for more than five years. Has also studied abroad in the USA at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

Urjoshi Sinha (India). Currently a PhD student in computer science and a graduate teaching assistant at Iowa State University. Her research is in software engineering. She cites her dedication to minimizing impediments to the free dissemination of knowledge as one of the key factors that inspired her to join TED Translators.

Frank Zegarra (Peru). Electronics engineer. Born and raised in Lima. Holds a degree in oil and gas engineering Is currently a process safety manager for pipeline transportation for an oil and gas company. His TED Translators epiphany occurred after he watched his first TED Talk, Pranav Mistry’s The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology: “It was then when I realized how amazing it is to have free access to such stimulating information, as well as the importance of transmitting these ideas to as large of an audience as possible, regardless of borders, customs or beliefs,” he says. “And so I began volunteering with TED Translators.”

Tanja Daib (Germany). PhD student in computer science. Schooled in her home country, Relocated to Argentina for a year to teach German, then moved to Edinburgh for a BA in cognitive science. Now lives in London, where she’s studying for her PhD. JJoined TED Translators in 2012 to “help make TED content more widely accessible, and to have a productive way of procrastinating.”

Jules Daunay (France). Technology developer. Born and raised in Brittany, currently resides in Paris and works as a technology developer for a startup enterprise focused on creating innovative open-source development tools. Has also lived in Moscow, where he attended Moscow State University. In addition, earned master’s degrees in Paris from both Sciences Po and the Sorbonne. His passion for technology is matched by his deep interest in other cultures, and he attributes this combination to his decision to join TED Translators. “I love being part of a global community in which I can introduce extraordinary new ideas to French speakers around the world.”

Sameeha Atout (Palestine). From Nablus, BSc in medical analysis, and currently works as an embryologist. She plans to pursue a degree in the field of genetics research. A staunch believer in Mahatma Gandhi’s maxim “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and she credits these words for her decision to join TED Translators. “I always try to take any opportunity I can to change our world for the better,” Sameeha says. “When I discovered TED Translators, I realized I’d found an excellent way to put Gandhi’s words into action: I could help spread important ideas and knowledge across languages and borders, while at the same time increasing the amount Arabic content available online.”

Saba Rezaie (Iran). BSc in physics from the University of Tehran, Lives in New York.  She initially moved to New York to earn her master’s degrees in both economics and business administration; afterward, She began her current job as a data analyst at a financial institution. As a bilingual speaker and a fervent believer in education and the free exchange of knowledge, she’s found a natural home at TED Translators.

Grigor Janikyan (Armenia). Youth activist. Born and raised in Armenia. BA in management from the French University in Armenia. In 2015 he founded United Youth Union, an Armenia-based “non-profit organization committed to youth development and empowerment.”

The most striking feature of these translators is their enthusiasm and idealism; they have a missionary zeal. In this respect they are comparable to the church interpreters who have been mentioned many times on this blog, though they serve a differenct god, Minerva. Also remarkable is their level of education; they almost all have university degrees, which explains why they possess the cognitive competence to deal with TED translations. They come from very widespread and varied countries and cultures, but.most of them have travelled widely and that has probably diminished the mental differences.

On the face of it, there is no significant difference between the competence and output of the Expert and the NPIT translators, though that's a question which calls for further research.

Meet the TED translators attending TED 2019.  Click [HERE] or go to   

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The First ‘Australian’ Interpreter

This post is offered as a contribution to the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL).

                                                                               Resultado de imagen de bungaree

When you go researching with Google, the links may lead you far from where you expect. Thus it was my interest in cats that led me to the first documented Australian Aborigine interpreter. And in between the two came the link to Capt. Matthew Flinders of the British Royal Navy. He was the first mariner to circumnavigate Australia, map its coastline, identify it as a continent and call it Australia. That was in 1801-1803. A few weeks ago his early-nineteenth-century grave was discovered in an excavation under – of all places! – Euston railway station in London; but that’s another story. My feline starting point was that on his epic voyage he took with him his ship’s faithful cat Trim, named after a character in the popular eighteenth-century novel Tristram Shandy. Flinders became so admiring of Trim that he wrote a heartfelt and elegant tribute to him, which I warmly commend to all cat lovers (see Sources below).

And then a subsequent link led me from Flinders to another of his faitful companions, his Aborigine interpreter Bungaree. When Europeans discovered Australia in the eightenth century they were broght into contact with peoples whose cultures were perhaps the oldest surviving human civilisations. It’s proof – if proof were needed – of the universality and variety of human language that “in the late 18th century, there were more than 250 distinct Aboriginal social groupings and a similar number of languages or varieties.”

In that fertile environment we can be sure that there must have been some interpreting from early times among the languages. However, Bungaree is the first documented Abriginal/English interpreter. There's an excellent article about him in Wikipedia and I can do no better than to quote extensively from it, with due thanks to its anonymous author(s).
 “Bungaree, or Boongaree (1775 – 24 November 1830) was an Aboriginal Australian from the Kuringgai people of the Broken Bay area north of Sydney, who was known as an explorer, entertainer, and Aboriginal community leader. He is also significant in that he was the first person to be recorded in print as an Australian, and thus the first Australian to circumnavigate the continent...
Having moved to the growing settlement of Sydney in the 1790s, Bungaree established himself as a well-known identity, as one able to move between his own people and the newcomers. He joined the crew of the HMS Reliance on a trip to Norfolk Island in 1798, during which he impressed the then midshipman Matthew Flinders. In 1798 he accompanied Flinders on the sloop Norfolk on a coastal survey as an interpreter, guide and negotiator with local indigenous groups. Despite the lack the of a common language, the indigenous people persistently sought Bungaree out to speak to instead of Flinders. And his mediation skills were greatly appreciated by the Europeans with whom he shared the ship. In 1799, to reach an agreement with local people in one particular situation, Bungaree gave them a spear and a spear thrower as gifts, showing them how to use them. It is referred to by Bronwen Douglas as a ‘cross-cultural act, signifying a reciprocal rather than a hierarchical relationship and challenging the reified notion of ‘cross-cultural’ as contact between opposed, homogenized ‘cultures’, adding that ‘the Moreton Bay people probably took Bungaree for the leader of the expedition and the white men for his followers.’
He was recruited by Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia between 1801 and 1803 in the Investigator... Flinders noted that Bungaree was ‘a worthy and brave fellow’ who, on multiple occasions, saved the expedition. Bungaree was the only indigenous Australian on the ship - and as such, played a vital diplomatic role as they made their way around the coast, overcoming not inconsiderable language barriers in places. According to historian Keith Vincent, Bungaree chose the role as a go-between, and was often able to mollify indigenous people who were about to attack the sailors, by taking off his clothes and speaking to people, despite being in territory unknown to himself. Flinders later wrote in his memoirs of Bungaree's ‘good disposition and open and manly conduct’ and his kindness to the ship's cat,Trim...
“However Bungaree's important role in the exploration of Australia appears to have been almost forgotten. There are statues to Flinders and even the cat Trim, but as at January 2019, not a single statue to Bungaree recognising his achievement”
Such is the lack of appreciation of the vital roles, both linguistic and extralinguistic, played by interpreters. Perhaps too there is some racism in this neglect of Bungaree. Yet it hasn’t always been so: there’s an island, located off the Kimberley coast of Western Australia, called Boongaree Island.
“Bungaree continued his association with exploratory voyages when he accompanied Captain Phillip Parker King to north-western Australia in 1817 in the Mermaid, amongst other things giving advice on which plants were safe to eat. “
[Parker] named the island after him, Meanwhile,
“In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie dubbed Bungaree "Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe" and presented him with 15 acres (61,000 m2) of land on George’s Head  as well as a breastplate inscribed 'BOONGAREE - Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe.'
“Bungaree spent the rest of his life ceremonially welcoming visitors to Australia, educating people about Aboriginal culture (especially boomerang throwing), and soliciting tribute, especially from ships visiting Sidney. He was also influential within his own community, taking part in corroborees, trading in fish and helping to keep the peace.”
At the risk of belabouring the point, I must point out that in the absence of any interpreter training, tradition or accreditation in eighteenth-century Australia, Bungaree could only have been a Natural Interpreter. But his employ by the colonial administration and the Royal Navy made him a Professional.

Unesco. 2019, Interational Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL 2019). Click [HERE] or go to

Australian Aboriginal languages. Wikipedia, 2019.

Matthew Flinders. Trim: the story of a brave, seafaring cat who, in the company of Matthew Flinders, circumnavigated the globe in the years 1799-1804. Collins, 1977. Flinders wrote it in 1809 during his captivity on Ile de France (Mauritius) but it lay overlooked among his papers for more than a century.

Bungaree. Wikipedia, 2019.

Boongaree Island. Wikipedia, 2018.

Augustus Earle, Portrait of Bungaree, a native of New South Wales, with Fort Macquarie, Sydney Harbour, in background, (1826): oil on canvas; 68.5 x 50.5 cm. National Library of Australia.
By the end of his life, he had become a familiar sight in colonial Sydney, dressed in a succession of military and naval uniforms that had been given to him. His distinctive outfits and notoriety within colonial society, as well as his gift for humour and mimicry, especially his impressions of past and present governors, made him a popular subject for portrait painters,”

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Upcoming Conferences on Professional and Non-Professional Interpreting

A bit belatedly – for we are already at the end of March – a conference has been announced for early October on the topic that occupied our first two posts this year, namely the centenary of professional conference interpreting. (To retrieve those posts, enter centenary in the Search box on the right.)

Title: 100 Years of Conference Interpreting
Theme: Looking Back and Looking Forward
Dates: 3-4 October 2019
Organiser. University of Geneva
Place: Headquarters of the International Labour Organization, Geneva.
Deadline for abstracts: 15 April
Registration: from 1 May
Attendee fee: 100-150 Swiss Francs
Website: click [HERE] or go to There's a video on that site.

It’s fitting that the venue is Geneva, where so much of the early development of the profession took place at and around the League of Nations between the two World Wars and the prestigious training school was established in  1941. It’s appropriate too that one of the keynote speakers is to be Jesús Baigorri, formerly of the United Nations and the University of Salamanca, who is the leading historian of that period.

At the opposite end of the spectrum of professionalism comes NPIT5.

Full Title: 5th International Conference on
Non-Professional Interpreting and Translating 
: Bridging diverse worlds: expandig roles and contexts of non-professional interpreters and translators 
Dates: 24-26 June 2020
Place: University of Amsterdam, Department of Communication Science
Deadline for submission of individual papers, posters and panels:  15 September 2019
Address for submissions:
Cair and contact person: Barbara Schouten
Website: click [HERE] or go to

Long-time Followers of this blog may recall our posts on the earlier conferences in this series, which which was founded by Rachele Antonini and her team at the University of Bologna in 2012.To retrieve them, enter NPIT in the Search box. I’m glad to see Rachele is on the Advisory Board for this one.

By reaching a fifth edition, this conference comes one step further to bringing NPIT into the mainstream of translation studies. Thesis students, take note.

Source: CenTraS-Inter Translation News

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Case History of a Guatemalan 'Native' Interpreter

Followers of this blog will know that our model of translator competence is a developmental one, starting from the untrained Natural Translation on which it remains dependent. To remind you, here is a diagram of the model reproduced from a post of 2010.

It is interesting to follow this progression in the life of a Nicaraguan interpreter, Carmelina C. (Our added emphasis in the quotations.)
"I was born in Aldea Coya, a village about 30 minutes (by car) from San Miguel Acatan, Huehuetenango, Guatemala.  I am a Maya Akateka [English Akatek] woman…  I speak Akateko and Q’anjob’al fluently, and some Chuj. My family came to the United States when I was just six years old, searching for freedom from the war in Guatemala."
Akatek and Q'anjob'al are closely related but are recognised by linguists as distinct languages. Chuj is also related but has a marked tendency to borrow Spanish words. Since the family emigrated when Carmelina was only six, she was fluently bilingual from infancy, and even trilingual in a third language. The linguistic load doesn't appear to have done her any harm; on the contrary her mastery of several languages was to prove very advantageous. (Incidentally we may reflect how her family's flight shows that the conditions which have led to the present caravans at the US border are far from recent.)
"I learned English in school and taught myself Spanish at the age of nine. As I was growing up, we moved to different states across the U.S. because my mother was a migrant worker.  This is how I was exposed to the different languages spoken by my people from Guatemala. " 
She doesn't say that she was taught English at school, so maybe she taught herself English as she did Spanish or she just picked it up. Notice that she learned Spanish in the US, which is an indication of how prevalent and influential Spanish has become there.

Now we come to the beginning of her translating.
"I began interpreting at a very young age because my mother needed me to interpret for her.  I remember interpreting and negotiating her work contracts when I was just eight or nine years old.  Even as a teenager I did a lot of interpreting for our family friends."
This was a typical experience for a Child Language Broker. Her mention of "negotiating her work contracts"  illustrates how the brokering involves more than merely translating.
"In 2002, I was actually interpreting for a family friend when I was discovered by Berlitz (a global leadership training and language education company).  I was tested, certified and then given the opportunity to do immigration court interpreting as a contractor.  I have been interpreting professionally since 2002."
So by 2002 Carmelina's practical experience had taken her to the level of Advanced Native Translator, still uncertiified. It's no accident that she was spotted, recruited and professionalised by the Berlitz organisation. In 1970 I myself was given my first job as interpreter by Berlitz – Berlitz Montreal; and Berlitz has a busy office where I now live in Valencia, Spain. Berlitz is famous for language teaching, but few people realise how important it has been in the private sector translation and interpreting market. The Wikipedia article on the Berlitz Corporation doesn't even mention it.
"I was inspired to become a [professional] Interpreter by the needs of those around me.  No matter where I was, there was always someone that needed my help, especially because the languages I speak are rare and there are very few Interpreters."
Carmelina points here to the enduring problem of finding interpreters for what UNESCO calls "languages of limited diffusion." In this age of mass travel and migration, the diasporas of these rare languages are widely spread. And as we know in Canada, each wave of hardship or repression in one part of the globe produces a new and unexpected language demand in another.
"I am proud to bring a strong sense of cultural awareness to every session I interpret for.  It is extremely important to be knowledgeable and up-to-date about the diversity that exists between each community of Mayan languages. I travel to Guatemala when I can in order to maintain my fluency and continue learning first-hand about my Mayan culture."
Recognition for the strong link between language and culture and the impact of this on interpreting. Also of the way languages are constantly changing.
"And because I was raised here in the United States, I am able to assist the English speaker that is trying to communicate with the Limited English Proficient individual."
This is an interesting example of the services an interpreter can provide besides translating. Yet interpreter training programs tend to ignore them.
"I recommend you start by providing volunteer interpreting services; It will help you get the experience you need to interpret professionally."
Students naturally want to earn money as soon as they graduate. But most of them need experience more tHan they need money, because only by experience – if possible, daily experience – can they reach true Expert level.

Interpreter spotlight - Carmelina C. Language Services Associates, 2013.

Term note
Native interpreter is a term Carmelina applies to herself. She means one drawn from a Central Amercan indigenous people, but it could be used for indigenous communities anywhere. Nor is it confined to community interpreting. In the Canadian north, for instance, there are Inuk parliamentary native interpreters for their language Inuktituk in the provincial and territorial legislatures. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Juvenes Translatores 2018

Once again the European Commission has announced the winners of its annual tranlation contest for schools, called Juvenes Translatores, and once again we take a quick look at them. The Commission's Directorate-General for Translation has been organising the Juvenes Translatores (Latin for 'Young Translators') every year since 2007, which makes them one of the earliest organisations to recognise the translating capability of teen-agers. For previous posts about the contest, enter juvenes in the ‘Search This Blog’ box on the right.

The sheer numbers and range of the contestants are striking: a total of 3,252 drawn from all 28 countries of the Union. The number of participating schools is 72. There’s one winner from each country. In terms of participation, it must surely be the largest of all translation contests. The countries with more than 250 contestants are France, Italy, Poland and the UK. Spain comes close with 241. The differences between countries can be explained by several factors: demographics, school systems, relative importance of the country’s own language, etc. The surprise, though, is the UK, because one reads so much in the UK press about the decline of foreign language teaching there. Perhaps it’s significant that the winning UK school is a private school for girls only(!) Anyway the UK may be out of the competition soon because of brexit.

The target language of all the winners is the principal language of their country. Out of 27 theoretically possible source languages, 18 winners chose English, which reflects the popularity of English as a second language in Europe. Three translated from the next most popular, Spanish. Nobody translated from French. The student who surprised by translating from Hungarian to Finnish has a Hungarian name, so Hungarian is probably not a second language for her. The Italian winner, who translated from Slovenian, is from a school in Trieste, which is a city right next door to Slovenia. Two contestants, the Irish and the Maltese, translated from one of the official languages of their own bilingual countries.

A word of caution to Followers. These aren’t Professional Translators –though there’s the reward of a prize – but nor are they naive Natural Translators. The fact that they are selected through their schools ensures that they’ve had language courses, and it’s very likely that the courses have included some translation exercises. Furthermore the schools probably only submitted the work of their more advanced or more gifted students. It would be interesting if somebody could delve into the background of those students. What makes a winner?

Once more the Commission is to be thanked for organising and financing this encouragement. Grading thousands of translations is no mean job. But given its popularity, it’s surprising that others haven’t emulated it. Couldn’t the hundreds – yes, there are literally hundreds – of university translation programmes, get together to organise a contest at a somewhat more advanced level?

European Commission. Juvenes Translatores: European Commission announces winners of its annual translation contest for schools. Press release. Brussels, 4 February 2019.

Woldingham School. Wikipedia, 2019.                                                                                                                    

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Centenary of Modern Conference Interpreting 1919-2019 (Part 2)

Scroll down for part (1) of this post.

Paul Mantoux in 1918

On this day, 18 January, in the year 1919, the Paris Peace Conference (aka Versailles Peace Conference) opened in the French capital to draw up the terms of peace with Germany after the allied victory in World War I. For the first time there were participants in a major European diplomatic conference who couldn't use French. It was first and foremost the American delegation headed by their president, Woodrow Wilson; but there was also the British prime minister David Lloyd George. An interpreter had to be found urgently for them who could work with language skills and self-assurance at the level of the negotiations and their participants.

It was the French who found the solution, thanks to their well organised military interpreter corps. His name was Paul Mantoux.(1877-1956) and he held the wartime rank of Captain, His English was perfect because he'd  taught in England; and he had an unusual grasp of English culture because in civilian life he was a leading historian of the British industrial revolution. Furthermore he had the necessary interpreting experience, because he'd been recruited during the war for negotiations between the French and their British allies. In the event, as we shall see, he did more than just interpret.

Actually Mantoux's period of glory began not in January but on March 24. The leaders of the principal allied delegations – Britain, France, Italy and the USA  – became impatient at the slowness of the proceedings and constituted themselves into an inner Council of Four. Though Mantoux was present officially as interpreter for Clemenceau, the French premier, he was in fact the only interpreter for everybody throughout the crucial sessions of the Council of Four until June 28.

By all accounts, Mantoux was an exceptionally gifted interpreter. He became "such a public attraction that people [later] attended the sessions of the League of Nations just to watch him in action." Wilson's Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, wrote about him:
"Possessing an extraordinary memory for thought and phrase,,, when the speaker had finished, this remarkable linguist would translate his remarks into English or into French as the case might be, without the least hesitation and with a fluency and completeness which were almost uncanny… while Professor Mantoux would employ inflection and emphasis with an oratorical skill that added greatly to the perfectness of the interpretation."
Consider Mantoux's legacy.

*  On the technical side, Mantoux used the technique known as full consecutive, which makes it possible to translate long stretches of speech up to half an hour or more without interrupting the speaker. (as opposed to the short consecutive used by untrained natural interpreters who can render at most a few sentences at a time), Since very few people can store and recall such long stretches naturally, expert interpreters take notes of what is being said. Interruptions would have spoiled the style of orators like Clemenceau or Lloyd George. How did Mantoux learn note-taking? Probably from his university experience. Whether or not he actually invented full consecutive, his success in Paris established it as the predominant method in conference interpreting for the next 25 years, until the changeover to simultaneous interpreting at Nuremberg and the United Nations, the work of another outstanding interpreter seconded from the military, Léon Dostert. Even today, full consecutive is used when the equipment for simultaneous is unavailable on account of logistics or cost.

*   On the social side, Mantoux was a distinguished intellectual able to hobnob with the great political personalities he served. He carried this distinction over to the League of Nations. Bear in mind that for consecutive the interpreters were physically much closer to the speakers than present-day simultaneous interpreters in their glass-fronted booths. So it came about that, right from the start, conference interpreting acquired prestige and an aura. Furthermore those attributes still command high remuneration, typically three times as much as a court interpreter's. Put the two together and you'll know why student interpreters dream of becoming international conference interpreters for organisations like the European Commission, which employs hundreds of them.

*  In one respect, nevertheless, Mantoux hasn't been followed by later generations. Today's interpreters are trained to appear neutral in their style of delivery, whereas Mantoux interpreted "throwing himself into each speech with such verve that one might have thought he was himself begging for territory."

*  Mantoux not only left a legacy to interpreters, he also left a unique legacy to historians. As already explained, he took notes while he was interpreting. Usually interpreter's notes are of no use to anybody else because they're scribbled in a code that's personal to that interpreter (as was overlooked by Trump when he confiscated the interpreter's notes of his conversation with Putin.) Mantoux, however, with an eye to their historical importance because he was a trained historian, kept his notes and took great pains to dictate a legible redaction of them every morning to a secretary in the form of a confidential memo to Clemenceau. Thus they have come down to us. They were overlooked for many years, but eventually they were published in France in 1955 and then translated into English in the USA (see Sources below).

One of the first actions of the Paris Conference was to set up the League of Nations, a forerunner of the United Nations and like the latter intended (in vain) to prevent future wars. Geneva was selected for its headquarters. At the end of the Conference, Mantoux was given his just reward by being appointed head of the Political Section of the League, and so his influence continued there. Even after his time, his legacy extended through his early colleagues. One of them was Antoine Velleman. In 1941 the League was made moribund by the outbreak of the Second World War and its interpreters were left high and dry in Geneva. Hoping optimistically that their activities would resume, they decided to open a school for aspiring trainees and Velleman was installed as its first head. That was the beginning of the famous Geneva school, which became a model for many others.
So to all of you who are interpreters, this is a day to celebrate.

The Wikipedia article on Mantoux is inadequate. It concentrates on him as a historian and pays scant attention to his role as interpreter.  

Paul Mantoux. The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century: An Outline of the Beginnings of the Modern Factory System in England. Translated from French by Marjorie Vernon. London: Jonathan Cape, 1929. Mantoux's magnum opus on British history.

Ruth A. Roland. Interpreters as Diplomats: A Diplomatic History of the Role of Interpreters in World Politics. Introduction by Jean Delisle. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1999.

Paul Mantoux. The Deliberations of the Council of Four (March 24-June 28, 1919) , Notes of the official interpreter. I: To the Delivery to the German Delegation of the Preliminaries of Peace. II: From the Delivery of the Peace Terms to the German Delegation to the Signing of the Treaty of Versailles. (Supplementary volumes to the Papers of Woodrow Wilson). Translated from French and edited by Arthur S. Link with the assistance of Manfred F. Boemeke. Princeton University Press, 1992. 2 vols.
There's a portrait photo of Mantoux in army uniform as frontispiece to vol. 2.

Margaret Macmillan. Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. New York: Random House, 2002.

Jesús Baigorri-Jalón. Interpreters at the United Nations: a History. Translated from Spanish by Ann Barr. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad, 2004. Available on
Google Books.

Herbert Arnould Olivier. Preparatory study for the Supreme War Council in session at Versailles in 1918. Mantoux is wearing army uniform and writing notes.
Source: ArtUK.