Monday, November 23, 2009

The Many Varieties of Liaison Interpreter

I said previously that fixers are one variety of liaison interpreters. It’s pretty obvious that liaison interpreters are so called because they enable their clients to 'liaise', i.e. establish communication links with other people. Fixers do this for a particular clientele (journalists) for a particular purpose (news gathering) in particular places (like war-torn Afghanistan). We’ve seen that they’re temporarily Professional Interpreters but that they’re untrained.

At the Castelló meeting, Franz Pöchhacker, author of the comprehensive Introducing Interpreting Studies, pulled out from his archives a list of interpretation terms that I’d drawn up in the early 80s. On it, along with liaison interpreting were several synonyms. One of them was ad hoc interpreter, which strikes me as British. It comes from the way such interpreters are often found and engaged for one particular encounter and not regularly.

Another synonym was escort interpreter, from the way the interpreter accompanies clients around, as we‘ve seen with the fixers.

Yet another was elbow interpreter, from the position that the interpreters usually take up next to their clients. But I’ve never heard that one anywhere than in Canada, and nor had Franz, though a Google search does turn up a few other scattered sources.

Business interpreters, who accompany business persons to meetings, are also liaison interpreters. Most business interpreting is done in dialogue, short consecutive mode; but sometimes it requires long consecutive. The first experience I had of long consecutive interpreting came about when a businessman I was accompanying was invited to a banquet and I was told unexpectedly to interpret his speech of thanks. I’d had no training for it.

To business interpreter must now be added, as a partial synonym at least, the new term facilitating interpreter: see February 21 post.

Another of the Castelló papers, the one by Ricardo Munoz – to which I’ll be returning – introduced the truncated form terp, an American army colloquialism for its many interpreters. Military interpreting is a very important branch of interpreting which deserves more study than it has received. Not all military interpreters are liaison interpreters, but most of them are. Some armies have a well-organized interpreter corps with Professional Interpreters, in others the interpretation is much more ad hoc. The Americans, as soon as they got bogged down in Iraq, became desperate. Muñoz told us:
“Adults may become impromptu translators and interpreters, as in the case of the 250 terps who work for the military in Afghanistan, or the 2,000+ in Iraq. To rapidly turn out skilled linguists, a US army program just recruits native speakers with demonstrated proficiency in English who are permanent U.S. residents. Most of them have little or no training for their translating and interpreting duties, such as Josh Habib, a retired engineer, Ahmadullah Barak, a used-car salesman, and Topeka (Peggy) Farhang, a security guard in a casino in Las Vegas, whose cases have been reported in the press.”
Such people are Natural Translators who have rapidly become Native Interpreters under fire. At one period the interpreters at Guantanamo among other places were supplied by an outfit called Titan Corporation in San Diego CA, “a leading provider of comprehensive information and communications products, solutions, and services for National Security.” I tried to find out from them what their recruitment criteria were, but there was no response. It was no doubt a mistake on my part to have told them at the start that I was a professional.

Franz Pöchhacker. Introducing Interpreting Studies. London: Routledge, 2003.
Franz Pöchhacker. Community Interpreting (Studies) in the Interpreting (Studies) Community. Paper to 10th Jornadas de Traducción e Interpretación, Universitat Jaume I, Castelló de la Plana, November 12-13, 2009.
Ricardo Muñoz. Nomen mihi Legio est: A cognitive approach to Natural Translation. Paper to 10th Jornadas de Traducción e Interpretación, Universitat Jaume I, Castelló de la Plana, November 12-13, 2009.

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