Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wrestling with Translation

A while back (January 3), I told about a player on a Valencian handball team who acted as interpreter for visiting British players. Now here’s a similar story about a wrestler.
“A good friend of mine (Konrad) just won the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] Wrestling Championships for the second year in a row and it got me thinking. Konrad is from Poland and has wrestled for the Polish Olympic Team in years past. When I was a senior and Konrad was a freshman, he invited me to join him in Poland for a few weeks to train with his Olympic team. Anyway, the trip was great, I got tossed around by really tough Polish men, and I've never been so sore in my life. However, my inadequate wrestling skills are not the point of the story.

"Because the Polish wrestlers spoke zero English, I relied on Konrad for an English translation of every word. Anytime a Polish person spoke, I would turn my head to look at Konrad and he would reluctantly repeat the words in English. At the end of the trip, he pretty much wanted to kill me. I can't really blame him. For three weeks, he had to act as a personal translator for me - for free!”
Well, whether Konrad liked interpreting or not, he could and did do it. In the case of the pilota player, we know that he was an advanced Native Translator, a university student of English. We have less information about Konrad's translating background; but since the ACC is an organization for American college students, and also from the mention of senior and freshman, it's clear that Konrad had received at least part of his education in the United States.

The article finishes with something about another kind of translation. This time it's intralingual translation within English.
"Like Konrad, a health insurance agent's job is to translate a foreign language to a non-speaking consumer. The language is health insurance and includes words like deductible, co-pay, network and out-of-pocket maximum. If Americans did not need a translator, they would buy health insurance similar to the way they go buy a new television: they would go to all the different stores and buy the policy that best fits their needs.”
The author of the article has hit on something significant for translation theory: the similarity, or at least partial similarity, between translating between different languages and between registers in the same language.

A commentator on the article writes, "The ‘best translator’ theory applies to any product you could also the best translator a natural salesperson....?" I would turn that question round and ask, “Is the best salesperson a natural translator?”

Rick Lindquist. Health insurance agents are paid translators of a foreign language. Clarifying Health, March 9, 2010.


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