Friday, December 13, 2013

Sacagawea and the French Canadians

Next week there'll be the 201st anniversary of the death of one of the most famous North American interpreters, Sacagawea (S). I prefer to celebrate people's birthdays rather than their death days, but in this case there's no choice: date of birth unknown. Even the date of her death is disputed but it's officially December 20, 1812. Wish I'd thought of it last year.

Sacagawea (aka Sakakawea or Sacajawea) 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 interpreter. And thirdly, but not least, because she was a Native American, one whose aid was invaluable to the nascent United States.

There's an ample literature about her, both written and audiovisual, both historical and semi-fictional, and including a long Wikipedia article. So this post will only touch on a few aspects that are insufficiently recognised.

First we have to know that the Lewis and Clark expedition  (LC), which S served, was a military mission that was sent out in 1804-1806 to look for a route through what is now the Western United States to the Pacific. It succeeded despite great hardships. S was a Soshone Indian woman who became multilingual if not as an infant then when she was very young, because she was captured when she was about 12 years old by Hidatsa raiders who spoke a different language. She accompanied her husband on the expedition.

S's husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, was a Professional Interpreter as well as an experienced frontiersman. He was taken on by LC from the start of the expedition because they were well aware that they would need interpreters to communicate with the tribes through whose territory they were to pass. S, on the other hand, became an interpreter by chance when LC discovered she spoke Shoshone and they knew they would need the help of Shoshone tribes. She had no training, but on the other hand we can surmise she was a Native Interpreter rather than a Natural one, since she had her husband as example and mentor. S wasn't paid for her work, but Toussaint was: $500 and some 500 acres of land. So we can regard them as a Professional Team.
They were professionals in yet another application of interpreting that hasn't been adequately studied, namely exploration and anthropology. It's a form of liaison interpreting. It typically involves little-known languages.

S couldn't speak English and therefore couldn't communicate directly with LC. But nor could Toussaint. It had to be done by relay interpreting, using François Labiche, another expedition member, who spoke French and English. Indeed double relay, since S probably spoke Hidatsa with Toussaint.

This brings us to the 'French connection' and the role of French Canadians in opening up the American west. Toussaint Charbonneau's name is unmistakeably French; Charbonneau is still a common family name in Quebec. S was far from being either Canadian or French. Yet her working association with Tousssaint incorporates her into the lineage of French Canadian interpreters. Another post on this blog has already provided a glimpse into the origin of the lineage in the 16th century. To find it, enter lafond in the Search box on the right. However, between the late 16th and early 19th centuries there had been a great shake-up in North America. French Canada and its commerce had been taken over by the British. The United States had been formed and had doubled its territory at one swoop by purchasing Louisiana. Nevertheless, through it all, French Canadians had retained a significant role on both sides of what was until our own days a very porous frontier. And so, although a few intrepid Brits like John Long had joined the French frontiersmen-interpreters in the push west and north-west (see References), the latter were still invaluable. Thus Toussaint wasn't the only Frenchman with LC. There was also François Labiche, already mentioned; Pierre Creusat, a good boatman and interpreter for Clark; Baptiste Dechamps, head waterman; the Drouillards, father and son; François La Birche, interpreter and boatman; Jean Baptiste Lajeunesse from St. Rose, Quebec; François Rivet, a Montrealer who later worked as interpreter for the Hudson's Bay Company; and so on. Notice that they were valued as 'boatmen' as much as for their interpreting. The French Canadians were famous for their skill at handling the large trading canoes and log rafts on the great rivers and lakes. Later in the century, some of them would even be sent up the Nile to help in the unsuccessful mission to rescue Gordon from Khartoum.

And so the members of the LC expedition were a motley corps of multilingual and multicultural adventurers. They spoke English, French and Hidatsu among themselves, Shoshone and other Native American languages with the peoples they fell in with. They included white Americans of English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh descent; at least one Black American (Clark's manservant York); the French Canadians; Native Americans and persons of mixed race. All of them dependent for their survival, at several crucial stages of the journey, on the skills and personality of Sacagawea.

  • Sacajawea. Wikipedia, 2013. Click here.
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition. Wikipedia, 2013. Click here.
  • Jone Johnson Lewis. Sacagawea (Sacajawea): guide to the west., 2005. The article is here.
  • A Roster of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. JTR's Colorful Families, 1965. The list is here.
  • John Long. Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians; with an account of the posts situated on the River Saint Laurence, Lake Ontario, &c. To which is added, A Vocabulary of the Chippeway Language. Names of Furs and Skins in English and French. A List of Words in Iroquois, Mohegan, Shawanee, and Esquimeaux Tongues, and a table showing the Analogy between the Algonkin and Chippeway Languages. London: Printed for the Author; and sold by Robson, Bond-Street; Debrett, Piccadilly... 1791. 295 p. Antiquarian booksellers ask several thousand dollars for the first edition, but there are modern reprints.
Commemorative postage stamp. As a portrait it's highly fanciful, since no known picture of her from life has survived.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Should Children Be Translators?

The last post, the one about The Guardian newspaper award to the Young Interpreter (YI) scheme in the UK, brought me some correspondence from experts on legal interpreting in the UK and Holland. They're concerned about whether children ought to be entrusted with translating in a public institution like a school. There's a danger they may be made privy to information they shouldn't have, for example. More generally, they're being given responsibilities – towards the school, other children, parents, et al. – that shouldn't be laid on them at their age. I know from conversations with Claudia Angelelli  (see References) that this is a concern in the United States as well; to the extent that some people consider child language brokering a form of exploitation and therefore oppose teaching children to translate.

I have my views, but I'm neither a parent nor an educator nor an expert on educational ethics. So I turned for an opinion to Astrid Gouwy, the coordinator of the YI scheme. Here's her reply.

"You are right, there is a danger of over-enthusiasm which sometimes can come from certain misconceptions around interpreting as not everyone realises the complexity of the task. The role of Young Interpreters is not to replace professional interpreters in interpreting for situations you mentioned – including PTA meetings. The role of Young Interpreters is to provide peer support to new arrivals in the early stages of learning English so that they feel welcome in their new school. The guidance pack gives examples of how Young Interpreters can help – for example to show a new arrival around the school, or to play a game with them at break times. In addition, the role play situations which are used during the training depict typical situations where Young Interpreters could help – for example what to do if you see a new arrival on their own. Finally, whilst language is an asset for the role and can be used to welcome others, Young Interpreters don’t have to be bilingual or share the same language as their buddy to make them feel happy in their new setting. Effectively, many Young Interpreters won’t ever get to ‘interpret’ in the sense that most people attach to the term. However, they will use a range of strategies learnt in their training to communicate with their buddies and make them feel included e.g. through use of pictures, body language etc. They will also use their many qualities – in fact, one Young Interpreter was telling me the other day that the most important thing about the role was to be caring and kind.
"I understand concerns from professional interpreters over the use of children as interpreters but I hope the above clarification of the role of Young Interpreter will reassure them. The new edition which will be out very soon will give further guidance to practitioners in charge of developing the scheme in their schools. This will comprise dos and don’ts of Young Interpreters’ role and more on safeguarding."
To this, though it really needs no further comment, I'll append my own simple list of contexts in which I consider – with the reservation mentioned earlier – that translating by children should be scrupulously avoided unless no other translator is obtainable.

A. Legal. Those that might have legal implications or repercussions. For instance, a serious dispute between a parent and a school; or an injury to a child that might lead to a claim; or an accusation of sexual assault.

B. Medical. Any serious medical problem. The danger in medical interpretation comes not only from conveying wrong information but also from omissions. Unlike Expert Interpreters, Natural Interpreters are not constrained to reproduce everything they hear. Expert Interpreters must struggle to do so; but if Natural Interpreters can't understand or can't reproduce something, they just skip it and carry on.

C. Emotional. Something that might cause the interpreter stress, eg having to convey bad news about someone in the family.

One of the aforementioned correspondents mentioned a PTA meeting that proposed to use YI but dropped the idea. Sometimes it might be a matter of age. Events like PTA meetings require some knowledge of the school system, of its terminology and of the stakeholders. Perhaps 14 years old would be a viable minimum. I think I knew enough by that age.

For more information about YI, click here.

Claudia V. Angelelli (San Diego State University). Expanding the abilities of bilingual youngsters: can translation and interpreting help? In M. J. Blasco Mayor and M. A. Jimenez Ivers (eds.), Interpreting Naturally: a Tribute to Brian Harris, Berne, Lang, 2011, pp. 103-120.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Young Interpreters Wins Guardian Award

Several posts in the course of this fast disappearing year have been devoted to the Young Interpreters. It’s the movement started and developed in the UK by Hampshire County Council's Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service (Emtas) and coordinated by Astrid Gouwy and her team. Participating schools at all levels set up programmes to encourage bilingual pupils to interpret for their peers and give them some basic training. To find the posts, enter emtas in the Search box on the right.

Now comes great news. The scheme has been named winner of the Grassroots Excellence category in this year's The Guardian newspaper’s Public Services Awards and overall winner of the Awards. A richly deserved recognition!

The Guardian citation says this:

“A scheme that makes a vital impact on a pressing social issue, yet costs almost nothing, sounds too good to be true. But that is the beauty of the young interpreter programme developed in schools in Hampshire.

“By giving children the role of supporting others whose first language is not English, the groundbreaking scheme is promoting successful integration of migrant youngsters, accelerating their learning and helping the young interpreters become accustomed to responsibility.

“The initiative has been praised by school inspectors and is being picked up by schools elsewhere in the UK and overseas…

“Presenting the award, David Brindle, the Guardian's public services editor, said: ‘Like so many of the best ideas, the Hampshire Young Interpreter Scheme is so stunningly simple that you wonder why it has not been done before. It has negligible costs, yet is fantastically popular with both the children who act as young interpreters and those they befriend, making them welcome and helping them adapt to their new surroundings and language. It is making a priceless contribution to social cohesion.’

“The idea is that training pupils already fluent in English to act as interpreters, will take the pressure off the council's interpretation service and help new arrivals – who often speak no English at all – to settle into their new schools and learn the language at the same time.

"’Our school has got 27 different languages and, with the best will in the world, there's not the money to fund that with bilingual resources,’ says Fairfields [primary school]’s deputy head, Vicky Hopkins. ‘We were looking for a way to support these children using what we already had available.’

"We had a lot of children who had already been through the experience of being a new arrival in our school. They were now advanced bilingual learners; they're very proud of where they come from, and of being able to speak other languages."

Young Interpreters goes some way towards implementing Jill Karlik’s suggestion in the last post, based on her observation of three-year-old language brokers in Africa, that interpreter training for bilingual children should start very young.

Hannah Fearn. Overall and grassroots excellence winner: Hampshire county council. The Guardian Online, 13 November 2013. For the full article, click here.

Astrid Gouwy’s address is

Monday, November 4, 2013

Recent Articles from The Linguist

Miranda Moore

This blog has several times recommended and quoted from The Linguist, the bi-monthly magazine of the UK Chartered Institute of Linguists. Under its vivacious and highly competent editor, Miranda Moore, who often does her own fieldwork and has a keen eye for graphics, it contains many articles that are of interest for us here. The latest issue, October-November 2013, is no exception. And now that there’s an electronic edition (see References), it’s easily accessible.

A recent article I particularly enjoyed was ‘Let’s get physical’ by Rekha Narula, in which she looks at the challenging physical environment for interpreters working like her in the UK health service. It’s true to life. But Rekha is a Professional Expert, and so further discussion of her modus operandi would be beyond the scope of this blog.

Nataly Kelly too is a Professional Expert, but her article (see References) does fall within our scope because it’s about a hot topic in non-professional translation, crowdsourcing, and most crowdsourcing contributors are Advanced Native Translators but not qualified Experts. (For more about it on this blog, enter crowdsourcing in the Search box on the right.) Part of the article is given over to persuading the Professional Experts that community translation (as she calls it) isn’t a threat to them: “Community translation: friend, foe or no big deal.” But what interests me most are the measures she describes for checking and revising the contributions. Translation crowdsourcing has already developed beyond ‘anything goes’.
“The freelance [professional] translator community became enraged when, in 2007, Facebook began using members of its community to translate its platform into other languages. The complaints primarily consisted of exclamations such as… ‘They can’t ensure quality if they use the unwashed masses.’… Facebook came up with its own [software] solution, [a free app] which allowed its huge community to cast votes for the best translations. [If you want a glimpse of the Facebook app, click here.]
"This enabled the company to ensure that a single translator was not deciding how millions of people would say ‘write on your wall’ in their native language. Instead, the community of users had a say in how they wanted to see phrases translated… the majority decides which translation it likes best... The sheer number of volunteers is a safeguard to quality but smaller communities can struggle to find sufficient numbers, and that can mean that the translation is never launched… Many community managers will not trust a translation if it hasn’t been reviewed by several volunteers.”

A noteworthy implication of this procedure is that, for better or worse, not only the translating but also the assessment of the translations is done by non-Experts. It becomes communal, distributed and democratised.  But even if the translators are not Expert Translators, they may well be subject-matter savvy and they have a passion for language.  The same can be said of the Wikipedia translators whom Julie McDonough has been studying (enter mcdonough in the Search box), though they make their revisions without special software.

 The third article that struck my attention did so because it adds first-hand information to a topic that has already appeared several times on this blog, namely church interpreters in Africa. It’s by Jill Karlik of Leeds University, who studied them in The Gambia. In a post a long time ago, I told how impressed I was by the dramatic manner  of a church interpreter in Cameroon (enter buea in the Search box).  So it struck a chord when I read the following:

“Some of the younger generation…  gain recognition as competent interpreters within the frame of church events. I found they meet end-user expectations by a highly communicative and lively manner…  It occurred to me that their skills deserved wider recognition.”

Most important, though, are her comments on the development that they have been through.

“In this multilingual milieu, all the interpreters in my study had grown up interpreting since childhood, serving the function of ‘community interpreters’. I observed children as young as three [my emphasis] acting as interpreters for visiting cousins.”

In the centennial year of the publication of Ronjat’s Le développpement du langage chez un enfant bilingue (enter ronjat in the Search box), it’s good to have this empirical confirmation of the young age at which bilingual children can start to translate communicatively.

Finally, along this line of thinking, she raises a question that deserves discussion and action:

“…whether there might be some way of helping young ‘natural’ interpreters benefit from appropriate training at an early age, at a time when they are most receptive to developing their cognitive skills.”

The Linguist. Edited by Miranda Moore. London: Chartered Institute of Linguists, bi-monthly. The paper edition is available from the CIoL ( at GBP 41 a year plus postage. The electronic edition is free here, but the references below are to the print edition.

Rekha Narula. Let’s get physical. The Linguist, vol. 52, no. 5, pp. 12-13, 2013.

Nataly Kelly. Power of the crowd. The Linguist, vol. 52, no. 5, pp. 14-15, 2013

Jill Karlik. A Christian Interpretation. The Linguist, vol. 52, no. 5, pp. 18-19, 2013.




Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NPIT2 Deadline

Just received:

"The deadline for abstract submission for the Second International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation has been extended until Sunday, November 10."

For the Call for Papers, enter NPIT2 in the Search box on the right.

I hope this doesn't mean what it would seem to mean, namely that there aren't yet enough papers for NPIT2. After the resounding, hopeful, innovative success of NPIT1 - which would be confirmed by anyone who participated - there ought to be stacks of them.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Naive and Not So Naive Readers

 This is the continuation of the previous post, which please read first.

Before leaving the Expert Readers, there's one kind that I probably wouldn't have listed, because the texts that they read are so different, if it weren't that there's an in-depth study of how they think by a well-known German translatologist, Hans Krings. Krings is best known for his use of think-aloud protocols (TAP) in translation studies (see References). His book is about the readers and revisers of raw machine translation output, called post-editors. His fundamental assumption is that the post-editors must themselves be translators, because only experienced translators can judge the accuracy of a translation. McElhany and Vasconcellos, quoted in the Krings book, have this to say about them:
"The translator is the one best able to pick up errors in the machine translation (e.g., misparsed or unparsable ambiguities), he has a fund of knowledge about the cross-language transfer of concepts, and he has technical resources at his disposal which he knows how to use in the event of doubts... An inexperienced translator to say nothing of the non-translator is apt to waste precious time unnecessarily reworking passages or trying to deal with a problem whose solution would be obvious to a seasoned professional."

Let's go now to the opposite end of the spectrum of competence: the Naive Translation Reader (NTR). NTRs know nothing about translation; they haven't been taught anything, and they're probably monolingual. Even if they're bilingual, they're not so in the languages of the translation they're reading. They may even be unaware that what they're reading is a translation. I had no idea the legends and adventure books I was reading as a child - from the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to the travels of Marco Polo and Sven Hedin - were written by foreigners in another language or adapted from translations of them. The blog has commented earlier on people who think the Bible was composed in their own language (enter rednecks in the Search box). That kind of  mistake is encouraged by the publishers who still don't mention that the publication is a translation or don't name the translator. NTRs are therefore obliged to read translations as original writings in the receptor language and to judge them by the literary and stylistic canons of that language. It can lead to serious misconceptions, for instance that The Arabian Nights, because of the way it was bowdlerised by 18th and 19th century English and French translators, is a collection of stories for children. But for the NTRs, ignorance is bliss.

Between the NTRs and the Expert Readers there's an Intermediate class. Let's call its members ITRs. They're a mixed bag but they have some characteristics in common. They know translations exist and what they are. They may be able to tell a translation when they read one, notably by conceptual features or because it contains segments of translationese, i.e., hangovers from the vocabulary and phraseology of the source language. For instance, when I was at this stage at school, I constantly wondered why so many sentences in the King James Bible began with And when we were being instructed in our English class not to do so. I realised it wasn't a native English text.
ITR's are often interested in translations only for extraneous reasons. Take the case of the publisher's readers whose job it is to select among manuscripts submitted to them for publication. The translations that come to them are declared as such. But their selection criterion won't be the quality of the translation. They read translations with an eye to whether the work will sell to their employer's market.

The authors of reviews of new publications often fall into this category. For example, an article appeared recently in the New York Times Review of Books purporting to review four English translations of contemporary foreign literature. The title of the article is 'Chronicle: fiction in translation'. So the reporter was certainly aware of translation; what's more the names of the translators are given. However, while there's a description of each story there's not a single word about the translations. In one case it's clear that the original language was Chinese; in the other three cases we're left to our own devices to work out  what it was. The reviewer certainly didn't know all the languages. And that's The New York Times.

Finally, before this post becomes too long, there are the readers, voluntary or captive, of the masses of translation that are produced as official documents or announcements by governments or by law. Often the original and the translation of such texts are displayed side by side. If the translation is well done, it takes an ETR to detect which is the original. ITRs know one of them is a translation because the law (as in Canada) dictates that government documents must be translated, but no more than that. The page layout conventions help too.

And so on.

As a reader of this blog, you're probably an ETR or at least an ITR. But let's not underplay the NTRs. They're the ones who are mainly responsible for Professional Translators lacking recognition and appreciation. Yet without them, the market for translation would be much smaller.                                                                        
Silvia Bernardini. Think-aloud protocols in translation research: achievements, limits, future prospects. Click here.

Hans P. Krings. Repairing Texts: Empirical Investigations of Machine Translation Post-Editing Processes. Translated from the German Texte reparieren by Geoffrey S. Koby, Gregory M. Shreve, Katja Mischerikow, Sarah Litzer (another collaborative translation!). Kent OH and London: Kent State University Press, 2001. 633 p.

Sven Hedin. From Pole to Pole: A Book for Young People. Translated from the Swedish Från pol till pol by an unnamed translator.. London: Macmillan, 1912. The Project Gutenburg e-book edition is available here. "This remains the single most exciting adventure travel book written in the early twentieth century." (Amazon). There's a Wikipedia article on Sven Hedin.

Alison McCulloch. Chronicle: fiction in translation. New York Times Sunday Book Review, 1 September 2013.The article is here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Expert Translation Readers

N.B. Translations and translators refer in this post to written translating. Interpreting is another story.

I’ve been away in San Ildefonso. Never heard of it? I sympathise. Nor had I until recently, but see the Footnote below.

For reading on the trip, I took a famous Spanish novel by Valencian author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and one of its two English translations).[1] Why take the translation when I can read the Spanish? It’s because I enjoy reading a translation along with its original and comparing them. I take pleasure where the translator has found a satisfactory solution to a problem or doubt, something I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Even when he or she stumbles, the ’mistake’ can give a flash of insight into how the translator’s mind was working. In the case of this translation, I noticed that such errors were usually due to the translator not knowing at first hand the area in which the story and the characters are placed. Call this way of reading professional perversiont. But I’m not alone. I saw this yesterday from an Irish newspaper:[2]
I recently attended a translation slam. Two literary translators were given the same text (a smidgen of Proust) to work on. We voyeurs in the audience were supplied with the original and the translators’ versions. A riveting discussion followed about translation choices.
It led me to the reflection that different readers of translations have different interests, different levels of expertise. The theorists have paid scant attention to the diversity of readership. As regards expertise, there are those who have training and are perhaps themselves translators. Them we may class as the Expert Readers. We can assume they are able to read both languages. I would add that they ought to be able not only to detect divergences from the originals intuitively but be capable of explaining why they consider them to be such. Many of them are actually paid to read translations and to critique them. They are the Professional Expert Readers. There are more of them than one might think, since they include the following.

Colleagues of Professional Translators who read one another’s drafts and suggest improvements.

The senior revisers and editors of junior translators. For them too, the aim is to improve quality. Most large translation bureaux have them. Indeed there are now European and Canadian norms for commercial bureaux that stipulate revision.[3]

The teachers of translation who must read and criticise their students’ work. Since there are hundreds of postsecondary translation programmes and courses throughout the world – I keep a file of them – we can guesstimate that there are several thousand teachers. One particularity of their work is that they are often called on to quantify quality by assigning a numerical grade. To this group we may append the examiners who assess translations for degrees and professional qualifications.

The writers of reviews, at least for professional and academic publications. The reviewers in the popular press are a different kettle of fish; they are often non-experts who are capable of writing a page about the text but only one line about the translation.

Lawyers and para-jurists who vet translations for their legal validity and consistency. Since the legislation, regulations and other information issued by the European Union must be translated into all the languages of the EU and be applicable in all its countries without interminable haggling over the meaning of the texts, there are plenty of such multilingual legal experts in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. I come up against them myself in the translating I do for Spanish applicants to a Canadian college of physicians and surgeons. The smallest discrepancy, for example in the title of a university course amongst a list of 50 courses, leads to the whole translation being returned to me for correction. So I’m aware there’s somebody in an office in Canada who's being paid to read my translations with a magnifying glass and who, for legal reasons, insists that they be “as literal as possible.”[4]

The Re-translators, that is to say the translators who translate a previous translation. Such re-translations are common. For example, Blasco Ibáñez, already mentioned above, published the most popular Spanish version of The Thousand and One Nights.[5] As he didn’t know Arabic, he translated it from a French translation. Re-translators have to perform a more careful and complete reading of the primary translation than most readers would give it.

So the reader should appear as a variable in any model of the translation process.

To be continued.

[1] Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, 1867-1928. Cañas y barro. Translated as Reeds and Mud by Lester Beberfall, BA, MA, PhD (Professor of Spanish, Wisconsin State University). Boston: Branden Press, 1966. 194 p. The original can be found in any good Spanish bookshop; the translation is available through Amazon.
[2] Doireann Ni Bhriain. Word for word: losing out on access to translations. The Irish Times, 12 October 2013. The article is here.
[3] Canadian General Standards Board. CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, Translation Services. Gatineau: CGSB, 2008. "Where possible, CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008 has been harmonized with the European Standard EN 15038, Translation Services." Downloadable for a fee from this site.
[4] Medical Council of Canada. Translation Requirements. Ottawa, 2013. Available here.
[5] El libro de las mil noches y una noche (The Thousand and One Nights). Direct literal translation from Arabic by Dr J. C. Mardrus. Spanish version by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. Valencia: Prometeo, c1916.
[6] José Luis Sancho and Juan Ramón Aparicio. Guide: Real Sitio de La Granja de San Ildefonso and Riofrío. (Reales Sitios de España series). Translated by Mervyn Samuel, Laura Suffield and Nigel Williams. Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 2013. 97 p. Richly illustrated. Available from Amazon.
Notice, in view of the immediately preceding post, that the San Ildefonso item is a collaborative translation.

San Ildefonso is a small town on the northern slope of the Guadarrama mountains about 100 km north of Madrid and 10 km south of Segovia. The Spanish monarchs of the 18th century turned it into a refreshing summer hill-station retreat from the heat and bustle of Madrid. They endowed it with two Baroque palaces, extensive formal gardens with sculptured fountains in French style, and the Royal Glassworks, all now excellently conserved.[6] In addition it has good hotels and restaurants. Little visited by foreign tourists but recommended as a side trip for visitors to Madrid or Segovia.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

St Jerome Again / Collaborative Translating

St Jerome Again
For a reason that’ll become apparent in another post, I let the Feast of St Jerome (30 September) slip by this year. However, a couple of new comments about his Vulgate translation of the Bible have been attached recently to a previous post. To find them, enter feast in the Search box on the right. The Vulgate ceased to be the Roman Catholic official ‘pivot’ for Bible translations in 1943, when Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical to that effect. Nevertheless, in 2001 the Vatican issued an instruction establishing a revised edition, the Nova Vulgata, as “a point of reference for all translations of the liturgy of the Roman rite into the vernacular from the original languages.” At roughly 1,600 years, the Vulgate has had a long innings.
  • Vulgate. Wikipedia, 2013. Click here.
  • Divino Afflante Spiritu. Wikipedia, 2013. Click here. This is the Papal encyclical of 1943.

Collaborative Translation Conference
There has been a tendency since the Renaissance to see translations as the product of single translators' minds. But the fact is that a great many translations, both literary and technical or legal, are collaborative efforts, sometimes between whole teams.

Collaborative translating has been given great new impetus by the advent of internet crowdsourcing (enter crowdsourcing in the Search box on the right); yet it’s far from new on a smaller scale, so it has history. One of the most successful enterprises of the sort was the 17th-century King James Version of the Bible (enter KJV in the Search box).

News comes now of an innovative conference next year recognising this reality. It's called La traduction collaborative: de l’Antiquité à Internet (Collaborative Translation from Antiquity to the Internet). It's to be held in Paris, June 5-7, 2014, and one of its spin-offs is that participants get to see the interior of the spectacular French National Library. Papers can be in English. What's more, participation is free. But be quick! The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2013. Submissions should go to, and questions to

Thursday, October 3, 2013

NPIT2 Reminder

A friend has written reminding me that the deadline is fast approaching for submitting papers to the Second International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation. It's October 31. For more information and the call for papers, enter npit2 in the Search box on the right.

Meanwhile there's still some unfinished business from last year's NPIT1. To the people who asked me at Forlí whether I was going to publish something from my inaugural presentation, the answer now is that I've converted the PowerPoint version into a conventional paper for the proceedings. However, it looks like it'll be some time yet before the proceedings are published.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Medical Interpreters in Honduras

Medical Interpreter
What's it like to work as a doctor with a non-Expert Interpreter, with an Expert one, and finally with an Expert one but by telephone? The following first-hand description by a doctor working in up-country Honduras is both instructive and amusing.
I finally got the simple phrase “Por que estas aqui hoy?” down pat, but the answers sometimes surprised me.

“I wake up every morning and think about blowing my head off.”

That is what my first patient of the day told me through a translator. He was 79 years old, a weather- beaten, wrinkled old caballero with a rusted six-shooter tucked into his waistband.

“How long have you felt this way?”

“For many years.”

Uh-oh. As far as I knew there were no psychiatrists available in the mountain villages of Honduras, and we had not thought to stock anti-depressant medicines in our traveling pharmacy. Hundreds more patients were lined up waiting to be seen. I had to solve this ominous problem somehow. My translator was a University of Virginia student who grew up speaking Spanish at home (her parents were Peruvian) and she was quite fluent. I had her translate the complaint several times and each time it was the same. His very first thought every morning was blowing his head off. And yet something didn’t quite fit. The patient did not appear depressed and in fact was grinning and seemed delighted with the close attention he was getting from the gringo medico. I was missing something. I needed more than a translator. I needed an interpreter.

I called Pedro over. Pedro was a native of Honduras and our local fixer. If anyone could help, it was Pedro. He seemed to know everyone in Honduras and could talk to anyone. I asked Pedro to ask my ancient cowboy why he had come.

“He has a headache,” Pedro told me.

“Does he want to blow his head off?”

Pedro and the patient chuckled.

“No. He is saying his head feels like it’s going to explode. You know, blow up.”

“He has had headaches for many years. He has high blood pressure but can’t get any medicines for it because there is no doctor in his town. He wants you to prescribe him blood pressure medicine. That is why he is here.”

My translator was beet red. Yet it wasn’t her fault. Peruvian idiom is different than Honduran idiom and her translation was accurate but misleading...

Verbal translating and interpreting are closely related but sometimes critically different skills. Translating is generally word-for-word verbatim relaying from one (source) language into another (target) language. Interpreting is more likely to be paraphrasing what each speaker is saying. When done well, interpreting is more accurate than translating, but it requires a deeper fluency in both languages compared to translating, which requires less fluency in the source language, in this case Spanish. When trying to understand complex medical and social issues, especially in the time-pressured ER [emergency room], interpreters are more helpful than translators, who are more widely available.

Early in my career, non-English speakers were not common [as patients] in the ER and interpreting services in the hospital were not available. We improvised when language barriers arose. Spanish speakers could usually be found among the ancillary staff. Once when faced with a patient who spoke only Chinese, our triage nurse called the local Chinese restaurant and used the waiter to translate. Of course this is not HIPAA [US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] compliant, but the patient got the care he needed and we got General Tso’s chicken for lunch.

Times have changed. Now we have instant access to certified medical interpreters in over 200 languages via a subscription service on our ER telephones"
The good doctor has his own non-standard terminology for translator vs. interpreter, but he makes it clear what he means. As for the term fixer, enter it in the Search box on the right to see other instances. I didn't expect to see it turn up in Honduras.

The end of the doctor's story shows the way things are moving in medical interpreting. When no Expert Interpreter is available, you use who you can. But the advent of telephone interpreting, despite its limitations, is bringing Expert Interpreters to remote places. "Telephone Interpreting is the fastest growing modality of community interpreting," claims the website of the International Medical Interpreters Association. Give it another 20 years to become quasi-universal.

Dr. Robert C. Reiser. Annals of medicine: lost in translation. The Crozet Gazette (Crozet, Virginia), 7 September 2013. For the full article, click here.
Source: Interpreter Training Solutions, LLC

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Literacy Brokering

Kristen Perry

Literacy brokering is a new term from America that's relevant to Natural Translation (NT) and is making its way in sociolinguistic circles. Making its way? Well, 729 Google hits at the time of this writing, which isn't much by Google standards. Nevertheless, it's among the topics listed in the call for papers for the Second International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation next year.

So what is it?

Clearly it's derived from the older term language brokering (over 9,000 hits), so we should start from that. There have been many mentions of language brokering (LaB) on this blog: just enter language brokering in the Search box on the right.

LaB is the translating done by bilingual children of immigrant families to help other family members, and sometimes other acquaintances like schoolmates, communicate with the wider community around them. Though it's a worldwide phenomenon, it's particularly associated with immigrant communities in the USA, especially the Hispanics, because that's where most of the research on it has been conducted. It was already a prominent topic at the First NPIT Conference last year (see References).

Now literacy brokering comes along to make a finer distinction. The assumption up till recently was that the input the language brokers received was spoken. Most of it is, but there's nevertheless a significant part that's written. The people who receive it before the interpreter-broker intervenes can't understand it or react to it because they're illiterate in the language of their new country. Hence the LaB interpreter becomes more specifically a literacy broker. Furthermore, the written communications tend to be more formal and to require more explanation than spoken ones.

There's a good page about literacy brokering in the latest edition of Educational Research. It summarises a research article by Kristen Perry of the University of Kentucky (see References).
"Getting a permission slip from home is one example of the 'literacy brokering' that a child from an immigrant family engages in to help family members understand the unfamiliar texts and literary practices of their new home... Children, themselves often English Language Learners (ELLs), not only help families with language but also with unfamiliar texts such as coupons, sweepstakes tickets, crossword puzzles, phone books, etc.... The majority of brokering events observed by Perry revolved around responding to school-related texts. The schools that the children attended sent home many papers."
The children are Natural Translators; they have had no training and receive none. Obviously the brokering can't begin until they're literate, say at around six years old, which is not necessarily the case with all Language Brokering. It also requires that they have more education and experience of the world around them. As usual with NT phenomena, sociolinguists and educationists are more interested in it than translatologists.

I've told elsewhere on this blog the story of how one of my earliest encounters with Natural Translation was overhearing a young girl at the counter of a post office in Ottawa interpreting an official  from English to Portuguese for her father (enter post office in the Search box). That was literacy brokering, but some 40 years before the term.

  • Marjorie Faulstich Orellana. Dialoguing across differences: the past and future of language brokering research. Paper to First International Conference on Non-professional Interpretation and Translation, University of Bologna at Forli, 2012. To be published in the proceedings.
  • ELL children act as 'literacy brokers' for parents. Educational Research Newsletter & Webinars, 2013. This is a summary of the following Perry article. To read it, click here.
  • Kristen Perry. Genres, contexts, and literacy practices: literacy brokering among Sudanese refugee families. Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 44 (2013), no. 3, pp. 256-277. Abstract here.

Source: University of Kentucky

Saturday, September 14, 2013

2 Interpreters, 450 Descendants (Part 2)

Pierre Boucher
This is the conclusion of the immediately preceding post, which should be read first.

The second interpreter was far more important historically. In 1645, Etienne de Lafond, recently arrived from France, married Marie Boucher. Marie was the younger sister of Pierre Boucher, who was already 13 years old when his parents left for New France about 1634. In his new abode, Pierre set about learning several Amerindian languages and became proficient enough to act as interpreter to the Jesuits for their missions to the Hurons, who were allies of the French. At that period he became a donné (dedicated servant) of the Jesuits and served them from 1637 to 1641. Then in 1640 he was seriously injured in one arm during a Huron revolt. He withdrew to Quebec City, where the governor, Huault de Montmagny, appointed him to his personal staff as interpreter and as agent to Indian tribes. As such he took part in all the negotiations between the French and the Indians, an experience that was to be helpful to him for the rest of his life. In 1644, he was appointed interpreter of the fort at the settlement of Trois-Rivières (Three Rivers) on the St. Lawrence midway between Quebec City and Montreal. In particular he took a leading part in the important peace negotiations with the Iroquois chief Kiotseaeton the following year. He had become indispensable.

From 1635 on he lived permanently at the township of Trois-Rivières. There he was elected captain of the militia, warded off an Iroquois attack and was later appointed governor. Among his achievements was an important early description of the colony printed in France (see References) and the honour of being the first of the colonisers to be granted titles of nobility.

But the role for which he is best remembered today is as the founder of Boucherville, an important town on the St. Lawrence 20 km downstream from Montreal. It was in his manor-house at Boucherville that he died in 1715 at the age of 95.

Between these two interpreters, we can see common elements. First their early multilingualism in French and several Amerindian languages. And then, the role of the Jesuits, adept at learning native languages in distant lands, who trained them as boys and gave them thorough practical experience by taking them with them on their voyages. They produced Expert Interpreters, experts not only in languages but also in cultures, commerce and politics.

In June 1995, in the ice-hockey arena of the little village of Saint-Bruno-de-Guigues in northwestern Quebec – you can find it with Google Maps – I attended a reunion of 450 proven members of the Lafond family, come together from many parts of Canada and the United States. Part of the family had established itself at Guigues during another wave of colonisation around 1900. It follows from the above that they were all related by blood or marriage, however distantly, to the two 17th-century interpreters.

  • Florent Héroux. See the previous post
  • Raymond Douville. Boucher, Pierre. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. The article is here.
  • Pierre Boucher. L'histoire véritable et naturelle des mœurs et productions du pays de la Nouvelle-France, vulgairement dite le Canada. (The True Natural History of the Customs and Products of New France, Commonly Called Canada). Paris: Florentin Lambert, 1664. There’s a modern reprint advertised on Amazon, and also a paperback edition of an English translation with the title Canada in the Seventeenth Century: From the French of Pierre Boucher.
Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

2 Interpreters, 450 Descendants (Part 1)

Samuel de Champlain
I bet not many of you can trace a translator in your family tree as far back as the 17th century, but I know a lady who can trace two of them with documented certainty. What's more, she knows of 450 other relatives, all documented.

How so? Because of a feature of French Canadian (FC) society that is perhaps unique. Until the 'Quiet Revolution' of the 1960s, FC society was solidly Roman Catholic. Long before the start of modern government population records, all births, deaths and marriages in the community were meticulously recorded in the parish registers. It was so too in France, but there many of the records were destroyed or damaged in the period of the French Revolution and in wars. No such cataclysm affected the FC registers. Not even the British takeover in 1763, because the Brits, in order to win over the FC settlers, assured them they could go on practising their religion freely and they kept their promise. Eventually, in the 20th century, the parish records were microfilmed and consolidated into collections that have greatly facilitated genealogical research.

Let's go back to the beginning.

When the Breton navigator Jacques Cartier discovered the St Lawrence river for the French in 1534-35, and with it the land that is now Quebec, he found native Indian peoples along its shores and he realised at once that he would need interpreters. After all, he'd been an occasional interpreter himself. So he tried to get some of his sailors and some Indians trained for the task, but it was a failure. This post, however, concerns a slightly later period.

The French colonisation of the St. Lawrence valley, part of what they called Nouvelle-France (New France), didn't take place till the following century. The architect of the new colony, sent by the master strategist Richelieu, was an outstanding administrator named Samuel de Champlain. He founded Quebec City in 1608. He also appreciated the value of interpreting and set out to raise it to Professional Expert level.
He created"an institution of resident interpreters (interprètes-résidents) in the new colony. Young French adventurers were placed with the Indian tribes with whom the French traded; they lived among the natives dressed like them, hunted, fished and took part in their everyday lives. Through daily contact with the Indians, the interpreters became familiar not only with their language but also with their way of thinking. They were highly effective intermediaries between the native population and the European settlers and merchants, serving as guides, explorers, diplomats and traders.
But besides those professionals, most of the colonists had some contact with Indian languages and many of them were called on to interpret in daily dealings.

Our story really begins when Etienne de Lafond emigrated to Canada in or about 1642. He came from the small village of Saint-Laurent-de-la-Barrière in the Saintonge region of western France (part of today's Charente-Maritime); you can find it with Google Maps. We don't know exactly why he left his native soil but Canada was then, as now, a land of opportunity. He was a carpenter, and since most of the French buildings in New France were of wood he had sure employment. He prospered and acquired a great deal of land.

He married three years later and had eight children, the eldest of whom was Jean de Lafond
As a young man, Jean went on voyages with the [Jesuit] missionaries and he became involved in the fur trade with the Indians. It enabled him to learn several languages and to act as interpreter when required.
Interestingly, Jean's second wife was a Huron Indian, Catherine Annenontha, who had been brought up as a Catholic by the Ursuline nuns at Quebec City. There weren't enough French women in the colony to go around. So he was the first of the two interpreters.

To be continued.

  • Florent J. Héroux. L'histoire généalogique des Familles Lafond, 1645-1995 (History and Genealogy of the Lafond Families). New Liskeard: Privately printed, 1995. The author of this admirable work of genealogical precision and documentation can be contacted at
  • Jean Delisle and Judith Woodsworth. Translators through History, revised edition. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2012. Jean is an expert on the history of interpreters in Nouvelle-France. It was from his early thesis (Les interprètes sous le régime français, 1534-1760, Université de Montréal, 1975) that I first learnt about them.

 Samuel de Champlain. Source: Explorers Wiki.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Seamus Heaney, Translator

Beowulf, page 1

Since the sad news came last Friday that Seamus Heaney had died, the papers have been paying due tribute to him as a great Irish poet (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1995). But in none of the obits that I've read is there a mention of him as a great translator. Perhaps that's because people don't recognise one of his greatest works as a translation.  But it is.

Heaney's language of expression was English, not the Gaelic language Irish (aka Erse). That puts him in the lineage of great Irish writers who've left their mark on English literature: Swift, Wilde, Shaw, Joyce, Yeats, et al. Where would we be without them? So he was Irish in the geographical and ethnographic senses. I was a little surprised to learn that he was born and brought up in Northern Ireland (aka Ulster), "a humble Bellaghy man", since he lived in Dublin and I tend to associate Irish culture with that city and with the south. But then to Irish nationalists it's all one Ireland.

His great achievement as a translator is his Modern English version of Beowulf.  Beowulf, in case you're not familiar with it, is a poetic saga set in Scandinavia, and it's one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature. Beowulf is an epic hero who defeats the monster Grendel in combat. The poem was composed by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet some time between the 8th and early 11th centuries, and it's written in the West Saxon dialect of Old English. And it's in that language name Old English that lies the misunderstanding about translation.

The Germanic language Old English (aka Anglo-Saxon) was the principal ancestor of Modern English. Indeed when I was at school, our compendium of English literature began with a page from Beowulf. But then came "1066 and all that", i.e., the Norman invasion from France, and English changed radically. So much so that we struggled with our page of Beowulf at school and it was unintelligible to us without the help of a glossary and a literal translation provided by our teacher. Look at the image that heads this post and see if you can make it out. Old English and Modern English are so different that they should be considered as two languages. If people want to consider them as a single language, then we are still left with what the theorists call an intralingual translation, i.e., a translation within the same language.

Anyway, technicalities aside, not until Heaney and the publication of his 1999 rendition did I forget the schoolbook exercise and thrill to Beowulf, as did many others. D. M. Thomas wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail, "Looking back, I wish I had been able to read a translation like Heaney's. It has persuaded me that the poem is indeed a masterpiece."

Here's a sample. Notice how cleverly he preserves and exploits one of the outstanding features of Anglo-Saxon poetry: the internal alliteration between each half-line (e.g., Men climbed eagerly up the gangplank) and does so without straining the vocabulary. This in itself is an achievement.  It's a device that gives an urgent spring to the rhythm.
Men climbed eagerly up the gangplank
sand churned in the surf, warriors loaded
a cargo of weapons, shining war-gear
in the vessel's hold, then heaved out,
away with will in the wood-wreathed ship.
Over the waves, with the wind behind her
and foam at her neck, she flew like a bird...

  • Beowulf. Wikipedia. Click here. This is a full article that among other things traces the earlier Modern English translations since 1805 as well as the lucky survival of the single extant source manuscript.
  • Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney, 1999. There are several editions on offer, including a bilingual one. The Look Inside! feature of the Amazon website here can give you a free taste of it.

First page of the Nowell Codex, the only surviving manuscript. Source: Wikipedia.

Since writing the above, I've seen some obits that do mention Heaney's translations, and not only the universally admired Beowulf. The Boston Globe of August 31, for example, mentions The Cure at Troy, a play based on Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus.

And a final Heaney connection with translation. His last words, sent in a text message to his wife, were noli timere (Be not afraid). It may be a quote from St. Jerome’s fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible, The Vulgate, the standard translation of the Catholic Church, at Matthew 14:27. Robert Peake writes in The Huffington Post,
Perhaps he also earned the right to embrace a greater truth about living in the final moments of his life, and deliver to us one final message that rings true within our own better nature. Whatever you might believe, Seamus Heaney was a poet to the end. Let us take from his example a little courage, and a little Latin.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Missionaries and Alphabets

Cree Syllabics
A year ago, this blog welcomed the inclusion of a panel on Religious Translation (Panel No. 19) in the next conference of the European Society for Translation Studies, to be held at Germersheim in Germany. (To find the post, enter wake-up in the Search box on the right. There's an interesting comment with it from a reader.) The reason for my enthusiasm was expressed thus in the programme of the panel itself:
Sacred text translation and Translation Studies share a common lineage in the work of Nida... and sacred text translation has historically fed into theories at the centre of Translation and Interpreting studies..., but most other activities included in Translation and Interpreting in Religious Settings (henceforth TIRS), find themselves on the periphery of the field. While Interpreting Studies has been expanding into the examination of interpreting in community settings since the 1980s, interpreting in religious settings has received little attention.
In other words, academia had been ignoring the importance of religious translation.

Well, time flies and the conference will actually be taking place at the end of this week and it includes a paper by a regular reader of this blog, Andrew Owen (see References). I'm in no way involved in it; nevertheless, long affinity encourages me to make a 'fringe' contribution – something that being master of my own blog makes possible at short notice.

Most religious translators (including interpreters) are non-professional Native or Expert Translators. The difficulty of understanding the texts and speeches rules out pure Natural Translators, but religious translators are familiar with the translations already made for their own sects and churches, including the Bible, and those educate them as Native Translators.

The primordial purpose of religious translation, its raison d'être, is to spread and reinforce a religion. But in so doing, it's also greatly helped the diffusion of cultures and of languages. The spread of Islam, for example, promoted the use of Arabic for literary, philosophical and medical texts as well as for the Qur'an, and many of the Islamic texts were themselves translations from Greek, Persian, etc., part of a translation chain.
My contribution is intended to point to a less obvious but scarcely less important effect: the invention and spread of alphabets and other writing systems.

I first became conscious of it when visiting Bulgaria in the 1970s. I happened to be there on Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, a national holiday. These saints, who were brothers, were ninth-century missionaries and translators from Byzantium, "Apostles to the Slavs." They translated into languages that lacked a writing system, and so they had to invent one. They devised the so-called Glagolitic alphabet, the first alphabet used to transcribe Old Church Slavonic. Glagolitic was derived from Greek, but augmented by ligatures and consonants for sounds not found in Greek. During the following century, Glagolitic was developed in the then-powerful Bulgarian Empire into what we now know as the Cyrillic or 'Russian' alphabet. And that's how Cyrillic got its name.

In Canada we have our own history of missionaries and writing systems. A famous example is the Cree syllabary (writing in which each character represents a whole syllable).
Cree syllabics were developed by James Evans, a missionary in what is now Manitoba, during the 1830s for the Ojibwe language. Evans had originally adapted the Latin script to Ojibwe,... but after learning of the success of the Cherokee syllabary [in the United States], he experimented with invented scripts based on his familiarity with shorthand and Devanagari. When Evans later worked with the closely related Cree, and ran into trouble with the Latin alphabet, he turned to his Ojibwe project and in 1840 adapted it to the Cree language. The result contained just nine glyph shapes, each of which stood for a syllable with the vowels determined by the orientations of these shapes. With the 1841 publication of a syllabics hymnbook, the new script spread quickly. The Cree valued it because it could be learned in just a few hours, and was visually distinctive from the Latin script of the colonial languages. Virtually all Cree became literate in the new syllabary within a few years. Evans taught by writing on birchbark with soot, and he became known as "the man who made birchbark talk."
All this was brought back to mind by an article that appeared last year in Translatio. (Translatio is the junior partner of Babel and has the same indefatigable editor-in-chief, René Haeseryn.) It's by S. O. Kolawole and Salawu Adewuno of Ado Ekiti University in Nigeria (see References).
The first language of instruction in Hausaland was Arabic. But the Hausa language was established [as its competitor] by Christian missionaries after working hard to fix the Hausa orthography, vocabulary and grammar using the Roman alphabet. These scholarly works prompted translation activities in the northern parts of Nigeria, thereby opening the Hausa-Fulani peoples to a Western conception of life. The Bible, the Qur'an and several other religious books were translated.
The difference in this case was that no new alphabet was invented. Instead an often used alternative route was taken: the adaptation of the Latin aka Roman alphabet to a quite alien language. Either way, the result is that a language is given its writing system by missionaries.

No writing system, no written texts. No written texts, no written translation. In a way, religious faith apart, these writing systems were the missionaries' most fundamental bequest.

  • Jonathan Downie, and Jill Karlik. Panel 19: Translating and interpreting in religious settings. Programme of the 7th EST Congress, Germersheim, 2013. The full programme with abstracts is here
  • Andrew Owen. Interpreting the public reading of Scripture. Paper to the 7th EST Congress, Germersheim, 2013. The abstract is here, on page 50. 
  • Saints Cyril and Methodius. Wikipedia. Click here.
  • Cyrillic script. Wikipedia. Click here.
  • Cree syllabics. Wikipedia. Click here.
  • S. O. Kulawole and Salawu Adewuno. Translation activities in Hausaland: a historical perspective. Translatio 31(2012);3.127-140.
Source: Norway House Indian Residential School — The Children Remembered.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Behind Bars

Aida Martínez-Gómez

 Although Aida Martínez-Gómez lives quite close to me at Alicante, a mere 170 km away, I've only recently become aware of her research. She's one of the new generation of Spanish translatologists who got their PhDs since the 90s, when translation studies really took off in Spain. Now those graduates have spread to other countries, and so Aida also teaches at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. Her interest is in interpreters – interpreters in an unusual environment, namely prisons. She isn't the only researcher in this area; there's also Linda Rossato of the University of Bologna, who gave a paper at last year's Forli conference (see References). But it's a very special interest.

There are particular difficulties in collecting data in this area; for which reason, Linda says, "academia has tended to miss out on this productive field of research." First it's necessary to get permission to enter the prisons and meet the prisoners. Linda did it by giving Italian lessons. Aida laments that though she was able to make audio recordings, she was not allowed to make the videos she would have needed for studying body language.

So who needs interpreters? In both Italy and Spain, almost half the prison population is of foreign extraction, first or second generation. But this is a poor indication of language needs. In the case of Spain,
  • Many prisoners have learnt Spanish before or during incarceration
  • Many more knew Spanish anyway before they came here, because they're from Spanish-speaking Latin American or African countries.
Therefore only a minority needs help. Nevertheless, the need exists.

Today's videoconferencing technology would in theory allow the use of Professional Expert Interpreters in prison without the interpreter being physically located there. This is in fact what happens in a few jurisdictions, for example in the UK, where it's been analysed and criticised by Yvonne Fowler (see References). But it's still exceptional and for special occasions, considered expensive and not for daily life behind bars.
"The general reality of European Union penitentiaries as regards treatment of foreign inmates is one of difficulties that arise because of language barriers. These barriers leave them disadvantaged, as compared to the natives, in access to medical care and legal assistance, work training and even some of the games and recreational activities. To solve the problem so far as possible, there is reliance on help from fellow prisoners, and to a lesser extent on prison staff, who provide ad hoc interpreting services on a voluntary and altruistic basis."
And so we are back to Natural and Native Translators, and on an institutional scale. Linda sees it as a form of adult Language Brokering. Only in the UK, it seems, has the contribution of 'trusty' prisoner interpreters been officially recognised by the grade of Foreign National Prisoner Orderlies and some training given to them. But then the Brits also have a Foreign National Prisoners’ Resource Pack, "which is remarkable not only for its full content and the range of languages in which it is provided but also for including information directed to prison staff."

The situation in Spain is much as in the other EU countries. Except that in 2004 the Interior Ministry awoke to the dangers of Islamic terrorism and engaged 30 professional Arabic translators to deal with the communications of the many Moroccan and Algerian inmates. However, it was decreed that "the translators are not allowed into the interior of the institutions," so it hardly changes the life of the prisoners. And in general it looks as if this is an area that will rely for a long time to come on Natural and Native Translators.

  • Aída Martínez-Gómez Gómez. La integración lingüística en las instituciones penitenciarias españolas y europeas. (Linguistic integration in Spanish and European Penitentiaries). In Luis González and Pollux Hernúñez, eds., El español, lengua de traducción para la cooperación y el dialogo, Proceedings of the 4th El español, lengua de traducción Conference , Toledo, 2008, 485-500. The PDF version is here.
  • Linda Rossato. Inmates mediating between languages and cultures. Paper to 1st International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, University of Bologna at Forli, 2012. To be published in the proceedings, 2014.
  • Yvonne Fowler. Interpreting into the ether: interpreting for prison/court video link hearings. Paper to the Critical Link 5 conference, Aston University, UK, 2012. In Sandra Beatriz Hale et al., eds., The Critical Link 5: Quality in interpreting – a shared responsibility, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 2009. There's a PDF version at
Aida Martínez Gómez Gómez. Source: XING 
There may be errors in this post because Blogger isn't functioning properly at present.