Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015 Competition for Child Translators

On Christmas Day I was listening to a concert from Brussels on TV. One of the works was a beautifully performed Bach double violin concerto. Of the soloists, one was a young woman, young but adult. The other was a girl who was just as accomplished as her companion but who looked no older than twelve. A mere child, but gifted; a musical genius. She started me thinking about child translators.

It's not necessary for a child to be 'exceptionally gifted' to learn to play the violin. Thanks to Shinichi Suzuki and other music teachers, thousands of ordinary children do it every year. All they need is ten fingers, a perception of musical pitch and the mysterious delight in melody and rhythm which almost all children are born with worldwide. Music, for all its artificial elaborateness in pieces like the Bach concerto, is basically natural. Most of the chldren give up the violin after a while, but the basics of music that they have acquired on the way stay with them for life. Some of them persist, however; and a select few who really are exceptionally gifted reach the level of the Brussels soloist and we class them as geniuses.

Translating still awaits its Suzuki. But we know, especially from the studies of child language brokers, that child natural translators abound. All they need is to be bilingual. Yet the example of music tells us that if there are so many child translators who are not exceptionally gifted, then there should be a select few geniuses at the top of the pyramid who are, because it's a hierarchy to which all natural abilities conform. Can we find them?

At that point I had an idea for a first step. Here it is.

.........................Preliminary Announcement.....................

2015 Translatology Competition for Child Translators
-------------------------under 12 years old----------------------

First prize 400 euro
Second prize 200 euro
Third prize 100 euro

Language combination for 2015: Spanish to English
Other combinations in future years

The terms and texts of the competition will be announced in January.


Now nothing remains for 2014 but to wish my 195 Followers and all my other readers

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Young Interpreters: a Terminology Proposal

The December issue of Young Interpreters Newsletter has arrived with its usual roundup of good news from the schools that are members of the Young Interpreters Scheme (YI). YI, in case you don't already know, is a unique organisation sponsored by a British education authority for encouraging bilingual pupils to use their interpreting ability to help fellow students, school staff and other less advantaged members of their communities. Their ability, at least when they start, is largely natural; and it's important to note that they are not 'exceptionally gifted' children. Bilingualism and the translation ability that goes with it are already a fact of everyday life in multicultural Britain. (For more about YI, enter yi in the Search box on the right.)

More important, though, than the current news is the link in the middle of the Newsletter to YI's general list of does and don'ts for using children. The topic has been touched on before on this blog but the YI treatment is more complete and has official backing.

What the YI interpreters do is a form of language brokering. I've never liked the term language broker, because of its commercial connotation (as in insurance broker). But it's been in use now for at least 20 years, so we're stuck with it. However, it became apparent some time ago that it was inadequate with respect to the age of the interpreters. The people who coined it meant it to apply to children. Yet the functions of language broker don't end at such an early age. A great deal of it is done by adults for their families and acquaintances – and even for their children. A child who accompanies an adult family member to the doctor's to interpret is a language broker, but so is an adult who accompanies his or her child. So it has become customary in recent years to qualify the term in order to preserve the original intent, and to speak of child language brokers.

So far so good. But child is still a vague age indicator and certainly doesn't cover all the YI interpreters, the older ones of whom – the ones in the secondary schools – could reasonably object to being called children. It's in order to be more precise therefore, though not overly so, that I propose the following scale of terms. They can be applied not only to language brokers but to child translators in general.

1. Infant translators / language brokers. Under five years old. There are certainly children who can do some translating at that age, but language brokering is unlikely. This isn't because of language but because of the knowledge of the world around that language brokers need. Nevertheless, we should allow for it.

2. Child translators / language brokers. From five to ten years old. This corresponds to the period of primary education in most education systems.

3. Adolescent (or ado-) translators / language brokers. From 11 to 18, corresponding to secondary education.

4. Adult translators / language brokers. 18 and over. This takes us beyond the originally intended scope of language broker, but it must, for the reason given above, be allowed for.

So now what to do do about the YI interpreters, whose ages span both 2 and 3 above? We might make up a compound like child and adolescent translators. But that's a mouthful. Instead I propose to take advantage of the correspondences with the school systems and speak of

5. School-age translators / language brokers, ie, from five to 17 years old, to cover both categories.

We'll see if it catches on.

Hampshire Count Council, EMTAS. Young Interpreters Newsletter, December 2014. To receive or contribute, contact Astrid Dinneen at astrid.dinneen@hants.gov.uk.

Lucy Tse (University of Southern California). Language brokering among Latino adolescents…. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 1995.

J. McQuillan and L. Tse. Child language brokering in linguistic minority communities. Language and Education, 1995.

Infant translators was used as early as 1978 by Harris and Sherwood in Translating as an innate skill, which is avaialable on academia.edu.

School age language brokering has been used, but only with limiting qualifiers such as high school age language brokers, as in:

Sarah Louise Telford. Language Brokering Among Latino Middle School Students…, PhD dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 2010, which also uses adult language brokering.

The same is true of school age translating.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Yet Another Bilingual Advantage

Ever since the explosive studies by Wallace Lambert and his collaborators at Montreal's McGill University in the 1960s, the tide has been turning in favour of bilingual education from childhood. (For an obit of Lambert, enter lambert in the Search box on the right.) Where I live, the discussion is no longer about whether children should learn two languages (half of them are Natural Bilinguals anyway in Spanish and Valencian) but whether they should be taught a third or even a fourth. It's true that in an officially bilingual jurisdiction like Canada or the Valencian Community we need to be on guard against research that fits too neatly into the current social and political agenda, but even so the trend is IMHO convincing. Bilingalism means more language and cultural flexibility, etc. From this year foreign languages are part of the primary school curriculum even in recalcitrant Britain.

Now comes a new twist.
"Researchers have found that bilingual children are able to concentrate better in the busy classroom environment than their monolingual peers. The research from Anglia Ruskin University [in the UK] found that 7- to 10-year olds who speak only one language were more negatively affected bu noise and were less able to keep their attention on a task when there other noises nearby. Published in Bilingualism, Language and Cognition, the study shows that the heightened performance of bilingual children is dependent on how well they know the two languages."

The Linguist, December 2014/January 2015, p. 5.

E. Peale and W. E. Lambert. The relation of bilingualism to intelligence. Psychological Monographs, General and Applied, vol. 76, no. 27, pp. 1-23. 1962.

Amanda Barton. Primary problem: how is compulsory language education shaping up on the ground? The Linguist, December 2014/January 2015, pp. 20-21.

Anglia Ruskin University. It sprang from a school of art founded at Cambridge by the 19th-century artist and critic John Ruskin.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Imitation Game: Back to Bletchley Park

The film The Imitation Game (IG) has reached the cinemas and film festvals in some countries. Elsewhere many newspapers have already carried reviews of it, so I need say no more about it as a film. In case you don't already know, it's a 'biopic' based on the life of British mathematician turned computer scientist turned cryptographer Alan Turing. The prevailing opinion rates it Oscar material. But I'm a historian (see my Profile on the right), and historical films are always more or less distant adaptations of history or biography, so they irk me.

The central backdrop to IG is the converted Victorian mansion at Bletchley Park (BP), north of London, that was bought and taken over by the UK Government Code and Cypher School just before the Second World War. Now it so happens, due to one of those fortunate coincidences which have enriched my life, that I spent a day touring BP only a few weeks ago and wrote two blog posts about it. To find them quickly, enter bletchley in the Search box on the right. It was not my intent to write a history of the place; for that, see Sources below. But my source and I are closer to the historical truth than IG. The film makes too much depend on the brilliant mind of one person so as to accentuate the tragedy of his demise. I sympathise with it as biography, because when I was young Britain was still living in the Dark Ages of its hypocrisy towards homosexuals. But there were upwards of 9,000 select bright people working at BP, including as many translators as cryptologists; not to mention the little band of Polish mathematicians who had prised out the initial reverse engineering of the German Enigma machine before the War began. Bill Tutte, for instance, a Cambridge chemistry graduate, deduced through mathematical analysis how another German encryption machine, the Lorenz, worked without ever having seen one. Although Turing had the fundamental idea that all mental operations convertible into binary coding were computable, he never actually built a computer himself. His first decryption machine, the Bombe, was an electro-mechanical device. The first real programmable computer, the Colossus in 1944, was the work of Tommy Flowers, son of a bricklayer and never went to university, and his fellow Post Office engineers. All this is not to diminish Turing's importance – he was the most influential thinker and team leader at BP – but onlybto put him in perspective. Churchill said that Turing made the biggest single contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.

Given the innacuracies, I won't spend time here discussing the more theoretical question of whether encrypting and decrypting by crptographers can be considered a form of translating. Just one remark. The film does mention that a test for potential recruits at BP was speed at solving crossword puzzles. Some people are good at it; I for one am not in spite of my wide reading. This leads me to suspect that there is specialised wiring for it in the brain as there is for translating, and that its implantation precedes education.

Anyway I'm not the only one to condemn the film as history. An article in today's Guardian Unlimited concludes:
Historically, The Imitation Game is as much of a garbled mess as a heap of unbroken code. For its appalling suggestion that Alan Turing might have covered up for a Soviet spy, it must be sent straight to the bottom of the class.
So by all means go and see IG; but bear in mind that films are entertainment, biography is speculative, and even history can only attempt to tell the truth.

Tommy Flowers. Wikipedia. 2014.

Bletchley Park, Home of the Codebreakers: Guidebook. Bletchley Park Trust, 2005. 48 p., many illustrations. Available through Amazon.

Turing machines. Wikipedia, 2014.

Bombe. Wikipedia. 2014.

Alex von Tunzelmann. The Imitation Game: inventing a new slander to insult AlanTuring. Guardian Unlimited, 20 November 2014.
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/nov/20/the-imitation-game-invents-new-slander-to-insult-alan-turing-reel-history or click here.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game
Source: www.thetimes.co.uk

Friday, November 14, 2014

Medical Interpreting: the Ideal and the Reality

My own experience as a medical interpreter was brief and limited to a single patient. To find out about it, enter cullera in the Search box on the right.

The organizations of professional medical interpreters always emphasize the dangers of translation errors between patients and their doctors. They often cite the tragic case of Willy Ramirez, an American Latino baseball player who was left paralyzed because of a misunderstanding over the Spanish word intoxicado. (It means poisoned and may have nothing to do with alcohol.) When children are pressed into service, it may become even more dangerous as well as very stressful for the kids. Well, those organizations are right.
"A study by the American College of Emergency Physicians in 2012 analyzed interpreter errors that had clinical consequences, and found that the error rate was significantly lower for professional interpreters than for ad hoc interpreters 12 percent as opposed to 22 percent. And for professionals with more than 100 hours of training, errors dropped to 2 percent."
Hardly surprising. Ad hoc here means untrained and inexperienced. In some countries, like Britain and the United States, training is now available to those who have the time and money. What should the training cover, assuming the students are already competent as general interpreters?

1. Medical terminology and phraseology. Everyone thinks of this first, but there's more to it than they usually realize. There are different levels of medical language. There's the technical level used by health professionals between themselves; then there is the level they use to communicate with lay people who only know a popular 'register' of it or don't know it at all. Take the following example.
Technical: coronary thrombosis
Popular: heart attack
Uneducated and children: sharp chest pain.
A friend of mine at the University of Valladolid has just co-authored a paper about how medical language uses metaphors to translate between the technical and popular levels.
Expert Interpreters should know all the registers and how to use them. Many local health administrations now issue glossaries in the languages most spoken in their communities.

2. Basic knowledge of medicine, first aid and anatomy in both languages at Wikipedia or nursing level. If the doctor says, "I think your meniscus is torn. Does it hurt?" the patient will likely not know where the meniscus is, but the interpreter must.

3. Dealing with people (and with oneself) in stressful and even dangerous circumstances. Patients mustn't be made more nervous than they already are. Quite the contrary. Sometimes it's the medical personnel who are the problem, because they won't listen quietly and with an open mind for example. (In my own case I had trouble convincing the doctors that the patient wasn't drunk but suffering from dementia.) And of course we can't have the interpreer fainting at the sight of blood.

4. Medical ethics. The interpreter is part of the medical team and must respect the same rules about, for instance, what can or cannot be revealed to a patient's family.

Ideally, therefore, most medical interpreting would only be done by trained and qualified interpreters. But there are some 'flies in the ointment'. Where do you find such interpreters speaking the required languages, and how do you ensure they're available when and where needed?

Here's where we hit the reality.
"Thirteen years ago, the state of Oregon recognized the problem and required doctors and hospitals to start using professional interpreters. The Affordable Care Act also has expanded the kinds of materials that hospitals and insurers are required to translate for people who don't speak English. But more than a decade after its state law passed, Oregon still has trouble getting all patients the medical interpretation help they need."
"Eby [Helen Eby a certified medical interpreter in Oregon] says Oregon has about 3500 medical interpreters [i.e, interpreters who can be called in on medical assignments]. But only about 100 of those have the right qualifications. So, you have a 3 percent chance of getting a qualified or certified interpreter in Oregon right now,' she says, 'That's pretty low in my opinion'"
This comes in a report not from some underdeveloped country lacking medical infrastructures but from an American state with a highly developed hospital system.

Nor will the situation improve any time soon. I'm a supporter of telephone interpreting, which ought to make the limited supply of EMIs more widely available. But it turns out telephone interpreting has its own problems for medical interpreting: read the full report referenced below. Another solution ought to be to train more EMIs. However,
" She [Eby] says it takes a long time and costs a lot of money to become certified. And after going through all that training, a person may find that he or she can make more money or have a more stable lifestyle in another career – like being a translator for court reporting. That's because medical interpreters tend to be [classed as] consultants and don't get paid to travel. The hours can also be sparse and sporadic."
So part of the problem and its potential solution is financial. Upgrading courses should be directed first to working interpreters who already have general experience, and they should be low-cost and subsudized. EMIs need to be better paid, and there should be a large difference between their tariff and that of untrained interpreters so as to provide an incentive for the latter to upgrade.

Meanwhile I contend that the mass, the other 97%, must be recognized, studied and incorporated, not ignored. At very least, MS should be kept informed and given advice. Something along these lines:
"The interpreter assigned to you for this case is a competent general interpreter but has not qualified as an Expert Medical Interpreter (EMI). [Or in some instances, "The interpreter… has little or no experience of interpreting and has not qualified…] Be aware that the danger of mistranslations is substantially greater when the interpreter is not an EMI, just as the danger of misdiagnosis increases if the physician is not a specialist.

Here are some things you can do to help.

If you have a bilingual glossary or patient information material about the medical condition, get it to the interpreter as soon as possible.

Does what the interpreter is saying make sense and does it fit the clinical picture? If not, ask the interpreter to repeat, and if the inconsistency persists ask for an explanation of the translation.

Is the interpretation much shorter than the original? If so, check with the interpreter that nothing has been left out.

Do not use close relatives of the patient or children unless there is absolutely no alternative. Their translations are likely to be affected by their emotional involvement.

Interpreting is very tiring. Try to give your interpreter a break from time to time.

If the interpreter continually makes mistakes, ask for another.
And to the interpreters themselves:
You are a member of the medical team, subject to medical ethics. Do not attempt to intervene in the treatment or contest the doctors.

There are surely some things I've left out. But if the above advice were taken, it would at least be better than leaving the MS and the interpreter to sink or swim.

Kristian Foden Vencil. In the hospital, a bad translation can destroy a life. Shots, Health News from NPR, October 2014. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/10/27/358055673/in-the-hospital-a-bad-translation-can-destroy-a-life?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=health, or click here.

Beatriz Méndez Cendón et al. On the comprehension of common medical metaphorical terms / Las metáforas médicas: Un recurso para la comprensión de conceptos para el lego. Publication pending, 2014.

Doctor, patient and Spanish interpreter. Source: Shots, Health News from NPR.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Belgian Nuns and Chinese Students as Wartime Interpreters

This year being the centennial of the outbreak of World War I (the 'Great War') in 1914, there has been an abundance of articles about it. Not to be outdone, my favourite language magazine The Linguist devotes a section of its current issue to Languages at War. One of the articles is Emerging from the Great War by Sandrijn Van Den Noortgate. As Sandrijn is Belgian, it's natural that some of her article is about Belgians. However, she also produces a surprise: the interpreters of the Chinese Labour Corps. The British army recruited this corps to relieve the workload for the fighting troops on the Western Front, and estimates of its size range from 92,000 to 200,000. Some 40,000 were also recruited by the French.

But first the Belgians.
"As the Germans advanced through Belgium, people fled with around 250,000 crossing the North Sea to England. Very few knew any English, so help was needed, and this was often found with women's organisations… They organised themselves into volunteer groups, such as the Women's Emergency Corps and Women's Catholic League and took care of refugees by providing lodgings, healthcare and interpreting services. As well as interpreting, these volunteers were cultural brokers…
Some were Belgians or had spent time in Belgium. The congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, for example, originated in Belgium, coming to the UK in the 1850s. It was a very international community and, from 1895 onwards, all novices spent a year at the convent in Haacht, Belgium [see image]. Many of them therefore knew at least some Flemish. As the Ursulines wished to propagate the Christian faith through community service, it is likely that some of the nuns volunteered as interpreters. Belgian priests were also a good source of interpreting."
So here we have an example of a religious order producing Native Interpreters because it was an international organisation – as are, of course, many religious organisations of all faiths. Also of how the contexts in which the organisations work draw them to interpreting. Religion has been a great stimulus for interpreting as it has been for written translation, and it still is. See the numerous mentions of church interpreters on this blog.

The very different story of the Chinese Labour Corps takes us to the other side of the globe and of humanity. But there are connections. First the Churches. Many of the labourers were Christians and were recruited by missionaries. And then much of what we know about the labourers' sufferings comes from the diary of Father John Van Welleghen, a Belgian parish priest in Flanders who kept a diary throughout the war. His entries reflect the sympathetic attitude of the local people towards victims of the abysmally racist British Army's harsh methods. Though volunteers, they had signed contracts committing them to three years of military discipline and they were segregated in camps under armed guard. The French behaved slightly better; they at least allowed many Chinese to stay on in France after the armistice. A Chinese phrase book prepared by the British Army is suggestive: Less talk, more work, Why don't you eat this food, This is a bad business.

Which brings us to the language problem.

Most of the labourers were illiterate peasants. One solution might have been to teach some of them basic English or French, but it would have been slow. Then the recruiters in China hit on an unexpected pool of ready-made Native Translators. English and French were being widely taught in Chinese universities and missionary colleges.
"Along with the mainly illiterate peasants came a few hundred ambitious Chinese students to act as interpreters, keen to discover new ideas and European culture. They found themselves interacting with a class of Chinese they had not encountered before. In Chinese society of the time… an educated person would have no contact with the illiterate masses. Yet the war threw them together, and with lasting consequences."
Since those consequences were social and political, they are beyond the scope of this blog. However, they constitute an interesting example of the effects of interpreting on the interpreter.

One interpreter stands out as a particularly valuable source, because he later published his memoirs. His name was Gu Xingqing.
"Gu's book is the only book-length account of the First World War by a Chinese national known to exist… Gu tells the story of his journey from his home village in China to Europe, his work in France and Belgium and his return home. Although published nearly two decades after the events, Gu's account proves to be highly accurate in terms of dates and events. His main source… were the notes he had taken in Europe but which he lost during a Japanese raid… in Shanghai in 1932."
Unfortunately it's not available in English. But it stands alongside Mantoux's account of the Paris Peace Conference or the Barón de las Torres' report on the Hitler-Franco meeting at Hendaye as a case where the most reliable source for historians is the notes taken by the interpreters.

Sandrijn's article starts off with an important error. Her subtitle reads, "The professionalisation of interpreting began during WW1." The statement only makes any sense if all interpreting is equated with conference interpreting; and we may observe that Sandrijn, according to her profile in the magazine, is herself a conference interpreter. Professional Conference Interpreters tend to be dismissive of other branches of interpreting. The facts are that the French had professionalised trade interpreting in the Levant and in Canada (les Interprètes du Roy) by the 17th century; that their army had a corps of interpreters for its North African campaigns in the 19th century; that the British had professionalised their diplomatic interpreting in the Middle and Far East by the mid-19th century (see my article on Ernest Satow); that Mr Melas in the Sherlock Holmes story The Greek Interpreter was a professional court and tourist-guide interpreter in late Victorian London; and that even Paul Mantoux, the father of modern conference interpreting, was a wartime Professional Military Interpreter before he was assigned to the Paris Peace Conference. There are photos of him in his army uniform. And so on.

Sandrijn Van Den Noortgate. Emerging from the Great War. The Linguist, vol. 53, no. 5, pp. 10-11, 2014, The Linguist is published by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL), London. Go to http://thelinguist.uberflip.com/t/34433 or click here.

Helen Fitzwilliam. First World War: China's forgotten foreign legion. The World Today, vol. 70, no. 3, 2014. http://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/first-world-war-china%E2%80%99s-forgotten-foreign-legion or click here.
There's a short documentary film attached to the article.

Gu Xingqing. Wikipedia, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gu_Xingqing or click here.

1. Tildonk Ursuline Convent. Source: Deelnemers, Tildonk.
2. British officer with CLC labourers. Photographer: 2nd Lt. David McLellan. Source: Ministry of Information Official Collection.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

At the Gateway to Spain: Hitler, Franco, Pétain and their Interpreters

October 23 marks the anniversary of the famous meeting between Hitler and Franco in the railway station of the strategic French frontier town of Hendaye (Spanish Hendaya) in 1940. Hitler came as conqueror of most of Western Europe and most recently France. Franco was the victor in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Both were members of the alliance of fascist dictators called the Axis. Yet despite their initial cordiality and nine hours of talks, neither of them got what he'd come for.

There was a post on this blog about it in 2010. Since neither dictator spoke the other's language, the meeting could not have gone ahead without interpreters. Three interpreters were involved, two German (Gross and Schmidt) and one Spanish (the Barón de la Torres), but only Gross and the Spaniard actually interpreted that day. The single Professional Expert, Schmidt, was sidelined because he didn't work in Spanish, but he was there to supervise and observe. De las Torres was an Advanced Native Translator who had learnt German well as a foreign affairs official. As for Gross, we know about him only that he wasn't an Expert and was not really up to the task.

The post was well received; one comment described it as "like looking at a film." But 2010 is already a long time ago. So this year, with some additional information at my disposal, I've retrieved the post from where it's buried in the blog and worked it up into a full article. And for good measure, I've thrown in the post from 2012 about Hitler's subsequent meeting immediately afterwards with France's Pétain, likewise interpreter mediated.

So if you're interested in the history of diplomatic interpreting, or in Spain's ambivalent role in World War II, or in spying, get over to my page on academia.edu (https://independent.academia.edu/BHARRIS, or click here) and open or download the article At the Gateway to Spain.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ninth of October — Work in Progress

Having more or less recovered from the tiredness that beset me after the journey to Ireland and England, I can now foresee regular resumption of this blog no later than October 23. That's the anniversary of the interpreter-mediated meeting between Hitler and Franco in 1940.

Meanwhile I'm preparing my survey and taxonomy of interpreting for publication. A Spanish translation was published some 20 years ago, but for some reason the English original has lain gathering dust. Unfortunately part of the file has been corrupted in the meantime and has to be reconstituted.

I want to thank all the people who made my Ireland-England trip possible and turned it into a happy memory. The cheerful staff of Dublin City University and the COLING conference, my fellow members of the International Committee on Computational Linguistics (ICCL), my kind English cousins who drove me around and the staff at Bletchley Park. And last but not least the ground staff of Ryanair.

Ryanair is a very successful low-cost Irish airline. Not only are their flights dirt cheap if you fly on the right days, but they operate services that nobody else does. Non-stop flights from Valencia to Dublin for example. But they don't have a good reputation for customer service. Well, I too have had a moment of anxiety with them and it's no joke navigating through their online reservation system, But I must say that on this occasion their ground service for passengers with a mobility problem was impeccable at every airport: efficient and friendly.

Incidentally, we decided in Dublin that the next COLING will be held in Osaka, Japan, in late 2016.

I break silence today because it's another anniversary. El Nou d'Octubre (Ninth of October), the national day of Valencia. For earlier posts about it, enter octubre in the Search box on the right. It's the day when King James I of Aragon entered the city, making it finally Christian. He'd arrived nearby with his army a little earlier, on September 28, 1238, and he used the intervening days to negotiate, with the aid of Jewish translators, a bloodless rendition by the Moors. Meanwhile he camped his army on the stretch of Mediterranean seashore where I now live and which is today called Pinedo. It's five km south of the city centre. There's a stone cross to mark the site, but it's had to be moved inland because of coast erosion. James wasn't only a formidable warrior, he was also a very able administrator and there are still vestiges of his administration. Hence the Valencian College of Notaries is the oldest professional association of notaries in Spain; their current building is a landmark.

Want to celebrate it with me? There's a rousing performance of the Valencian national anthem on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esDfiT4H_XM or click here.

But if you fancy something less political, go to YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXHcc12kWYY or click here.

The Senyera, the Valencian flag.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Pilgrimage to Bletchley (conclusion)

This post is the conclusion of the preceding one, which please read first.

When I was a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London in the late 1940s, my best friend was a linguist named Peter Judd. He was a Natural Bilingual: mother French, father English. But his mother had died while he was very young and he'd been educated in England. So his English was dominant and he'd also learnt the usual grammar school languages: French and Latin, and perhaps Greek or German. By the time I met him, he was doing a PhD in phonetics under the influential linguist J R Firth. But during WWII he was called up for service in the Royal Navy. However, to his surprise, the Navy didn't send him to sea; instead it sent him on a crash course to learn Japanese. He never told me what he did with his Japanese. In the 1940s and for long afterwards it was still secret. Now, at BP, I began to understand.
"After Pearl Harbor… the need for Japanese linguists for military and intelligence work became acute… The War Office [which had previously refused funding for Japanese courses] clamoured for Japanese speakers and SOAS set up a special course for grammar school boys in their last year at school… But SOAS was bombed and the course did not start until May 1942... They also ran a 10-week course in Japanese radio signals."
I used to think that all the work on breaking the Japanese codes had been done by the Americans. While the Germans were developing Enigma, the Japanese had been developing their own machine for their diplomatic codes. The US Army code-named it Purple. The Americans broke into its code by 1940, and the intelligence obtained from it, which they called Magic, became the equivalent of the British Ultra. However, the Japanese used many more totally different codes and ciphers than the Germans during the course of the war, probably 55 in all. The most important of them operationally was their naval code JN25. It was decrypts of JN25 that enabled the Americans to prepare for the Battle of Midway and to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto's plane over the Solomon Islands – this last exploit a terrible blow to Japanese morale.

But the British too worked on JN25, and Hut 7 at BP also had a section that worked on Japanese Army Air Force Codes. The British had their own reasons. Large pieces of what was then still the British Empire lay in the Pacific theatre of war. Thus it was JN25 decrypts that gave them warning of a Japanese attack on the British fleet at Colombo, which was intended to be another Pearl Harbor.
"HMS Anderson was the Intelligence Unit of the Eastern Fleet's Headquarters at Colombo, linked to Bletchley Park. They were working one sultry afternoon in Colombo on a message that described plans for a massive attack somewhere. Then they spelt out the name of the place that was to be clobbered – KO-RO-N-BO. An electric shock ran through the up-to-then relaxed office."
Admiral Somerville moved his fleet out of Colombo in time.

The intercept stations

Most of the enemy communications traffic was transmitted by shortwave radio. That was the Achilles heel that made it possible to intercept it. But shortwave has serious limitations, not only in its geographical range but also because its quality varies according to the time of day. To maintain constant surveillance, many radio monitoring posts were needed and some of them had to be moved around as the Japanese advanced. Thus, as we have just seen in the Colombo example, BP was more than BP itself. It was the coordinating centre of a far-flung web of outstations and listening posts. There was more to BP than meets the visitor's eye.

Having absorbed as much as we could of BP in one day, we pilgrims retired to a good meal at the Three Trees in Milton Keynes. It's typical of a current trend in England: an old pub turned comfortable restaurant. Seventy years on and no reminder of the astute heroism we had been witnessing down the road. To sum up, if you're in London with a day to spare and you're interested in the history of cryptology, computers, translation or WW2, don't miss Bletchley Park.

Sue Jarvis. Japanese Codes. New Edition. Report 6. National Codes Centre, Bletchley Park Trust, 2009.

Hugh Denham. Codebreakers. Edited by F. H. Hinsley and A. Stripp. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Michael Smith. The Emperor's Codes: Bletchley Park's Role In Breaking Japan's Secret Cyphers. Penguin, 2010.

Flowerdown, Hampshire, UK listening station. It was linked to BP and was bombed twice in one week.
Source: www.alanturing.net

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Bletchley Pilgrimage

On my way home from Dublin to Valencia I stopped off in England. There the help of a younger relative enabled me to fulfil a long-cherished ambition. It was to make a pilgrimage to Bletchley Park (BP). BP is one of the places where programmable electronic computers were invented as a by-product of the Second World War (WW2). It is also where the father of computer science, Alan Turing, worked during that war. I saw his office, now stripped bare, and the little house in the stables area where he also worked. One guesstimate has it that the work accomplished at BP shortened the European war by two to four years and that without it the outcome would have been uncertain.

BP is at Milton Keynes, about an hour by car or by train (from Euston station) north of London. It was originally a fine country mansion in its own park before it was taken over by the British government for its Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) on the eve of WW2. For a long time the work done there was kept secret even after the war. Churchill didn't want the Russians to know about it. He even had its early computer, the Colossus, dismantled; though a replica has been rebuilt in recent years and is on view. Like many others, I first learnt about it with the publication of Winterbotham's book The Ultra Secret, in 1974 (see References). Since then numerous other books and articles have been published about it, Nevertheless I learnt many things on my visit and had some surprises. Here are my impressions.

Clearly BP needed a large and varied staff of cryptologists, translators, engineers, etc. However, the way the temporary wartime 'huts' were disposed throughout the grounds without ruining the park-like environment makes it difficult to imagine. In fact "in January 1945, at the peak of codebreaking efforts, some 9000 personnel were working at Bletchley." They used some 400 teleprinters. One wonders where they put them all.

The fact that the BP site was taken over on the very eve of the outbreak of war might lead one to think that the British were poorly prepared for the cryptology tussle. There was, however, a long continuous history behind it that went back to the First World War. The GC&CS began in 1919 in a room, Room 40, at the Admiralty in London. Three outstanding personalities symbolise its continuity. One of them was Commander Alistair Denniston, who was its operational head from 1919 to1942. As such he initiated and supervised the move to BP. It was also Denniston who realised that the enemy's use of electromechanical cipher machines meant that formally trained mathematicians would be needed to decode them. Another was Dilly Knox, a papyrologist who turned cryptographer back in Admiralty days and became BP's head cryptographer until his very untimely death in 1943. And the third was none other than Winston Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty when Room 40 was established in WW1 and continued his support as Prime Minister into WW2. When a group at BP complained about insufficient resources, he wrote a typical minute on their letter,
"Action this day make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this has been done."

Enigma and Lorenz
Enigma is the German coding machine that everyone has heard of. It had a long history, starting as a commercially available device in the 1920s. However, the German army also came to have another, equally important machine, the Lorenz. It was important because once it was brought into service in 1942, it was used for high-level communication between the German High Command in Berlin and army commands throughout occupied Europe. It was therefore imperative to do the reverse engineering of it. BP cryptographers succeeded in deducing its workings without ever having seen one; which has been described as "one of the greatest intellectual feats of World War II." So I learnt at BP to distinguish between the Enigma and the Lorenz, each with different workings and a different target.

Between the wars: the Poles
One of the surprises at BP is the monument to three young Polish cryptographers.

The first to discover the wiring plan of Enigma were not the British but the Poles. The Polish equivalent of GC&CS was already intercepting German Enigma traffic throughout the period 1930-1938. In 1928 an alert Polish customs officer had intercepted an Enigma that was being shipped to the German embassy in Warsaw, and that enabled the Polish Cipher Bureau to examine it. A team of brilliant mathematicians was recruited at Poznan University to work on its cryptology. Most of their work was based on a branch of pure mathematics known as permutation theory. They succeeded, and in 1938 they made a generous gift of their findings to French and British delegations. The British one included Turing and Knox. Their contribution to the British side of the cipher war was invaluable.

The translators
Once the wireless traffic was decrypted, it was still in German. For it to be useful to British intelligence, a large staff of specialised German to English translators had to work in shifts around the clock. There were nothing like enough Professional or Expert Military Translators available to meet the demand. But fortunately there was a good supply of Advanced Native Translators, because German language and literature was still widely taught in British secondary schools. (That's how I learnt it myself, even while the Germans were bombing us!) So graduates from the 'grammar schools', having learnt one foreign language and probably more, were considered prime candidates for further training.

The situation was not so favourable for other languages except French. Among the languages needed was Italian. Though the use of Italian was not comparable to that of German, it was Italian decrypts that enabled the British to win the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941. The British fleet commander came personally to BP to thank the cryptographers.

I'll deal later with Japanese.

To be continued.

Group Captain F(red) W. Winterbotham, CBE. The Ultra Secret. New York, etc.: Harper & Row, 1974.

Bletchley Park official website. www.bletchleypartk.org.uk.

Bletchley Park. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bletchley_Park or click here.

John Pether. The Post Office at War. Bletchley Park Reports 11. Bletchley Park Trust, 2011.

Frank Carter. The First Breaking of Enigma. New edition. Report 2. Bletchley Park Trust, 2008.

The Bletchley Park Reports are available on site at BP.

Battle of Cape Matapan. Wikipedia, 2014.

There are good videos, some of them complete BBC documentaries, about BP on YouTube.

The Mansion at Bletchley Park. Source: www.english-heritage.org.uk

Saturday, August 16, 2014


From August 23 to 29 I'll be attending the COLING conference in Dublin.

COLING is the leading international conference in its speciality, which is computational linguistics. Its sponsor is the International Committee on Computational Linguistics (ICCL), which is already half a century old. It's held every two years in a different part of the world. The founders were some of the pioneers in machine translation and COLING 2014 will still contain three sessions on MT. However, the scope of computational linguistics has expanded, and there are areas like speech recognition, terminology extraction and translation memories that nowadays rival MT in importance for Expert Translators. To accompany the occasion, I've resurrected an article of mine about translation memories, written in the days when they were still a novelty. The title is Translation Memories: Beyond the Dictionaries and you can find it at https://independent.academia.edu/BHARRIS or by clicking here.

If any of you are going to be at COLING, I'd be delighted to meet you. I'll be staying in the Hampstead Residence of Dublin City University under my real name of Brian Harris. My cellphone number is 638099029.

A current Ryanair ad urges, "Escape the Irish summer!" and pictures a miserable looking Irishman in a raincoat. But I'm looking forward to it after the heat of Valencia, where the temperature is routinely ten degrees higher.

The COLING website is at www.coling-2014.org.

There's a Wikipedia article on the ICCL at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Committee_on_Computational_Linguistics or click here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Interpreter's Accent

The interest shown in the recent post about interpreters' voices encourages me to write about a related topic: their accents.

In the case of Natural Interpreters, the matter can be dealt with summarily. Natural interpreters speak with their natural accent, that is to say their normal conversational accent. For one thing, they are probably unaware that it's an issue. And for another, they work in ad hoc circumstances where they wouldn't have the time or the ability to change it.

For Expert Interpreters, however, it may have far more impact.

Some years ago, when Queen Elizabeth of England, who's also head of state of Canada, visited Montreal, she tried to please her French Canadian subjects by making a short speech in their language. It was broadcast nationally. So it was accompanied by simultaneous interpretation because only a minority of English Canadians understand French. The broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, took care to engage a female interpreter with a mature voice. Nevertheless, they overlooked something else. Hardly had the broadcast started when the CBC began to receive phone calls of complaint – this was before the internet – from listeners who objected to hearing Her Majesty 'speak' English with an unmistakably Canadian accent. Let's call this effect of incompatible accents accent shock, by analogy with culture shock.

I myself felt it. When I emigrated from London to Montreal, I carried with me in my baggage my British accent. For a long while I didn't see it as a disadvantage. The standard BBC-type accent is well respected in Canada and in North America generally, so nobody suggested I change mine. Indeed I was approached by an eminent Polish economist to coach him in it, because he was a consultant to the United Nations, and the UNO bureaucracy – so he told me – preferred a British accent to an American one. So we swapped a veneer of British accent for the elements of cost benefit analysis. But when I took up conference interpreting I decided I had to modify it. It's a process, sometimes conscious but often not, called linguistic accommodation. I did it because it distracted listeners from giving their full attention to the speakers, and that shouldn't happen.

My awakening came at a three-day meeting of the Council of Ministers of Education, where I was the sole interpreter from French to English. Canada has no national ministry of education because, by its Constitution, education is an area to which each constituent province retains exclusive rights; nevertheless the provincial ministers meet several times a year to coordinate. The discussions take place in English except when the ministers from Quebec are speaking. Even if the latter do know English, politics require that they speak only in French, and only a minority of the other ministers understand French. So I had an attentive audience. At the last session of those meetings it was the custom for one of the ministers to say a few words of thanks to the interpreters. But on this occasion the minister added something unexpected. He said (paraphrase):
We thank the interpreters. But I must say I found it very odd to listen to my colleague from Quebec speaking English for these last three days with a perfect British accent.
And everybody laughed, so I knew he wasn't alone.

What other principles can we lay down for Experts besides avoiding accent shock of the above kind?

The great divide in English is between British, or British derived (eg Australian), and North American. As Oscar Wilde famously said, "The English and the Americans are two peoples divided by a common language." Furthermore, on the British side, accent is particularly indicative socially and disapprovals are strong. The Guardian Unlimited recently asked readers if they had encountered prejudice because of their accent. The conclusion from their responses was that approved accents include those inculcated by a 'public school' plus Oxbridge university education and the so-called 'liberal' professions like law. Disapproved include 'working class' ones like those current in industrial cities like Glasgow or Manchester. The two last are also strongly marked geographically.
Your accent still goes to the heart of who you are. It locates you not just geographically, but economically and socially too.
Upwardly mobile people often 'iron out' their accent accordingly. Non-native TESOL teachers often remain blissfully ignorant of all this. But Expert Interpreters are supposed to be highly educated, well paid people working in national and international settings. They should sound like that and, once again, their trainers should pay attention to it.

To be continued. The continuation will touch on French and Spanish.

Press Association. Lincoln: Walking Dead accent shock. The Argus (UK), 4 October 2013. It's the only other occurrence Google could find of the term accent shock.
Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. www.cmec.ca.
Lucy Mangan. The language barrier. Guardian Unlimited, 24 August 2013.

Source: amristo.wordpress.com

Friday, July 25, 2014

Footnote to The Interpreter's Voice(s)

The first post earlier this month about The Interpreter's Voice(s) has come as close to 'going viral' as any post on this blog is ever likely to get. Well over a thousand page views. (A page view is Google's unit of measurement for its statistics of visitors to blog posts.) Apparently, though, most of its readers were disappointed, because only 200 of them went on to read the continuation post. What were they expecting?

Never mind. It received approval from places as far apart as Japan and Uruguay.

From the latter, a Professional Expert Interpreter writes to say that she too is blessed with a pleasing speaking voice. She also provides me with a quotation from Leonard Cohen that I particularly like:
As Leonard Cohen so humbly puts it in his Tower of Song: "What can I do? I had no choice... I was born with the gift of a golden voice."
Thank you Lionel. Thank you Trini.

Leonard Cohen. The Tower of Song. From his album I'm Your Man, 1988. It's on YouTube: click here.

Leonard Cohen. Source: cbc.ca

Monday, July 21, 2014

Choosing a Thesis Topic

This week a student, faced with a dilemma over choosing her thesis topic, wrote to me as follows for advice.
I've been reading your posts for a period of time and it is really helpful. Therefore, I would like to consult you on the matter of a thesis since your experience and knowledge in this field surpass my poor one. I'd appreciate your help. Actually, I'm confused about a thesis topic. Sometimes, I find myself into machine translation assessment and other times audiovisual translation, subtitles in particular. I did read on every single aspect of translation studies and yet it is hard to decide. So, could you please help me by suggesting some useful topics that you think are worth doing research about? Or maybe some good ideas to start with.
Here's my reply.

Dear XXX,

I'm glad to hear you find reading my blog useful.

In order to answer you, I'd like to know something about your background. Where are you from? Where are you studying? What languages do you know?

I ask this because, as a general principle, you should choose a topic that is relevant to the context in which you live. In that way it should be easier for you to find data at first hand, perhaps even in your own personal experience. For instance, I write about multilingualism and translation because I've been living for 50 years in societies (Quebec, Valencia) that are multilingual and use translation on a daily basis from childhood, not because I've read about them. Do not choose topics like MT or AVT just because a lot of other people are studying them and writing about them at present. That's 'jumping on the bandwagon'. Try to be original. In that way you may be lucky enough to add something fundamental to our understanding.

Hoping this is helpful.

Source: www.saminverso.com

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Interpreter's Voice(s) - 2

This post is the conclusion of the preceding post. Please read the other one first.

The last post gave a round-up of the voice registers that an Expert Interpreter should master and told a couple of stories to illustrate them. Here's one final anecdote.

I once took a small party of my students to visit the United Nations in New York and meet some interpreters. It's an experience all North American conference interpretation students should have, and actually it's quite easy to arrange through the Office of Conference Services. At full strength they have about 120 interpreters. We listened in for half a day to a committee meeting. Afterwards there was a question and answer session with a training officer, Remco Kraft. In the course of it, one of the students asked an undiplomatic question:
I'd like to be able to interpret like those interpreters some day, but there's one thing that worries me. Why do they sound so bored?
Here, paraphrased, is his answer.
The general public is only aware of the most dramatic events at the UN, like the Security Council meetings. But our mos important work is done away from the spotlight, and the most interesting part of it is done in small, private negotiations, usually in consecutive. (For which reason, don't forget your consecutive.) What the public gets to hear in meetings like this morning's is mostly what we interpreters call blah-blah. We get to sound bored because we are bored.
The moral of the story is that interpreters should beware of letting their voices be affected by the material they are translating or by fatigue. If they do, listeners will soon notice it.

In the heyday of radio, there used to be an occasional course for announcers in North America, for instance the one offered by the National Institute of Broadcasting in Canada. Today, the same level of microphone voice is needed for the burgeoning industry of voice-over, though interpreters lack ‘drama‘ and actors are preferred. Nevertheless, writings on the subject are few and far between in the large literature on interpreting. As for practical training, the only dedícated course I know of is the one that used to be given by Ailsa Gudgeon, a British professional voice coach, in the late and much lamented programme at the University of Westminster (see References). And how about even less documented languages like Arabic or Chinese?

Strange, isn’t it, that such an important skill as voice production should receive so little attention? Every interpreter training programme should include a module on it.

Ailsa Gudgeon. 'Voice coaching for interpreters'. AIIC
, 2009.

Source: citygatels.com

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Interpreter’s Voice(s) - 1

The other day I was reading a comprehensive manual of interpreter training by a Spanish friend when I came upon a quotation that confirmed something I've long suspected. It's from an article by the late Hildegund Bühler. She ranks the qualities of a 'good' interpretation. Most Expert Interpreters and interpretation teachers would put something like her "Sense consistency with the original message" in first rank. Bühler's list, however, begins with "native accent" in first place. This is understandable if you know that her ranking is based not on what the experts think but on the preferences of listeners to the interpretations. As I used to say to my students, "You can get away with murder if you do it with a native accent."

But a surprise came with her second-ranking quality, still well ahead of "sense consistency", etc. It's "pleasant voice".

I like to believe this because of an incident that occurred to me when I was interpreting at a conference in Canada. A lady came up to me in one of the intervals and said shyly, “It doesn’t matter which language you’re speaking. I just love to sit and listen to your voice.” I have no illusions; I’m no Basil Rathbone. But it was a compliment I’ll never forget.

I take no credit for it. The germ of our speaking voices, like the germ of translating, is something natural that we’re born with. However, like other natural capabilities, it can be modified by culture and training. (For which reason Spaniards tend to have loud voices from childhood.)

Here, though, is a counter-story. We had a student come to us at the University of Ottawa for interpreting who was already an Expert Translator. In fact he was a staff translator for the Government of Canada who wanted to change career path. After several months in the programme, the time arrived for his final examination. He was the student we felt we had the least to worry about that year.

To our horror and astonishment, he failed.

I should explain that our juries were made up of external Professional Interpreters and not of teachers from the university. So as soon as possible, I asked one of the examiners what on earth had gone wrong. This is the reply I got:
“Oh, yes. He can translate all right and he’s fast enough. But can you imagine having to sit and listen to that dreary voice all day.”
Efforts to find a suitable voice coach for him in Ottawa failed. We turned to the university’s drama school and sent him for a course there; but it turned out to be focused on the loud voice needed for the theatre. However, there was a happy ending. With the help and criticism of colleagues, he improved and the following year he passed.

The 'compleat' Expert Interpreter needs to have mastered not one but several registers of voice. Here they are listed in order of increasing loudness:
1. Whispering
2. Microphone
3. Telephone
4. Dialogue
5. Court
6. Oratorical
Let's go through them.

1. Whispering may be true whispering, ie, to speak very softly using one's breath rather than one's throat and devoicing the voiced sounds. Or it may be murmuring, ie, using normal articulation but very quietly. This is a natural mode but it has a common fault in practice, which is to let the volume rise to a point where it disturbs other people around who don't want the interpretation.

2. Microphone voice. This is the register used in simultaneous interpreting, for an obvious reason, and hence in the stories told above. Since microphones aren't natural, nor is this register. But it's not only a matter of volume. If you've listened to your voice recorded through a mike you know – and may have heard with surprise – how the process changes its timbre and hence its character. Common faults are speaking too close to the mike, hissing on sibilants, speaking too loud. The last is made more likely by the headphones simultaneous interpreters have to wear. Today the register is needed as much for TV as for meetings or radio.

3. Telephone interpreting. Close to (2), but telephones have less fidelity than professional mikes and the context is complicated by the use of speakerphones. The rise of a telephone interpreting industry has made this register important almost overnight.

4. Dialogue interpreting. This is the register of much community/public service medical and diplomatic interpreting, where there are meetings with two or very few participants. Cecilia Wadensjö coined the term in connection with immigration and medical work. It is the register closest to everyday conversation, and is therefore natural. However, care must be taken to maintain a volume that enables all the participants to hear without straining.

5. Court interpreting. Here we take a big jump into the unnatural. It's the register not only for the courts strictly speaking, but also for tribunals and public hearings, workshops, etc., that are still often conducted without microphones. In court it is a legal as well as a practical necessity that everything the interpreter says be heard by all present, even the people seated behind the interpreter, and this requires high volume and voice 'projection'.

6. Oratorical. For large audiences. There should be a microphone for it but sometimes there isn't. I've had to do it, for example, when the equipment for simultaneous had broken down. It requires conscious boosting of volume, projection and endurance equal to what is required for the traditional theatre. Indeed I got my training for it doing amateur theatricals at school.

To be continued.

María Gracia Torres Díaz. Enseñar y aprender a interpretar: curso de interpretación de lenguas Español/Inglés. Malaga: Encasa, 2004, p. 228.

Basil Rathbone: there are several recordings of his readings of Poe’s The Raven and The Red Death on YouTube. They are the best.

Hildegund Bühler. Linguistic (semantic) and extra-linguistic (pragmatic) criteria for the evaluation of conference interpretation and interpreters. Multilingua, vol. 5, no. 4, 1986, pp. 231-235.

Cecilia Wadensjö. Interpreting as Interaction: On
dialogue-interpreting in immigration hearings and medical encounters.
Linköping University, 1992.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Church Interpreting and The Philosopher’s Stone

This is a guest post by Jonathan Downie of Edinburgh. Jonathan is a Professional Conference Interpreter who also does interpreting in churches. He is a postgradúate student of Heriot-Watt University, and he was responsible for coordinating the church interpreting sessions at the NPIT1 and NPIT2 conferences. So he’s an expert on it and it’s a privilege to have this contribution from him.
Other relevant guest posts welcome.

It’s a bit odd, if you really think about it. The (now thankfully outmoded) tradition for training conference interpreters is to make them work really hard to make their work go unnoticed. Impartiality, completeness and even appeals to secrecy mean that the archetypal conference interpreter is one who lets you pretend that they don’t exist. The philosopher’s stone of interpreting is to be so smooth and clean that clients can lie back and imagine that they are actually listening to a speech produced in their language.

Walk round the corner from the conference hall to the local international church and the picture changes completely. Across four continents, nine countries, and numerous denominations, research in church interpreting is beginning to paint a picture of a kind of interpreting that is visible, powerful and unavoidably changes the context in which it appears.

Take the work of Cécile Vigouroux on interpreting in a church in South Africa. Here the interpreting is not only carried out sentence-by-sentence on-stage but it functions as a symbol (perhaps only a symbol, go read her article) of the openness of the church to the English-speakers in the surrounding community. Suddenly, the existence of interpreting has turned a church that would otherwise be labelled an immigrant church into a fully-fledged member of the local church community.

Then there’s the work of Sari Hokkanen. A conference interpreter by trade, her autoethnography of church interpreting not only shows how this practice blows giant holes in our nice neat classifications of interpreted events but it puts paid to the idea that neutrality and impartiality are always the keystones of interpreting. At the end of May 2014, at the NPIT2 conference in Germersheim, Germany, she even dared to talk about crying in the booth and being personally affected by the material she was interpreting. It turns out that interpreters are human and have feelings too. Who knew?

Jill Karlik, who should probably be recognised as the mother of church interpreting research, offers an equally insightful datum. One of her respondents felt that interpreters were so important in one church in Gambia, that he deemed one his co-preacher. Here we have stakeholders actually asking for interpreters to partner with them in the production of a text. This sense of partnership might explain why Hayne Shin found so many interpreting users in churches in Korea who wanted interpreters to be Christians before they sat in the booth.

Now, it is highly possible to dismiss all this work as inconsequential. Yes, the majority of church interpreters might be natural interpreters. Yes, it seems to be more common than anyone previously thought but it is still marginal, right? I am sure most of these arguments have been applied to research on other forms of natural interpreting too. It is much easier to dismiss such work than learn from it.

Perhaps this is a case where the professionals can learn from the naturals. In church interpreting, there is no way to pretend that interpreting can or should make itself invisible. There is an admission by everyone involved that a church service with interpreting is completely different to one without it. Rather than trying to erase this difference, many churches seem to want to celebrate it and use interpreting to the full. I have personally visited a church where interpreting is given pride of place in the constitution and is seen as a core activity.

From this flows a whole new way of working with interpreters. Partnership rules the day there. Preachers interrupt their own sermons to congratulate interpreters on their work. They exploit the potential of having two people on-stage and discuss how to better communicate across cultures with interpreters off-stage. As I said, we have a lot to learn, even and especially from people who have never received training in how to interpret. Maybe it’s our values that need to be realigned, not theirs.

Jonathan Downie’s business address is Integrity Languages, integritylanguages.wordpress.com.

Sari Hokkanen. Interpreting through tears: Religious experience, emotion and simultaneous interpreting. Paper to the Second International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Germersheim, 2014.

Jill Karlik. “Natural” interpreting in a group of Gambian churches: Frames of reference. Paper to the Second International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Germersheim, 2014.

Hayne Shin. User-expectations on the role and qualities of church interpreters: Consecutive and simultaneous interpreting in Korean churches. Paper to the Second International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Germersheim, 2014.

Cécile B. Vigouroux. Double-mouthed discourse: interpreting, framing, and participant roles. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 14:3.341-369, 2010. Available for downloading from academia.edu.

Which is the interpreter, which the preacher? It was at a service like this in Cameroon that I first encountered church interpreting myself. − BH
Source: stchronicle.wordpress.com

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

NPIT flash!

It was decided, by drawing out of a hat at the conclusion of NPIT2 in Germersheim last weekend - see previous post - that NPIT3 will be held in Zurich in 2016, and NPIT4 in South Africa (at Cape Town or Stellenbosch) two years later.

It looks like the adventure that started at Forli in 2012 is gong worldwide. As I wrote in The Importance of Natural Translation, a paradigm is determined not only by its methodology but also by its object of study. Consequently a new paradigm is emerging in Translation Studies.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Greetings to NPIT2

Today, 29th May, the Second International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation opens at Germersheim in Germany.

Greetings to everyone there, and especially to those of you who, thanks to Rachele Antonini, I was able to meet in person at Forli.

I see there are 69 papers on the programme (it’s at http://www.fb06.uni-mainz.de/ikk/439.php) and they cover a wide range of settings. The success of the conference is assured. I’m glad to see that the East Hampshire Young Interpreters, so often featured on this blog, are represented; and that Jonathan Downie has obtained adequate space for the church interpreters.

Still you are the Pioneers. Give or take another 20 years and the rest of the Translation Studies community will/may/should have caught up with you. It’s now over 100 years since Jules Ronjat published Le développement du langage chez un enfant bilingue and nearly 40 since I published The Importance of Natural Translation, so it’s about time.

Translatology (Brian Harris)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Parent Interpreters

People tend to associate Natural and Native Translation with children and young people. Perhaps because they regard them as mere stages towards the achievement of Expert Translation, which is wrong because they are useful and much used in themselves. Moreover, the Natural Tanslation Hypothesis predicts that bilinguals may go through them at any age. So it follows that while children commonly develop their translation ability by following the example of their parents, the opposite may occur.

The East Hampshire Young Interpreters movement, which has had considerable success encouraging children to translate in UK schools, has now launched another pioneering venture: that of getting the parents fo join in. The scheme has been tried out at Fairfields Primary School in Basingstoke.
“The group of parents who volunteered to take part in the Parent Interpreter pilot completed their training before the Easter holiday. They received their certificates and even their very own kits containing their ground rules, fans, stickers, notepads and pencils to help them support pupils in the school. The group comprises native speakers of English as well as bilingual parents. This term, the Parent Interpreters are supporting pupils in lessons and meeting regularly to catch up and review the progress of the children. Congratulations on their hard work!

“Are you interested in setting up a Parent Interpreter scheme at your school? If so, please contact Hampshire EMTAS for more details.”

Young Interpreters Newsletter, No. 14, May 2014.

For more about the Young Interpreters, enter emtas in the Search box on the right or click here.

Fairfields Primary School, Basingstoke. As the image suggests, it's the oldest school in Basingstoke; but the exterior belies the modern education within. © Copyright Chris Talbot and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Symposium on the History of Interpreting

The First International Symposium on the History of Interpreting is scheduled to take place at Rikkyo, Japan, next Saturday and Sunday, May 24-25.

As it’s only a short event with select invited speakers, one can’t expect too much of it. The topic is a vast one. Nevertheless, there’s something about the programme that disquiets me greatly. It’s that although considerable amounts must have been spent on bringing the distinguished invited experts from round the globe and the hosts are Japanese, there’s nothing about the very interesting history of interpreting in Japan itself. There’s one paper about Taiwan, aka Formosa when it was under Japanese rule, but that hardly counts as Japan. Where were the conference programme organisers sleeping?

Therefore, as a fringe contribution to the conference, I offer my own article from a decade ago about Ernest Satow, the young Englishman who, with his British Foreign Office and Japanese colleagues, revolutionised diplomatic interpreting in that country in the 1860s. You can find an extract and a reference to the complete article at https://independent.academia.edu/BHARRIS or by clicking here.

The young Ernest Satow (later Sir Ernest Satow, Ambassador to Japan, etc.) Source: Yokahama Archives of History.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Lure of Music

In the far-off days when I was teaching English as a Second Language to French Canadians at the National Film Board in Montreal, I made a powerful discovery. It was really nothing new, but it was new to me; because in that era the fashion in North American TESOL was for boring, repetitious pattern drills. It was that the work which met with most success with my students was learning to sing current popular songs. I used My Fair Lady in the impeccable Received Pronunciation of Rex Harrison. Not only did the students, all sophisticated adults, enthusiastically absorb colloquial English by heart, but it gave them that all-important ingredient: motivation. Everybody has fun singing along. However, due to the colloquial register of the words and the phonetic deformations caused by fitting them to the music, non-natives often have great difficulty hearing and understanding them. Therefore they get a kick out of finally knowing what they are listening to.

I was reminded of this by the following report (with my emphasis).
“I am a 27 year-old with the double nationality French-Spanish. I have been translating professionally since 2011, but the first time I translated something was when I was a kid. My family from France came to Spain and needed an interpreter to follow them around. [This was, of course, language brokering.]

“Then I studied translation at the University of Murcia and I have my Master’s degree from the UAB [at Barcelona] on Audiovisual Translation.

“How did you decide to be a translator? What makes you so passionate about languages?

When I was 13 I heard a Bon Jovi song I loved very much, and I decided to translate it. I spoke no English whatsoever, but with the help of a dictionary I managed to ‘translate’ it, more or less. I liked it and started to do so with all his albums, the musical Grease, and many other songs. By the time I had to choose a career, I realized the career had already chosen me.”
Bon Jovi? A far cry from Rex Harrison. But it’s music.

Jovana. This career has chosen me – interview with translator Iris Permuy. Lingoio, 6 May, 2014. Click here or go to Lingo.io/blog/interview-with-translator-iris-Permuy/# N.B. This link has been corrected.

There’s plenty of Bon Jovi on YouTube. Plenty of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady too.

Iris Permuy. Source: Lingo.io.

Monday, May 5, 2014

University Students As Advanced Native Translators

A good source of volunteer non-Expert translators for NGOs is university students. There are plenty of them in most countries who are foreigners or who at least know a foreign language. They aren’t Experts because they haven’t received training and lack experience; but on the other hand nor are they naive Natural Translators. The very fact that they volunteer for translating shows they have some awarenes of it. More than that, however, their migrations and their education will almost certainly have obliged them to use translations and even do some themselves, either perceptibly or in their heads. This is especially true of any language learning courses, because even now the grammar and translation method is still widespread. These experiences place them, on my scale of translating ability development, as Advanced Native Translators. (For the complete scale, enter definitions in the Search box on the right.)

It’s often a form of social service. The latest example to come my way is from prestigious Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
"Early this academic year we wrote about World Pulse Correspondent Neema Namadamu’s visit to campus as part of Agnès Peysson Zeiss’ Praxis III French course in which students translated blog posts for the organization. We revisited the class in October to get an even better sense of what the students were doing to help women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Now, Seniors Su Oner and Lianna Reed have written a piece of their own on what it meant to work with the women…

"Over the past year, through the Praxis III program…, we have worked as volunteer translators for World Pulse. This semester, six of us have translated four ten blogs a week. Although we are comfortable with our French, it remains a challenge to this day to read and translate Congolese French into English. Many of the women… for many of them, French is not their mother tongue. Our weekly meeting with Professor Agnès Peysson Zeiss focused primarily on understanding challenging blogs so that we could translate them into English. We often come to class with words written phonetically that we cannot decipher. Other times there are idioms and acronyms that we are not familiar with. It all comes together when we post the blogs below the original version on the World Pulse website. We comment under the blogs we translate and interact with these women (in French) through these comments."

Notice this last remark mentions that the translators also comment - something that Expert Interpreters aren't supposed to do according to dogma.

An unexpected mention in this report is Congolese French. All the major languages have varieties and dialects that may be more or less understandable to people brought up on the ’standard’ language taught in schools. Congolese French still bears traces of the country’s colonial past, which has bequeathed it similarities to Belgian French. Canadian French can also be hard for Europeans to understand. We Canadians are sometimes amused to see our films and TV programmes subtitled in so-called International French for export. People can be quite ignorant about dialects. I was once called in to interpret Glaswegian (the English of Glasgow) on the grounds that after all I'd been educated in England. My favourite story in this respect is about how Gaddafi stymied the very Expert Arabic interpreters at the United Nations in New York by addressing the General Assembly without warning in his native Libyan dialect. The problem is particularly acute in court interpreting, as this current example shows:
"Exactly three years after they were arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport, a pair of accused Jamaican drug smugglers remain unable to stand trial because of a critical shortage of Jamaican Patois interpreters."
It may be more satisfactory to employ a Native Interpreter who knows the dialect than an Expert Interpreter who doesn't.

Sue Oner and Lianna Reed. BMC Seniors reflect on translating blogs for women from Democratic Republic of Congo. Bryn Mawr Commmunications Office, 30 April 2014. Click here.

Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Wikipedia, 2014.

Mark M. Orkin. French Canajan, Hé!. 1975. Out of print, but the second-hand copies from Amazon are inexpensive.

Multi-Languages Corporation. Jamaican patois interpreter shortage causes mistrial, leaving alleged drug smugglers in legal limbo. Multi-Language Newsletter, May 2014.