Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Interpreter Ethics (updated)

"Ethics: moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity."

.A Spanish and an American researcher have got together to start a new line of translation research. They are Esther Monzó of the Jaime I University at Castellón de la Plana and Melissa Wallace of the University of Texas at San Antonio; and their topic is interpreter ethics.

Their object of study is the ethics of non-professional interpreters. Before we get to that, however, it may be instructive to take a look at the professional interpreters. One reason is that there is a good deal of material already available about the latter. That is because their ethics are codified and published in the codes of ethics of their professional associations. Those are codified ethics, the most famous example of which is the Ten Commandments of the Bible. We may take as an authoritative example the Code of Professional Ethics of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). An advantage of taking this code is that there is an article by Benoît Kremer analysing and commenting it (see Sources). Kremer divides the code into three sections. First he puts professional secrecy: professionals must not divulge what they say, hear or overhear (in connection with the last, one thinks of the film The Interpreter starring Nicole Kidman). Second he puts integrity, which he subdivides into material and intellectual. It requires, amongst other things, that interpreters not profit from 'insider information' that they acquire and that they not accept two assignments for the same time period nor an assignment for which they aren't fully qualified. And last, but not necessarily least, he lists attitude to colleagues, i.e. cooperation and respect between them.

The AIIC code and similar ones are lacking in two respects. First there may be matters they skip. An ethics-based question they don't deal with but is sometimes asked by students is whether interpreters should accept an assignment to translate for a speaker whose views they abhor, a holocaust denier for example. And they can't mention the material obligation not to undercut the fees charged by colleagues, because to do so would be illegal in many jurisdictions. I know because I was once involved marginally in a court case over this in Canada, yet I have known colleagues or students threatened with excommunication (aka 'blackballing') for contravening this rule, which is maintained by 'gentlemen's agreement'. On the other hand, Kremer comments that cooperation and respect among colleagues "is often ignored in the real world" (something I observed myself when I was an interpreter). In other words, we may question to what extent the codes are in fact applied or whether all the professionals are even aware of all their content.

In any case the object of the Monzó-Wallace investigation is non-professional interpreters. It would be unjust to expect the non-professionals to observe the ethics enshrined in codes they aren't even aware of. Yet that doesn't prevent them from knowing and following another kind of ethics: societal ethics, the general ethics of a civilisation. Some of these are so widely accepted as to be quasi-universal. Take as an example the injunction, "Don't tell lies." Knowingly giving a false translation can be considered a form of lying. Furthermore "don't lie" is something that is learnt very young.
"To lie, children have to know that what they are saying is false – they have to understand the difference between a lie and the truth. That usually doesn't happen before the age of four,"
But that's roughly the age from which bilingual children can translate coherently and from which they can tell whether a translation is 'truthful' (for more on this, see the Harris and Sherwood reference below).

It will be interesting to see what the Monzó-Wallace call brings.

Since the above was posted, a student has drawn my attention to an excellently made and at times riveting video on YouTube about ethics in professional court interpreting in Canada. Evidently the topic of interpreter ethics is not so novel as I thought, at any rate in that context. See the last of the Sources below.

Esther Monzó-Nebot and Melissa Wallace. Call for Papers. Translation and Interpreting Studies (TIS) Volume 15, Issue 1 Special issue: The Ethics of Non-Professional Translation and Interpreting in Public Services and Legal Settings. 2017. Click [here] or go to https://www.academia.edu/32220241/Call for Papers: Special issue: The Ethics of Non-Professional Translation and Interpreting in Public Services and Legal Settings.

AIIC. Code of professional ethics. AIIC Canada, 2012. Click [here] or go to http://aiic.ca/page/6724.

Benoît Kremer. L'AIIC et la déontologie (AIIC and professional ethics). AIIC World, 2002. Click [here] or go to https://aiic.net/page/631/l-aiic-et-la-deontologie.

Cathie Kryczka. How to teach kids to stop lying. Today's Parent, 2016. Click [here] or go to https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/how-to-teach-kids-to-stop-lying/

Brian Harris and Bianca Sherwood. Translating as an innate skill. Click [here] or go to https://www.academia.edu/5776635/Translating_as_an_innate_skill.

Dini Steyn, Silvana Carr et al. Ethical challenges for professional court interpreters. YouTube video, approx. 30 mins. Vancouver: Open Learning Agency and Vancouver Community College, 2000. Click [here] or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13Da4q91V8E&list=PL779E7E7BBF562B7F&index=1.