The Linguist

The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 20 of 35

@Linguist_CIOL FEBRUARY/MARCH The Linguist 21 FEATURES obligations (real or perceived) to help the individual concerned. Additionally, the interpreter may feel sorry (or sympathy) for the client, who is quite often vulnerable or 'needy', giving rise to the temptation to go beyond our remit and slide into advocacy. Recognising our prejudice The greatest pressure comes from within. If we are to remain impartial, we must face up to the fact that human beings are not naturally impartial: we have personal opinions, feelings, judgments, beliefs and prejudices. We have a right to have those opinions and feelings, but not while working as a professional interpreter. We must therefore learn to control our emotions and manage our prejudices. To do so, we must first recognise that, like all humans, we are prejudiced; we should be honest with ourselves and acknowledge the negative gut reaction, or uncomfortable feeling we get, based on someone's ethnicity, membership of a particular social group, appearance, dress or other factors. We must then learn not to trust that initial feeling and to put it aside. If, on the other hand, we will struggle to be impartial when faced with certain situations, or with members of certain social groups, because of our religious or political beliefs or prejudices, then we should admit it to ourselves and withdraw from the assignment. For some reason, we sometimes feel 'responsible' for one of the parties (usually, but not always, the client) and this may lead to our being tempted to soften the message when speakers express themselves strongly (even using swearwords). We must remember, however, that we are not responsible for the words spoken by either party. We are not a participant in the conversation, we are the channel of communication – no more, no less. Even if what is said is nonsensical or offensive, we must faithfully interpret every word without variation. Altering the message entrusted to us by the speaker is wrong because, by doing so, we are stealing the person's words and substituting our own. The speaker owns the words; the interpreter cannot decide what is or isn't relevant in what is spoken by the parties, or make value judgements on what they say. Impartiality demands that we interpret every word accurately in the correct register. Playing advocate As exemplified by the case of Sarah, impartiality involves more than words. Our body language can betray what we think or feel deep inside. As we control our inner feelings and emotions, we must also control our facial expressions (no frowning, raising eyebrows in disapproval, smirking, showing amusement, cringing in embarrassment or scowling) and body posture (no crossing our arms, fidgeting, squirming, clenching our fists etc), keeping a neutral posture and non-committal facial expression. We may also be tempted, like the interpreter in the 'professional dilemma' box above, to advocate for our client, defend and safeguard their rights with the service provider, give additional explanations or help them navigate the system, encouraging and helping them to ask for more information. All of that would be fine if we were bilingual advocates, which would require us to be partial towards our client. Community or public service interpreters, however, must confine their role to interpreting accurately, resisting the temptation to go beyond our remit because we 'want to help'. I believe that the only way we can help the client is by being the best interpreter we can be, so that non-English-speaking clients can express their wishes and needs, and also understand what service providers explain to them. This requires us to follow our code of conduct and remain impartial at all times. As we control our inner emotions, we must also control our facial expressions, keeping a neutral body posture Piotr has interpreted for a 46-year-old man over a long period of time and become familiar with the highs and lows of his bipolar condition. As the man rants and swears at hospital personnel about being sectioned, Piotr, while doing his best to keep up with the client's rapid speech, feels the staff have been ignoring and perhaps even neglecting their patient. He feels he must intervene and make them understand his client's needs. He is no longer an impartial agent in the encounter. A professional dilemma IMAGES © SHUTTERSTOCK

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020