The Linguist

The Linguist 53,4

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

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Perhaps the best interpreters are the ones you don't notice. A straw poll of interpreters working in my area of specialism (the power industry, mainly in France, the UK and Belgium) threw up some interesting results: most of my colleagues had no problem with being addressed by their first name only, even when others in the room were required to give their surname too. They felt it was appropriate to their position or even desirable. Only a few shared my concern that it might reflect interpreters' lack of status. Interpreters working on-site in the power sector seem equally unconcerned about being addressed using the informal ('T') form as opposed to the formal ('V'). The general perception is that it expresses friendliness rather than a lack of respect. So my feelings of unease at being tutoyé by an engineer, technician or secretary I have never met before appear to place me in the minority. Forms of address are highly dependent on factors such as local customs and corporate culture. In some companies, as in some geographical areas, you are likely to be addressed in the 'T' form from the start. Interpreters tend to be aware of these cultural norms and do not see them as a problem. Interpreters working in public service fields appear to have a more nuanced – and highly pragmatic – view of forms of address, which depends on the formality of the setting, the extent to which records are made, and the relationship with the service user or stakeholder. Concern for professionalism means that court interpreters are more likely to use their surname, while a focus Vol/53 No/4 2014 AUGUST/SEPTEMBER The Linguist 29 OPINION & COMMENT During the introductions at the start of a three- week on-site assignment, I hear all about my clients' vast experience, their specialisms, sometimes even their partners and kids. This is considered normal for managers/engineers. When it comes to the interpreters, however, the difference is immediately noticeable: interpreters give only their first name, and are not expected to describe their background and experience. No children, pets or favourite football teams are mentioned either. Saying "Hi, my name is Ken," can feel like a bit of a humiliation when you are 49 years old, and trying to project your professionalism and experience. Perhaps I should get key points tattooed on my forehead. In a similar vein, I recently translated a set of meeting minutes from an international project in which the participants were listed along with their first name, surname and position. Except for the interpreter, who was referred to simply as 'Mrs Aurélie'. It's tempting to see this habit as displaying a perennial lack of respect for interpreters. One wouldn't be so quick to refer to a lawyer by their first name on first meeting; why would you do so with an interpreter? But maybe the customer doesn't need to know my last name, or anything else about me. They need my brain, not my CV. Maybe being able to refer to the interpreter simply by first name facilitates the intimacy required to strike up a good working relationship. In my opinion… on security (when working in a police station) might sway interpreters in the other direction. First names might also be preferable in a hospital environment, while in asylum seeker interviews the interpreter's name might not be mentioned at all. In a PSI environment, a distinction may need to be drawn between clients and other stakeholders/service providers, and nuances of meaning may be expressed through different forms of address. The consensus among PSIs seems to be that interactions with clients often start on a formal footing (to establish a professional distance) and progress towards informal usage (as in everyday life). My research is far from comprehensive, but there appears to be a clear divide between industry and public service fields. It would seem that PSIs have a more considered approach to the use of the 'T' form, a higher level of tactical and strategic awareness, and a greater degree of control over how they are addressed. Nobody is going to man (staff?) the barricades over this issue; the interpreting profession has bigger fish to fry. But I can't help thinking that, in some situations at least, the tendency to address interpreters by their first names and using the 'T' form reflects a wider problem of recognition – surely one of our very biggest 'fish', right across the profession. Interpreters working in industry would do well to take a leaf out of their PSI colleagues' book and take a more proactive stance on how we are addressed when working. The benefits in terms of professional standing seem obvious. Ken Paver MCIL is an interpreter for the power industry and Chair of The Linguist's Editorial Board TL KEN PAVER Can familiarity breed contempt? Or is it a price that interpreters pay for doing a job that demands discretion? © THINKSTOCK

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