Letter from the Editor: Thinking interpretation

Interpreters know that thought is not always linear and well organized. How often we encountered a chaotic speaker who never makes a full stop before turning right, left or perhaps full-circle … and then speeding off again!

The time approaches to prepare a new issue of Communicate!, articles start coming in and editing work must be done. That sets my mind roiling, a process known to most as thinking, although the random leaps my mind sometimes takes do not always encompass the sense of organisation associated with cogitation.

Thought, however, does not have to be linear and organised. Interpreters know this well: how often have we encountered a chaotic speaker who never makes a full stop before turning right, left or perhaps full-circle … and then speeding off again? Sometimes one feels more like a rodeo bronco rider than a skilled craftsman with tools lined up at the ready. Sometimes we just try to stay on his back for 10 more seconds and hope that we land on our feet and soft terrain.

I tend to think visually – nice for reading maps and such, and helpful in interpretation too: “If you can see it, you can say it.” I’m not sure who said that, but there’s some truth in it. And if you can’t see it clearly, break it up into chunks to help with the digestion.

Of course, thinking about interpreting is not the same as doing it. The former tends to be more reflective or theoretical and goes well beyond the task at hand. Ethics, professional practice, the purpose of a professional association, training, new technologies, language acquisition and improvement – and many other concerns - must not be forgotten.

While I was preparing this issue, I found myself mulling over the question of loyalty. I’m sure most would agree that loyalty is of prime importance. But are we all thinking of the same thing when we hear the word? And besides, loyalty to whom and what?

  • The “client” - as in s/he who pays?
  • The “client” – as in s/he who listens?
  • The speaker?
  • The culture of a country – as in prevailing morals?
  • The “country” itself – as in the state?
  • The language(s)?
  • Our profession?

The most recent cause of this bout of meandering mind was an article in the Translation Journal (see reference in “Interpreting in the News”): His Excellency and his Interpreter. The author, Danilo Nogueira, deserves credit for expressing an opinion on a touchy subject.

Indeed, it is not a simple matter. I came across another article that seems related. The BBC reports that a US union planning to tour factories in China is trying to get assurances that its delegation “will be allowed to bring its own interpreters.” Has that got something to do with loyalty? Or is it just another bargaining chip on the table?

I believe that one should ask if our code of ethics sufficiently covers the question. Certainly professional secrecy implies a form of loyalty – to all involved in a meeting as well as to the profession. And what about the imperatives not to “detract from the dignity of the profession” and to “refrain from any act which might bring the profession into disrepute”? Can that be taken to mean that loyalty to a restricted group (e.g. a client or employer) could imply disloyality to the whole (e.g. to our public or the profession)? Does it mean that an interpreter who censors or accepts to censor content is transgressing a principle? If it doesn’t mean that, do we need a new provision to cover the eventuality? Is the situation the same for freelancer and staff interpreter? In all cases? And how far can or should such reasoning be taken? At a time when “interpreters” are mentioned in connection with “interrogations” and censorship remains alive and well, the question is pertinent.

My musings are but that for now. I would welcome someone taking on these questions in greater depth. A challenging task, perhaps, but one that could potentially contribute much to our profession.


This Issue

We start off this issue with a story of an urgent call – “Hurry, hurry! Protocol needs an estimate within two hours for a team to interpret German, English, French, Dari and Pashto,” - and an experienced chief interpreter’s response. Gisela Siebourg’s account of organising the team of interpreters for the “Afghanistan conference” reaches beyond the initial adrenaline rush, going on to note the solid ground that we can rely on after 50 years of collective action.

If interpreters think out loud, then the interview must be the perfect form in which to glean information from them. Burckhard Doempke is a veteran with experience in both institutional and private markets with clear opinions on professional practice. Marko Naoki Lins’ conversation with him covers a full gamut of topics.

We go from a panoramic view to a close-up shot with our following article. Ever think of putting your eye to the magnifying glass to examine a very small area? Well, that is what Manuel Sant’Iago Ribeiro has done with one of our favorite enclosed spaces. In Manuel’s words: “We all know them, most of us have them and some of us try to explain them.” Booth Manners of course!

When we leave the booth, we re-enter a larger world. And that is exactly what AIIC colleagues in Sweden did when they organised an event to celebrate AIIC’s anniversary and present a special award to the speaker of the Swedish Riksdag for “efforts to promote the use of interpretation to give more citizens access to the parliamentary body’s debates.” Elisabet Tiselius’ article tells us what ensued and shares some of the thoughts expressed by Speaker von Sydow.

From Stockholm we jump to New York with an older article made new through translation. Yes, the First Freelance Contract at the United Nations – NY has finally been put into EN, and Michèle Homsi has also updated the original French version. You’ll find all the detailed knowledge you could hope for – from how to get in the front door to where to eat or find a bit of quiet.

We round off this issue with more information on Interpreting in the News. Once again our team has come up with a gaggle of links to take you on a trip to what others are saying about enlargement, cultural diversity, machine translation, tattoos, and a certain movie. We hope you enjoy the scenery and have a smooth landing.



Recommended citation format:
Luigi LUCCARELLI. "Letter from the Editor: Thinking interpretation". aiic.net May 24, 2004. Accessed June 25, 2018. <http://aiic.net/p/1491>.

About the author(s)
Luigi LUCCARELLI

Luigi Luccarelli is a professional interpreter, translator, editor and trainer. He has been Editor-in-Chief of the AIIC webzine Communicate! since 2000.



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