Letter from the Editor

Are you fed up with finding the hackneyed headline "Lost in Translation" atop every media report vaguely related to language? I am. How far has this plague spread? I googled the catchphrase and came up with 3.8 million references. Food for thought.

It is not easy to foil the powerful negative images that have been projected upon translation: futility, something inevitably lost, an act of treason. Public perception of ineluctable failure is deeply engrained; embarking upon even a short exploration of this is daunting. I have no linguistic GPS to guide me by the hand, just a thin pointer pulled by opposing fields of thought, awakening boyhood nightmares of wandering in a desert wasteland searching for who knows what and tripping over a sun-bleached skeleton, compass still gripped in bony fingers.

Our complaint is that the cliché points at translation itself as the problem; get rid of it and everything will be hunky-dory.  People, it is assumed, will be better served by speaking a common language, even if it is a second or third tongue for one or all of them. This might work when the matter at hand is the location of the coffee break, but what about something a bit more complex? Will the so-called global language really prove a medium of communication in all instances?

In fact many of the lost in translation alerts announce confusion in cross cultural contexts, often from a simplistic point of view.  A common misconception is that people do not carry their cultural constructs with them when they switch from mother tongue to learned language. They do. Moreover, misunderstandings are rife even among native speakers: "England and America are two countries separated by a common language," quipped George Bernard Shaw.

In the global village the centrality of cultural knowledge to communication is widely recognised, but when it comes to translation and interpretation, the main assumption continues to be that they are all about words. And words, I fear, are unconsciously felt to be the building blocks of inescapable labyrinths.

Returning to the Internet, I decided to search for found in translation: a measly 79,000 links. The phrase is mostly used as a play on the commonplace lost in, and in fact seems to be no more than a dramatic device. It occurs to me that tracking clichés is a sure way to get lost. Clichés are used because they connote a shared assumption, or simply because they are facile, fashionable or cute. People brandish them much as they boast corporate logos on their clothes.

So let's not regret the absence of a guide; after all, interpreters are accomplished navigators. When we must face an impromptu speech, we are not be told beforehand where the speaker is heading, but we quickly orient ourselves nonetheless. Training, experience and knowledge guide us - we do not wander aimlessly but with purpose.

Many who need our services are not aware that professional interpreters possess expertise beyond a mere familiarity with languages. In-depth cultural and linguistic knowledge is part of it, as are the techniques of simultaneous and consecutive. But we also develop a superior faculty to use and generate context, to anticipate; we have an automatic orientation to sense and intent; we have extreme powers of concentration, and we possess a store of knowledge and references that can be used as markers to see us through a multitude of mazes. We cut straight to the message because we are not distracted by words.

Our destination is communication, not some theoretical perfection. We work with and for people, and we honor the right of each to speak the language he uses best - his own - with confidence that his message will be understood through interpretation, not in spite of it. We know that this is the way to mutual understanding.

As Hans-Dietrich Genscher [1], former German Minister of Foreign Affairs, once said, "In a foreign language I say what I can. In my own language I say what I want." He knew that we too would say it - in other languages.


This Issue

There are now more than 2000 articles on the AIIC website, prompting us to think of deep content. We push off this issue we by raising a couple of pieces of buried treasure to the surface.

Our first two articles are from VEGA - the AIIC New Interpreters Network. We start out with Tips for Beginners, full of useful information for those just embarking on their careers. With a few dozen hyperlinks, it is also a good introduction to the AIIC website for all. Then we offer you A Day in the Life of a Conference Interpreter - an illustration in three acts.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the mental aspect of our work that we forget there is a physical side to it. As Ailsa Gudgeon reminds us, "Conference interpreters are professional voice users." Her Voice Coaching for Interpreters will take you through the particulars.

Antonio Graceffo writes on martial arts and adventure travel - and has a keen interest in languages. He explores how people learn them in Three Cups of Language.

Languages are always changing and slang undergoes constant permutation, nowhere more so than in the streets of France. Martine Bonadona is back with Le français dans l'actualité: « Voici un petit glossaire de français branché pour vous aider à décrypter les infos. »

We then head westward. Is it possible we'll find that "plain German no longer cuts the mustard, so writers sex up their output by larding it with English terms"? To follow where this is leading, read Phil Smith's review of Speak German! Warum Deutsch Manchmal Besser ist.

We wrap up with our usual tour of the Internet. Explore Borges' relationship to translation; be introduced to adventure language travel, or just have some fun with tattoos by going to Language in the News.

[1] Mr. Genscher is the first recipient of the AIIC Malinche Prize instituted to honor prominent individuals who have actively promoted the profession of conference interpreting. The prize will be formally presented to him at the AIIC Assembly in January 2009.

Recommended citation format:
Luigi LUCCARELLI. "Letter from the Editor". aiic.net December 9, 2008. Accessed May 28, 2020. <http://aiic.net/p/3132>.

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