[lg policy] Term for sth spoken in one language, written in another

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Sun Jun 5 13:09:36 EDT 2016

Is anyone aware of a formal term for transcription from a recording 
where what is written is in different language than the spoken? This is 
not strictly speaking translation, since it is from the spoken word, nor 
interpretation, since it is to the written word, nor transcription, 
because the spoken and written words are in different languages.

I first really noticed this practice when I learned of at least one 
organization in Kabul, Afghanistan doing qualitative research that 
"translated" focus group and interview recordings this way - someone 
fluent in the language of the recording would listen and write or type 
English equivalents.  The normal procedure in research, of course, is to 
transcribe in the same language, then translate into another language - 
that is what the organization I worked with at the time did. The 
shortcut of skipping the same-language transcription may be rationalized 
on the basis of cost savings or issues relating to the orthography of 
the spoken language.

Reason for asking now is that I'm working on a project proposal 
involving taped interviews in African languages and accompanying 
"transcripts" in English or French. It would be helpful to have a clear 
accepted term for what we have in writing.

I posed the question on LinkedIn and one suggestion, from Dr. David 
Cooper (UIUC), was to use "interepretation-transcription." This is 
satisfactory as a description and I will probably use it unless there is 
an accepted term. Alternatively one could get imaginative with a 
neologism (something like "transcreation").

More broadly, it seems there is at least one other gap in terminology 
for cross-language work. When writing up some analyses of languages in 
the response to Ebola in West Africa, I was reminded how local radio 
announcers in Africa take something printed in En or Fr and speak their 
translation of the text or the gist of it over the air in a local 
language. This is basically the reverse of the situation I described 
above - sort of translation except the output is voiced without being 
first written; sort of interpretation, except the source is written. 
(Otoh, thinking of the artistic sense of "interpretation" that might 
almost be appropriate, but starts to get confusing.)

The localization company Lionbridge offers a clear set of five 
differences between interpretation and translation.* On balance at 
situations I described might be called translation, because it is not in 
real time like interpretation. However, there is a sixth difference that 
they omitted, and that is the ability to verify. Translation in text can 
readily be reviewed, vetted, revised, whereas once spoken word is 
involved, such review is difficult, impractical, or (in the case of 
unrecorded broadcasts) impossible. So translation doesn't seem to fit 

This may seem to some like nit-picking, but given the growing importance 
of cross-language work in various fields I would contend that clarity on 
terminology for types of transformations between languages is important.

Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Don Osborn

* Ref.: 

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