[lg policy] Don ’t get lost in translation
dave.sayers at CANTAB.NET
Mon Aug 16 15:51:37 UTC 2010
An opinion(ated) piece on the Institute of Welsh Affairs blog:
Judith Kaufman describes some subtleties we should look out for when
interpreting Welsh into English
Recent developments in the law courts show that simultaneous
interpreting has been accepted as a central part of language policies in
Wales. New court centres like the one in Caernarfon have
state-of-the-art interpreting booths and equipment incorporated in their
chambers. The ongoing consultation on bilingual juries in criminal court
cases is also a sign that the use of Welsh in trials is being taken
seriously, and that interpreting is a resource people should be able to
rely on. Nonetheless it is a resource that should only be used when no
better ways of conducting a trial in Welsh are available.
These developments bring us a step closer to recognising an important
part of the identity of Welsh speakers. But if we want to get even
closer to our ideal of Welsh and English being treated equally we might
have to accept that English needs to be de-normalised in some
situations. Interpreting can play a role in doing this which means that
those who happen not to be able to speak and understand Welsh are not
A number of linguistic norms become obvious in meetings where the
services of an interpreter are sought. People tend to speak more Welsh
when the Chair of the meeting does as well. People tend to ask their
questions and discuss a presentation or contribution in the language the
contribution or presentation was made in. And the smaller and the more
personal and familiar a meeting, the likelier it is that people address
English speakers in English in order not to lose direct communication
with each other.
Interpreting can be an opportunity to question those norms.
International studies of translation and interpreting internationally
have examined how dominant languages and cultures assimilate lesser-used
languages (or languages considered to be subordinate) into their own
ideological principles. They have also shown that translation and
interpreting can be a focus for resisting such ideologies.
It is an interesting question how interpreting could make a stronger
case for the use of Welsh. No-one should be afraid of losing out here.
At its best interpreting is an inclusive activity. By establishing new
norms for Welsh in a number of social contexts, this is about improving
the participation of Welsh speakers rather than reducing the input of
Interpreting (and translation) needs to be looked at from the point of
view of democracy and ownership, not only in terms of financial cost. If
the suggestion to stop translating the Assembly’s /Record of
Proceedings/ last summer was acceptable to some, this shows that the
close involvement of translation in improving a democratic society has
not yet been understood.
For interpreting to be successful in that respect, it is not enough to
have accomplished interpreters in all the meetings where potentially
someone might be speaking Welsh. We need to make sure that people who
can speak Welsh will do so. With the symbolic value attached to the
National Assembly, that is the first place where Welsh speakers should
be expected to use the language, as a sign of their vision for a
bilingual Wales. Organisers and Chairs must be made aware of the
requirements of interpreters in terms of preparation and room layout for
instance. But even more important than that, they need to be aware of
their own role in making meetings more bilingual.
The best encouragement to speak Welsh in a meeting is a Chair who speaks
Welsh as much as possible, thus indicating that an interpreter is
trustworthy, that bilingual meetings are nothing to be scared of and
that Welsh is a language of communication for business and politics.
However, to give this message more effect guest speakers and persons
holding a role within the group should be encouraged to speak Welsh.
This is not always easy. Many Welsh speakers feel it to be a matter of
courtesy to ask questions and discuss a point in the language in which
that point was made (of course, monolinguals do not have to think about
courtesy). If more speakers spoke Welsh, it would then be regarded as
polite to respond to them in Welsh.
The relative formality or informality of a meeting might be an indicator
of how much Welsh will be spoken. It is generally assumed that
interpreting works better in relatively formal meetings, where
interchange is not too much disturbed by translation. Such meetings, it
is assumed, allow forms of discussion where repetition, rephrasing and
generally informal speech are not seen as an obstacles to the flow of
On the other hand, it can be argued that the more formal a meeting the
more difficult it is to rely on the interpreter. When every word had to
be weighed and every sentence put together carefully, an interpreter can
constitute an additional layer between one speaker and another that
inhibits frank discussion. Community meetings, on the other hand,
This viewpoints stress the importance of the overall atmosphere in a
group. The atmosphere of a discussion can be influenced by the use of
Welsh/bilingual documentation, but more even by people’s habit of using
Welsh in other contexts. In meetings where people know each other in
Welsh; they will find it easier to continue talking in Welsh in a
meeting, even if there are English speakers present. On the other hand,
in work-related meetings where Welsh speakers have got used to
discussing their work in English, then English will tend to be part of
their work-related comfort zones (and of their identities relating to
their position at work). Speaking Welsh in a work meeting will be much
more of an effort for them, especially if their close colleagues are in
the meeting too.
Of course, these are not conscious mental processes. The confidence to
speak Welsh publicly is not only a question of fluency in different
registers of the language or familiarity with the appropriate
terminology. Much more than that, it is a matter of the relationships we
form with others when the language we speak is an essential component.
Talking of ‘language choice’ does not seem to take into account of the
way that relationships grow and develop. In some cases choosing to speak
Welsh might profoundly disturb a relationship. Even the thought of
having to choose a language each time we communicate can bring a lot of
pressure to bear on all but the most assertive Welsh speakers.
It is evident, therefore, that simultaneous translation is about more
than ‘merely’ transporting meaning from one language to the other. It is
a crossroads where the two cultures of Wales come into direct contact
with each other, and where her people are reminded of the fact that
language and identity form a close relationship. This relationship is
not necessarily one-to-one. We all behave and speak differently
according to the different contexts of our lives.
With the language policies of recent decades it has become possible and
desirable to give more room to the Welsh-speaking part of our
identities, and this is why more meetings are held with the use of an
interpreter. It is more democratic to allow Welsh speakers to express
themselves in Welsh. But this is only one side of the coin! In Welsh
areas the interpreting services are provided not to give a majority of
Welsh speakers the right to speak Welsh, but to give those without
fluency in Welsh the opportunity to take part in meetings and events.
Every area’s linguistic reality is different. Interpretation not only
makes people aware of this reality, but it is also a means of coming to
terms with it.
Translators’ and interpreters’ experiences must be taken on board in
designing language policies. For centuries they have been specialists
involved not only in the creation of standard forms of languages and of
new terminology, but also in observing relationships between people and
cultures. By the nature of their job they have a wealth of social and
intercultural insights. Yet too often, translation is a bone of
contention within language policies, and its cost is often seen as a
safe argument for dismissing it as an undesirable side-effect of
When people argue that translation should be cut in favour of spending
on stronger second language teaching, they do not realise that without
translation and interpreting, professionals would find it difficult to
get used to new terminology, to writing in Welsh (because translators
are also often proofreaders and correctors), and to develop the use of
different registers in the language. We need to make sure that the new
strategy for a bilingual Wales takes the translating and interpreting
Judith Kaufmann works at Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru (the Association
of Welsh Translators and Interpreters) in Bangor.
Dr. Dave Sayers
Honorary Research Fellow
School of the Environment and Society
dave.sayers at cantab.net
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
-------------- next part --------------
This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list
More information about the Lgpolicy-list