The Debate Over Understanding

Lately there has been a lot of debate over translating Shakespeare’s work from his style of English to contemporary English. The contention is that Shakespeare doesn’t need interpreting. Isn’t the first canon of any interpreter to accurately render the message from one language to another without adding omitting or changing any of the content of the message? Which begs the question: What exactly is interpreting? What remains true for all interpreters is that when speaking for another person, we speak in first person. We essentially experience what the person for whom we are interpreting is describing. In a way, it makes the two worlds, acting and interpreting, very similar. An actor interprets, in first person, the words of a character, created by a playwright, but the actor adds his or her own bit of personal story to it. And don’t we do that as interpreters? Of course we remain professional and we maintain ethical boundaries, but a part of us feels the story we are telling.
So what is the debate really about? And how does it relate to what we do? It comes down to a matter of universal versus personal circumstances. In each industry, actors and interpreters are called upon to properly portray the meaning, purpose and intent of the person or character. Acting will never mean the difference between life and death, but all the same, one word changes the context of an entire paragraph. One word changes the context of an entire line of thought and can mean the difference between sick/healthy, or imprisoned/free!
So looking forward, will you be interpreting for an expert witness? What if you’re in the emergency room interpreting? Political negotiations? End of life discussions? Have you considered all complications you may encounter? How can we, as interpreters, ensure that we are telling the proper story? It starts with education, and continuing that education as the times change. What can you do this weekend to ensure you are accurately bringing understanding, skills and training to everything you do? Let us know what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how others can do it too! Post your comments on our LinkedIn and Facebook pages!
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