Review: Word of Mouth – Interpreting
Today I listened to a recent episode of Word of Mouth, a radio series all about language, presented by Michael Rosen. I mentioned this programme the other day, promising to write about the “Chugger Chat” episode. I will get round to that eventually (probably publishing on a Tuesday). This post, however, is about the “Interpreting” episode, which is available online here.
Having been brought up bilingually, I have often found myself translating speech between friends who speak different combinations of languages. However, this form of translation is fundamentally different from true interpreting. The difference between these two concepts, it seems to me, has to do with simultaneity: interpreting is more immediate, whereas translation allows time for more thought to occur.
In the programme, it was fascinating to hear about the issues faced by interpreters in their jobs. Particularly in the public sector, the conversations being held can be quite difficult to deal with emotionally. For example, telling someone they only have a short while to live, or assisting with police interviews or court hearings. On the other hand, private sector interpreters sometimes get more “fun” work, such as press conferences at football games, although this can also involve a degree of pressure deriving from the world of journalism.
I was especially captivated by certain quirks of languages that were highlighted. Often, certain concepts can resist translation. For example, in Lithuanian, the word for “hand” describes what in English we would call the entire arm, including the shoulder. This can cause confusing when saying, for instance, “he grabbed me by the hand”. More trivially, I wonder whether this has any effect on what Lithuanians consider to be a “hand-ball” offence in a game of football.*
It was also intriguing to hear that there is no word for “bigot” in Russian. At least, not one meant as an insult.
I really enjoyed the show, which covered a variety of issues and offered real insight into the world of interpreting, which – despite being a linguist – I knew very little about.
*That might not be the case here, but I am convinced these kinds of linguistic/metaphor issues are key to how people perceive the world.