Friday, October 19, 2012

Can An Interpreter Be Honest?

What is the purpose of an interpreter? Quite simply to convert what is being said from one language into another. If the source lies, so must the interpreter. The duty of an interpreter is to make the finished product exactly the same.

There are several fields in which lying is tantamount to success. The exception with interpreters is that they're technically not lying. They are interpreting lies and neutrality is key to an interpreter's work.

Can an interpreter go rogue or become a linguistic vigilante and start interpreting things from bullshit to truth...? They could, although there are two moral scales running parallel to each other here.

Scales, geddit?

The linguistic morality:

Their duty as an interpreter means that they must provide the most accurate interpretation of what is being said. Not what is true. If they do not convey what is being said in the way that it is being said then they are not interpreting.

They are not there to pass judgement or put the world to rights. They are there to make sure Person A knows exactly what has been said by Person B.

The "real" morality:

Is it possible to interpret with true neutrality? It's a prickly situation. Could you stand up in court and repeat the lies of a known murderer into the target language without affecting you at all? Could you sit in a board room knowing you're facilitating a hostile business takeover that will put thousands out of work? It's not easy.

Perhaps not this prickly.

Is there a solution? Probably not. There will always be people who require the services of interpreters and it's the nature of the job. If you are an interpreter, at least you can take solace in the fact that you're not a banker who has thrown the world into ruin!

An interpreter can refuse work. Given the current economic situation could you afford to do that?