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?


  1. The question is, is morality negotiable? It depends on your beliefs and how much you care.

    1. You are right, Alice. It is a matter of individualistic choice.

      To me, it is nonnegotiable.

  2. You have well pointed out a dilemma that an interpreter is likely to face. There is, however, a question: How many people are there who prefer morality to material gains??? Very, very few... I think you would agree with me that, giving up personal moral preferences, is now largely considered to be a sign, and a requirement, of professionalism. In this world of sheer professionalism, there are only a handful who think with such level of sensitivity:(

  3. [16:27:11] Ali. Traduttrice EN/FR>IT: I think that we can't consider morality over material gain, they are not two entities contradicting each other. The task of an interpreter is transposing a sentence in another language without filtering or modifying it according to his/her opinion on the matter. I agree. But if it someway means to become a tool, it doesn't imply for you to become a machine as well: being human means also be potentially able to refuse a particular task if it doesn't suit your own beliefs and/or if you think there's something wrong with it. I think professionalism goes hand in hand with self-respect and integrity.

  4. "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!" Hm, I think there are other important things are stake here, if you're an interpreter. I guess you don't necessarily throw the world into ruin, but you can throw somebodys' world into ruin by conducting an inappropriate interpretation. I believe that, just like doctors (of course I'm not trying to compare linguists with doctors) we have the ethical obligation to do what were are meant to do: Interpret/Translate, and not become somebody's lawyer..Someone is already there to do the job. We represent words and not parties when it comes to legal interpreting. Then again, its a personal matter.

  5. Thorough knowledge of legal matters and procedures is a prerequisite for legal interpreters who serve the people in court. It is pivotal for a legal interpreter to be specialized in the field and be aware of the common mistakes that are usually made in court in order to avoid those. It is advisable to refer to a professional and renowned agency when it comes to hiring a professional translator/interpreter, as they can assure a professional as well as qualified court interpreter, who will fit your requirements as well as take care of the relevant logistics. Interpreting services provided by recognized translation services can secure a fluent, professional, accurate and error-free interpretation of the statements expressed before the law.