Saturday, May 7, 2011

why do people insist on using 'translator' when they mean 'interpreter'?


Interpretation is oral, translation is written. I must have said this one sentence out loud over a thousand times by now. My friends and family are sick of hearing it, but still get it wrong. Sign language interpreters never get called translators - why do we? I had great hopes that after the mainstream movie 'The Interpreter' came out (see it if you haven't!) people would be more likely to get this right. Ha.

I think people are reluctant to use the term ‘interpreter’ due to a common conflation of two different denotations of the term interpret (1: oral rendition from one language to another and 2: analysis of the meaning of a text). Again and again people have told me that they believe interpreters change the meaning and translators go word to word. Argh!!

It is true that untrained interpreters are more likely to change the meaning of what is spoken in the source language, simply because they do not have the skills and ethics training to avoid this while trying to keep up with fast speech. Untrained interpreters are also much more likely to mis-name themselves 'translators' - so actually, if someone calls themselves a 'translator' when they're actually talking about interpreting, I take it as a bad sign that they are likely to distort meaning when they interpret.

If just repeating interpretation is oral and translation is written over and over again does not get through to folks, what is a more effective and catchy educational one liner? Any suggestions?
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