Sunday, December 18, 2016

Is Louise doing translation or interpretation?

Amazingly there is a mainstream movie out where a woman academic saves the day with her language skills! I can't recommend it enough. But what exactly is Louise Banks doing in the movie Arrival (trailer below)? Translation? Interpretation? Neither exactly ...

Translation renders a written source text into a written version in the target language.

Interpretation renders from an oral source to oral target.

If you have a written source text and read it out loud, that is to say, you render it orally into the target language, we call that a sight translation.

If you have a transcript of a conversation in the source language, and you render it into a written version in the target language, we call that transcriptlation.

Most of the time what Louise seems to be doing in the movie is transcriptlation - but towards the end she seems to learn the alien's language well enough to do some sight translation.

You don't need to know these later two terms really, but if you want to be taken seriously as a language professional, or even just as someone who uses language services well, it is essential that you at least use the terms translation and interpretation properly. Yes, I know they are widely misused - but that is no reason for you to misuse them.

I have posted here before on how and why I ask social movements to get these terms right. Basically, they are different skills. You could be a good translator and a horrible interpreter. I personally will doubt your interpreting skills if you tell me you are a translator when you mean interpreter!