How is a Telephone Like an Interpreter?
How is a Telephone Like an Interpreter?
By Hailu Gtsadek published in The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, VolumeXIX, No.3
Telephone: enables two or more parties who speak the same language to communicate regardless of the physical distance that exists between the parties.
Interpreter: enables two or more parties who speak different languages to communicate regardless of the linguistic difference that exists between the parties.
We expect the telephone line to transmit everything that we say accurately, completely, and faithfully, without altering the tone and register of our voice. Unfortunately, however, we all have had problems with the telephone when the reception introduces interference or drops some utterances. I have yet to meet someone who enjoys static when it occurs on his or her phone line.
Similarly, the expectation is that an interpreter will transmit everything said accurately, completely, and faithfully without altering the tone and register of the message. Unfortunately, however, we all have witnessed instances when an interpreter introduces prejudice or bias, or provides an incomplete, inaccurate, or unfaithful rendition. I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys an inaccurate, incomplete, or unfaithful interpreter.
In my country of origin, Ethiopia, in 1889 Emperor Menelik introduced the telephone, encountering resistance from the clergy. Not understanding the role of a telephone, the clergy not only resisted the Emperor’s effort but actively campaigned against it by spreading rumors and creating fear among the citizens. Some clergy went so far as to claim that the Emperor was communicating with none other than the devil himself.
Similar resistance can be seen in some Amharic speakers today who are hesitant to use the services of an Amharic interpreter. Over the years I have heard so many stories and have witnessed so many of my people refusing the services of an interpreter that it has made me stop to think: why do they resist? What follows are my best guesses.
- Most Amharic speakers are limited in their English proficiency, but they are the last ones to realize just how limited their English truly is.
- In the past, Amharic speakers were exposed to such mediocre interpretation services (most who claim to be Amharic interpreters are nothing but bilingual speakers who do not understand their role or the interpreter’s code of ethics) that the typical Amharic speaker thinks that he can do a better job explaining his story with his own limited English.
- Modern day Ethiopians equate knowing the English language with knowledge and intelligence. Who does not want to appear knowledgeable and intelligent?
- By the same token, the value attached to the Amharic language is so low that speaking Amharic is equated with appearing uncivilized and unintelligent. Amharic won’t get you across the river, a modern day Amharic speaker will tell by way of explaining that the language is not relevant anymore.
- Most Amharic speakers are extremely concerned about confidentiality.
- Most Amharic speakers are afraid of being judged by members of their own community.
It would be wise for language coordinators to keep these reasons in mind, for extra work may be required to convince Amharic litigants to avail themselves of offered interpreters.[The author is an active NAJIT and ATA member and an Amharic/ English interpreter and translator since 1994. He is also a managing partner with African Translation. (www.africantranslation.com)]
EYE ON THE LAW
April 21, 2010. Arizona’s SB 1070 was signed by Governor
Jan Brewer, to go into effect July 29, enacting the harshest immigration legislation in decades, granting state law enforcement broad detention powers, criminalizing the failure to carry identity documents and forbidding the harboring or concealing of undocumented persons. Controversy followed immediately. Full text of bill: www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/ bills/sb1070s.pdf
June 30, 2010.
The American Bar Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief (http://www.abanet.org/media/nosearch/friendly_house_v_ whiting.pdf ) urging the federal district court in Arizona to bar enforcement of SB1070.
July 6, 2010.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against Arizona’s SB 1070, citing conflict with federal law. See link for all supporting documents: www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/July/10-opa-776.html
July 28, 2010.
One day before SB 1070 was to enter into force, a federal judge granted an injunction barring part of the law from taking effect. Text: http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/28/