Make love when you interpret not war

Simultaneous interpreting is generally considered to be a very difficult task that involves a number of complex efforts. According to Daniel Gile’s suggestive  tightrope model, simultaneous interpreting is made up of three different concurrent efforts:

  1. a listening and analysis effort
  2. a production effort and
  3. a short-term memory effort.

Although models such as this one are very precious to describe what happens “behind the scenes” in the so-called black box (the interpreter’s mind), it is perhaps best to approach the interpreting process as though it did not involve any special effort at all.

The frame of mind required to produce a good working interpretation is such that it actually has to come by as a simple and spontaneous event. In the end simultaneous interpreting is only as hard as one makes it. L1 and L2 should not be viewed as ferocious opponents, but as precious allies that peacefully and placidly work together.

P.S. A word of advice to those interpreters who are moving their first steps in this very competitive business: be wary of those seemingly “nice” new colleagues who offer to share their 20-page glossary of abstruse lingo just a few minutes into the start of the conference.

Note down only those few words that are truly essential, relax, allow your mind to be as blank as possible, focus only on the message and on the speaker…. and “voila'” the magic is done.

Make love when you interpret not war

Use and misuse of referencing in the academia

It goes without saying that academic referencing is paramount in helping a reader identify important resources that would otherwise remain unexplored. Yet it may sometimes be employed deceitfully to substantiate weak or irrelevant points and perhaps show deference to some specific milieus, often the ones to which the author belongs.

The interesting article linked below focuses on the interpreting field, although it probably could be extended to others.

Use and misuse of literature in interpreting research

Use and misuse of referencing in the academia

Cicero’s “Loci” mnemonic system in consecutive interpreting

Mnemonic systems such as the one developed by Cicero centuries ago would come in very handy to consecutive interpreters when traditional note-taking is not feasible. In interpreting  for the media, for example, spontaneity is appreciated and scribbling is generally considered inappropriate.

One of the oldest mnemonic systems is the method of loci [LOW-sye]. A “locus” is a location, “loci” is the plural. The Method of Loci uses locations of a familiar place (imagined in memory) as a framework for memory retrieval.

To use the method of loci, you associate items you wish to remember later with locations of a familiar room, building, or street. Then, to retrieve the information, you mentally “stroll down memory lane” and visualize the same locations. If the method works, the information you stored in various locations will come back with the memory of the location. To be effective, one must usually visualize an object “doing something” or interacting in some way with the objects at a particular location.

The method of loci is ancient. Cicero, the Roman orator, recommended it. Lecturers in his day were not allowed to use lecture notes, so memorization techniques were valued.

Cicero told a traditional story about how the method of loci was discovered. A Greek poet named Simonides was entertaining a group of wealthy noblemen at a banquet. Suddenly a pair of mysterious figures called him outside. They turned out to be messengers from the Olympian gods Castor and Pollux, praised by Simonides in his poem. As soon as Simonides stepped outside, the roof of the banquet hall collapsed, squashing everybody inside. The mangled corpses could not be identified until Simonides stepped forward, pointed to the place where each victim had been sitting, and said each name in turn.

How did Simonides accomplish this feat? He mentally recreated the scene of the banquet, visualizing each reveler in his place. When he saw the places, it helped him remember the person who had been sitting there.

(From Psychology: An Introduction by Russell A. Dewey)

A more modern approach would involve the use of a digital voice recorder, as already discussed in this same Blog and previously in some SCIC Newsletters (see Simultaneous/Consecutive Mode).

Cicero’s “Loci” mnemonic system in consecutive interpreting

The secret behind simultaneous interpreting: segmentation of the source message

An optimal segmentation of the source message is by far a simultaneous interpreter’s most important resource to avert the risk of falling behind a fast speaker, of missing some important  information or overloading short term memory.

While this may not come as a novelty, few interpreters will be aware that they can learn to master this technique through an apparently unrelated discipline: subtitling.

Here is a brief excerpt from a very informative article that I recently came across in the Translation Journal.

“Segmentation at the highest nodes: Subtitled text should appear segmented at the highest syntactic nodes possible. This means that each subtitle flash should ideally contain one complete sentence. In cases where the sentence cannot fit in a single-line subtitle and has to continue over a second line or even over a new subtitle flash, the segmentation on each of the lines should be arranged to coincide with the highest syntactic node possible.

For example, before we segment the phrase:

  • “The destruction of the city was inevitable.” (44 characters),

we first have to think of its syntactic tree as follows:

A segmentation on the fifth node (N5) would create the two-line subtitle

  • “The destruction of the
  • city was inevitable.”

A segmentation on the second node (N2) would create the two-line subtitle

  • “The destruction of the city
  • was inevitable.”

Out of the two segmentations, it is the second that flows as more readable. This occurs because the higher the node, the greater the grouping of the semantic load and the more complete the piece of information presented to the brain. When we segment a sentence, we force the brain to pause its linguistic processing for a while, until the eyes trace the next piece of linguistic information. In cases where segmentation is inevitable, therefore, we should try to force this pause on the brain at a point where the semantic load has already managed to convey a satisfactorily complete piece of information.” (From A Proposed Set of Subtitling Standards in Europe, by Fotios Karamitroglou)

The secret behind simultaneous interpreting: segmentation of the source message

Breathing life into a “dead language”

A very interesting post that opens with a (dissenting) opinion of two U.S. Court of Appeal’s Judges, attempts to go beyond the dictionary definition of what a Dead Language is by asking its participants: is Latin a Dead Language?

Here is an amusing article by the BBC that reports on the publication of the latest edition of the Vatican’s Latin dictionary called Lexicon Recentis Latinitas (Recent Latin Lexicon), an abridged Italian-Latin version being available online. You will find it interesting to learn that the FBI is the “officium foederatum vestigatorium” and that the video-phone is called “telephonium albo televisifico coniunctum”.

And finally here is a quote from Wikipedia that makes a distinction between Extinct Languages and Dead Languages:

By contrast to an extinct language which no longer has any speakers, a dead language may remain in use for scientific, legal, or ecclesiastical functions. Old Church Slavonic, Avestan, Coptic, Old Tibetan, Ge’ez and Latin are among the many dead languages used as sacred languages. (Wikipedia)

Breathing life into a “dead language”

Linguistic Sexism in the Italian Language

The issue of sexism in language has been dealt extensively in English and in many other languages, yet very little has changed as far as Italian is concerned. Here is an interesting paper that talks about the linguistic sexism in the Italian language which builds on a previous study by Alma Sabatini entitled “Recommendations for a non sexist use of the Italian language“, submitted to the Italian Government and to the Commission for Equal Opportunities back in 1987.

A brief excerpt from the Recommendations follows:

(…) The choice of one word instead of another entails a modification in the thought and in the attitude of those who pronounce it and hear it. Words are a materialization, a full fledged action. Their semantic value is linked to the linguistic and extralinguistic context in a dynamic relationship, such that it becomes important to promote the use of alternative words or modify some aspects of language not as a simple lip service, but to give rise to more profound changes in the attitude taken in relation to women.

Despite the fact that  language is an ever-changing dynamic structure, most people are conservative and wary – if not even afraid – of linguistic changes. They are offended because they feel such changes may impinge on their habits or because they view them as violent and “against nature”.

(from “Il sessismo nella lingua italiana” by Alma Sabatini, translated by Alessio Iacovoni)

Another interesting research paper by Giulio Lepschy, that discusses the Recommendations, was published just a couple of years after the study by Alma Sabatini with the title Lingua e sessismo (Language and Sexism).

For a less accademic Egalia's Daughtersapproach to the study of the linguistic impact of language on sexism you may consider reading the very amusing book “The Daughters of Egalia” by Gerd Brantenberg that uses the instrument of satire to reverse the roles and the language of males and females.

Synopsis from the publisher: In the land of Egalia, the rules of society are different. Here, it is the wim who wield the power, control the government and the economy… while the menwim stay at home, minding the children and curling their beard bows. Everyone knows that menwim are inferior to wim–it’s the way of nature.

But something is stirring in Egalia. The menwim are organizing to challenge the social structure and are calling themselves masculinists. They are demanding some answers to outrageous questions: Why must menwim grow up to be housebounds? Why should wim be the ones who can run off to sea and hold jobs, while the menwim must stay at home with no say in things at all? Why must menwim wear pehoes when wim get to wear what they want? And why is it that menwim should wish for nothing more than fatherhood-protection with a strong wom? Who says that a manwom is nothing without his protective wom? Menwim have rights too!

The masculist movement has Egalia in an uproar. When will all this menwim’s lib nonsense stop? Where will all these ridiculous notions lead?

Linguistic Sexism in the Italian Language

The Complete Plain Words: simple versus complex

Golden rule: Simple is better than complex.

If you have an interesting message to deliver there is no need to make it sound any more complex than it actually is.

Why do so many writers prefer pudder to simplicity? Officials are far from being the only offenders. It seems to be a morbid condition contracted in early manhood. Children show no signs of it. Here, for example, is the response of a child of ten to an invitation to write an essay on a bird and a beast:

«The bird that I am going to write about is the owl. The owl cannot see at all by day and at night is as blind as a bat. I do not know much about the owl, so I will go on to the beast which I am going to choose. It is the cow. The cow is a mammal. It has six sides—right, left, an upper and below. At the back it has a tail on which hangs a brush. With this it sends the flies away so that they do not fall into the milk. The head is for the purpose of growing horns and so that the mouth can be somewhere. The horns are to butt with, and the mouth is to moo with. Under the cow hangs the milk. It is arranged for milking. When people milk, the milk comes and there is never an end to the supply. How the cow does it I have not yet realised, but it makes more and more. The cow has a fine sense of smell; one can smell it far away. This is the reason for the fresh air in the country. The man cow is called an ox. It is not a mammal. The cow does not eat much, but what it eats it eats twice, so that it gets enough. When it is hungry it moos, and when it says nothing it is because its inside is all full up with grass.»

The writer had something to say and said it as clearly as he could, and so has unconsciously achieved style. But why do we write, when we are ten, “so that the mouth can be somewhere” and perhaps when we are thirty “in order to ensure that the mouth may be appropriately positioned environmentally”? [From “The Complete Plain Words“, Sir Ernest Gowers]

For some strange reason this passage reminds me of “The Catcher in the Rye”. What an interesting remark: “if you have something to say, style is achieved unconsciously“.

The Complete Plain Words: simple versus complex

The Complete Plain Words: wordiness

Golden rule: less is better than more.

Here are two versions of a letter sent in reply to a telephone line request. The first version is the original, the second is the one revised by Sir Ernest Gowers.

Version A. I regret however that (1) the Survey Officer who is responsible for the preliminary investigation as to the technical possibility of installing a telephone at the address quoted by the applicant has reported that (2) owing to a shortage of spare wires to the underground cable (a pair of wires leading from the point near your house right back to the local exchange and thus a pair of wires essential for the provision of telephone service for you) is lacking and that therefore (3) it is a technical impossibility to install a telephone for you.

Version B. I am sorry to tell you that (1) we have found (2) that there is no spare pair of wires on the cable that we would have used to connect your house with the exchange. I regret therefore that (3) it is impossible to install a telephone for you. [From “The Complete Plain Words“, Sir Ernest Gowers]

At first glance, it may appear that no one in his mind would ever express himself as in Version A, except perhaps the government officials to whom Gowers’ book was addressed back in 1954.

However, Version A is not as far-fetched as it may seem. It is very close to the way in which many native Italians speak and write, notably politicians, poor lecturers, and would-be professors.

Let us have a look at how the two versions differ.

  1. Version B (1) has replaced the “Survey Officer”  with a more generic “we have found”. This is correct, as it is absolutely irrelevant for the person requesting the telephone line to know who is actually in charge of carrying out the investigation.
  2. It has also removed a piece of information that is most certainly already present in the letter’s subject line and thus is redundant: “as to the technical possibility of installing a telephone at the address quoted by the applicant”.
  3. Furthermore, Version B has replaced the tedious explanation in (2) with a more succinct one that does away with the cumbersome brackets. Once again, the abridged version is much clearer.
  4. In (3) “technical impossibility” was replaced with “it is impossible to”. We can only speculate on why they used “technical impossibility” in the first place, maybe to suggest that they *did* put some effort in trying to get the job done but that for (technical) reasons beyond their control they were unable to.

The example above is especially instructive for a simultaneous interpreter since it elaborates on the apparently trivial ability of “taking away” that proves invaluable in keeping up with a fast paced speaker while producing coherent, accurate and meaningful sentences.

Here is just one other example, a classic of interpreting taken from the proceedings of a UN conference (Chernov 1994, 146):

Chairman: “And now I give the floor to the distinguished representative of the Republic of Tanzania”

Translated by the interpreter with: “Tanzania”

This example shows just how important context is in eliminating redundancies:

  1. I” – is implied, since the floor is usually given by the chairman
  2. now” – is implied, since the speech is taking place in that moment
  3. give the floor” – is standard conference terminology
  4. to the distinguished” – is just a formal embellishment
  5. representative” – is implied, since all participants at that meeting were representing their countries
  6. of the republic of” – can be omitted as it applies to all countries, with the exception of perhaps a handful of kingdoms.
The Complete Plain Words: wordiness