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”

“Stride la Vampa” from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano. Aligned source and target text here.

Synopsis: In the mountains of Vizcaya, a band of gypsies are gathered round a large fire. Azucena broods over the fire. She sings a ballad of a pitiful woman being dragged by a howling mob toward the flames. As the others depart, Manrico, who has been lying at her side, asks her to tell her the story that inspired such a sad song.

She tells him how her mother was accused by a haughty Count of having bewitched his young son; how she was brought in chains to meet her doom at this very spot; how she herself followed, her own baby in her arms, weeping; how her mother tried to stop and bless her, but was viciously thrust upon the stake. Her mother’s last words, in her death agony, were “Avenge me!” Those words have ever since echoed in her heart.

Manrico asks if she was avenged. Azucena replies that she abducted the Count’s son and brought him here, where the fire still burned. The baby cried piteously; her maternal feelings broke her heart; suddenly a horrible vision appeared: the killers; the torture; her mother crying out “Avenge me!” Blindly she siezed the victim in her trembling hand and thrust it on the fire. In an instant the vision was gone. Only the raging flames remained, consuming their prey; and there beside her was the son of the wicked Count. It was her own son she had cast into the fire! (from

“Stride la Vampa” from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi

Translation by omission

Omission means dropping a word or words from the SLT while translating. This procedure can be the outcome of the cultural clashes that exist between the SL and the TL. In fact, it is in subtitling translations where omission attains its peak in use. The translator omits words that do not have equivalents in the TT, or that may raise the hostility of the receptor. For example, Arab translators usually omit English taboo words such as ‘fuck off’ and ‘shit’, while translating films into Arabic, just for the sake of respecting the Arab receptors, who may not tolerate the use of these words because of their culture. The process is also resorted to when translating from Moroccan Arabic into English:

SL: /3annaq SaHbo wmšaw bžuž lyid flyid/.

TL: He held his boy friend tightly and went together.

Here, we notice that the translator omits the Arabic words /lyid flyid/, ‘hand in hand’, since this act may mislead English receptors into believing that the “boy-friends” are homosexuals.

(From Translation Procedures, by Marouane Zakhir, University of Soultan Moulay Slimane, Morocco)

Similar Comparative Stylistics of French and Englishprocedures, with slightly different names,  are very clearly illustrated in the Comparative Stylistics of French and English, by Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet.

This book was first published in 1958, so some scholars may dismiss it as outdated. Far from it! The incredible language insight of its two authors and the thriving bilingual context (Canada) within which their theories were developed, have made it  an all-time classic, a must-have on any translator’s bookshelf.

Translation by omission

Philosophy and Translation

Abc’s Philosopher’s zone has broadcast two very interesting podcasts on philosophy and translation. Incidentally, one of the two (Gavagai) touches also on sexism and gender neutrality (passing through Foucault and Derrida), a topic dealt with just the other day on this same blog (see Linguistic Sexism in the Italian Language).

1. Gavagai

2. Philosophy in another tongue

Philosophy and Translation

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