By Marsel de Souza
In my view one of the greatest reasons we have to celebrate International Translation Day this year is because of the sheer diversity of our trade. It would possibly be enough to say that interpreters and translators operate from every corner of the planet, work in dozens of language combinations and serve every industry in the world, but this would only be part of the story.
The Interpreters Division of ATA conducted a comprehensive survey of the interpreting profession by polling our membership earlier this year. Aspects related to other sectors within the translation/language industry were also covered and the findings uncovered that our talents are incredibly diversified. In addition to being interpreters and translators, the survey revealed that many of us work as editors, proofreaders, desktop publishers, dubbers, subtitlers, interpreter/translator trainers, etc., and this is by all means not an exhaustive list!
Also, the survey revealed that our members work in the following settings: Judiciary, Medical, Conference, Diplomatic, Community, Liaison/Escort, Law Enforcement, Media, Business, Military, Conflict Zones, Labor Relations, Disaster Relief and the Humanitarian Sector. Further, as many as 72 different answers were provided under “Other.” This sends the clear message that our profession is expanding and new niche markets continue to develop.
The ever-increasing myriad of language related events, of which the ATA Annual Conference is a prime example, also provide rich environments that cater to very specific needs and interests of both the academic and non‑academic communities alike, ranging from terminology to technology. In fact, technology has been playing an increasingly larger role in our profession given the staggering breakthroughs in telecommunications and its implications for remote interpreting and other applications, We have not yet fully appreciated the impact that emerging technologies are having on the way we deliver our services and do business with our clients.
Seventy years ago interpreters in the momentous Nuremberg Trials were using heavy and clunky prototypes of the high-tech headsets now used by modern-day conference interpreters. Telephone interpreting was a novelty in the early 1980s, and the buzzword now is webcast interpreting, an emerging mode of simultaneous interpreting that provides interpreters with a wealth of audio and visual resources.
However, the flip side to all this diversity and evolution (and one that is not so positive and bright) is, as our Division Administrator Carol Velandia aptly wrote in her “Legacy, a Prelude of the Future” inaugural article last week, that our profession is to a large extent still fractured.
Some segments of our profession have achieved meaningful recognition over the years. Take, for example, conference interpreters, who benefit from working conditions defined over decades by organizations such as the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards that define the detailed design of booths for simultaneous interpretation that cover aspects such as size, acoustics, ventilation, and lighting. All of these are intended to provide adequate working conditions that enable interpreters “to sustain the intense effort of concentration required throughout the day’s work,”, as the ISO standard describes it.
In sharp contrast with this are the working conditions of interpreters in conflict zones. Whether we consider Darfur, Baghdad, Kabul, Beirut, Gaza, Kosovo, or Serbia, the interpreters working in these areas have little or no physical, psychological or legal protection of any sort, despite all the efforts made by a number of advocacy organizations. It is hard to build an accurate profile of these interpreters since the vast majority of them do not have any formal professional training as interpreters and their experience is limited to war-stricken areas. Many of them, however, are well-educated and have to turn to interpreting in order to make a living and support their families. Recent efforts by a coalition of language organizations include a conflict zone field guide for translators/interpreters and for users of translation/interpreting services and an open letter to Pope Francis urging him to support translators and interpreters being granted special status much like journalists. The UN has been asked to endorse a resolution for the protection of civilian translators/interpreters in conflict situations.
An even more serious aspect of the problem is that these interpreters are labeled as traitors or collaborators and their families are often a target of retribution. This is a pressing issue and efforts must be stepped up to change this state of affairs. The situation of interpreters in conflict areas is serious enough in its own right – hundreds, maybe thousands, of them have been persecuted and killed. This disconnect between interpreters who work in safe environments and those who operate with no safeguards of any kind must be addressed.
On this year’s International Translation Day, while we celebrate our diversity and achievements let us not forget that we still have a long way to go in bringing our colleagues who interpret in a professional limbo into our community. The future is and should be bright for all of us. We will address each of the topics discussed above in more detail in future articles and we look forward to hearing your feedback. Happy International Translation Day!