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Friday, October 1, 2010

Interpretation Versus Translation

Many people use the terms "interpretation" and "translation" interchangeably. I suspect I did once. I know better now.

A person who owns a business employing translators and interpreters in another country set me straight. This person and the employees have interpreted for such luminaries as Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger and many others. Interpretation is done orally. Translation is done in writing or other formats. Think of interpretation as oral translation.

So, in the course of this person's business the question often has to be asked, "Do you need an translator or an interpreter?" Probing often occurs to truly deduce the need. This business owners explained that when someone "interprets" the emotion of the speaker must be conveyed as well as the meaning of the words. For this reason, interpreters must pay close attention to what they are interpreting.

Recall that Joseph Smith "translated" the plates. He did not serve as "interpreter."

The Church Newsroom issued the recent story, "Church Draws Upon Diverse Membership to Interpret General Conference." This same story was issues by KCSG television in Southern Utah only it is entitled, "LDS Church Draws Upon Diverse Membership to Translate General Conference."

Presumably, this news outlet committed this error out of ignorance. Unfortunately, it completely changed the meaning. The KCSG article also injected an error into the content when it changed Brad Lindsey's job title to "manager of translation services" for the Church instead of "manager of interpretation services." Later in the article, Jeff Bateson is identified as "manager of translation services." Why didn't someone at KCSG question this?

The KCSG article lists Michael Purdy as a Contributor. I hope he did something other than write the inaccurate headline and inject the one error into the content. Other than those two differences the articles are identical.


[Note: I alerted KCSG to these inaccuracies. They have now been corrected (10/03/10)]

The Church's Newsroom article uses interpretation and translation correctly. Once you know the precise definitions of the terms then you can evaluate the content accurately. See these quotes:

In addition to language proficiency, effective interpretation includes transmitting the emotion and intent of the speaker standing at the pulpit. “What we are translating is not our own message,” Lindsay said. “The message comes from the speakers, so we try to find people that can share that message effectively.”
At trainings, interpreters are given tips to help them navigate the nuances of language and are encouraged to tune in to the emotion coming from the pulpit when they interpret.
“We train our interpreters to follow the emotions of the speaker,” Lindsay said. 
The Church's 180th Semiannual General Conference begins tomorrow. Many interpreters will be on hand to interpret live. After that, the content of Conference will be translated into many different languages and be available in multiple formats.

Those of us who will listen and watch Conference will undoubtedly interpret it in many different ways in our own minds. The emotion and other non-verbal cues of the speakers will assist us. But, I seriously doubt if many of the interpretations will be identical.

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