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January 3, 2006

"the most heterogenous political entity"

So Dan described the European Parliament while asking me a bit about the research I'm trying to accomplish there. I felt a new level of clarity trying to explain what I'm looking at in the interpreting process, which I wanted to capture here....

First, all language use involves power - most obviously in political negotiations although also in interpersonal interactions. (We had a fun digression regarding couple's communication, grin.) There's a myth that people necessarily communicate better if they're using the same language, however people speaking the same language also miscommunicate and misunderstand each other. (Among some of us rather more frequently than others, frown.)

The job of the interpreter, more than anything else, is to mediate the power. It seems we're not supposed to admit this? Most of the discourse in interpreter talk about interpreting (in my overall experience) involves cultural equivalence, comparable effect, mutual understanding.... rarely (if ever?) does the term "power" come up. Interestingly, Deaf persons often challenge sign language interpreters around the use of power, but this discourse is quite tangled, with Deaf people wanting to use interpreters to weild their own cultural/linguistic/personal power, non-deaf people being generally oblivious to linguistic inequality, and interpreters dancing all over the place trying to find a comfortable position "to be" in the midst of all this.

We didn't get too much into the way I think the act of interpreting relates to democracy, but Dan deduced the general points that linguistic diversity preserves difference, and difference is essential to democracy.

Just as a point of coincidence, Burckhard commented within hours of that conversation (!) with a useful critique of my rhetoric. I know I'll have to find a way of presenting the case such that it doesn't just come across as polemical. At the same time, I do think there is something urgent in understanding the potentials of this historical moment, so perhaps I can be forgiven for letting some of that concern show? :-/

Posted by Steph at January 3, 2006 9:17 PM


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