Why such negative framing?

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Tensions are inevitably involved with simultaneous interpretation between languages. For instance, interpreters are invested in the management of the communication process so that they can adequately discern and convey interlocutor's meanings. Interlocutors, meanwhile, are concerned with controlling the meanings being conveyed. These themes are evident in the discourse of professional interpreters talking about the challenges of providing simultaneous interpretation, as well as in the discourse of interlocutors talking about using interpretation services. One might presume that simultaneously interpreted communication is most effective when interpreters and interlocutors participate together to create meaningful interaction, yet the respective priorities of interpreters and interlocutors seem to be posed in opposition - as if there is no way to accommodate both sets of role-based needs.

Few opportunities exist for interpreters and interlocutors to hash out the implications of these differing prioritizations. Public opinion about simultaneous interpretation, therefore, is primarily shaped by expressions of frustration about the limits imposed by necessity. This seems particularly to be the case concerning simultaneous interpretation (SI) at the European Parliament. The actual gains and benefits of simultaneous interpretation as a cultural practice are not specified. Instead of naming and emphasizing the deep values embedded in acts of participation in simultaneous interpretation, justifications are presented in expansive rhetoric.

The right of an elected Member [of Parliament] to speak, read and write in his or her language lies at the heart of [the European Union] Parliament's democratic legitimacy(1).

European Union (2001)

Preparing for the Parliament of the Enlarged European Union

Report of the Secretary General, document PE 305.269/ BUR/¯n

adopted by the Bureau on September 3, 2001

in Corbett, Jacobs & Shackleton, p. 38

Such abstract descriptions reduces simultaneous interpretation to the symbolic representation of lofty ideals (specifically democracy, legitimacy, transparency and efficiency (2)) that have little bearing on the nitty-gritty day-to-day workings of politics and nothing, unfortunately, to do with forging the common identity so vital to a cohesive European citizenry.

As I teeter on the cusp of early conversations with Members of the European Parliament about simultaneous interpretation in the Parliament, my current case in point being the section In quale lingua: languages within the European Parliament, in the 7th edition of Corbett, Jacobs, and Shackleton's The European Parliament. A reviewer explains:

"The authors take it as a central aim of the book to present the achievements of the Parliament in a good light," even though Corbett, Jacobs & Shackleton emphasize "the fact that verbal flourishes are somewhat diminished by the fact that debates must be translated into the parliament's 23 official languages." In its favor, the authors do say that the European Parliament has a "unique moral claim:" it "is the only element of the [EU] system over which all of the citizens have a roughly equal say, be they from Luxembourg, Romania or the UK." Corbett, Jacobs & Shackleton conclude that the European Parliament is the one institution "where nearly all members can, realistically, have a significant impact upon the making of laws."

The diction of Corbett, Jacobs & Shackleton in the section on languages, however, is strikingly negative: "unusual" (p. 38), "difficult" (p. 38), "burden" (p. 39), "costs ... [are] very great" (p. 39) and "very substantial" (p. 40), "complicates" (p. 39), "slows down" (p. 39), "also...indirect costs" (p. 40), "significant . . . impacts" (p. 40), "considerable time elapses" (p. 40), "constraints" (p. 41), "problems" (p. 41), "a new weapon" (p. 41), "translation gaps" (p. 41), "further delays" (p. 41), "restrictions" (p. 41), "suffer" (p. 41), "misunderstandings and unnecessary amendments" (p. 41), "constraints imposed" (p. 41), "further constraints" (p. 42), "a brake on spontaneity and comprehension" (p. 42), "careful planning" (p. 42), "controversial" (p. 43), "cut back" (p. 43), "apology" (p. 45), "continually reviewed" (p. 45), and "tension" (p. 45).

Recent conversations with interested persons keep adding dimensions to the scope of negative critique. For instance, comparisons between the quality of interpretation provided by the English booth ("they are just summarizing!") with the Spanish booth ("they are the best!") Always - and I do mean always! - the first comment people make about my research topic involves some problem, difficulty, challenge, or other assessment, assumption, or observation about what is wrong with simultaneous interpretation.


(1) Quoted in Lauridsen, Karen M. "A European Union with 20+ languages:
A major challenge for the interpreting services
" (ELC Information Bulletin 8 - April 2002), http://web.fu-berlin.de/elc/bulletin/8/en/lauridsen2.html retrieved online 1 November 2008, attributed to Patrick Twidle; Ginsburgh, Victor A., Ortuño-Ortín, Ignacio and Weber, Shlomo. "Disenfranchisement in Linguistically Diverse Societies. The Case of the European Union" (CORE Discussion Paper No. 2004/80, January 2005, 2008 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc), http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=747344 retrieved online 1 November 2008.
(2) "Our policy of official multilingualism as a deliberate tool of government is unique in the world. The EU sees the use of its citizens' languages as one of the factors which make it more transparent, more legitimate and more efficient." Welcome to the Europa Languages Portal! http://europa.eu/languages/en/home retrieved 1 November 2008.

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