Professional responsibility, Camayd-Freixas

We’ve just discussed Eric Camayd-Freixas in class and his brave act after the Postville raid. You can go back to what I wrote in 2008 about Interpreter’s responsibility here. Back then, it was a hot topic among interpreters. There are also several clips on You Tube featuring interviews with Professor Camayd. I find this one very interesting, and this is the second part of it.

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The interpreter’s role in the participation framework

Erving Goffman was an anthropologist and sociologist who studied social interaction. Among other things, he proposed a model to analyse the distribution of responsibility between interlocutors. Cecilia Wadensjö (1998) uses this model to analyse the role of the interpreter in an interpreter mediated event. An interlocutor has a given role in a communicative context. The roles can be symmetric or assymmetric depending on the situation. Participants can either be assigned different roles depending on the context or they can take up different roles. The participation framework (Goffman, 1981) gives different participants different status. Anyone who hears an utterance can take on a participant status, but depending on the situation you can have different production formats. The formats can be those of the animator (the person who conveys either his or her own words or of somebody else’s) or the author (somebody who compiles fact or information and makes an utterance but without necessarily being the one who guarantees the correctness of the information in that utterance) and finally the principal (the actor who is fully responsible for an utterance [the fact, the information behind and so forth], you can be the principal both of an utterance regarding your own feelings or something very formal such as the application of a particular law). In order to fully understand the interpreter’s role in the communication Wadensjö adds three reception formats: the reporter (who just reports verbatim what has been said), the recapitulator (who recapitulates what has been said but in an active listening and understanding act, not just verbatim repeating) and the respondent (who listens in order to respond, to take the communication further). The interpreter’s role in the communicative context vary, but has to be seen in the light of the reception formats. The interpreter is an animator and sometimes a principal, but the interpreter is first and foremost a recapitulator (hopefully, since we all agree by know that a word-for-word translation is rarely successful) who sometimes step into the role of responder. The interpreter responds and becomes the principal in utterances such as ”Could you please repeat that” or ”The interpreter would like to ask a question”, i.e. situations when the interpreter goes out of his/her role of conveying somebody else’s message and goes into the role of transmitting a message of his or her own.

Interpreters’ responsibility

On May 12, 2008 Eric Camayd-Freixas interpreted at hearings of almost 400 illegal immigrants who were arrested in a raid at a meatplant in Potsville. After the hearings he decided to breach his professional secrecy and circulated a 14-page long account of the hearings in which he points out all the irregularities that were committed by the authorities. You can read more about this here. I have always admired so called whistle blowers. It is a very delicate and difficult task to stand up and point out irregularities if you are part of an organisation or system which the interpreter in this case definitely was. However, an interpreter’s professional secrecy is absolutely crucial to the profession. In an ideal world we would have debriefing sessions for interpreters. That would create a possibility for interpreters to share their experiences without breaking the professional secrecy and in extreme cases like the one of Mr. Camayd-Freixas he would not be left alone with the very important decision he had to take, i.e. denouncing authorities. Sometimes we end up in difficult situation due to agencies, I have for instance interpreted a paedophilia case eight-months-pregnant, sometimes missions that seemed totally straight forward end up in a very complicated situation, like when the defence lawyer decided to make the interpreter look like an ignorant in order to make the witness less credible (the defence lawyer actually apologized at the end of the day). We carry all sorts of similar experiences that we cannot share in order not to breach our professional secrecy.

In South Africa after apartheid a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established. The aim of the TRC was that everyone who had committed a crime during apartheid was free to witness in front of the TRC and ask for pardon. The witness was recorded and the person then granted pardon. People who were directly or indirectly victims were often present at the hearings and everything was interpreted simultaneously into the 13 official South African languages. This process was very fruitful for the restarting of South Africa, but the ones who suffered very much during this process were the interpreters. It became so difficult for them to bear all these dreadful stories that a special debriefing program had to be organised. “I am the filter that all pain is sifted through” said one of the interpreters in for the TRC. Their work has become a theatre performance that has been touring world wide. Should you come across it I strongly recommend that you see it. You can explore all this at The Truth in Translation Project.