Happy New Year!

FIRE WORKS in curacao

(Photo credit: Jessica Bee)

We were out walking today and talked about what was the best thing about 2013. For my part it was easy to answer – finishing and defending my PhD! Yes on November 26 I finally defended my PhD, proof here. But 2013 has been a particular eventful year for me. Most of which I have touched upon in my previous post so I won’t dwell anymore on that, suffice to say that I really wish I had had some more time for blogging (no new posts and 500+ unread posts in my feedly…) and twittering these past months. When I met with Michelle (@InterpDiaries), in April I think it was, we both agreed that it isn’t ideas that lack when it comes to blogging, if only there were some more hours in a day.

During autumn I’ve been busy teaching two introductory courses on interpreting, one in Bergen (TOLKHF) and one in Stockholm (ToÖ I). At TÖI (the Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies), I’ve also been busy launching our Facebook page and our Twitter account (@TOI_SU). On the course developing side I’ve been busy revamping the course Interpreting II, and I’m very excited to see how it turns out as it will start on January 20th. Traditionally we have always given Interpreting II only with Swedish and one other language. This time it will be Swedish and four other languages which means a completely new approach to both teaching and learning interpreting. I have integrated Lionel’s (@Lioneltokyo) approach to start teaching consecutive, when you have students interpret from notes before they actually start to learn note taking. Next term for Interpreting III we will also take on simultaneous interpreting for public service interpreters. I’m still thinking about this since the techniques in public service settings are not the same as in conference settings. There is also very little course literature on simultaneous interpreting for PSI so we’ll see where that takes me. If you have any suggestions, please comment!

As my PhD project drew to an end this year I have also thought about what to do next of course and I have one or two threads I would like to pursue. My most recent research interest has been young children and interpreting or child language brokering as it has been coined (professor Harris writes a lot about it on his blog). I applied for money for a series of workshops on children and interpreting in the Nordic Countries, we did not get it this time but I will apply again, and hope to be successful eventually. I will also try to get project money for a project on just mapping the practice and the ethics around it in the Nordic Countries.  I would, of course, also like to continue to follow and interview my fellow interpreters. I hope they will let me continue to record them and investigate them. I have such a wonderful material that I would like to build on. And finally, I hope to start up a project with my friend Emilia Iglesias Fernández of Granada. We have been in touch again and I hope it will lead to something. All of this will of course not come to an end (or maybe not even to a start) during next year, but I’m positive some things will.

This autumn I have also been the extremely proud guest blogger at Rainy London’s blog. I get tired just reading about my own week, but that was a very fun culmination of an extremely busy spring. An I was very flattered to be mentioned by Jonathan Downie (@jonathandownie) in Ligua Grecas blog.

When I write this I sit in front of my bedroom window at our house in the country side, it is pitch black outside and in the distance I can see the lights from our neighbours’. My projects now are like the lights out there gleaming in the distance. I hope I will find my way there and catch up with them. Any new years resolutions? No, not really, they only give me bad conscience as I’m really not good at following them, but if any – being better to stay in touch.

I wish you all the best for the New Year and I hope that you have plenty of projects that you will be able to carry through too. Thank you all my friends, (both in and outside Internet) for staying in touch and being so supportive this year. I hope we will continue our discussions in 2014.


I will miss you Miriam!


Candle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just got one of the saddest messages. The wonderful professor Miriam Shlesinger of Bar-Ilan university has left us.

Dear Miriam,

I’m so extremely grateful that I have known you. You were, and will continue to be, a fantastic role model. I have admired you so much, your scholarly work of course, but also your kind, inclusive personality. I have no idea how you had time and energy for everything and everyone, but I understand you worked hard. I hope you got much good energy back from all of us and that you understood how much you meant.

Thanks to you so many good things exist in Interpreting (and Translation) Studies. I hope that we can continue to carry your torch and that your memory will live strong.

Do continue to keep an eye on us.


Read Miriam’s acceptance speech for the Danica Seleskovitch award. It’s a wonderful account of both her personal story and her life in Interpreting Studies.

Ranking of Academic Journals – does it work for you?

Ranking of academic journals may seem totally irrelevant and even a bit ridiculous, after all who is to decide whether one peer-reviewed journal with a solid editorial board, renowned professors as editors and regularly publishing work of important scholars is better than an other. Nevertheless, this is an important part of academia and also of many academic debates. Important bodies such as the European Science Foundation or the Norsk Samfunnsvitenskaplig Datatjeneste rank journals, book series and editors. Now, this may of course be good for you, if the journal you publish in or edits get a high ranking then good for you and your CV.

Furthermore in the academic world (at least in Sweden, but I suppose it’s not an uncommon practice), you get points for your publications, and ranking is used to evaluate your research. If an article is published in a high ranking journal you get more points than if it’s published in a low ranking journal. These points are then the basis for promotions, funding and so forth.

Only one MAJOR problem – the system is heavily biased. Naturally, not every publication can be ranked on the top level, if you rank too many publications on the highest level, then your index is not worth anything. There can only be one winner, otherwise the gold medal is quickly devaluated. So the ranking indices have a limited numer of journals that can receive the highest ranking. This means that fields that have representatives in the ranking bodies get journals on the list, other fields regardless of size, impact, quality in the publications and so forth are kindly requested to wait outside.

In 2008 the translation schoolar of the ERIH board (the ranking for ESF) resigned, and in the subsequent rating excersise translation journals mysteriously disappeared. The Publication channel of the Norwegian NSD and very important for the Nordic countries degraded the only two translation journals who had the highest ranking following a merger of bodies who were allowed to rank journals. Translation Studies disappeard from these bodies and mysteriously enough so did the transltion journals. One can of course ask if the journals that were degraded had not lost in quality, and therefore deserved degradation. Truth is nothing, apart from translation scholar presence changed.

For me as a translation scholar it means that if I want to earn points and get good evaluation on my research in order to be competitive for my academic career, I have to publish in other journals or with other editors than the ones in my own field. In order to get published in top ranking journals in other fields I would of course send my best articles. Now, what does that do to the publishers and journals in my own field.

In October the NSD is performing its bi-annual ranking excersise again. Needless to say we are many translation scholars who have approached the ranking bodies with demands to at least put the two degraded journals back on the level they had.

I continue to believe that good solid work will pay off regardless of where it’s published and regardless of ranking. But it annoys me when ranking is totally random and yet have so much influence. So does the ranking work for you? If so, do you have any tips?

You can read more about from this heated debate, here and Open Letter AIETI2SCH-ESFhere.

Peter Newmark

One of the pioneers in Translation Studies and translation training has just passed away. Peter Newmark was the author of “About Translation” and “A textbook of Translation”. Books well known to anybody who has taken a translation course. Watch an interview with him at JosTrans and read the beautiful obituary by Margaret Rogers at Notes on Translation Studies .
Brian Harris has also published a very nice post here.

History of interpreting

Interpreting is ancient. Maybe as ancient as languages or mankind. Interestingly enough there are references to interpreters in many different historical sources. Like the representation of an interpreter in General Horemhebs grave, Unprofessional translation has an interesting post on ancient Egypt and interpreters there.

Cicero in ancient Rome spoke highly of his interpreter and the services the interpreter did for him. In the Ottoman empire interpreters were called dragoman and their role was not just interpreting but also acting as guides, go-betweens and door-openers to the Ottoman empire. The Ottoman empire also had sworn court interpreters, as can be seen from old court records from the Ottoman empire. Update December 6, 2010: Another interesting post on dragomans and the history of interpreting by Unprofessional Translations

There were also sworn court interpreters in Spain in the 16th Century. And interpreters were also used by the conquistadors to communicate with the indigenous people in the Americas. Although the training those interpreters received were perhaps not to be envied. Natives were brought back to Spain where they worked as slaves and learnt the language. If they were judged good enough they were brought back to their origins to act as interpreters.

But interpreting hit the headlines with the Nüremberg Trials. Although interpreting was used at the international organisations before the Second World War, this was the first time that large scale simultaneous interpreting was used. Technology now allowed interpreters to listen to the original in head phones and interpret into a microphone that broadcasted the interpreting to listeners. Hardly any of the interpreters who interpreted at the Nüremberg Trials had any interpreting training. But most of the interpreters there then went on to a career in interpreting. These interpreters were the founding fathers and mothers of the profession. They were active in the professionalization of interpreters, they helped training new interpreters and they lay the foundations of aiic, the international association for conference interpreters.

Community interpreters are a different case. Community interpreting has not started its professionalization until the past 10 or 15 years. Community interpreters were typically friends and and family of the person needing community interpreting. However, thanks to researchers and very active community interpreters, and in particular thanks to the Critical link conference, community interpreting is slowly gaining professional standards in the same way as its big sister conference interpreting.

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.

Language and thought, Sapir-Whorf and Everett (again)

There an interesting article in New York Times right know. It asks the question if language affects the way you think. The author, Guy Deuthscher, takes his starting point in theSapir Whorf hypothesis (or rather the Whorf, since this is one of the early articles by Whorf he’s referring to). Deutscher claims that time and common sense has proved the concept wrong. He quotes Roman Jakobson who pointed out a crucial fact about differences between languages. Jakobson claimed that:

Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.

And on this quote Deutscher reflects further on whether you languages shapes you brain or not. And to me he seems convinced that this is not the case. You CAN describe anything in another language, even if the other language lacks that terminology, Deutscher says. And in most cases this is true of course.

But I’m curious that he not once, discusses the findings of Dan Everett, the linguist who mapped Pirahã, a language in the Amazonian jungle. Everett says that since he got to know Pirahã he has started to doubt that languages do not shape the way you think. Since the Pirahã language is so fundamentally different from other languages and certain concepts are very difficult to explain to a Pirahã. One feature is that Pirahã do not tag past as other languages do and things in the past is therefore very hard to grasp. If you don’t know for instance a historical person or know somebody who knows that person, then there is no proof that that person actually existed for a Pirahã and therefore no reason to believe such a person ever existed.
So maybe Sapir and Whorf weren’t entirely wrong after all, or…