Friday, July 14, 2006


Read his lip II

Wednesday’s much anticipated interview with Zinedine Zidane on Canal Plus seems to have proved something of a damp squib for those commentators who had been promising themselves a verbatim account of the taunts that earned Zizou’s violent ire in Sunday’s World Cup final.

One thing he did say, in explaining his headbutt on Marco Materazzi, was reported on the BBC (and in relevant part on SkyNews, EuroNews and elsewhere) as follows, with emphasis added:
I am a man and some words are harder to hear than actions. I would rather have taken a blow to the face than hear that.
This is another illustration of why literal translation, contrary to a widely held notion, is anything but faithful. The literal rendering of ‘je suis un homme’ as ‘I am a man’ strikes the wrong note in the context, with its overtones of ‘a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do’. It suggests Zidane is adopting a ‘macho’ posture rather than simply pleading his human frailty, as he was.

The BBC’s video report of the interview (no longer available on the website, it seems) has a better stab at it and uses ‘I am a human being’. This version came out later, no doubt, so there was more time to get it right.

Which draws attention to the fact that in these situations, the timeframes of spoken and written translation are reversed, with the written version having to be done more or less on the fly while the spoken version can be put together at comparative leisure.

Usually it is the other way round, with those whose job it is to produce written translation (i.e. translators) having time to ponder their choices while those producing spoken translation (i.e. interpreters) have to get it out in real time.

Not that the guy doing the voiceover on the BBC was an actual interpreter, of course. Real simultaneous interpreting is rarely heard on TV, at least in the English-speaking world. But I wonder whether viewers realise that that smooth, composed delivery they hear is not real live interpretation but a voiceover artist reading a script that he will have had time to work on in advance.

Perhaps interpreters should be up in arms about this ‘simulated simultaneous’, exposure to which may mean that when people come across real-life interpreting they won’t understand that allowances have to be made for the occasional hesitations, stumbles, disfluencies etc.

We could take our cue from the musicians, who apparently secured a TV ban on the mimed playing of musical instruments against backing tracks, at least on the aforesaid BBC (cf. the old story about Bob Geldof and the candelabra).

I have the feeling that on German TV we quite often get real simultaneous interpreting. It is fairly fluent but with abrupt gaps sometimes. What irritates me is that the interpreter (if I'm not mistaken) takes a certain routine conversational tone, if it's an interview, but that tone is often different from the original English or whatever, and is not completely natural. I suppose they don't have time or excess brain cells to worry about the tone too. As you say, allowances have to be made, but I wish the bits in between the stumbles were differently fluent, so to speak.
Yes, simultaneous intepretation is said to be stressful but probably not nearly as stessful as having to listen to it.
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