Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Media singularity

While interpreters in Spain risk being taken for actors (previous post), their translator colleagues seem to get mixed up with journalists. The story that a German women's magazine is to stop using anorexic models appears thus in Spanish daily El País:
Brigitte, la revista femenina más popular en Alemania, ha anunciado que, el año que viene, sustituirá a las modelos profesionales por mujeres "reales, de talla normal" en sus páginas, con el fin de dejar de promover la delgadez extrema como canon de belleza, según informa el diario británico The Guardian
You could understand the story being filtered through the Guardian if it were otherwise inaccessible - a world exclusive or some incestuously British matter. But the original source was, unsurprisingly, a press conference in Germany.

So here we have a leading national newspaper of a major country not reporting directly - even on a quintessentially media event - but simply translating what appears in another newspaper.

The saving grace for El País is that at least it is open about this (not so others, the BBC in particular).

It is a further example though that while the number of news sources has ostensibly grown, the number of independent perspectives seems to have dwindled. Our news media have become unhealthily thin!

They might usefully take a leaf from the glossies and drop this dangerously anorexic model in favour of something more authentic.

Thursday, October 08, 2009



In an earlier post I suggested that the term interpreter could usefully be abandoned in favour of the more transparent interprater if differentiation from translators is felt to be essential.

There are of course a number of existing alternatives available, in English and other languages, all of them now obscure but preserved in surnames.

One is latimer, ultimately from the Latin latinarius, "a speaker of Latin", whence the surname Latimer, famous bearers of which include Protestant martyr Hugh, and train toilet inventor Lewis.

Another is dragoman, cognate with Dolmetscher which German seems to have borrowed from Hungarian:

Dolmetscher ist eines der wenigen ungarischen Lehnwörter im Deutschen (tolmács). Das Ungarische selbst hat das Wort aus dem Türkischen entlehnt (dilmaç, heute jedoch tercüman). Vergleichbare Wortformen zeigen Serbische/Kroatische/Bosnische тумач/tumač), das Polnische (tłumacz) und das Tschechische (tlumočník)

Somewhat perplexing in light of the above is the surname of the Hungarian novelist (and translator!) György Dragoman. But Hungarian surnames are perplexing in themselves.

Another variant is Tudjman, apparently, as in former Croatian president Franjo.

Here's the complicated etymology courtesy of the OED:

[a. F. dragoman, drogman, in OF. drugemen = Sp. dragoman, It. dragomanno, med.L. dragumannus, late Gr. , ad. OArab. targumn, now tarjumn, tarjamn, turjumn, interpreter, f. targama, tarjama to interpret = Chaldee targm, (whence targum). From 14th c. commonly treated as a compound of Eng. man with pl. dragomen; in 19th c. more frequently dragomans. The variants are due to the varying vocalization of the Arabic word, and the passage of Old Arabic g into j. Forms closer to the modern Arabic are Sp. trujaman, med.L. turchemannus, It. turcimanno, Fr. truchement, Eng. tourcheman, trudgeman, truchman, q.v.]
The French truchement survives in the expression par le truchement de ("by means of", "through the medium of"), giving rise to a common pleonasm I came across recently in this court judgment:

il ressort des pièces du dossier qu'il lui a été indiqué, en langue russe, par des documents qui lui ont été remis à cet effet ou par le truchement d'un interprète, la nature de ces garanties
One other name meaning interpreter is O'Driscoll, from Old Irish etersceli, where eter- is cognate with inter-, and scel means story, tiding etc. Perhaps cognate with English spell, as in the second element of gospel. Or perhaps not.

Famous bearers of that name include rugby star Brian.

In Spanish, incidentally, the words for interpreter, interpretation etc. have to be shared with other occupations. As illustrated in the words of this El País interviewee:

Mi tía Concha es una actriz respetada y querida, cuyo trabajo y el amor por el teatro me influyó en la decisión de dedicarme a la interpretación
So perhaps colleagues in Spain are confused not with translators but with glamorous stars of stage and screen.

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