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.

Then there was the Dolmetsch family, who played the recorder.
I live and learn...

A family of this name was apparently among a large group from the Palatinate which was resettled in the Limerick area of Ireland in the 18th century. The name was anglicized as Delmage or Dulmage.

Delmage Park is a particularly rough area of Limerick.
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