15th CTS Professionalisation Talk 2018-19

On 21 March 2019, Professor Maurizio Viezzi, President of CIUTI, talked to CTS students at the University of Leeds about the future of interpreting.

Professor Maurizio Viezzi, President of CIUTI (Conférence internationale permanente d'instituts universitaires de traducteurs et interprètes), came from the University of Trieste to speak to CTS students about the future of interpreting. He aptly named his presentation “Interpreting in the 2020s: Issues, challenges and opportunities”, echoing the name of a book he edited in 2002 called Interpreting in the 21st Century. Challenges and Opportunities.

Professor Viezzi started by drawing comparisons between interpreting in 1974 – the year he turned 18 – and today. He stressed that “interpreting is interpreting is interpreting”, and that the basic function of interpreting has not changed. However, he went on to speak about how much the world has changed since 1974, how in that year West and East Germany, now a unified country, played against each other in the world cup and how other countries have appeared and disappeared since then. He also drew comparisons between what was then the European Community, which had nine member-states and six official languages. Today it has 24 official languages resulting in over 500 language combinations. He also talked about concepts that did not exist in 1974, such as globalisation, super diversity, English as the lingua franca, and the Internet. He used these examples as a springboard to question how much interpreting has changed given that the world has changed so much in this time. He questioned what a 1974 interpreter would do today given the amount of technology available. Posing a series of questions arising from a comparison of interpreters in the past vs. interpreters today, Professor Viezzi wondered if developments in research, training, and technology have led to better interpreters. The answer to the question was that no developments can compensate for poor technique, poor language competence, and poor mediation skills on the part of the interpreter.

Professor Viezzi then discussed a series of keywords that came out of a 2016 conference, which he organized, on the subject of non-Conference Interpreting. These keywords were based on observations made about Public Service and Court Interpreting specifically and were identified as important and recurring issues. They were as follows: Culture, Ethics, Mediation, Quality, Rights, Status, Subject Knowledge and Training.

Focussing on Culture, Professor Viezzi noted that this could actually be subdivided into three narrower categories, according to classifications by Vermeer (1983) and Pochhacker (1995) on how Culture relates to Interpreting: idioculture (an individual’s own culture), paraculture (culture of a society) and diaculture (a culture shared by a group, for example a professional organisation). The main issue arising from this academic analysis is that Public Sector Interpreters do not operate in a framework of diaculture, but rather paraculture, since they never facilitate communication between professionals with shared knowledge but rather facilitate communication between individuals with very different knowledge and priorities, such as doctors/patients or judges/defendants. Because of this context, Public Sector Interpreters must be skilled navigators of cultural borders, often negotiating differing attitudes towards disease, taboo practices or gender relationships. In other words, Public Sector Interpreters must show a high level of intercultural competence.

Professor Viezzi focused the rest of his presentation on the areas of Rights, Quality, and Training. Discrimination based on one’s language is prohibited in Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, however this does not guarantee one’s right to an interpreter in all public services at all times. Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Parliament does guarantee access to interpreting and translation during criminal proceedings, but as Professor Viezzi noted, whether these rights are being enforced and how, is a separate matter. Professor Viezzi also emphasized the need for language professionals to promote legislation that would provide further access to language services, especially as regards education in one’s mother tongue. The Special Interest Group on Language and Rights (SIGLaR), a working group under the aegis of the European Language Council, aims to address issues of language rights. Professor Viezzi noted that issues of quality in interpreting are crucial when health or personal freedom are at stake. He talked about the incorrect assumption that many people make when they equate native speakers with interpreters. He noted that this had led to untrained, unaccredited, non-professional interpreters who are poorly remunerated. Another way that quality in interpretation is affected is when court interpreters are not informed about the case for which they are interpreting and are expected to work without context of the situation. It is often the case that legal professionals, judges in particular, are more concerned with procedure than quality in regard to court interpreting. Lastly, Professor Viezzi discussed the fundamental goal of interpretation, namely, to make accessible that which is inaccessible. The task of training new interpreters should focus on individuals’ needs while considering the student’s talents and the role of the teacher. Professor Viezzi noted that each year the age gap between students and teachers grows, making it more difficult for teachers to relate to their students and technology. The age gap also affects a teacher’s approach to communication and learning styles. One area that concerns students who are training to become interpreters is mother-tongue competence. Professor Viezzi noted that the EU language test for freelance interpreters only has an 18% pass rate, which is due to a lack of mother-tongue competence. Overall, Professor Viezzi hopes to see training for new translators that is based on cooperation and can benefit both students and teachers alike.