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Review of  Interpreting As Interaction

Reviewer: Yasuhisa Watanabe
Book Title: Interpreting As Interaction
Book Author: Cecilia Wadensjö
Publisher: Pearson Linguistics
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 10.626

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Wadensjo, Cecilia, (1998). Interpreting as Interaction. Language in
Social Life Series. Longman, London and New York. 312 pages.

Reviewed by Yasuhisa Watanabe.

This book outlines some of the fundamental concepts of interpreting as
an area of study, as well as informing people who may require the
services of interpreter(s) in their lives of what is expected when an
interpreter is involved in the communication. Wadensjo attempts to
differentiate 'interpreting' from 'translating' by highlighting the
different genres that each area of study deals with, pointing out that
while translating deals with written texts, interpreting primarily
deal with spoken language. The person who performs the interpreting
needs to have a knowledge of both languages concerned, not only the
grammatical aspects but also the sociocultural side of the language in
order to accommodate for the differences in areas such as the levels
of politeness. Bakhtinian dialogue theory is applied to analyze the
interaction among the communicating parties in this book. Once the
interpreter is involved in an interaction between two people, the
interaction is no longer that of an dyad, but that of triad.
Accordingly, the variations in interaction dynamics is observed, and
any examples taken from her colleagues (mainly Swedish / Russian
interpreters) are included in the book.
Wadensjo also presents various other functions of an interpreter in
conversations, outlining that the role of interpreter also includes
that of mediator between the two parties who do not share the same
language and/or the same sociocultural background.

The book consists of 10 chapters. Chapter 1 summarizes the past
studies and various current issues in the studies of interpretation,
for example, the study of interpreting has typically been included in
the study of translation, and the role of the interpreter has often
been underestimated in the interpreter-mediated interaction. In modern
society, the interactions between people who do not share the same
language or cultural background is becoming more common. Considering
the varieties of languages and cultures that co-exist in modern
society, more and more interpreters may be needed to ease the
difficulty of communicating across the language barrier. However,
interaction that involves an interpreter is still seen as a special
case of an interaction. The outline of the book follows, based on such
Chapter 2 considers the nature of spoken language in order to
determine the nature of interpreting. Since interpreting deals with
spoken language, it is important to determine what constitute spoken
language. Wadensjo first compares two notions about the language:
'talk as text - text production and text processing' and 'talk as
activity - interaction and situated sense making'. Because of the
differences in sociocultural functions of the languages concerned in
the interpreting, it is not uncommon for interpreters to follow the
meaning of the utterance rather than the grammatical aspects of the
text. Wadensjo examines a case where she interpreted Russian 'yes' to
Swedish 'no' in a court of law to make sense of the defendant she was
interpreting for.
Wadensjo then goes on to explore how sense is made in spoken discourse
by introducing Bakhtins theory of the appropriation of others words,
that a word makes 'sense' when spoken with an intention to make sense
in the given context by the speaker with his or her own semantic
interpretation of the word. Interpreters, and people studying
interactions involving an interpreter, therefore, need to recognize
the meanings of utterances in the right context.
Chapter 3 briefly describes the current situations surrounding
interpreters in the community in terms of the places and circumstances
where interpreters are required, and education course and
certifications available in various countries. A 'code of conduct' for
interpreters is also discussed in this chapter.
Chapter 4 explores an interpreters role as an intermediary. Since
most of the time when an interpreter is needed in an interaction, it
is likely to be between a member of a majority group and a member of a
minority group within the community. The interpreter therefore needs
to act as a mediator. Wadensjo presents three kinds of mediation:
formalized and spontaneous intermediaries, who act as if to organize
the two parties; non-persons, who are present but treated as absent,
and; gatekeepers, intermediaries who exist between lay people and
institutions. In this particular instance, intermediaries need to
explain the differences in the social and cultural system to the
people intending to go through the gate, hence the title. Chapter 4
also presents issues in interpreting in real situations, especially in
the court room setting. For example, Wadensjo argues that not all the
interpreters currently working in the legal system are properly
trained to handle such interactions.

Chapter 5 outlines the practical considerations when analyzing
interactions involving an interpreter. Goffmans (1990) concept of
'role is utilized in this chapter, to determine the dynamics of
interaction involving an interpreter. Data collection methods are also
reviewed in this chapter, and their possible effects on the
interactions themselves. For example, Wadensjo mentions that the
naturalness of an interaction maybe hindered if participants are
conscious about being recorded.
In Chapter 6 Wadensjo presents some ideal models of interpreting and
how they are carried out with examples that she has observed. She
introduces the notion of 'rendition, and describes it as being what
is retold by an interpreter from the original utterance. Although
close rendition is the norm, rendition can be reduced or expanded by
the interpreter to whatever degree is necessary to convey the full
meaning of the original utterance. Interpreters can also choose to
substitute, reduplify or ignore a part of the original utterance if
Chapter 7 examines the role of an interpreter in a three-person
interaction, and the role of interpreter as a mediator is emphasized.
Here Wadensjo argues that interpreters need to negotiate the meaning
of the original utterance and find a socially appropriate way to
express it in the target language.
Since the interaction occurs among three or more people, it does not
always follow the conventional turn taking of interactions between two
people. This may occur when one does not understand the others
language, one may ignore the others attempt to participate to the
conversation, or to even attempt to participate in the conversation in
a position which may not normally be culturally acceptable. One
example given in this book is when a Russian patient kept talking with
the interpreter in Russian, while a Swedish nurse, feeling left out of
the conversation, breaks into the interaction by telling the
interpreter 'say what he has said now' (p.173). The interpreter is
faced by two overlapping turns. In such situations, interpreters need
to be aware of the different positions they can adapt to mediate the
Chapter 8 deals with ways to resolve misunderstandings in interpreted
discourse. Wadensjo divides the causes of misunderstandings into two
categories: local factors, such as linguistic and coordination
problems, and global factors, caused by the discrepancy in the view of
the institution and the interpreter by the two primary participants.
Once again, it becomes evident that interpreters need to utilize
his/her power to mediate the conversation they are involved in. The
interpreter may need to discuss the lack of understanding by one party
openly or privately to resolve the misunderstanding. One example given
in the chapter is translating the plurality of 'you' in Russian and
Swedish. Interpreters working in these languages may change the
plurality of the second person because of the perceived differences in
the levels of politeness in the two languages. In legal settings, this
may cause trouble in ambiguity, therefore the misunderstanding was
clarified openly in the interaction.
Chapter 9 brings up the issues of neutrality of the interpreter in the
interaction. In the 'code of conduct' outlined in Chapter 3,
interpreters usually speak in first-person singular form. However, by
doing so, there are cases where this may bring an outbreak of emotions
towards the interpreter from the primary interlocutors when discussing
sensitive content.
Another sensitive issue in interpreting is how much emotion should be
conveyed in the interpretation. Interpreters are often needed to
interact with victims of physical abuse or rape, and the emotional
condition of the original utterance is evident in the para-linguistic
features of the speech, such as tone of voice. A question to be raised
is 'should interpreters adapt their tone of voice as well?' One may
see that failing to sufficientlyot convey such emotion may reduce the
tension in the interaction, and conversely, over-doing emotion may
insult the original speaker through appearing insincere.
Chapter 10 summarizes the arguments presented in this book. One
argument the author admits to have with her colleagues is that whether
an interpreter should stick to text-to-text model of translating or
incorporate other techniques as described in this book.
She concludes that interpreters should be flexible in adopting the
different styles of interpreting, citing an example where the
interaction between a pregnant woman giving birth and a midwife
helping her. In the early part of the interaction, the primary
interlocutors started the conversation with enthusiasm, but since the
interpreter interpreted word to word, it was felt that all the
excitement of having a new baby was lost in the interpretation.

This book offers a detailed insight into interpreting as a profession.
Examples are taken from a wide range of situations, including in a
courtroom, at a police investigation, and in hospitals. Accordingly,
this book provides a good introduction to interpreting to people who
may encounter interactions involving interpreters, both professionally
and privately, including legal and medical workers alike. As Wadensjo
suggests in her concluding remarks, interpreting is not a
straightforward job. It would not be difficult to agree with her that
an utterance should be interpreted as an action, and it appears that
this view is shared by many discourse researchers through the use of
terminology such as 'speech acts' (cf. Austin, 1962). Various
interpretations of meaning can be considered depending on the
situation where the text uttered may not appear in the syntactic
structure. In those cases, verbatim 'word to word' Translation may
fail to convey what is intended by the speaker.
On the other hand, although the information and examples presented in
the book are informative for a broad range of audiences, a
professional interpreter may find the book too general, although some
of the suggestions made could still have relevance for experienced
persons as well. To counter this, it may be suggest that there could
have been more practical ideas and suggestions for interpreters
reading this book to apply to their everyday work in the field. In
conclusion, it may be said that the book provides a stimulating guide
to people who are new to interpreting or who are interested in the
research issues associated with the profession, while at the same time
the issues presented are relevant enough to trigger debate amongst
interpreting professionals as well.

Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon

About the reviewer
Yasuhisa Watanabe is a part-time lecturer of Japanese at Queensland
University of Technology. He also works as an interpreter of Japanese
and English privately. His research interests include pragmatics in
second language acquisition and sociocultural influence on language.

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