Professional interpreters, like any entrepreneurs, are continually on the lookout for ways to be distinct. Draw these distinctions for the client, and they have a better way to understand what value is on the table, and whether it’s a good choice for their particular situation.
The trick is to know how to communicate about distinction, and it’s here where we find that metaphor helps.
The Rachel Whiteread exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC is a great candidate to find metaphors for interpreting.
Rachel’s art represents negative space… The space inside or outside the things around us. It’s the space we typically think of as empty when we look under the bed, and the nooks and crannies hidden within an English muffin.
Where this connects with interpreting is in how the two types of spaces – negative and positive space – come together to create the ‘thing’ that makes up the whole. Rachel explored this idea in her negative space representations of everyday things, like water bladders.
The cast shows what seems at first to be the actual bladder, yet it represents how the inner space of the bladder is built to perfectly fit with the bladder itself. Here, we see a connection to how interpreting happens – where the interpreter’s language and actions are aligned with those of the speaker.
Another work, House, was an installation in London in the early 1990’s and draws a closer connection to not just what is happening between the interpreter and speaker, but for the broader community of all interactants through interpreting. House represented a single typical house – the insides of one that was part of a larger redevelopment project of a whole community. The artist painstakingly casted the entire inside of one of the structures. As the outside of the house was later peeled away, the representation of the inside was all that remained – displaying the space used by its former inhabitants. It was this space that, like the bladder cast, existed as perfectly aligned, not only with the house’s structure, but also the structure of the family that lived within.
Getting to our interpreting metaphor…
Think of the participants who communicate through an interpreter as houses in a community. These houses act as individual constructs, but they also act together through the space outside which connects houses into a cohesive neighborhood. People walk and talk through the space between these houses, so they may do the things that communities do – for Sunday brunch together, for the kids to visit and play.
Professional interpreters create a space, especially designed for these interlocutors to act in their community. This design acts as a safe and secure environment for people to go from one house of language to another, enabling the accomplishment of business in their social community – for the negotiation of terms in a contract, or for a speech to an audience of thousands.
Interpreting is typically considered the act of an individual, but the more we work with our clients – whether that’s in an international conference, or a deposition – the more we realize that interpreting is fundamentally a social phenomenon. We’d love to hear about your ideas on this.
Post written by Tian Huang and Michael Grez of Intran Solutions LLC. We provide professional interpreting services between Chinese and English – based in Washington DC, serving clients worldwide.
Photo-top: Sculpture Exhibition
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Anthony O'Neil - geograph.org.uk/p/5657102
Photo-bottom: Bladders, courtesy of Intran Solutions