Translators or interpreters?

For those who are irritated by the public confusion between interpreters and translators (numerous ‘translators’ who were really interpreters have been killed in Iraq), here is a picture from Lower Saxony – text in German – showing two ‘translators’ sitting in a booth. An overall term in East Germany was Sprachmittler (language mediators), and some academic tomes in West Germany use the term ‘der Translator’ for both. I’m not sure what the English term for both is.

A Google image search for translator is quite amusing. There are a few ‘translators’ in booths there, but they’re outnumbered by handheld devices. This picture of ‘our new translator’ is my favourite. But the mad translator (Kenneth Kronenberg, of the New England Translators Association) looks more like my everyday life.

5 thoughts on “Translators or interpreters?

  1. This summer holiday I managed to read Hillary Rodham Clinton’s most interesting book “Living history”. It’s a shame she is mixing the terms “translator” and “interpreter” constantly. There is one story about an incident during an official visit to Israel in 1999 when Suha Arafat spoke before her in Arabic. “Listening to an Arabic-to-English translation through headphones, neither I nor other members of our delegation – including U.S. Embassy staff, Middle East experts and respected American Jewish leaders – heard her outrageous remark suggesting that Israel had used poison gas to control Palestinians.” She went to the podium moments later to deliver her speech and was greeted by Mrs. Arafat with an embrace, a traditional greeting. Only afterwards she realised that this gesture did not go down well with her Jewish voters back home who were upset that she did not distance herself from these remarks.

    The ITI Bulletin is preparing an article (I think by Florence Mitchell) about this constant confusion between the terms.


  2. I will watch out for that. I wonder if the interpreter deliberately omitted that bit? There must have been some public discussion about it in the USA afterwards. I found some references on the Web (especially searching for ‘translator’ rather than ‘interpreter’!), but nothing about exactly what the original Arabic was.

  3. My understanding is that Slavonic langs. don’t distinguish. Tolmascz (Pol/Russian?)means both. Don’t know whether it subdivides into written and spoken.
    Also reminds me of the question I’m constantly asked: are you still interpreting? to which one answer is: yes, mainly the meaning of obscure legal documents.

  4. Margaret, Adrian, I wonder where you find the time to come up with all those interesting articles and comments on this log :-) I can hardly catch up.

    Just one addition – in Russian we would just say “spoken” (ustny) and “written” (pis’menny) translation (perevod). The person is called “perevodchik” (male) or “perevodchits’a” (female)(sorry about the transcription which is a bit of a mix).


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