The Interpreter as a Cultural Agent: The Cultural Role of Interpreters Over Time

The Interpreter as a Cultural Agent: The Cultural Role of Interpreters Over Time

Izabel Emilia Telles de Vasconcelos Souza (Osaka University, Japan)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2832-6.ch012
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Abstract

The interpreters' cultural role has evolved significantly over time. Understanding the profession's history is necessary to understand its cultural evolution. Prior to professionalization, history portrayed interpreters as intercultural agents who held power as essential players, working as cultural and linguistic mediators. With the advent of conference interpreting in the Nuremberg Trials, a new professional image reflected the primary role of the interpreter as a linguistic medium. Due to the more interactive communicative activities involved, dialogue interpreting reflected a broader cultural role. This chapter discusses how the cultural role of the interpreter evolved over time, and within specializations. It gives an overview of the evolution of the cultural role in historic interpreting, conference interpreting, community interpreting, and in the medical interpreting specialization.
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Introduction

The view of what constitutes interpreting underlies the discussion of whether the interpreter is innately a cultural agent, or not. For the purposes of this chapter, the cultural role of the interpreter will refer to the role of the interpreter related to bridging the cultural gap between the individuals he or she interprets for. The historic view of interpreting portrays the interpreter as a link (AIIC History Group, 2013). The interpreter mediated between individuals or groups with different languages and cultural constructs. Interpreters were seen as cultural interfaces to communicate with another culture for different purposes. In contrast, the newer professional image of interpreters, formed in the 1920s, and later with the onset of the development of the first professional association for interpreters, the International Association of Conference Interpreters, AIIC, in 1953 (AIIC History Group, 2013) involved the complex linguistic activity of conveying messages from one language to another, simultaneously or consecutively. The cognitive skills required to interpret accurately, as well as the linguistic complexities, dominated this conduit model (Wilcox & Shaffer, 2005). However, dialogue interpreting brought about a sociological and interactional approach to the research (Wadensjö, 1998), which reintroduced the cultural role of interpreters in practice.

This chapter will discuss two different views: 1) the linguistic role or conduit model, also called the invisibility model, and 2) the cultural role of acting as an intercultural mediator of the interpreting process. How have these views affected the evolution of the profession’s cultural role? While exploring the evolution of the cultural role of interpreting over time, it will ultimately explore the characteristics of various interpreter specializations that seem to curtail or to enhance their cultural role.

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