Hate speech: a multilingual problem for interpretetion | Stillman Translations
Hate speech: a multilingual problem for interpretetion

Hate Speech has become a tricky to handle situation, to say the least. Fake news, attacks, trolls and bots are players that were not contemplated when issuing our basic free speech rights. It doesn’t mean that context changes them, but it does bring into question how to handle gray areas.

Should hate speech be translated? Diluted? Simultaneously interpreted in the same tone?

Hate Speech has become a tricky to handle situation, to say the least. Fake news, attacks, trolls and bots are players that were not contemplated when issuing our basic free speech rights. It doesn’t mean that context changes them, but it does bring into question how to handle gray areas. How to interpret multilingually is one, since now it’s not a local issue, but an international one. Even for real life, simultaneous translation: there is very little margin for doubt, hesitation or reflection. What to do if there’s an insult? What to do if there is a xenophobic comment? Who decides.

What is the role of the interpreter?

According to Merriam Webster, an interpreter is a conduit. They function as a natural or artificial channel through which something is conveyed. If this is the case, an interpreter should relay all information spoken without omissions or distortions of the message.

If that can even be done is a philosophical question. When switching languages, something always gets lost in the way. But that’s threading thin. In ordinary praxis, it is how much can get lost without it being unethical or malicious. Or incompetence.

For example, in medical and legal interpreting, there is good news and bad news. In both cases, a cheery or upset curse word may arise. When feelings are involved, it’s not uncommon. Do interpreters need to interpret the curse? Or explain “the client’s upset”?

Codes of ethic

The code of ethics when it comes to healthcare is based on three core values. They are beneficence, fidelity, and respect for cultural differences. And they can be translated into other disciplines.

Beneficence is setting the well-being of the client as our goal. We all want for the patient to get better, for the company to succeed.

Fidelity is the obligation to stay loyal and faithful to the original message. The interpreter has the complete trust of both sides that they are being translated as if there were no intermediates.

And respect and knowledge of cultural differences. They can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication. It is important that interpreters are knowledgeable about the culture of the source and target language. (Yet, another case where they might have to interpret what they are interpreting).

Then there is of course, according to the industry, a code of confidentiality, accuracy (which we believe is a capacity that should be encompassed in fidelity), even impartiality, since interpreters are a “conduit”. Therefore should refrain from counseling, advising, or projecting personal biases or beliefs.

The judgment of the content can be a liability. One’s tone of voice, inflection, and facial expressions can show bias without one’s knowledge. Good interpreters are aware of that. Emphasis should only be put on words emphasized on in the original message. It’s a tough job because it often means stopping a very deeply embedded impulse.

Where it gets tricky

It can be said that hate speech and fake news are language and culture specific. For documents, social media and the like, this means that it’s easy for it to go under the radar. In general, it’s not censored. But there are safe spaces, private events, public documents to be proofread. And in these, cultural awareness becomes adamant.

Different countries with different languages have their specific forms and variants of hate speech. Facebook has been trying to fight against it. And it makes sense to hire locals to address hate speech locally. AI can be useful, but many times it either over or under does it. So we need people who can determine if certain fragments are hate speech or malice-free expression of opinion.

Simultaneous interpretation

When there is time to process information, analyze and evaluate, these topics don’t need as many protocols. But simultaneous Interpretation has no breaks. As the speaker elaborates their thoughts, the interpreter keeps up the pace. Together with extremely specialized vocabulary and high levels of speech. A good case study is the sound-proof booth interpreting in the European Parliament. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) rely on your service. You have to choose how to render ideas about “vast flows of migration into Europe”, “huge numbers of people illegally coming into Europe” and ending with statements such as “we have to close our borders”.

From the interpreter’s point of view, what happens if there is doubt about what is being said? Should the statement be mitigated? EU interpreters are active agents in the communication process. They have been known to strengthen or mitigate face-threatening acts.

For that reason, preferred, admitted, deprecated and obsolete terms were established. Preferred terms are the most suitable. Admitted are those technically correct, but could have been replaced with better synonyms. Deprecated indicates that a term should not be used. And obsolete means it’s outdated. If interpreters decide to use a term marked as deprecated, it can be considered a conscious decision.

From the perspective of insults and direct attacks, professionals always suggest being faithful to the message and not the tone. As previously mentioned, one should not put (or take) words from other people’s mouths. That doesn’t mean if the MEP (or anyone else) screams, so should the interpreter. But the message, even if it’s hateful, must be conveyed. The interpreter is not accountable for what is being said, but can be if they decide to influence the final outcome or source.

There is a lot to be said. If you have any doubts, contact our language expert team at Stillman’s.

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