Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

tracing interpreting theory

February 24th, 2006

It’s time for me to dive in to the literature on the theory of interpretation. The obvious starting point is with Danica Seleskovitch who published the first descriptive (explanatory) materials for training purposes in 1968 (blurb from a google search – the URL won’t open). I’ve got Interpreting for International Conferences (1978) with me now. There are updates, expansions, digressions, and alternatives on the AIIC website, where I’ll soon spend considerable time.
Daniel Giles has divided interpreting research in the West into four periods, with a particular emphasis on the “Paris School,” which theorized interpreting as based on meaning (French sens) and renamed (when?) “La théorie interprétative de la traduction”, the interpretative theory of translation.” This is the primary theory informing the practice of professional simultaneous interpreters at the European Parliament.


What intrigues me is the way that interpreters phenomenologically constructed theories of language based on their work that parallel important philosophical conceptualizations arrived at by other intellectual processes: rationalism (?) and structuralism, most clearly. I’ve got a hunk of work to do to sort these out and make a coherent argument! Does anyone know of a biography of Seleskovitch’s life and/or career? (There’s a master’s thesis for someone!) She “exists” in discourse, her own authored works, and the legacy of her training methods and style…but has anyone tied it all together?
Her concerns in 1978 (as reflected in her text) involve mechanization (the ‘threat’ of machines taking over the work of translation and interpretation) and of explaining the process of interpretation to laymen and trainees. Her purpose, she explains, is “to shed light on the mental processes which make possible the virtually instantaneous transmission of an oral message into another language” (9). There are four kinds of “problems” that complicate this transmission: “problems of comprehension, problems of knowledge, problems of communication and also problems of language” (10). She provides the metaphor of painting (instead of photography) to encapsulate these problems and the processes which resolve them. “Photography captures every detail and prefectly reproduces all that falls within the range of the camera’s lens…Painting, on the other hand, seeks to discover a meaning, to convey a message and, of course, reflects the object as seen through the eyes of the painter. Just as painting is not copying, interpretation is not a word-for-word translation” (19).

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