5 negotiating meaning in face to face interpreting an intercultural perspective
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5 - Negotiating Meaning in Face-to-Face Interpreting: An intercultural perspective. Ian Mason ( Heriot Watt University ) Sichuan University, October 2013. Interculturality. New book published in USA by Chinese-American Amy Chua (professor of law at Yale University):

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5 - Negotiating Meaning in Face-to-Face Interpreting: An intercultural perspective

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5- Negotiating Meaning in Face-to-Face Interpreting:An intercultural perspective

Ian Mason (Heriot Watt University)

Sichuan University, October 2013


  • New book published in USA by Chinese-American Amy Chua (professor of law at Yale University):

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother


  • Parenting styles:

    • US (promote freedom, creativity)


    • Chinese (promote discipline)

  • Reception in US:

    • Defence of long US tradition of creativity, innovation.

    • Fear: look at China’s economic success!

  • Interculturality

    • Chinese translation:

    • Parenting Guide by a Yale Law Professor: Raising Kids in America


    • Reception in China:

      • ‘How do I get my kids into Harvard?’

    • Differing reader response to same text:

    • ‘Pre-text’: the assumptions we bring to our reading.

    • Different title also reflects culture.

    The Co-operative Principle

    • Ideal speaker and listener

    • No allowance for cultural differences

    • Anglo-centric?

    Cross-cultural business exchange in English

    A Hello, Mr X

    X Hello, Mr A

    A It’s been a long time since we saw each other last

    X Yes, too long, I’m afraid

    A Well, that depends on what you mean by a long time …

    • Stalpers (1987)

    Apparent flouting of maxims

    • RELEVANCE: “It’s been a long time…”

      • Implicature: criticism – it’s been too long.

    • QUANTITY: “… I’m afraid”

      • Implicature: I regret (that you have taken so long?)

    • MANNER: “… that depends…”

      • Implicature: I don’t consider it long

        • Cross-cultural implicature

        • Assumptions not shared

    The dialogue interpreter

    • at centre of cross-cultural exchanges

    • only participant with bi-cultural expertise

    • ability to make the implicit explicit

    House (2005): Dimensions of cross-cultural difference (German – English)



    towards self----------towards Other


    towards Content----------towards Addressees


    Ad hoc Formulation ----------Verbal Routines

    Sources of intercultural difficulties

    • Differences of language behaviour

    • Differences of non-verbal behaviour

    • attribution of motives to others’ behaviour

    • in-group/out-group bias

      Brislin (1980)

    British/Chinese business meeting (Spencer-Oatey & Xing, in Spencer-Oatey 2008)

    • Language behaviour: ‘we’/’you’ focus

    • Non-verbal behaviour: (in)formality

    • Attribution: seating arrangement shows lack of respect

    • In/out-group: importance of personal contact: Tim, the China Sales Manager

    Spatial arrangement

    In addition:

    • Differences of power and status

      • The interpreter’s role conflict:

      • The right to intervene?

      • The duty to intervene?

    Interpreter intervention in Chinese/English meeting

    • British chairman makes welcome speech.

    • His team introduce themselves.

    • British chairman invites Chinese team to introduce themselves.

    • Head of Chinese team begins reply speech.

    • Interpreter interrupts: “No, just introduce yourselves… ” Spencer-Oatey & Xing 2008: 263


    • “the alignments we take up to ourselves and the others present as expressed in the way we manage the production or reception of an utterance”

      E. Goffman (1981), p.128

    Footing: production format

    • Animator

    • Author

    • Principal

    An example: distancing

    Interpreter’s footing at a war-crimes trial

    • Need to interpret very distressing testimonies.

    • Need to cope with aggressive witnesses.

    An example: distancing

    “Le présidentvousdemandesi…”

    [The judge is asking you whether…]

    “Die Zeuginantwortet…”

    [The witness replies that…]

    An example: alignment

    Therapy session at Vienna hospital (German/Serbian)

    T Now look, today we won’t sit down, today we’ll lie down, like in sleeping.

    I You will lie down here.

    T Hm?… Do you mind that?

    P Yes

    T Shall we do that?

    P Yes

    T Yes, good. Do you understand me? [to I] Tell him to/

    I Do you understand? The lady says you should lie down. Down there you should lie down, down there.

    Pochhacker & Kadric (1999)

    An example: alignment

    TDo you understand me? [to I] Tell him to/

    I Do you understand? The lady says you should lie down…

    Intercultural pragmatics

    An example: courtroom interpreting (Berk-Seligson 1988;1990)

    • Deferential politeness more common in Latin-American Spanish than in American English

    • L-A interpreter initiates cycle of politeness

    • Witnesses must address the court (i.e. the judge)

    • Witnesses often address the interpreter

    Interpreter’s four options

    • interpret accurately (“Yes, Madam”)

    • interpret incorrectly (“Yes, Sir”)

    • raise the problem with the judge

    • drop the honorific

    Interpreter strategies

    • Evidence that interpreters do ‘face work’, e.g. attenuation of bad news (redressive action):

    • Doctor: “your blood pressure is high”

    • Interpreter: “you have a little raised blood pressure”

    Interpreter strategies

    • Doctor: “You’re HIV-positive”

    • Interpreter: “The tests are positive”

      Clifford (2007)

    • Off-record strategy

    Interpreter strategies

    • Doctor: “Are you taking any other medication?”

    • Patient: “No… well, actually, I take sleeping pills but don’t tell him that!”

      • Culture 1: medicines by prescription only, for patient only.

      • Culture 2: medicines freely available, exchanged among friends and family.

    Interpreter strategies

    Angelelli (2012): pain-rating scales

    Nurse: Okay, from a scale from one to ten, ten being the worst pain, is it a ten? (…)

    Patient: Well. Yes. I have had it since this morning. It is there, I can feel it, not very strong but…

    Interp: How strong is not very strong, is it a 5, a 3 or a…

    Patient: More or less like a 5

    Footing and control

    Off.Did you look round for a job in Poland?

    Int.[Did you look for work? You looked for work and there wasn’t any?]


    Int.Yes, he was looking for work but there was no work.Berriff 1997

    Institutional Role

    • TV interpreting

    • Immigration or medical interpreting

    • USA courtroom interpreting

      • The interpreter’s ability to control.

    Conclusion: Interpreter behaviour

    • Protection of own self/image

    • Assumptions about cultural assumptions of participants and about their interactional goals

    • Alignment (often but not always to the more powerful participant)

    • Face work

    • Institutional constraints on freedom

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