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

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!

  • Interculturality2


    • 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

    The Co-operative Principle

    • Ideal speaker and listener

    • No allowance for cultural differences

    • Anglo-centric?

    Cross cultural business exchange in english

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    Spatial arrangement

    In addition

    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

    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

    Footing: production format

    • Animator

    • Author

    • Principal

    An example distancing

    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 distancing1

    An example: distancing

    “Le présidentvousdemandesi…”

    [The judge is asking you whether…]

    “Die Zeuginantwortet…”

    [The witness replies that…]

    An example alignment

    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 alignment1

    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

    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

    Interpreter’s four options

    • interpret accurately (“Yes, Madam”)

    • interpret incorrectly (“Yes, Sir”)

    • raise the problem with the judge

    • drop the honorific

    Interpreter strategies

    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 strategies1

    Interpreter strategies

    • Doctor: “You’re HIV-positive”

    • Interpreter: “The tests are positive”

      Clifford (2007)

    • Off-record strategy

    Interpreter strategies2

    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 strategies3

    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

    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

    Institutional Role

    • TV interpreting

    • Immigration or medical interpreting

    • USA courtroom interpreting

      • The interpreter’s ability to control.

    Conclusion interpreter behaviour

    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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