From a later Biblical epoch than the meturgeman (see posting for July 29) comes the well-known example in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians:
“If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two or at most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence." (I Cor xiv, 27-28 in the King James translation)
(The commentators understand by two or at the most by three to mean at any one meeting; while and that by course means separately, one at a time.)
The passage should be understood in conjunction with another in the same epistle:
“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom… To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.” (I Cor xii, 8-10)
So in Paul’s view the ability to interpret is an important divine gift, and it’s not given to everybody who knows a foreign language. In a mention in the Old Testament, interpreters are said to be “one among a thousand” (Job xxxiii, 23). On the other hand, it’s not a gift reserved for trained people; it may be that any bilingual in the congregation is endowed with it and can speak up when necessary.
Now let’s do a fast forward. There are still many interpreters in today’s Christian churches. A search for “church interpreter” with Google retrieves over two thousand citations, and that’s just in English. But now comes a big surprise: all of those citations, so far as I’ve had time to look at them, refer to interpreting for the deaf in what are often called the deaf ministries.
Then comes a second surprise. In a field where, because of its altruistic character, one would expect to find few if any Professional Interpreters plying their trade, professionalisation has started in some places.
A recent discussion about church visual language interpreters in the United States is revealing if we read between the lines. It’s on the About.com site and the topic was paying or not paying the interpreters. The discussants were divided on the matter, but from what they say we can deduce the following:
1. Some churches do pay their interpreters, and some of the interpreters are professionals. In other churches, though there are professionals who might claim a fee, they donate their services. Some of their peers are against such donations: “The profession of interpreting will never be recognized as a truly skilled profession if people offer their services for free.”
2. In the USA there is a well-regulated system for accrediting sign language interpreters. Many of the church interpreters are accredited. More than that, some of them attend yearly ‘rectification classes’.
3. On the other hand, some interpreters are less highly trained: “My church has one highly qualified terp and 2 others who are well qualified but have less training.” Less training does not however mean untrained.
So at least in this very developed environment, church interpreters for the deaf are generally trained Expert Interpreters and many are Professional Interpreters.
So much for the visual language interpreters. How about voice interpreters (as the visual language interpreters call us interpreters who speak)? To be continued.