This is by way of an interlude while I prepare the continuation of the previous post.
Over at his blog The Liaison Interpreter, Lionel Dersot wonders what a perfect bilingual is. It's true there are several definitions, but my favourite description is the one I got from a doctoral thesis by a well-known French diplomatic interpreter, Christopher Thiéry. He proposed the following as a test protocol. Seriously.
1. Put the Subject (S) for 15 minutes among a group of native speakers of language A and get a conversation going. To avoid bias, the group mustn't include any acquaintances of S.Personally I don't think I'd pass in any of my second languages. Perhaps French on a good day. Thiéry, who studied Professional Expert Interpreters who were members of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), thought few of them would pass it; but I believe the results would be quite different with subjects from a naturally bilingual community.
2. After the conversation, ask the participants (other than S of course) whether S is a native speaker of their language.
3. If so, put S for another 15 minutes among a group of native speakers of language B and repeat steps 1 and 2.
4. If both groups have answered in the affirmative, then S is a perfect bilingual. Simple and realistic.
Elsewhere Lionel recounts his efforts to encourage a good Japanese interpreting student who is inhibited by the way Japanese society regards liaison interpreters as 'menials'.
"I told her how derogatory interpreting in consec mode inside entities can be perceived. An enabler is a servant, an in-between, meaning for those acting as leaders a menial job."
|Satow in the 1860s|
"On one occasion, some Japanese officials at a conference had written up our official titles over the doors of the rooms intended for us, and mine had been rendered by 'tongue-officer,' a euphemism for interpreter; this I immediately had done away with, and my name substituted, for in Japan the office of interpreter at that time was looked upon as only fit for the lowest class of domestic servants, and no one of samurai rank would ever condescend to speak a foreign language. I had often to fight pretty hard with Japanese of rank to ensure being treated as something better than a valet or an orderly."The problem was aggravated by the fact that interpreters were associated with foreign trade; up till then the Japanese had only needed interpreters to deal with the traders from overseas, and commerce was considered demeaning for samurai. Obviously the Japanese attitude to trade has changed a lot since then, but not their attitude to interpreters.
- Lionel Dersot. A short course report. The Liaison Interpreter, 2013. Click here.
- Christopher Thiéry. Bilingualism in Professional Conference Interpreters. Translated from French by Susan Stillinger. Monterey CA: Monterey Institute of International Studies, 1980.
- Ernest Satow. A Diplomat in Japan: The Inner History of the Critical Years in the Evolution of Japan When the Ports Were Opened and the Monarchy Restored. London, 1921. One of the later editions is available here.
Yokahama Archives of History