It is likely that most people didn’t notice the number of people standing discretely behind the politicians and delegates that recently gathered at the Loch Erne resort in Fermanagh for the G8 summit. Not to mention the small army of people working behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running of the most recent gathering of the G8 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.
The role these people play in such international gatherings is often overlooked and their work often goes uncredited. So, who are these essential but invisible people? Security? Hospitality staff? No, the answer is rather the humble translator and interpreter.
Of the eight countries represented at the summit, English is the official language of less than half- the United States, The United Kingdom, and Canada, which is officially bilingual. Although some of the representatives at the summit speak English- such as François Hollande, Angela Merkel, Barrosso and Van Rompuy, each representative has the right to express themselves in their own language, for the sake of both equality and national identity. Taking this into account, the importance of language professionals in summits like these cannot be underestimated.
However, the work of translators and interpreters is often overlooked, particularly by the media. Take the example of Vladimir Putin’s controversial remarks on the conflict in Syria: “…Russia never was on its own in making a statement in regard to Syria… Not all G8 members take the view that chemical weapons were in fact used by the Syrian army. Some actually agree with us that there is no proof.” According to newspaper and television coverage of the conference, one would have believed that Putin had recently become fluent in English: while a few mentioned that he spoke through an interpreter (or a translator (!)), none gave their name, and most left out the somewhat important fact that Putin had been using an interpreter altogether. One reporter posted the following tweet ahead of a press conference on the absence of Putin’s interpreter: “…no sign of interpreter at presser (press conference) & worried rusty GCSE Russian won’t cut it.”
This represents the paradox inherent in the work of the translator and interpreter- their work often goes unnoticed but it is so vital to international communication that their absence has an immediate impact.
Written by Anna Curran