The task of the interpreter in the struggle of the other for empowerment
Mythical utopia or sine qua non of professionalism?
Interpreters perceive, listen, see and speak in the name of the Other, both in the language of the symbolically and/or practically oppressed Other and in the language of the oppressor. Yet in doing so, they paradoxically use their own voice and language. As there can be no neutral part in mis/communication and as there is no objective way of perceiving, analyzing, and processing information and emotions, professional interpreters must position themselves. Numerous examples from situations where interpreters act as intermediaries between the dominating and violating agents of societies/states and migrants, refugees, and members of minoritized and oppressed communities illustrate the challenges involved in simultaneously representing and mediating the speech of the Other. In settings like detention camps, asylum seekers’ sanctuaries, refugee camps, and prisons where asylum seekers are kept under custody before deportation, as well as in occupied territories and areas of military conflict, the interpreter is faced with the responsibility of serving as the “expert” of the in-between. Interpreters play a participant role in the interplay of power as an active performer. Their gaze disrupts and their voice intervenes. Thus, I argue that, as an important pillar of professionalism, interpreters must be sensitized and trained to cope with the dangers and opportunities of their in-between position and of their status as the third party to a communicative act. Interpreters should be trained to reflect critically and honestly on their involvement as participant observers.