Relay interpreting

Miriam Shlesinger

Table of contents

Relay interpreting (RI) is the practice of interpreting from one language to another through a third language. Thus, for example, when a conference delegate is speaking Arabic and is to be interpreted into English and German where no Arabic-German interpreter is available, the German output may be mediated via the English “pivot” (or “relayer"). In some cases, the pivot may even be occupying a “dummy booth"; i.e., in the above example, it may be the case that no English interpreting is required, and the English is produced solely for the sake of enabling the German interpretation. RI is most often used for languages of limited diffusion, and is particularly common in multilingual conferences in countries where most interpreters have only two working languages or in those with several official languages; e.g., South Africa, where one language (most often English) mediates between several others. RI was also standard practice in what used to be the Eastern Bloc countries, with Russian as the pivot language. Whereas direct interpreting – and interpreting into one’s A language – had once been considered the only acceptable option, the new reality created by the expansion of the major international organizations and by other geopolitical changes has led to a rise in RI, despite its being regarded as “a second-best solution […]” (Gebhard 2001), and despite its frequent reliance on interpreters working into their B language (i.e., doing retour).

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