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The Interpreter as Intervener
Editors’ Note: You’re about to start negotiating in a language where you can’t even read the alphabet. What to do? This chapter is essential for anyone about to engage in a negotiation involving multiple languages—which could include many “domestic” negotiations in Singapore or Chicago or London or Paris. Kaufman explores how translators are neither perfectly neutral third parties, nor part of a team (contrary to common assumptions). She then shows how they are often powerful and autonomous actors in the negotiation, and demonstrates how important it is to think about the use of interpreters before the day they are hired.
The most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth.
G.C. Lichtenberg, physicist (1742-1799)
Any translator who intends to render a work from one language to another merely by rendering word for word, and slavishly following the order of the chapters and sentences in the original, will come to grief. The product of his labor will be unintelligible and ludicrous.
Language Barriers to Negotiations
The word “ceasefire” carries critically different meanings in Arabic (hudna), in Hebrew (hafsakat esh) and English, in which negotiations are often conducted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The parties to this conflict also differ over the meaning of tahdiah, designating in Arabic the period of calm on which sides agreed informally in 2005, in Sharm el Sheik (Al-Ahram 2005). The hudna example led Micah D. Halperin (2003) to observe that:
One of the most significant obstacles to be overcome in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is language. The cultural, conceptual and language barriers that separate the negotiating partners are greater than their negotiation over land and far more difficult to resolve.
UN Resolution 242 (1967) famously carries significantly different meanings in English, Russian, French, and Spanish, hinging on one word....
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