February 24, 2014 § 2 Comments
We are just a few days away from that very American ceremony that the world has made its own turning it into an international event: The Academy Awards, or as it is better known: The Oscar.
There are very few broadcasts that depend more on the services of an interpreter than the Oscar ceremony. It is a fact that people will be watching, again, all over the world. Although most of them do not speak a word of English they will have people over for food and drinks, perhaps will dress up for the occasion, and will tune in for the broadcast that will be simultaneously interpreted into their native language by a team of very skilled interpreters from a booth in Hollywood or from a TV studio somewhere else in the world. Because dear colleagues, not all interpreters will be lucky enough to be working from California; many of them will do their job from a small TV studio somewhere in their own countries where they will pick up the American feed and “pretend” that they are broadcasting from the site of the event. The Oscar is also an important event to the interpreter community at large because let’s face it; in many countries we are part of that very small group of people who watch what Americans refer to as foreign language films (for the rest of the world: movies that are not in English) If you add the fact that a film in your own language, or even from your country, may be nominated for this coveted award, then you will have a most memorable night. But, what is the Oscar? Where did it get its nickname?
The Academy Award statuette was designed by an MGM art director named Cedric Gibbons and a sculptor named George Stanley in 1928. At that time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences referred to it as the Academy Award of Merit. That was its original name. It was in the 1930s that the trophy got its nickname: Oscar. There are several tales on how the statuette came to be called Oscar. The Academy endorses the following: A librarian who worked for the Academy in the 1930s named Margaret Herrick thought that the statuette had a physical resemblance to an uncle of hers. The uncle’s name was Oscar. Columnist Sidney Skolsky was present when she made the remark, and he seized the name in his famous byline: “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar’.” (Levy, Emanuel . All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards. Burns & Oates. ISBN 978-0-8264-1452-6) others claim that it was Bette Davis who named the statuette Oscar after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. One of the earliest recorded mentions of the term Oscar goes back to a Time Magazine article about the 1934 Academy Awards ceremony. Even Walt Disney is quoted in 1932 as thanking the Academy for his Oscar. Others claim that it may have been named after Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. Whatever the origin of its now world-famous name, the trophy was officially referred to as the “Oscar” in 1939 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Regardless of the language combination, the Oscar ceremony presents two interesting problems for the interpreters working the event: (1) the sometimes local expressions and politically incorrect speeches by the recipients of the award, which incidentally might not be suitable for some audiences depending on each country’s censorship legislation. Although much of this has been taken care of by the broadcast delay rule that exists in all live broadcasts originating from the United States (motivated by the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunctioning during a Super Bowl halftime show); and (2) The title, different from its original, that a film gets depending on the country and language where it will be shown.
Regarding the recipient’s speech I had one of these situations during the Golden Globes, not the Oscars, when Meryl Streep uttered a bad word. Fortunately for me, because of the delay policy, I did not have to worry about that rendition as the exclamation was edited out. But it was not always like that, and I can just imagine what our colleagues went through in the past when many actors used the Academy Awards as a channel to protest and criticize governments, policies, and philosophies; not to mention Jack Palance’s push-ups routine when he got the Oscar for his performance of “Curly” in “City Slickers.” The issue of different titles is tough, really tough. It was more difficult in the past before globalization because at that time many interpreters had not even watched the movies as they had not opened in their home countries yet, so they could not even “guess” the movie. Titles like “The Sound of Music” that was renamed: “La novicia rebelde” in Mexico, or “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” which was named: “Atrapados sin salida” had to be tough to interpret when you had no idea what the movie was about. At least naming “Jaws” “Tiburón” was easier to figure out. Now I invite you to share with all of us your personal experiences interpreting the Academy Awards, or to bring up other movie titles that were tough to translate. Finally, I would like to end this piece with a big thank you to all the interpreters who through the years have made it possible, and many times under very tough conditions, for the entire world to sit down in front of the TV set and for one evening every year root for their favorites based solely on one criteria: how they acted, directed, produced, or in any other category contributed their talents to the greatness of a film.
February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
As it happens with other American holidays, many colleagues who live abroad, and others who live in the United States but grew up somewhere else, have asked me the meaning of the holiday we celebrate in the United States on the third Monday in February. As you know, the United States is a federation of fifty states and each state has its own legislation and decision-making process. As a result of this system Americans have two types of holidays: Those that are observed in all fifty states called federal holidays, and those that are only observed in a specific state. The latter ones are referred to as state holidays. By comparison with other countries the United States has very few holidays. The one observed in February is the third one on the calendar and it is just one of two holidays that commemorate the birth of a person (the other one is in January to honor the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.)
All government offices close on federal holidays but the rest of the American people go to work on many of them. The February holiday is one of those that the majority of the citizens of the United States will commemorate by going to work.
The U.S. has many founding fathers, all heroes and authors of the great country that we Americans enjoy today, but there is only one “father of the country.” There is only one George Washington. Because George Washington was born in the American state of Virginia on February 22, and he is the father of the country, in 1879 The United States Congress determined that all government offices in Washington, D.C. should remain closed to observe his birthday. In 1885 this was expanded to all federal government offices all over the United States. On January 1, 1971 Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” and among other federal holidays, it shifted this one from Washington’s actual birthday to the third Monday in February. As an interesting footnote I should mention that this piece of legislation moved the holiday to a day between February 15 and 21, so the observance never coincides with Washington’s real birthday on the 22nd. For many years the holiday was known as “Washington’s Birthday.”
Abraham Lincoln, another beloved American hero, and our 16th. President, was born on February 12. It was impossible to have two separate holidays to honor these two great men during the same calendar month, so for a long time Lincoln’s birthday was ignored. A draft of the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” would have renamed “Washington’s Birthday” as “Presidents’ Day” to honor the birth of both beloved presidents. This is the reason why the observed holiday falls between both birthdays but it never falls on either. The proposed name change failed in Congress and the holiday continued as “Washington’s Birthday.” Lincoln’s birthday did not become a federal holiday, but several states, among them Connecticut, Missouri, and Illinois adopted it as a state holiday and observe it on February 12, his actual birthday.
By the mid-1980s retailers and advertisement agencies started to refer to the holiday sales during this time-period as “Presidents’ Day” and the American people would soon follow suit. Officially the holiday has never been named “Presidents’ Day.” In fact, some state legislatures have chosen to honor Washington, Lincoln, and other heroes differently during the month of February. For example, the state of Massachusetts celebrates a state holiday called “Washington’s Birthday” on the same day that the federal government observes the federal “Washington’s Birthday,” and in May it celebrates a state holiday named “Presidents Day” honoring the presidents of the United States who came from Massachusetts: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and John F. Kennedy. In fact, the holiday falls on Kennedy’s birthday: May 29. In Virginia where George Washington was born, the federal holiday is legally referred to as “George Washington’s Day.” In Alabama the federal holiday commemorates Washington and Thomas Jefferson despite the fact that the latter president was born in April, and in New Mexico state government is open on the official federal “Presidents’ Day” because they observe it as a state-paid holiday on the Friday after Thanksgiving also known as “Black Friday.”
Now that we know that the third Monday in February is known as “Presidents’ Day” and it also serves the unofficial role of honoring Abraham Lincoln, and now that we understand that although a federal holiday, almost nobody but government employees have the day off on “Washington’s Birthday” we need to talk about the correct spelling of this official federal holiday known to all Americans by its unofficial name: “Presidents’ Day.”
Today people refer to the holiday as “Presidents’ Day” and “Presidents Day.” Both versions are considered correct by American dictionaries such as “Webster’s Third International Dictionary” and “The Chicago Manual of Style.” As the use of attributive nouns has become common in the United States, “Presidents Day” has become the most popular term. Of course, the spelling “President’s Day” is only acceptable when specifically referring to the birthday of Washington, and Washington alone. So now you know what to do the next time they ask you to explain what Americans celebrate on the third Monday in February, whether or not you are willing to work on “Presidents Day,” and how to spell the name of this exceptionally unique and diverse holiday. Please feel free to share your comments about the holiday or the way it should be spelled.
February 4, 2014 § 20 Comments
I am usually welcomed and nicely greeted when I get to the place where I am going to work. People are willing to help by showing me where I need to go, asking me if I need anything, and so on. I used to take this for granted until an assignment a few months ago made me realize how lucky and fortunate I am. Not long ago I was hired by a very big international corporation to interpret for a lecture that one of their speakers was going to give to a group of middle school and high school teachers and parents. Although I was supposed to work alone, the lecture was going to be about 45 minutes long and the deal was sweet. I was told by the corporate representative who hired me that the booth and equipment would be provided by the town public schools. I got the materials for the lecture, I even got paid before the event, so I entered the assignment on my schedule.
A few weeks later when it was time for the job, I arrived at the public schools auditorium in this town. The corporate representative who hired me was already waiting for me and she introduced me to the speaker. We talked logistics and asked to see the booth and equipment. The public schools staff directed me to a woman who was sitting on stage doing nothing. I approached her, introduced myself, and asked her about the equipment. Without even saying a word she gave me this very angry look and asked me: “who are you?” I repeated that I was the interpreter for the lecture. She got up and walking away from me she said: “you can go. We have our own interpreter.”
Because of the way she had addressed me I decided not to continue the conversation. I went back to the people who hired me instead. After I told them what had happened the lady who hired me asked me to have a seat while she got everything cleared. I sat down and looked at the clock on the wall. We were about 20 minutes away from the event and I had not seen any booth in the auditorium. Actually, I had not even seen any interpretation equipment.
After some ten minutes the corporate representative came to me and told me that everything was fine, that she had talked to the public schools superintendent and had explained that their practice as a business is to bring their own interpreters because the lecture is very technical. She told me that the superintendent had agreed, but there was a requirement that we did not know before: Because this was a public schools facility, they had to use a public schools staff interpreter, not for our lecture but for the rest of the event (greetings, opening remarks by the host presenter, announcements and so on) Moreover, I was informed that there would be no booth, not even a desk top half booth, that I was going to interpret using a portable unit like the ones used in court. I am a professional and I was not about to leave my client hanging, so I agreed to the new terms.
At this time the same rude woman from earlier headed towards me and told me: “My boss says that our interpreter will do everything except for the part that your people insisted you had to do.” I asked to see the equipment and she told me that the equipment wasn’t there yet, that their interpreter was bringing it to the auditorium and that she had not arrived yet. This was five minutes before we had to start the event. Parents and teachers were taking their seats, and it was clear to me that many of them were looking for interpretation headsets. It was at that time that another public schools official approached us to tell us that we had to start because they had other things to do after the event and therefore this could not be delayed. My speaker looked at me and said: “what do we do?” I looked at her and told her not to worry, that we would start the lecture on the consecutive mode and that as soon as the equipment arrived we would switch to simultaneous interpretation. I got up from my improvised work station where I had my iPad and a microphone on a table I had to beg for because at first they did not want to let me have it. They told me that their interpreters did not use a table and did not sit down to interpret.
We started the lecture and about 15 minutes later the public schools interpreter arrived with the portable equipment. After she tested it and distributed it to the Spanish speakers in the audience she handed me the transmitter and I was able to do the rest of the lecture simultaneously. Towards the end of the lecture the staff interpreter approached me and began to talk really loud. Because I was still interpreting I was not able to understand or respond to what she said; in fact, she was so loud that I had a hard time maintaining my concentration to hear what the lecturer was saying. After I finished she just took the transmitter away from me without saying a word.
The audience had an interesting lecture that they all understood. The non-English speakers were able to follow the entire presentation because I interpreted the event, but the speaker and I felt very unwelcomed by the public schools staff. We both thought that there had been some unwarranted rudeness towards the two of us (she also had an episode because at the beginning they didn’t want her to use their projector for the Power Point presentation)
After I got home that night I reflected on my work and how fortunate I am, and I also thought of all of my colleagues who have to work with poor acoustics, without a booth, and put up with this type of hostility on a daily basis. It requires a true professional to make an event like this a success. I ask all of you who presently or in the past have faced such working conditions to please share your stories with the rest of us.