Obscenity while Interpreting a Live Broadcast.

March 12, 2012 § 7 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

During the past few weeks we have watched many movie award shows and political debates on American TV. Last week I shared my thoughts on interpreting a live political event on TV.  Today I want to talk about another very important element of live media interpretation: The live broadcast “5-second delay” factor that we have in the United States because of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction incident during a Super Bowl half time show several years ago.

As I watched the Golden Globes from my home, and I saw Meryl Streep  fumble around looking for her eyeglasses to read her acceptance speech after being voted best female actor, I noticed,  like all of you, that she said something that we did not hear but “saw” regarding her frustration about forgetting her glasses.  Although I was watching the broadcast in English, I immediately thought of my colleagues who at that precise time were interpreting the broadcast of the ceremony to the non-English speaking world.

There is a principle in conference interpreting about avoiding the interpretation of all that is irrelevant and all that makes the speaker look bad and does not contribute anything to the listener.   Of course, there are two possible scenarios where the interpreter may need to make a judgment call:  On the first one, the interpreter has a live speech, as many of our colleagues from other countries did during the Streep incident, and a second reality, the one that faced those who were interpreting from the American signal that had the 5-second delay.  The question is: As the working interpreter in this situation, would you skip the “expletives” and just interpret the rest of what Ms. Streep said when she accepted her award?  I would skip it regardless of the way I am getting the feed of the speech. If it is live without any delay I would just interpret everything else, and if I had to deal with the delay, as we often do when we work in the States, I would pace myself so that the listener would not  even realize that there was a 5-second delay on the original broadcast.  Of course, there are those who say that you should interpret everything, and at least use “softer” expressions to convey the flavor of what is happening.  Please tell us what you would do as the broadcast interpreter of one of these events.

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