Are Fictional Interpreters the Real Deal?

05/10/2012 | Hayley

As you all know, Language Insight specialises in three core services: transcription, translation and interpreting. Our team is highly skilled in their particular area of expertise and they have all trained long and hard to become the experts they are today.

This got us to thinking about the way our professions are portrayed in fiction. Below we have picked some of our favourite fictional characters to hold our jobs.

“Diane”

Secretary and transcriptionist

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks was the seminal water-cooler television show that had people on both sides of the Atlantic glued to their screens as they waited to find out who exactly did kill Laura Palmer. The detective drama was created by Academy Award-winning director David Lynch and featured a particularly iconic transcriptionist – although we never saw her on screen.

Diane is the secretary of FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), who is sent to the small community of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of a schoolgirl. Throughout his investigation he records meticulous notes on his Dictaphone, all addressed to Diane.

No doubt poor Diane must have had her hands full transcribing the dozens of cassettes Agent Cooper sent her. His dictation covered everything from witness descriptions to the quality of the cherry pie he sampled at the local diner. Even after being shot, as he lay on the floor unable to move, Cooper still found the strength to record his thoughts for Diane.

Twin Peaks first aired in 1990, so of course all of Agent Cooper’s dictations had to be done on cassette and posted to the FBI offices. Had it been set in the present day, he would have been able to digitally record his notes and submit them for transcription online. This would have meant Cooper got his notes back quicker and poor Diane got the chance to enjoy a break every now and again!

“Silvia Broome” (played by Nicole Kidman)

Interpreter at the United Nations

The Interpreter

The Interpreter is a political thriller in which Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, an interpreter working at the United Nations in New York. Not only did Kidman and director Sydney Pollack thoroughly research what was involved in working as a professional interpreter to ensure the film was realistic, but they also made up a whole new language for Silvia to specialise in – Ku.

By and large, the film succeeds in portraying the profession authentically – although most interpreters have never uncovered an assassination plot! However, the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) points out a few discrepancies between the reality and the fantasy.

For instance, author Danielle Gree observes that Silvia’s booth at the UN is incredibly clear of clutter, while a real interpreter’s desk would be covered in resolutions and glossaries, in addition to sheets and sheets of notes that all interpreters make in preparation for any assignment.

However, these discrepancies are largely forgiven because the movie got the main thing right – being called The Interpreter rather than The Translator. “It’s remarkable that the film is called The Interpreter and not The Translator because people often muddle interpretation of the spoken word and translation of the written word,” Ms Gree explains.

“Ms Kawasaki” (played by Akiko Takeshita)

Interpreter

Lost In Translation

As its name suggests, this iconic 2003 movie from Sophia Coppola talks about things getting lost in translation, be it as a result of a language, age or culture divide. One of the seminal scenes revolves around American actor Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray) who is in Japan to film an advertisement for Suntory Whisky.

His passionate director gives him ample direction, but the interpreter appears to condense what he has said into a few words, leaving Bob confused. No subtitles are displayed in the scene to show what the director is actually saying so the audience is left as lost as Bob, knowing the director is saying more but with no way to find out what.

Various translations exist that allow us to learn what the interpreter is not repeating, so we can understand the director’s irritation that Bob is not conveying what he wants.

Director: Mr Bob-san. You are sitting quietly in your study. And then there is a bottle of Suntory Whisky on top of the table. You understand, right? With wholehearted feeling, slowly, look at the camera, tenderly, and as if you are meeting old friends, say the words. As if you are Bogie in Casablanca, saying: ”Cheers to you guys,” Suntory time!

Ms Kawasaki: He wants you to turn, look in camera. OK?

Bob: That’s all he said?

Source: The New York Times

The whole scene will have resonance with anyone who regularly watches foreign language films or TV shows, when the characters on screen seem to be saying a lot more than the subtitles would have you believe! Ms Kawasaki is a prime example of why it pays to do your research before you choose the interpreter you want to work with.

Movie title translations

We couldn’t conclude this post without referring to some of the hilarious movie title translations to light up multiplexes around the world over the years. Of course, document translation is an art that requires a certain amount of subjectivity, and these titles certainly prove that.

Here are a few of our favourites:

Die Hard With A Vengeance – “Die Hard: Mega Hard” (Denmark)

The Dark Knight – “Knight of the Night” (Spain)

Fargo – “Mysterious Murder in Snowy Cream” (China)

Free Willy – “A Very Powerful Whale Runs To Heaven” (China)

The Sixth Sense – “He’s a Ghost!” (China) (Bit of a giveaway, this one).

 

Why not share your opinions on translators, interpreters and transcriptionists in the movies below?

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