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Tact in translation: negotiating trust by the Russian interpreter, at home and abroad

Helmer, Eline; (2021) Tact in translation: negotiating trust by the Russian interpreter, at home and abroad. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Being the only conversational participant with the ability to follow both sides of a crosslinguistic dialogue gives the interpreter the power to obscure or clarify. Because of heightened mutual dependency, all interpreters need trust to perform their roles. They actively build trust, both between self and client and between clients. In academic linguistic contexts, trust is often regarded as based on impartiality: the more objective and invisible the interpreter, the better and more professional he or she will be. In practice, this approach is not always possible, or desirable. The trust relationship between client and interpreter can also be based on closeness and personal interdependence. Interpreting po-chelovecheski (lit. ‘approaching someone in a humane way’) is a colloquial way for Russian interpreters to describe this approach. This thesis explores the negotiation of trust by Russian interpreters. The Russian translation market’s unregulated character, and historical framing of ‘the foreigner’ as someone to be protected and mistrusted, make for an interesting case to study face-to-face interpreting at all levels of the international dialogue. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with interpreters from St Petersburg, Moscow and Pskov, I argue that becoming ‘someone’s voice’ presents a specific caring relationship. Interpreters deliberately 'perform trustworthiness' by actively working towards becoming ‘one of them’ (svoi) and avoiding actions that could spark mistrust. This trust then allows them to encourage trust between interlocutors through practices of smoothening (‘smoothen’ = sgladitʹ) and softening (‘soften’ = smiagchitʹ). Drawing on 37 interviews with 41 interpreters, supplemented by participant observation, I explore the gender dynamics, emotional load and moral ambiguity of these practices. Instead of evaluating interpreters’ work along formal-informal, professional-intimate and economic-social binaries, studying interpreting through the interdisciplinary lens of care demonstrates the deficiencies of these divisions. This thesis provides a starting point for a relational and embodied understanding of interpreting, as well as insights into professional trust relationships in Russia at large.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Tact in translation: negotiating trust by the Russian interpreter, at home and abroad
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > SSEES
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10122436
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