Swearing in an Interpretation

Interpreting swear words can be testy for anyone involved. Should it be done? As an interpreter, you’re expected to relay the message exactly as it was created. Sometimes, though, this can be tricky. 

Say for instance you’re interpreting for a hospital to a recently deceased loved one. The news can cause of stir of colorful language. To exactly express how the deceased loved one feels, you’d have to use a whole slew of words that the hospital might not deem appropriate. 

The upside, these words are not your own. Yet, some still believe swear words should be avoided, even in interpretation, but the but National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare’s (NSIC) believes in a code of ethics for interpreters to relay everything exactly as it was said. 

That can be seen in the link below.

But what if it’s not a matter of ethics? What if there just isn’t an appropriate match up from source language to target language? English, for example, is very creative and colorful with its words. A lot of languages out there just don’t have that kind of flexibility. Some languages will even “borrow” English swear words to emphasize the anger or excitement that couldn’t otherwise be emphasized.

When it comes right down to it, as an interpreter you have to get creative. This doesn’t mean you should stray away from the original meaning, or change a word just so you don’t have to swear, but it does mean that desperate times call for desperate measures.
When there are no word equivalents you take your time and think of a new word that will benefit the target language just as much as the original word might have.
This shouldn’t be used lightly, and if the conversation heats up, take care not to get caught in the storm. Depending on the particular topic, emotions can pile high. Sometimes an inappropriate word will be on the tip of your tongue, regardless if either party intended for that. Just like swearing for the parties involved, you can’t add words to fit your agenda or side. It all just goes back to the code of ethics interpreters should keep close at hand.


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