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Review of  Revisiting the Interpreter’s Role

Reviewer: Ihab Ahmad Shabana
Book Title: Revisiting the Interpreter’s Role
Book Author: Claudia V. Angelelli
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 16.1239

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Date: Mon, 18 Apr 2005 08:32:26 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ihab Shabana
Subject: Revisiting the Interpreter's Role

AUTHOR: Angelelli, Claudia V.
TITLE: Revisiting the Interpreter's Role
SERIES: Translating and Interpreting
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Ihab A.I. Shabana, Ph.D Candidate; Currently teaching Arabic at the
School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London and
Assistant lecturer, Department Of English, Al-Azhar University-Egypt


It is generally known that translation studies are older than interpreting
studies. That is translation studies started earlier and witnessed
remarkable contributions from distinguished linguists such as Nida and
Newmark. Over the lat two decades, translation studies were given
prominence as a sub-branch of linguistics and expanded further as
well-established discipline. The Translation Studies Reader (Venuti:
2000) represents a comprehensive reference that includes several
articles on the history of translation studies starting from 1900 until the
nineties. On the other hand, interpreting studies began to pose itself
as independent sub-discipline of translation studies and already
produced its own journal under the name Interpreting in
1996.Interpeting concerned with discussing and describing the nature
of the task and how far it is different from purely rendering a source
language (SL) text into a target language one (TL). It also discusses
the role of the delicate role of the interpreter as mediator and
facilitator of communication between two languages and each
language represents a separate cultural, linguistic and social entity.

The definition of translation is usually associated with rendering
written text from SL into a TL, while the definition of interpreting is
usually associated with oral speech. According to Schaffner (2004:1),
the translator of a given text has the chance to check, revise and
correct his translation as he has the time and even the text to do so.
On the other hand, an interpreter does not have this chance as the
process of oral communication must be immediate and there is no
chance to check the comprehension of the final output.

The book in hand represents a step forward on the read to probe the
role of the interpreter in the process of cross-language
communication. It is based on a PhD. dissertation prepared by
Angelelli upon a survey she has run to inspect the real role of the
interpreter in the process of interpretation. Realizing the significance
of the role of the interpreter through out history, Angelelli found out
that interprets existed since the ancient Egyptians and their role in the
process of cross- cultural communication still growing in the 21st
century. In her book, she wants to find answers for the nature of the
role of professional interpreters in various domains. She also tries to
find an answer to the contradiction between the role of the
interpreters who in reality center the stage in the process of
communication between the two parties and their portrayal as merely
language conduits. In addition, she discuses the role of the institution
and how far its power affects the performance of the interpreter and to
what extent can the dominant ideology be an effective factor in the
process of interpreting.


Chapter 1 presents an overview of the field. In this vein, the chapter
discusses the early forms of interpreting in ancient times and it also
during the Second World War during which the role of the interpreter
was substantial especially during the Nuremberg trials (1945-1946).
Recently, qualified interpreters were widely needed especially after
the 11/9 events. America reacted both military and politically. The role
of the interpreter still centers the stage in the Afghanistan and Iraq as
America sought not only toppling the regimes there but also sought to
have a dialogue with the peoples of these countries. The same
chapter discusses interpreting as a profession and how the
emergence of different holding associations either in Paris or Geneva
or Paris contributed to the widespread concern for developing
professional training programs. Interpreting as field of study and
research is also discussed in this chapter, including the different types
of interpreting: Conference Interpreting, Courtroom Interpreting and
Community interpreting. Angelelli ends the chapter with discussing
how the role of interpreter can be shaped depending on the setting of
work. Here, one may conclude that the conclusion of this chapter is
interpreting is interactive process that includes the two interlocutors
and the interpreter whose role in mediating communication must be
further explored.

In Chapter 2, the writer discusses the role of the interpreter from a
wider perspective. For this target, she tries to fine the interaction
between interpreting and theories from other disciplines. In this
respect, she points out that the visibility or invisibility of the interpreter
can be studied at many levels. This study can be interpersonal social,
interpersonal and institutional. These levels represent the three
spheres that surround any communication. That is when two persons
interact together, each one represents his social background and this
social background influences their interaction. Also this interaction
takes place in an institution, which in its turn has a role in shaping the
dynamics and strategies of this interaction. In her endeavor to find the
interaction between interpreting and other disciplines, Angelelli relies
on the social theory of Bourdieu (1977) & (1991). Bourdieu considers
that individuals in a given society are engaged in away or another in
symbolic network of social power, which moulds our behavior. In this
regard, institution imposes a certain code of behavior upon its
individuals and hence upon those who interact or communicate with
this institution including interpreters. She also relies on linguistic
anthropology, which mainly investigates how the speech community
share the same linguistic background and hence this would affect
constructing ideas in communication and also how interlocutors
commit themselves to their social values in their discourse.

In Chapter 3, the writer introduces an instrument, which she
developed to measure the interpersonal role of the interpreter. In her
view, this instrument will help us understand the beliefs of the
interpreter about his role and what information they have about the
way they practice their job and also why this type of information is
significant in the profession of interpreting. The Interpreter's
Interpersonal Role Inventory (IPRI) is designed to measure the
interpreter's attitudes towards the visibility/invisibility of the
interpersonal role. It has been designed to address interpreters in
USA, Canada and Mexico in different settings. Interpreters of
Conference Interpreting, Court Room interpreting, and medical/
community have been surveyed. The inventory itself includes many
items that intertwine with the profession of interpreting with the aim of
testing the attitudes of a professional interpreter.

In Chapter 4, the writer discusses the administration of the inventory in
many settings and also presents different types of participants in the
inventory. The main participants are conference interpreters, court
interpreters and medical and community interpreters. The study has
shown, for instance, that medical and courtroom interpreters consider
their role visible due the nature of their work, as they are more
involved in the process of communication. On other hand, conference
interpreters see them selves as invisible mediators, yet some of them
give contradictory answers. In brief, it is the setting of work that
imposes different set of constraints on the performance of the

In Chapter 5, the writer concludes that interprets are highly influenced
by the environment and the setting of their work. Interpreters should
not be only perceived as skilful individuals who are capable of
rendering an interaction between two interlocutors from one code to
another. They are also representatives of an integrated system of
social, education and institutional background that shape and
influence their practice in the different settings. The inventory
designed by the writer of this book helps to raise the awareness
among interprets of the nature of their role. It provides t institutions
that run courses for training professional interprets with the necessary
information that one should be ware of if these courses are to achieve
their objectives. The inventory also shed the light on the growing trend
of integrating among different disciplines of sociology and
anthropological linguistics in order to reach an interactive model of
analysis that can account for the different aspects of human
communication including interpreting.


The book in hand can be considered as a valuable contribution to the
emerging field of interpreting studies .The book sheds the light on the
role of the interpreter as a central agent in the process of
communicative interaction. The Interpreter's Interpersonal Role
Inventory (IPRI) developed by Angelelli is reliable instrument through
which we can know more about the different perceptions of
interpreters and how they view their performance in the different
settings. The book also draws the attention to the significance of using
inter-disciplinary theories in the field of interpreting studies in order to
account for the different aspects that surround the process of
interpreting. In my view, the only shortcoming is that it would have
been more instructive if the writer expanded more on the
administration of the survey. However, this may be attributed to the
nature of the book as it is based on a Ph.D. thesis.

I find this book useful for professional interpreters, as it will help to
raise their awareness of the nature of their role. It is also useful for
researchers and students of translation studies in general and
interpreting studies in particular. Those who have interest in
interdisciplinary studies might find it relevant.


Baker, Mona, ed. (2001) Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation
Studies, London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1977), Outline of a Theory of Practice, 1st. ed. Vol. XVI.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1991), Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.

Schaffner, Christina, ed.(2004) Translation Research and Interpreting
Research, Clevendon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Venuti, Lawrence, ed.(2000) The Translation Studies Reader, London
& New York: Routledge.


Ihab A. Shabana is a Ph.D. candidate at Al-Azhar-Egypt and SOAS,
has a B.A. in Simultaneous Interpreting (English& Arabic) and an M.A.
in Linguistics, was Assistant Lecturer of Linguistics-Al-Azhar and
Visiting Research Student at SOAS in 2002-2004, and is now on full-
time teaching post of Arabic at SOAS. Areas of interest include
Pragmatics, Political Discourse, Sociolinguistics and Translation