Ceelbas CDT


Eline Helmer (UCL)

Eline Helmer

Tact in Translation: Negotiating Trust by the Russian Interpreter, at Home and Abroad

Supervisors: Prof Anne White and Dr Seth Graham

My doctoral research project will examine the way in which current patriotic discourse on translation and emplacement influences the negotiation of trust by Russian interpreters working in both Western Europe and Russia, at the professional, personal and community level.

The interpreter is a paradoxical figure: while facilitating dialogue s/he simultaneously marks the distance between two parties. Being the only conversational participant with the ability to follow both sides of the cross-linguistic discourse grants the interpreter the power to obscure or clarify. For the interpreter, it is therefore crucial to be completely trusted by both sides of the international dialogue in order to retain his/her professional credibility. When political tensions mount between the two sides, this means walking a tightrope between two discourses that might strongly differ or even directly oppose one another. In contrast to the fascination for everything ‘foreign’ after perestroika, current Russian patriotic rhetoric discourages international dialogue by framing international engagement as betrayal.

In order to answer my research question, I will conduct ethnographic fieldwork among Russian interpreters working both in North-western Russia and in North-western Europe. Due to the importance of direct encounters at the heart of oral translation, coloured through a range of social factors, this study focusses on interpreters and not on translators. The European countries included coincide with the four largest languages of North-western Europe: Dutch, German, English and French. Besides the inclusion of Saint Petersburg and Moscow - housing the main interpreting schools and international employment opportunities - this project includes provincial centres along Russia’s European border, where interpreters face entirely different obstacles.

Interpreters play a crucial role in transmitting knowledge across national and cultural boundaries. Once this exchange is discouraged, knowledge of ‘the other side’ does not easily get transmitted first hand, inhibiting cultural exchange, mutual understanding and mobility. As a result, Russia and Europe could not only drift apart at the geopolitical level, but ‘on the ground’ as well. The way interpreters negotiate trust between Western-European and Russian socio-political discourse in their professional and private lives will offer us a nuanced perspective in polarising public discourse on East-West relations.

Email: elinehelmer@gmail.com