Eline Helmer (UCL)
Tact in Translation: Negotiating Trust by the Russian Interpreter, at Home and Abroad
Supervisors: Prof Anne White and Dr Seth Graham
Being the only conversational participant with the ability to follow both sides of the cross-linguistic dialogue puts the interpreter in a powerful position. He or she can mediate a conversation, enhance mutual understanding and de-escalate conflict through forms of ‘everyday diplomacy’. However, this same powerful role also evokes questions of loyalty: to which side does the interpreter hold alliance? Can an interpreter be completely neutral in the first place? Culturally, ‘liminal figures’ are often regarded with mistrust. Interpreters are no exception: there are countless stories, novels and films in which interpreters are the object of ‘spy fever’.
Grounded in long-term ethnographic fieldwork with Russian interpreters, this research project aims to investigate the ways in which current political tensions influence the negotiation of trust by Russian interpreters working in both Western Europe and Western Russia. The interpreters’ experiences ‘on the ground’ may provide us with insights into the way trust is created on an everyday basis in times when precisely trust is what is lacking from the geopolitical East-West dialogue.