UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Eline Helmer

Eline Helmer

Supervisors: Prof Anne White and Dr Seth Graham

Email: eline.helmer.17@ucl.ac.uk

Present status: PhD Candidate

Working title of thesis: Tact in Translation: Negotiating Trust by the Russian Interpreter, at Home and Abroad

Research: 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?  

Since interpreter-mediated encounters are situations of heightened mutual dependency, trust is especially relevant. In linguistic contexts, trust is often regarded as based on impartiality: the more objective, distant and invisible the interpreter, the better and more professional he or she will be. Although this image of an interpreter as an unbiased mediator who ‘just translates’ has been challenged recently, it still constitutes the professional ideal. 

In practice, however, the relationship of trust between a client and an interpreter can be based on closeness and personal interdependence. Interpreting po-chelovecheski is a colloquial way to describe this approach to oral translation, where it is common to ‘smoothen’ (sgladitʹ) and ‘soften’(smiagchitʹ) in order to bring people together. My research explores these practices based on long-term ethnographic research with interpreters from St Petersburg, Moscow and Pskov.

Research Centre Affiliation: FRINGE: UCL's Centre for the Study of Social and Cultural Complexity