The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2021 - 9

MEMBER
OPINION
Promoting Inclusion
in Translation and
Interpreting
Considering that diversity is at the very heart of our
work, we owe it to our amazing professions to remain
fair and inclusive.
By Cathy-Eitel Nzume
he tense social climate we're
living in today is forcing us
to reassess how inclusive
our industry really is and what
we can do to make a change.
The translation and interpreting
industry, like all industries, is
not immune to bias based on the
deep-seated, preconceived ideas
we all carry, many subconsciously.
I'm a linguist, interpreter, and
translator. I'm also originally
from Cameroon but have lived
and studied in France and the U.S.
and worked with francophone
colleagues from all over the world.
Over the past decade, I can't tell
you how many times I've heard a
question most of us francophone
interpreters and translators of
African origin dread: " Oh, do you
speak African French? " Sometimes
it's a statement such as, " I'm
looking for a certified interpreter
who can speak Cameroonian,
Ivorian, or Togolese French. " Other
times, they don't even need to ask
the question. For some, my name,
Cathy-Eitel Nzume, reveals my
origins right away.
T
On more occasions than I can
count, after inquiring about a
job posting, the project manager
(usually from a language agency)
would answer that, sorry, they're
looking for a French interpreter (or
even translator) " from France. "
Many people see nothing wrong
with questions or statements like
these. If their client is from France,
they should have an interpreter
from France, too, right? However,
most interpreters and translators
of African origin will understand
the assumption implied by these
questions: we do not speak French
" properly, " or we speak a variety
of French that's " sub-standard. "
This assumption flies in the face
of the inclusion we're striving for
within our industry, as it often
results in fellow colleagues being
denied opportunities or, worse,
a stained reputation before even
being afforded the opportunity to
prove ourselves.
This issue occurs with colleagues
working in other language pairs
as well, particularly when the
language in question is spoken
in many countries. Spanish is a
great example of that. French,
too. Even German. I remember an
instance where a colleague from
Costa Rica was asked if he was
from Spain, because the language
agency needed someone who spoke
" proper " Spanish from Spain.
It's time to debunk the idea
that African French speakers,
and, by extension, language
professionals from any
particular region, are
inherently less qualified
than those from the country
where a language is known to
have originated.
Let's examine the facts.
First, due to France and
Belgium's colonial history
on the African continent,
Africans have been and
continue to be schooled
in French, using the same
reliable textbooks used in
French schools. Therefore,
claims that Africans somehow
speak a sub-standard
version of French remains
to be proven. Vocabulary can
differ at times, but a lot of
these vocabulary variations
come from slang. As in all
cultures, people who were
lucky enough to receive an
education know when to
use slang and when to use a
more sophisticated register.
Africans may also have a
different accent, but so do
people from the south of
France, the north of France,
Canada, and so on. Having
a different accent doesn't
mean that an interpreter is
less qualified.
Second, when a translator
is certified for French, it
implies a certain level of
language expertise and
that they are capable of
executing a French-language
assignment, regardless
of the country where the
client resides. A professional
translator is capable of
adjusting register and
style to suit the client's
needs. Qualified or certified
interpreters and translators
American Translators Association 9

The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2021

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