If not for the simultaneous translators | Daily News


If not for the simultaneous translators

In the early nineteen sixties, the Head of State of a very tiny Nation was to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. All eyes of the delegates and those of few Heads of Government were on him. The auditorium was overflowing. The speaker walked up to the rostrum. He bowed to the assembly. A standing ovation, next he turned to the translators’ enclosure. Board waved. Then he spoke. Quote “Distinguished Heads of Nations and delegates. Without our lovely set of translators, up there would never be a United Nations”

It would be another “Tower of Babel.” According to the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, the people of Babel had started to build a gigantic tower to reach the abode of God. God was peeved. Suddenly those working on the tower began to speak in different tongues. Confusion and unlimited tempers resulted when persons could not understand each other. That was the end of ‘Project tower of Babel’. So without our lovely simultaneous translators, the organization would be yet another Tower of Babel. Our translators have lifted the curse of Babel from this assembly. The assembly hall resounded with the ovation by the delegates, applause the translators and the speaker.

The role of the translator is absolutely indispensable in the daily functioning of the world. They are a vital component at conferences, be they international or national, diplomatic deliberations between two countries As much as the role played by simultaneous translators enclosed in cubicles in their efforts in striving to convey the accurate translations to a multilingual audience, translators sit behind distinguished persons, listening alertly.

The translator should be very knowledgeable in both languages and have a general background of the subjects discussed. Above all, they should have the unique ability to transfer the feelings, jokes, subdued humour, puns and interesting experience exchanged by their honourable subjects, keeping in mind that those waiting for their translator are quite competent in the language of the other. They should be very empathetic. Any lapse in their translations could cause diplomatic upheavals.

They could also be more diplomatic than diplomats by manoeuvring their words so as to mellow meeting to end up with smiles and handshakes. At a seminar on domesticated quadrupeds, the East African delegate had spoken much about the different breeds. They are found in the street and in homes, the speaker had said. My Indian and Sri Lankan friends love them on streets and religious places of worship very much.

Our Sri Lankan delegates had been aghast and scandalized. The amiable Sri Lankan translator had said “Paka” in Swahili means cat. Our participants had been happy.

A vital role

A tour guide or even an ordinary citizen with a fair knowledge of a foreign language could be a simultaneous translator. No superclass computer could ever dream of performing the angelic duties of a simultaneous translator. The former has no emotions.

The latter has the unique virtue of being able to sympathize. Empathize, go into the very depths of a heart of a person and so use his brain, with pride.

It is indeed a very exciting profession. There was a Sri Lankan Anglican Reverend Father in the early 1950s who could read, speak and deliver a sermon in Sinhala, Tamil, English, French, Spanish and Greek, a simultaneous translator par excellence.

The translator too had played a vital role in the history of the world. Without them, man would be living in the well of ignorance.

The words of our Celestial Teachers have been translated into thousands of tongues. Epics have been translated and have given the world a glimpse of literary excellence in ancient writings. Libraries around the world are full of translations of these masterpieces.

The Mahawansa, Bhagavath Geetha, Tripitaka, Bible, Quran, are written in many languages. So are popular novels and Hansards.

These translators of books and documents have the time, books to refer, access to dictionaries, atlases, bibliographies and reference books. They have the privilege of using the telephone and the internet for information. Not so our terrestrial wizards who have been blessed to bind nations with knowledge, so that Mother Earth on which we live will never ever have the bear the weight of a foundation of another “Tower of Babel.”

Without you dear simultaneous or instant translators, where would mankind be? We salute you!

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