Interpretation: signs and meaning, diversity in language use, equivalences and cultural untranslatability

  • Jefwa G. Mweri University of Nairobi


Interpretation, which is an interactive face-to- face communicative event and interpreter's role is active and governed by social and linguistic knowledge of the entire communicative situation - this involves not only linguistic and cultural competence but also appropriate ways of speaking and managing the intercultural event of interpreting. Roy (2000)

This paper examines the practice of interpretation in which interpreters are expected to "successfully make the linguistic and cultural adjustments necessary to convey meaning accurately" Davis (2000). Since interpretation is an interactive face-to face communicative event, how successful can interpreters make such adjustments and therefore convey meaning accurately in Sign Language interpretation?

Effective interpretation is a complex issue. This complexity may result from the fact that "...translators build bridges not only between languages but between differences of two cultures.... Each language is a way of seeing and reflecting the delicate nuances of cultural perceptions, and it is the translator who not only reconstructs the equivalences of the words across linguistic boundaries but also reflects and transplants the emotional vibration of another culture." Schulte (1995)

In this paper, we examine how cultural diversity may affect interpretation of messages by interpreters. Some of the areas we look at include: What problems are inherent in interpretation given that signs do not mean but people mean? And that culture is responsible for teaching us the symbols and what they represent?;Diversity in language use - how does it affect interpretation? ; Does direct and indirect use of language, social customs and relationships, how people express emotions have any bearing on interpretation?; How does lack of equivalences affect interpretation?

Key words: Sign Language, Interpretation, Translation, linguistics, context

Author Biography

Jefwa G. Mweri, University of Nairobi

Mr. Jefwa Mweri is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1998-1279