Apart from facilitating social exchange, language is also inherently political: it does not only represent facts or reproduce results but it creates and constructs reality. How we speak has an influence on what we say and, particularly, how it is understood by others. How things are being communicated and maybe even defined is crucial both for our own and the collective consciousness.
As interpreters, we would like to draw your attention to the political aspects of language and underline the importance of our work. Language is power, only those who are listened to and those who can understand what the exchange is about can participate in society on an equal footing. Through interpreting, we want to enable people to express themselves (whenever they would usually not be heard) and to react (where otherwise their right to take part would be neglected).
We’d like to point out that we should not always assume German to be the standard language for events, panel discussions, etc. If non-German (native) speakers can speak up in discussions and give presentations and if they are being understood, we can undermine power structures. In many contexts, German and English (sometimes French and Spanish as well) are the dominant working languages. This imbalance is part of powerful structures (colonialism, capitalism, etc). It results in excluding people who speak minority languages or are part of a minority in a society. For them, it’s much more difficult to make themselves heard because they are often barred from speaking. Partly, this is also due to the fact that marginalised languages are often not interpreted to a sufficient extent (for example, by omitting the details or through lack of concentration which results in information being simplified or lost). Or there is no interpretation at all. The majority of the languages we offer are majority languages. And the fact that this text only exist in German and English shows that there is still a long way to go in order to break up the hegemony of certain languages.
As explained above, language creates reality, it reflects and reproduces power structures, it creates or overcomes barriers, depending on how we use it. This is why, in our interpreting collective, we try not to reproduce discriminatory language by using different strategies. What strategy an interpreter will chose depends on the situation and the person, but we always aim at pursuing two goals: we try to 1) replace or modify discriminatory, hurtful, gender-insensitive language and at the same time we try to 2) add critical comments to such problematic terms or statements and to make our intervention visible. To illustrate: If a person talks about “illegal immigration”, we would replace this term with “illegalised immigration” in our interpretation. However, we will add a short explanation that we have just modified the content (unless it was a slip of the tongue).
We want to explain in advance that we take language seriously and try to shape it into being less discriminatory. We hope the people we interpret for share this desire. We also point out our strategies for making language less discriminatory to speakers before the event.