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Book Review: The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting

Sabrina Schulte

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Mikkelson, H., & Jourdenais, R. (2015). The Routledge handbook of interpreting. New York, NY: Routledge.

The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting is a comprehensive reference book in the field of interpreting. It covers the history and developments of interpreting to the present time, addresses various settings in which interpreters are employed, and concludes with a discussion of issues currently confronting the interpreting field.
Experts in the fields of conference, court, asylum, community, health care, mental health care, education, mass media and conflict zones have contributed to this volume, providing an overview of field-specific requirements. Challenges and potential areas for further research in each interpreting field are also covered. It is commendable that the book includes areas not always recognized as presenting interpreting situations, such as sight translation, transcription, and translation. This emphasises how little attention has been paid to some aspects of the profession to date, and highlights the ample opportunity this field offers for future research. Interpreting is constantly evolving, and in a way, it is coupled to the developments of new technology and the ever-increasing demands and needs of expanding business networks, political relationships, and migration.
The editors, Holly Mikkelson and Renée Jourdenais, both from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterrey (CA) have divided the Handbook into four parts, covering historical perspectives, modes of interpreting, interpreting settings, and issues and debates. Part I starts with a brief history of the interpreting profession by Jesús Balgorrí-Jalóon, followed by chapters on key internal and external players in the development of the interpreting profession (by Julie Boéri and Sofía García-Beyaert, respectively). Franz Pöchhacker concludes this part with an overview of the evolution of interpreting research. Part II covers simultaneous interpreting (Kilian G. Seeber) and consecutive interpreting (Debra Russell and Kayoko Takeda) and includes chapters on signed language interpreting (Karen Bontempo) and a comparison of signed and spoken language interpreting by Jemina Napier. Carmen Valero-Garcés discusses the uses of transcription and translation, because interpreters are often asked to carry out such tasks. Wallace Chen’s contribution on sight translation will be discussed in more detail in this review.
A number of authors describe interpreting in specific settings, ranging from conference interpreting (Ebru Diriker) to interpreting in court (Jieun Lee), asylum proceedings (Sonja Pöllabauer), and conflict zones (Barbara Moser-Mercer). Cindy Roat and Ineke Crezee trace developments and issues in healthcare interpreting and Hanneke Bot discusses the role of the interpreter in mental health settings. Marjory Bancroft describes the links between the rise of community interpreting and the quest for social justice (access to public services), one example of which is perhaps interpreting in educational settings as described by Melissa B. Smith. Pedro Castillo provides interesting examples of interpreting in mass media settings. Part III offers an overview of just some of the current issues and debates in interpreting. Uldis Ozolins starts off Part IV with an overview of the literature on ethics and the role of interpreters, which sets the scene for chapters on nonprofessional interpreters (Aída Martínez-Gómez), interpreting and professional identity (Mette Rudvin), quality (Angela Collados Aís and Ollala García Becera), pedagogy (Chuanyun Bao), and assessment (Jean Turner). Justine Ndongo-Keller’s chapter on vicarious trauma and stress management discusses an important issue for all in our profession. Sabine Braun discusses issues around remote interpreting, providing examples of its uses in a range of different settings.
Chapter 9 of the Routledge Handbook, by Wallace Chen, is dedicated to sight translation, one of the lesser-researched fields in linguistics but one that should be awarded special attention due to its hybridity. Not only is the interpreter required to think simultaneously in two languages, but they are also challenged with reading the text, processing the information and rendering an as-accurate-as-possible version within a very short amount of time. Further, sight translations often occur in situations that are highly dependent on accuracy where the [in]correct wording can change the overall outcome [un]favourably, adding a further component to an already demanding task, especially for new or emerging interpreters.
Chen provides rich historic detail, and highlights situations in which sight translation occurs. He elaborates on the differences of interpreting-only or translation-only situations, while also discussing the overlap between short consecutive interpretation and written translation that sight translation represents. Chen accentuates the fact that not all interpreters/translators have the three essential skills of literacy, writing and linguistic aptitude, and that this may be overlooked more often than not when training translators/interpreters or when using their services. The author holds that it is vital to prepare future interpreters/translators adequately for their profession, because the majority of the general public has only rudimentary and often incorrect knowledge about interpreting and translation.
The book is well-structured, showing consistency throughout the chapters. Each chapter is clearly divided by headings and subheadings, indicating the main topic of a section while also directing the reader’s attention to subthemes within a main section. Each chapter also contains an introduction that enables the reader to quickly identify the relevance of a chapter for their needs, and a conclusion reiterating the chapter’s main points. Because the book comprises discussions of a range of settings, issues and backgrounds pertaining to various types of interpreting, these elements help keep the reader focused. Each chapter’s reference list is extensive and generally includes a number of the authors’ own works, which underscores these authors’ expertise in their respective areas of interpreting research. The index contains a wealth of key words as main entries, as well as in various contexts—again, helpful to a reader looking for particular information.
However, this volume is probably better suited to an experienced readership, rather than students beginning their training. Experienced interpreters can rely on their familiarity with topic-specific terminology and will already have formed an understanding of the challenges of interpreting and the still existing misconception of this profession in the eye of the general public. Future editions might supply complete reference list at the end of the book, to provide a broader overview of available source literature. This would be especially useful for researchers and students who are not yet quite familiar with the established and most frequently referenced researchers in their area. In addition, whereas experienced students and researchers may be accustomed to abbreviations common to their fields, the less experienced reader—indeed, any reader—may appreciate an overall list of abbreviations/acronyms used throughout the book.
These are only small criticisms. Keen interpreter trainees at their beginning of their studies will find this book and the opportunities it outlines useful and encouraging, not least for its demonstration of the sheer variety of fields the interpreting profession can offer.