A pedagogy of reflexivity in interpreter training and Vermeer’s concept of responsibility

 Şebnem Bahadır (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany)

In my paper, I would like to follow traces of Vermeer’s understanding of the responsibility and freedom of the translator in order to show how this concept can be used for a pedagogy of reflexivity in interpreter training. My point of departure is the following quote by Vermeer which I will try to adapt to critical instances of interpreting:

“Is it not more constructive to ask ourselves what we as translators can do to try to contribute to an ever more humane life? What can we do? Must we not refuse to translate such texts? Should we not rather pass them over in silence, preferring to leave a gap, rather than actively helping to fill it?“

(“No state of the art.“ Paper held by Hans J. Vermeer at the conference Translation and translation – des faux amis. Boğaziçi University Istanbul, Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies, 5-8 April 2007, S. 11.)

The above excerpt concerning the existential question to translate or not to translate will be situated within the context of a critical pedagogy of interpreting. In this pedagogy, the crise de conscience of the interpreter, who is embedded in society and characterized by ethical and political entanglements, is in the foreground. It is widely acknowledged that in community settings, with migrants and refugees as clients, interpreters (who then mostly have the reputation of being more engaged and less professional) are often confronted with situations where they might experience an ethical dilemma or be exposed to a politically incriminating situation. Looking closer at certain instances of more ‘professionalized’ interpreting at conferences or expert meetings, at literature readings, in political or legal contexts, we can discover hints to a similar discomfort of the interpreter which mirrors itself in hesitations, breaks and silences in the course of translational actions. From the perspective of a pedagogy that puts reflexivity and responsibility at its centre, these ‘failed’ performances can be reread as first steps to an emancipated, empowered and at the same time ‘modest’ and ‘realistic’ interpreter who has the right to fall out of the role and to fail, thus not to interpret. I will discuss some instances of such interpreting performances within the framework of the didactic method interpreting enactments (Dolmetschinszenierungen) with which these incriminating instances of interpreting can be enacted, thus re-experienced and re-visited from different angles.


Vermeer, Hans (2008/2009): Vorlesungsmanuskripte. Teil 1. Translationen. Grenzen abschreiten. https://vermeer.fb06.uni-mainz.de/files/2018/07/Vorlesung_Teil_1.pdf
Vermeer, Hans (2008/2009): Vorlesungsmanuskripte. Teil 2, Grenzen ausloten. Terminologische Skizzen. https://vermeer.fb06.uni-mainz.de/files/2018/07/Vorlesung_Teil_2.pdf
Bahadır, Şebnem (2017): “The interpreter as observer, participant and agent of change: The irresistible entanglement between interpreting ethics, politics and pedagogy”, in: Marta Biagini, Michael S. Boyd, Claudia Monacelli (eds.): The Changing Role of the Interpreter: Contextualizing Norms, Ethics and Quality Standards. London: Routledge, 122-145.
Bahadır, Şebnem (2012): “Interpreting Enactments: A New Path for Interpreting Pedagogy”, in: Claudia Kainz, Erich Prunč, Rafael Schögler (eds.): Modelling the Field of Community Interpreting. Questions of Methodology in Research and Training. Münster-Wien-London: LIT Verlag, 177-210.