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Torikai, Kumiko (2009): Voices of the Invisible Presence. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 197 p.

  • Yukari F. Meldrum

…plus d’informations

  • Yukari F. Meldrum
    Edmonton, Canada

Couverture de Volume 56, numéro 4, décembre 2011, p. 735-1034, Meta

Corps de l’article

This book is based on Torikai’s Ph.D. thesis which was submitted in December 2006 to the University of Southampton. In this book, the author brings light to the role of interpreters in the arena of intercultural communication. Using the method of oral history, the author brings actual interpreters’ life stories to the fore in order to make clear what these interpreters experienced and thought about during their careers. The main research questions asked throughout this book are as follows: 1) “What kind of people became interpreters in post-WWII Japan?”; 2) “How did they perceive their role as interpreters?”; and 3) “What kind of role did they actually play in Japan’s foreign relations?” By exploring in depth what the five pioneer interpreters recounted, she is able to display the complex nature of answers to these questions.

This book can be useful and informative for a range of readers including educators and trainers of interpreters, students who are studying interpreting or researchers in Interpreting Studies, scholars whose academic fascination lies in the history of interpreting and intercultural communication, and those who are simply interested in learning more about interpreting, a profession that is often considered invisible. This book is the first of its kind on interpreting history in post-WWII Japan and provides new directions in Interpreting Studies.

There are seven chapters in total. In the first chapter, the introduction, the author introduces the general development of interpreting as well as rationales for using oral history as a core method for this study. The chapter also provides background information on the five chosen pioneer interpreters.

The second chapter presents a brief history of both interpreting and translation specifically in Japan, connecting the distant past to post-WWII situations. In chapter three, the author analyzes the habitus (in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense) of the five pioneer interpreters in Japan with a focus on how they learned English or grew up bilingual as well as their experiences of WWII. In chapter four, she further analyzes each habitus at the entrance to the world of interpreting and how these interpreters established themselves as specialists in intercultural communication in post-WWII Japan.

The fifth chapter provides details about what these interpreters experience in the field of interpreting. The interpreters’ actual recounts in this chapter vividly illustrate their experience as professional interpreters in Japan during the period in which the country was progressively developing as a member of the global community. This chapter is at the core of this book and shows readers the authentic world of interpreting. It is notable that these five interpreters had very different experiences. As well, their perceptions and understanding of interpreters’ roles also varied significantly.

In chapter six, the author explores insights into the practice of interpreting and interpreter’s roles in relation to the issue of intercultural communication while drawing on the findings from Claudia Angelelli’s 2004 study on the role of interpreters. This chapter reveals that an interpreters’ role is generally understood as that of kurogo, “the supposedly invisible help” on the stage of kabuki theatre (p. 154). This analogy is effectively expressed by one of the interpreters in this study as the following: “[kurogo] should not dance himself in the limelight. He can, however, help an actor on stage, by adjusting the hemline” (p. 174). In other words, in the minds of the interpreters interviewed, the interpreters’ role is supposedly invisible but is a vital part of communication.

Finally, in the last chapter, Torikai draws the conclusion that the habitus of the interpreters and their field of interpreting were quite diverse. She also concludes that it is implausible to seek universal criteria for interpreting practice or to formulate a model that is universally applicable for interpreters’ roles. A number of questions that can be studied in future research are also presented in this chapter. One of these questions deals with how to conceptualize the interpreter’s role as a co-participant in an interaction. Other questions include how interpreters came to perceive neutrality and invisibility as their norm in the interpreting profession and whether or not interpreters themselves are proud to disappear or be invisible in the background.

A list of references at the end of the book is eleven pages in length, and an index follows. Although footnotes are rich throughout the book, the glossary of Japanese terms and Interpreting Studies terms at the end of the book may be helpful for those who are not familiar with Japanese and the field.

The strength of this book clearly lies in the vibrant narratives of the pioneer interpreters’ life stories. Through these narratives, Torikai was able to show that the practices of interpreting as well as perceptions of the role of interpreters differ among the five interpreters. As a practitioner and professor of interpreting herself, the author was able to analyze in detail the issues in interpreting, focusing on various socio-cultural aspects in post-WWII Japan. Further analyses and deeper theoretical discussion founded upon the concepts of habitus and field of interpreting would have brought the book to the next level; however, it was clearly beyond the scope of a doctoral thesis which is limited in terms of the time permitted, especially with the potential labour involved in conducting interviews, transcribing recordings, and translating transcripts into English, all of which are extremely onerous and time-consuming.

In conclusion, this book exhibits a great merit of bringing forward interpreters by highlighting their own narratives combined with analyses in intercultural communication. Since this book will be of use for interpreting students in Japan and also of interest to the general public, I look forward to seeing the Japanese translation.