Who said what happened to whom?!

Pronouns can definitely complicate our lives when interpreting between Spanish and English, and if you also interpret in a language that has female or male markers, you will know what I mean. A Spanish speaker can say in court, “se lo dije” or “me lo contó” and unless the speaker is only interacting with one person in the story s/he is retelling, you are left wondering to whom or by whom something was said! In English we don’t have that ambiguity, because we are forced to say “I told him…” or “She told me.” There’s no doubt as to the gender of the speaker or the listener. So how do we solve this when interpreting? In depos, I have asked permission from the attorneys to remind the deponent to use proper names, or at least indicate gender. And I prompt them when they don’t. Then we’d have “se lo dije a él/ella me contó que…” In court, as the interpreter how would you handle this? What happens when you don’t anticipate the confusion that ambiguity creates?

Also, is it possible that sometimes the gender of the person matters and sometimes not? For example: if a defendant is agreeing that his/her attorney has explained something and they state “mi abogada ya me lo explicó”, do we need to indicate that the attorney is female? Or is it enough to say “my attorney…”? Isn’t that less important than when a specific action happens to an individual? For example: “La pasajera salió volando del carro.” (The female passenger was thrown from the car.) In the latter case, the gender is definitely important.

But in reality, is it our role to have to weigh these things in addition to everything else we do as interpreters? Share your thoughts, and thanks!

One Reply to “Who said what happened to whom?!”

  1. This is short and sweet. Figuring out gender when interpreting can be challenging. Whenever I’ve done depos, some attorneys are really good about giving the client guidelines as to what to do or avoid, including using gender specific pronouns. I would like to learn more about non-binary (gender neutral) pronouns.

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