Translation and Diplomacy

Translation and interpretation have important roles to play in maintaining cordial diplomatic relations between nations. Many documents like memorandum of understanding (MOU) whether for cultural or technical cooperation that are signed between sovereign countries need to be accurately translated leaving no scope for ambiguities or misinterpretation. Any error can become costly later in the form of failed MOUs or strained relationship between warring countries. Similarly interpreters are in high demand when heads of state or other dignitaries meet their counterparts of other countries during state visits. In the last few decades, the contact between countries has been on the rise as more countries are taking active role in international affairs. At the same time diverse ethnic groups have become more conscious of their identity and rights. This has led to an understanding of linguistic rights as human rights. Thus attendees at international conferences whether it is a WTO meeting or a climate conference like to give speeches and conduct negotiation in their native language. At the end of the meeting the final documents need to be accurately translated into the languages of the conference attendees. These documents often are used as baseline for future negotiations and meetings. Hence there is no scope for ambiguities or misunderstanding due to translation. Looking briefly at the history of languages used in diplomacy, documents exchanged between countries in Europe used to be in a single language dominant at that time. Before 18th century it was Latin but French became the accepted language of diplomacy from then on. But in the 20th century English emerged as the dominant diplomatic language. Since the formation of United Nations, 5 languages viz. Chinese, French, English, Spanish and Russian have been accepted for diplomatic correspondence. Arabic was informally added to the list later. In the European Union all the 12 languages of the members who joined initially were recognized as official languages but the list is bound to grow as more member countries join the Union. But in general, the dominant role of a particular language is a consequence of the political, economic, strategic, cultural or other domination of one country over other countries in international relations. The importance of language in diplomacy is so significant, that would be diplomats are given special language training before being posted on their job. Many universities in Europe, Asia and America conduct post graduate courses leading to MA degree in Interpreting, Translation in Diplomacy. The course content generally consists of modules in translation, interpreting and diplomacy. It covers a wide range of subject areas and contexts and both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting. A thesis consisting of research on translation or interpreting or dissertation on a topic in diplomacy is also part of the course. The teaching methods include lectures, workshops, seminars, group and project work.