n African Journal of Rhetoric - The pitfalls and pyrotechnics of interpreting live speeches : from church sermons to political speeches

Volume 6, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1998-2054


Speeches, in the context of diverse languages, are often interpreted to ensure that the audience grasps the content as well as the thrust of the message. Interpreting plays a crucial role of mediating meaning, effect and affect in a given speech so as to fulfil the purposes of the speaker for the receptors. In interpreted speeches, therefore, audiences not only imbibe the contents of the speech, but they do so through a vessel that is laden with variables. No matter how eloquent the orator is, then, an interpreter can make or break a speech. Interpreting can add to the brilliance of the speech, making the speaker dazzle with appeal. In other instances, however, interpreting can lead not only to distorted messages, but also to disgruntled audiences who might either take their discomfiture out on the speaker or lead to the speaker being overshadowed by the antics of the interpreter.Recognizing Austin's notion of the 'total speech act in the total speech situation' and the warning against 'oversimplifying complexities of meaning, in particular, by reducing meaning to descriptive meaning,' this paper examines the pitfalls and pyrotechnics of simultaneous interpreting by presenting examples from speeches in the high-pressure contexts of politics (where power and votes are at stake) and churches (where power and souls are at stake). In this paper, the fluid and influential nature of interpreting on speeches is further illustrated by highlighting issues such as: (a) the language proficiency of the speaker, interpreter and audience; (b) the expertise and experience of the interpreter; (c) affective considerations as well as, (d) other situational variables in a South African multilingual context where a myriad of languages are spoken, 11 of which are official.

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