Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Reflections on Interpreting Settings and Ethics in View of Visual Representations of la Malinche

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Reflections on Interpreting Settings and Ethics in View of Visual Representations of la Malinche

Article excerpt


Most images, written or pictorial, respond to previous stereotypes. This is particularly true of images created at the beginning of the contacts between Europeans and peoples from other cultures.

(Alonso Arraguas & Baigorri Jalon, 2004, p.130)

This article aims to consider certain aspects of interpreting ethics against the backdrop of some visual representations of la Malinche (1) across the centuries. While these musings are not the first of their kind either in terms of interpreting role descriptions and ethical considerations (Hale, 2007; Pym, 2001; Roberts, 1997), or the analysis of la Malinche's role in the conquest of New Spain (Glantz 2001c; Karttunen, 1994; Nava Sanchez, 2001; Yannakakis, 2006), or even contemplating visual art works in the interpreting context with reference to la Malinche (Alonso Araguas & Baigorri Jalon, 2004; Brotherson, 2001; Slautina, 2007), it hopes to contribute to the existing literature in a refreshing way. Following an attempt at classifying the type of interpreting once carried out by this historical figure, I will discuss the three pillars of interpreting ethics, namely, impartiality, neutrality and confidentiality in relation to her persona. The conceptualisation will be aided by highlighting recurring motifs in the artistic depictions of la Malinche, ranging in time scale from codices scripted at the time of the Conquest through Romantic paintings and works by Mexican muralists in the twentieth century to current imaginings. The pieces have been selected from a rather eclectic array of art works on the basis of their relevance to the argument presented (2), and, thus, will appear in a thematic rather than a chronological order, given that the focus here is on the interpreter's role and position rather than on an art historian's perspective.

1. Taxonomical difficulties

Although, apart from the date and circumstances of her death, la Malinche's biographical details are not exactly shrouded in mystery, they cannot be corroborated entirely, either. What is known is that she was born to an Aztec family and once her father, a cacique, or community leader, had died, she was most probably sold to some traders from Xicalango who passed her on to a Mayan community of Tabascans. This series of changing of hands led to her learning not only Nahuatl and Maya but also their various dialects. This later on raised her to the ranks of an interpreter when presented as one of the twenty young women who were part of an offering levied upon the Chontal Maya by the victorious Spaniards in April of 1519. According to contemporary sources (Diaz del Castillo, 1966 [1555]), she literally emerged from among the other women and began interpreting between Maya and Nahuatl. From there on, she became the interpreter, intercultural guide and probably informer to the Spanish colonisers in general, and Hernan Cortes's lover in particular. As these two aspects are intrinsically linked, they will both feature in the following visual analysis of her role.

At first sight, it appears difficult to determine whether la Malinche was more akin to today's conference or community interpreters. On viewing the painting in Figure 1 (Historical Boys' Clothes, 2004/2013), for example, la Malinche is seen interpreting between Cortes, the representative of the Spanish Crown, and Moctezuma II, the Aztec ruler, which would suggest interpreting in high diplomatic circles. Today, such activities are carried out by conference interpreters rather than community interpreters. On the other hand, the variety of settings and, above all, the bidirectional nature of the linguistic transfer would suggest a closer relationship with a community interpreter's work. Therefore, in order to avoid confusion, I will begin with examining a number of factors that are traditionally considered when establishing this classical divide, and then offer another categorisation that may prove useful in the circumstances before moving on to the discussion of ethical concerns. …

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