23 Feb My Woman, Mi Mujer, Minha Mulher
The song “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife” became a hit in 1970 when Marty Robbins wrote and recorded it. It quickly rose to the top of the country charts in the US at a time of great social and economic upheaval. The 1960s and its cultural revolution were coming to a close as Americans attempted to redefine the individual’s role in society.
At the time, probably no one thought of what the ramifications might be in the field of interpretation.
In English, the use of the idiom “my woman” is associated with a low register and may even sound coarse to more sophisticated ears. Not so in Spanish or Portuguese, where respectively mi mujer and minha mulher are widely regarded as endearing terms to refer to one’s lover or wife.
And there lies the dilemma for the interpreter. How do we really know that the person is referring to his wife when saying mi mujer or minha mulher?
In the recent past, I became keenly aware of this problem while interpreting a 4-day long deposition. It was a complex legal matter involving a man, a woman, a child and corporate assets. It turns out that the man was legally married to one woman, but also had at least two mistresses and children from each one of those ongoing relationships.
The case involved the man and one of the women who were not legally married to him.
He made repeated use of the term “my woman” in his native language. On the first day of the deposition, I initially interpreted this as “my wife.” The attorneys for one of the sides quickly raised objections. My immediate response was to say, “The interpreter stands corrected, this should have been interpreted as ‘my woman’,” and we went about our business.
The problem was that the deponent kept on using the same term time and again, while also alternating with “esposa,” (wife). Whenever I interpreted literally, either “my wife” or “my woman,” there would be an objection one way or the other.
The objections made sense because there could be a difference in the outcome if the woman referred to was legally married or simply in an extramarital, consensual relationship.
As I prepared for the second day of the deposition I decided that the interpreter needed to clear this confusion on the record. So, after being duly sworn in, I stated for the record that “The Interpreter wishes to stipulate whenever deponent uses the term mi mujer or minha mulher it shall be literally interpreted as “my woman’.” No one objected.
By the time we reached the fourth day of the deposition, everyone was exhausted. Long faces and nerves on edge attested to the fierceness of the legal jousting. But I can happily say that the whole controversy over the use of mi mujer or minha mulher became moot after my stipulation at the beginning of the second day.
In most cases, the interpreter should limit his or her role to facilitating oral translation from one language to the other, but in this instance, a little bit of assertiveness made the whole proceeding flow much faster.
by Javier Aparisi © 2018
Javier Aparisi-Winthuysen began his professional career as a Portuguese and Spanish freelance interpreter with the U.S. Department of State in 1984, but a year later embarked on a 25-year hiatus into journalism with Voice of America (VOA), Reuters and the BBC World Service. He has worked as a freelance conference and legal interpreter in south Florida since 2013. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela, of Spanish parents, lived in São Paulo, Brazil, through his early teens before moving to Washington, D.C.
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