Vertimo studijos eISSN 2029-7033
2021, vol. 14, pp. 71–85 DOI: https://doi.org/10.15388/VertStud.2021.5
Tropes and Rhetorical Figures in Simultaneous Interpreting of Presidential Speeches
Guoda Pelenytė, Jonė Grigaliūnienė
Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies
Institute for Literary, Cultural and Translation Studies
Faculty of Philology
Abstract. Since one of the distinctive features of presidential speeches is the use of tropes and rhetorical figures, which are employed to achieve a persuasive effect, this study aimed to find out if tropes and rhetorical figures are retained in simultaneous interpretation from English into Lithuanian and whether the omission of them in the interpretation diminishes the rhetorical effect of the speech. The research found that out of 500 tropes and rhetorical figures observed in original speeches more than a half are absent in interpretation. Based on a closer analysis of examples, it was concluded that tropes and rhetorical figures tend to cause problems for interpreters and that the omission of tropes and rhetorical figures results in a diminished rhetorical effect in the target language.
Keywords: presidential rhetoric, tropes, rhetorical figures, simultaneous interpreting.
Tropai ir retorinės figūros sinchroniškai verčiant prezidentų kalbas
Santrauka. Kadangi vienas iš išskirtinių prezidentinių kalbų ypatybių yra tropų ir retorinių figūrų vartojimas įtikinamajam poveikiui pasiekti, šiuo tyrimu siekta išsiaiškinti, ar tropai ir retorinės figūros išlaikomi verčiant sinchroniškai iš anglų kalbos į lietuvių kalbą ir ar jų neperteikimas vertimo kalboje sumažina kalbos retorinį poveikį. Tyrimas parodė, kad iš 500 nagrinėtose originalo kalbose nustatytų tropų ir retorinių figūrų daugiau nei pusė iš jų nebuvo išversta. Remiantis išsamia pavyzdžių analize padaryta išvada, kad tropai ir retorinės figūros vertėjams dažnai sukelia perteikimo problemų, o jų neperteikimas mažina kalbos, į kurią verčiama, retorinį poveikį.
Pagrindiniai žodžiai: prezidentinė retorika, tropai, retorinės figūros, sinchroninis vertimas
Copyright © 2021 Guoda Pelenytė, Jonė Grigaliūnienė. Published by Vilnius University Press
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Given the nature of presidential speeches and peculiarities of simultaneous interpretation in the setting of broadcast interpreting, it would be quite unrealistic to expect interpreters to interpret a presidential speech without omitting any idea expressed in the speech, let alone tropes and rhetorical figures which have been well-thought and meticulously crafted by the team of writers in advance. Political speeches are rich in figures of speech which are considered to be an effective means of persuasion, therefore, politicians do not hesitate to benefit from using them. For example, Mio et al. (2005) concludes that the more presidents used metaphors in their public speeches, the more charismatic they appeared to the audience. Chilton and Schäffner (1997) acknowledge the fact that political discourse often goes hand in hand with translation and describe a study which concludes that interpreters tend to retain the metaphors which occur in political speeches, however, the persuasive effect of them is observed to diminish. Another study carried out by Gile (2011) analyses how inaugural speeches in English are interpreted by professional interpreters into several languages and finds that even the most experienced interpreters make quite a few blatant mistakes even if inaugural speeches are considered to be relatively easy to interpret since they do not deal with complex technical matters. Based on these findings, this paper aims to find out how interpreters manage to cope with rhetorically dense material: whether they strip the original speech of its rhetorical effect in their interpretation or manage to transfer tropes and rhetorical figures into the target language and to gain at least some insights which could help interpreters and interpreting students to approach rhetorically dense speeches. Currently, there is a lack of research in English and Lithuanian focusing on rhetorical changes which occur during simultaneous interpretation of presidential speeches from English to Lithuanian. Thus, the present paper is an attempt to make a contribution to the field of research of interpreting presidential rhetoric.
In rhetoric, the elements constituting a persuasive speech fall into three appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos (Koženiauskienė 2001, Cockcroft and Cockcroft 2005, Killingsworth 2005, Zarefsky 2011, Martin 2013, Thompson 2016). While the first one has to do with the speaker’s ability to rationally ground their ideas and the second one establishes their authority or trustworthiness, the third one – pathos − is concerned with the stylistic choices of the speaker and appeals to the audience’s emotions. Tropes and rhetorical figures, which is the object of the study, might also provide aesthetic pleasure and evoke a certain emotional response in the audience of the speech. Even if it is true that the most stylistically impressive way of speaking does not compensate for poor content, the importance of style should not be underestimated as scholars in the field of rhetoric claim. For example, Koženiauskienė (2001: 182) strongly advocates for the importance of style in persuasion and explains that good style of speaking is a key requirement in rhetoric. Both Koženiauskienė (ibid.: 196) and Zarefsky (2011: 343) firmly believe that style is closely related to content and it is not just a mere embellishment providing aesthetic pleasure. Zarefsky (ibid.) supports this claim by giving an example of J. F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech where style and content are tightly tied together. The structure of Kennedy’s speech is rather ambiguous and it might be difficult even to clearly identify its main ideas and arguments, nevertheless, the speech is very well-remembered for the iconic phrases, in which a rhetorical figure is employed, such as “ask not what a country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” or “let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate” (Hahn 1982). These sentences definitely are stylistic elements of the speech and yet they simultaneously convey the main message proving that style and content are usually intertwined. For this reason, style, tropes and rhetorical figures in simultaneous interpreting may be worth researching.
Unsurprisingly, most world leaders have been and still are heavily relying on the appeal to the audience’s emotions by employing tropes and rhetorical figures. The gravity of tropes and rhetorical figures in political speeches is examined by a number of authors (Cockcroft and Cockcroft 2005, Bull and Miskinis 2015, Martin 2016, Wolf 2017, Savoy 2018, Iversen and Bull 2018) focusing on this subject matter and examining how rhetorical choices of different political leaders convey the message and what effect they have on the audience. In fact, many of these rhetorically dense political speeches go down in history and become examples of rhetorical mastery for generations to come. In addition to this, some scholars suggest that contemporary presidential speeches often rely on the emotional appeal rather than logical arguments. Lim (2002), Stepanyan (2015) notice that presidential rhetoric has become less intellectual and that rhetoric of speeches sometimes overshadows logical reasoning resulting in a tendency to use emotional and aesthetic arguments in lieu of the logical ones because the latter tend to be time consuming and do not have the same persuasive effect on certain audiences.
Curiously, presidential speeches employing various tropes and rhetorical figures and delivered on special occasions, such as inaugurations, foreign country visits, etc., are not the material that interpreters have to work with on a regular basis. In fact, presidential speeches are quite different in terms of register from conference presentations, discussions, meetings or other more mundane situations in which the interpreting services are required. Presidential speeches tend to be more abstract, include fewer facts and are intended for an especially large audience, and, most importantly, such speeches are carefully crafted in advance by a team of professional writers who put deep thought into every word and sentence to achieve a desired effect on the audience.
The above discussed peculiarities of presidential speeches have lead to a hypothesis that such speeches may pose a great challenge for interpreters who would not be able to handle an overwhelming number of tropes and rhetorical figures used by the speakers. There are two additional factors worth considering which might even further impede the efforts to retain tropes and rhetorical figures of presidential speeches in simultaneous interpreting.
The first factor is that such presidential speeches are often being interpreted in the mode of live broadcast interpreting, which, according to Pöchhacker (2007), Kurz (2003), Gile (2011), makes the interpreters’ job even more difficult and puts even more pressure on them since the audience listening to the interpretation may be vast. Gile’s (ibid.) study grounds this statement as it found that even the most reputable and experienced interpreters made quite a few meaning errors and omissions during presidential inaugural speeches in English while working in the mode of live broadcast simultaneous interpreting.
Another factor which may also negatively affect interpreters’ ability to retain tropes and rhetorical figures in interpretation is a general tendency to adopt meaning-based strategies. According to Christoffels and Groot (2005: 459), the meaning-based strategy suggests that an interpreter focuses on the meaning of the source language text and completely disregards the form. Arguably, the essence of this approach suggests that if the interpreter chooses to disregard the linguistic form of the speech and focuses entirely on rendering the speaker’s ideas, the rhetorical features present in the original speech might be omitted and the rhetorical impact of the speech would decline. Despite that, this strategy is often considered to be superior to the one of transcoding, which is a literal transposition of words or multiword units, and interpreters are usually encouraged and accustomed to adopt the meaning-based approach and to reformulate (Gagnon 2010, Riccardi 2005). However, it must be observed that the form-based strategy - if applied correctly and not followed blindly - could potentially serve as a good tool to interpret syntax-based rhetorical figures in the cases where the original structure of the sentence is designed to reinforce the speaker’s idea, i.e., presidential speeches.
Riccardi (ibid.), Chesterman and Wagner (2002) highlight the importance of interpreting figurative speech in general because it is yet another means of argumentation and should be adequately rendered in the target language. There are four strategies that might help to find the best solution when an interpreter encounters a figure of speech (ibid.). The best strategy would be to find a word-for-word equivalent, for example, an identical metaphor. Of course, it is not always possible since certain language combinations do not always share the same metaphors, therefore, another suitable option is to employ the meaning-based strategy and to find a different expression in the target language which would carry the same meaning as the one used in the source text. Another way to cope with rhetorical figures is to explain the meaning without trying to produce a figure of speech. In this case, the rhetorical effect is mitigated but the interpreter is still able to render the main idea of the speaker. Finally, if the interpreter does not understand what is meant by a certain figure of speech but is certain that it is important, it is recommended to interpret the expression as literally as possible, however, in this case, neither meaning nor the rhetorical impact of the speaker’s idea would be retained in the interpretation.
Data and Methods
The paper focuses on four political speeches by U.S. presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden delivered in English and their simultaneous interpretations into Lithuanian. Before commenting on the collected data, it must be said that it was not an easy task to find a sufficient number of presidential speeches in English and their simultaneous interpretation recordings in Lithuanian. One of the reasons might be that not many American presidential addresses are broadcast to Lithuania. Naturally, only the most important political speeches, such as inaugural addresses or speeches from the presidential visits to neighbouring countries, where politicians might speak about the regional affairs affecting Lithuania, are relevant enough to be broadcast and interpreted for the Lithuanian audience. Another problem encountered was that, even though certain political speeches were broadcast to Lithuania, their recordings are not currently available to the public. However, despite these issues, four speeches suitable for the study were found freely accessible for the public on an online video-sharing platform YouTube and the Lithuanian National Broadcaster’s virtual audio and video library (LRT Mediateka). In total, the corpus size of speeches in both English and Lithuanian was 20,130 words (EN – 11,421, LT – 8,709). The following paragraphs present the speeches selected for this study in chronological order and briefly describe each speech.
The first speech included in the analysis is Obama’s speech delivered in Tallinn on September 3, 2014 in which the politician pledged to protect the smaller members of NATO. The original version of this speech is 3,860 words long and its Lithuanian equivalent is 3,101 words.
The second speech is by Trump and it is his inaugural address which marked the commencement of his presidency and was delivered on January 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. It consists of 1,433 words and its interpretation into Lithuanian is 1,188 words. The third speech is another Trump’s speech which was delivered at Krasinski Square, Warsaw on July 6, 2017 and consists of 3,621 words, while the Lithuanian interpretation is 2,622 words.
The fourth and the most recent speech selected for the analysis is Biden’s inaugural address delivered on January 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. The length of it is 2,517 words and the interpretation into Lithuanian is 1,798 words.
The further process of the research consisted of several steps. Firstly, speeches in the source language whose transcripts were not available online and their interpretations into Lithuanian were transcribed. The next step was to identify tropes and rhetorical figures in the original speeches according to Koženiauskienė’s (2001) classification and description of tropes and rhetorical figures. Finally, the transcriptions in English and Lithuanian were compared in order to determine how many and which tropes and rhetorical figures were absent and which ones were retained in the target language.
In total, 500 tropes and rhetorical figures were identified in four speeches delivered by presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden. Comparative analysis of the source language texts and target language texts shows that 234 of them, which is slightly less than a half, are preserved during the process of simultaneous interpretation. In these cases, not only did the interpreters maintain the content expressed by tropes and rhetorical figures but they also succeeded in retaining a similar rhetorical form of the expressions used in the source language. A larger half of tropes and rhetorical figures are not present in the interpretation of presidential speeches into Lithuanian. Notably, this article is based on a more extensive research paper and examines neither the interpretation of each type of trope and rhetorical figure in detail nor focuses on quantitative analysis discussed in the original research paper. Instead, it aims to illustrate the challenges experienced by interpreters working with political speeches and to argue the importance of retaining tropes and rhetorical figures in interpretation. For this reason, the following discussion includes only a part of a bigger research project.
Examples: tropes and rhetorical figures are retained in interpretation
According to the findings of the study, interpreters are often capable of retaining the rhetorical impact of the speech in the interpretation by finding equally good equivalents of tropes and rhetorical figures in the target language. A good example of a quite accurate interpretation of a trope, in this case, of a metaphor, which turned out to be the most frequent trope with 167 occurrences in the analysed speeches, is the following.
Capital is fleeing, foreign investment is plummeting – because investors know that today’s Russia is a bad bet, given its behavior.
Kapitalas palieka šią valstybę, mažėja užsienio investicijų kiekis ir dabar verslininkai žino, kad, atsižvelgiant į Rusijos elgesį, statyti savo pinigus ant Rusijos kortos yra sudėtingas klausimas.
The original excerpt from Obama’s speech in example 1 contains several tropes including metaphors, i.e., investment is plummeting, Russia is a bad bet which are rather commonly used and can be understood immediately, therefore, they should not cause issues for interpreters. As it is evident in the interpretation, the interpreter renders metaphor capital is fleeing word-for-word, while the metaphor investment is plummeting is omitted and the idea of it is expressed in plain language. Another case of metaphor Russia is a bad bet, expressing the idea of Russia’s unattractiveness for investors, is a good example of an interpreter producing an equivalent expression in the target language. In this case, metaphor is successfully and creatively interpreted by finding an accurate and well-understood phrase in the target language statyti savo pinigus ant Rusijos kortos. Metaphorical expression used in the speech adds vividness and invites the audience to visualise Russia’s economic decline. In this example, the interpreter is challenged by a cluster of tropes occurring near each other and, despite the fact that one of them loses its figurativeness in interpretation, the sentence in the target language preserves the rhetorical effect and reinforces the speaker’s idea.
Another example below, shows an instance where the interpreter grasps the idea of the trope, which, in this case, is a metonymy with 25 instances throughout the analysed speeches, finds a relevant equivalent in the target language and produces an eloquent and appropriate interpretation of the speaker retaining the intended rhetorical effect.
It challenges that most basic of principles of our international system – that borders cannot be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.
Tai yra iššūkis, kuris kelia grėsmę svarbiausiems tarptautinės teisės klausimams. Tai yra, pasirodo, kad valstybių sienas galima keisti išsitraukus šautuvą.
In example 2, the speaker chose an illustrative way to phrase the idea that military occupation is against the international law. This particular metonymy might be chosen to elicit a strong emotional response in the audience and highlight the horrors and injustice which are often an inevitable part of military actions since the word gun evokes more associations than a more conventional expression military occupation because the concept of a gun condenses the violent nature of the phenomenon.
In the target language, the interpreter retains the imagery of a gun, however, it is slightly modified as the interpreter does not mention the actual part – barrel – of a gun, moreover, he chooses to express the idea of redrawing borders in a non-figurative way. Additionally, the negative form of the original cannot be redrawn becomes affirmative in interpretation which might be considered a misleading translation but the context of the speech helps to understand that the speaker, in fact, condemns unlawful military actions. Despite these inaccuracies, the central part of the metonymy, i.e., gun, which stands for violence and illegal military actions, is retained in interpretation and might be enough to evoke certain emotions in the audience listening to the interpretation.
Examples 3 and 4 below illustrate a case where an antithesis is employed not only to contrast two ideas but also to serve as a structural element of the speech and provides a rhythm to it.
The protests in Ukraine, on the Maidan, were not led by neo-Nazis or fascists. They were led by ordinary men Ukrainians – men and women, young and old – who were fed up with a corrupt regime...
Protestai Ukrainoje – jiems nevadovavo neonaciai arba fašistai. Jiems vadovavo paprasti ukrainiečiai, vyrai ir moterys, jauni ir senesni, kuriems atsibodo korumpuotas režimas...
It was not the government in Kyiv that destabilized eastern Ukraine. It’s been the pro-Russian separatists who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia, and armed by Russia.
Ir ne Kijevo vyriausybė destabilizavo rytų Ukrainą. Jie destabilizavo rytų Ukrainą Rusijos apmokyti, gaunantys jos išteklius ir apginkluoti separatistai. Tą padarė ne Ukrainos vyriausybė.
In the excerpt from Obama’s speech in Tallinn, the speaker expresses two ideas. One of them is that Maidan protests were not caused by political extremists as certain people claim. Instead, it was the Ukrainians who were rightfully dissatisfied with unfair policies of the government. Another point is that it was in Russia’s interest to carry out the annexation of Crimea. Since there seem to be different claims on the events in Ukraine, two antitheses are employed to mark the difference in opinion and to clearly state Obama’s stance on this matter. In the first antithesis, the notions of neo-Nazis and fascists, which are generally seen negative, are opposed to the ordinary Ukrainian people, which implies that the speaker defends and justifies the right of citizens to protest and shows that the protests were not mal-intent. The second paragraph of the example has a similar antithetic structure to the first one and is used to oppose the Ukrainian government and Russia’s interests. Such repetitive structure of these passages serves as an effective rhetorical tool to assert the speaker’s point and makes his thoughts easier to follow. The stark contrast between two notions allows the orator to emphasise the distinction between the good ones and the bad ones and to persuade the audience to believe the speaker’s point of view.
The antithetical structure of the passage is mirrored in the target language as most of the antitheses’ elements are retained. As example 4 shows, in the second passage about the events in eastern Ukraine, the interpreter omits the fact that it was the pro-Russian separatists who caused the damage. The interpretation of that passage does not clearly show that the speaker defends the Ukrainian government. However, the interpreter seemingly understands Obama’s intention to assert that it was not the Ukrainian government that caused issues and notices that the interpretation might have been slightly ambiguous, therefore, at the end of the passage the sentence tą padarė ne Ukrainos vyriausybė is repeated one more time to ensure that the speaker’s point is retained in the interpretation. The example shows that it might be possible to omit an element of an antithesis and still remain faithful to the speaker, nevertheless, if this rhetorical figure is retained in the target language fully as it is in the example, the speech does not lose its intended rhetorical impact.
Examples: tropes and rhetorical figures are not retained in interpretation
The study also found a substantial number of examples illustrating that tropes and rhetorical figures pose challenges for interpreters, especially, when rhetorical figures are based on syntax, for instance, anaphoras, epiphoras, and symploces as 90% of them were absent in interpretation. One might argue that the omission of these rhetorical figures in the interpretation may be rather irrelevant because these are redundant elements of the text which might not carry a particular meaning, however, example 5 below suggests otherwise.
Together, we will make America strong again.
Mes kartu padarysime Ameriką vėl stipria. Amerika...
Amerika vėl bus saugi ir taip kartu mes atkursime vėlgi Amerikos didybę.
The excerpt above is a well recognised final segment from Trump’s inaugural address. The passage is structured using five symploces, i.e., there are repetitions of the same words at the beginning and at the end of each sentence. Since it is the end of the speech, this rhetorical device serves as a means to summarise the speaker’s main ideas which are presented throughout the speech, to create the effect of an emotional climactic finale, and evoke the audience’s excitement about the changes which come with Trump’s presidency. Moreover, the repetitively used structure resembles the main slogan of Trump’s presidential campaign which encapsulates the speaker’s political values and agenda and is associated with the speaker not only in the U.S. but also in the world. By repeating words we will make America <...> again, the speaker possibly intends to reiterate his position to focus on America’s domestic policies rather than international affairs, moreover, the word again may signal Trump’s ambition to restore America’s reputation and power which, as the speaker states in the speech, has declined.
The interpretation into Lithuanian, as evident in example 5, does not retain the same repetitive structure of the original. Even if words mes atkursime are repeated twice, it by no means recreates the rhetorical effect of the speaker’s words. Possibly, the interpreter chose to omit the repetitive elements of the passage because it might allow us to save time. In addition to the absence of the symploce, interpretation also fails to mention the concepts of wealth and safeness which might mitigate the speaker’s point. Arguably, this particular symploce, as uncomplicated as it seems, poses a challenge for the interpreter for the strategy of literal interpretation, which may be effective in interpreting this rhetorical figure, could result in syntactically unusual sentences in the target language. In fact, the differences between English and Lithuanian syntax may not allow us to produce an equivalent structure of Trump’s words into Lithuanian. Regardless, the rhetorical impact of president’s final words in the inaugural speech is undoubtedly diminished in this example.
A trope or rhetorical figure does not necessarily have to be extensive or elaborate for interpreters to omit or misinterpret it. The example below shows that a rather laconic trope is not accurately retained in interpretation which results in a diminished rhetorical impact.
We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.
Mes turime pabaigti šį nepilietinį karą ir susitelkti po mūsų vėliavos spalvomis. Ir neturime kovoti liberalai prieš konservatorius, respublikonai - prieš demokratus.
Example 6, which is an excerpt from Biden’s inaugural speech, demonstrates the metonymy’s capacity to express ideas vividly and elliptically. The speaker shows his disapproval of the divided American nation and invites the audience to put an end to these conflicts which are likened to a war. The speaker then points out the main groups of conflict which are expressed using the metonymy red against blue, which stands for the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The connection between the colours and the parties is that red and blue are the colours assigned to the Republican and Democratic parties respectively. Not only does this metonymy express the idea laconically but it might also be used to depersonalise the two opposing parties by reducing them to merely colours which represent a certain difference in opinion but should not be the force that divides the American people to the point of uncivil war as the speaker puts it.
The interpretation, as example 6 shows, does not retain the metonymy from the original speech. In fact, the interpreter seems to have misinterpreted Biden’s idea since the name of colours is interpreted as the colours of the flag of the United States of America. Interestingly enough, such misinterpretation expresses the importance of a more united America which is clearly intended in the excerpt and throughout Biden’s speech. The example also shows that the interpreter eventually becomes aware of the mistake for the correction respublikonai prieš demokratus, which corresponds to metonymy red against blue, is produced at the end of the following sentence. Even if the idea of unity may be present in the (mis)interpretation and the idea of two political parties was expressed eventually, one has to admit that the omission of the metonymy used in the original speech results in a less concise, precise, assertive utterance in the interpretation. Moreover, a more wordy interpretation may not reflect the speaker’s rhetorical style which tends to be quite laconic throughout the speech.
Example 7 below shows that, even if the interpreter remains faithful to the intended message of the speaker and provides an appropriate interpretation, the absence of a metaphorical expression in interpretation, possibly, makes the speech less appropriate for a special occasion and decreases its rhetorical effect.
Lithuanians faced down tanks. Latvians manned barricades. Here in Tallinn, citizens rushed to the TV tower to defend the airwaves of democracy.
Lietuviai pasipriešino prieš tankus, latviai gynė savo šalį, estai taip pat nuskubėjo ginti televizijos bokšto.
Example 7 is an excerpt from Obama’s speech delivered in Tallinn and dedicated to the people of Estonia but also to the people of the three Baltic states which share a similar history in terms of regaining independence from the Soviet Union. The sentences in the example clearly refer to the events of 1991 when the Soviet Union attempted to take power over the restored Baltic states which had declared independence from the Soviet Union. The speaker seemingly admires Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians for their persistent resistance against the oppressor and, possibly, seeks to demonstrate his awareness of these significant historical events in order to establish a closer connection with the audience of the Baltics. For this rather emotional part of the speech, a creative metaphor defend the airwaves of democracy is used to express the point that democracy is like radio or television which broadcasts its values to the people and has a potential to reach everyone. In addition to that, the metaphor carries the aspect of the importance of free press and that it should be defended in democratic countries. Finally, another way to interpret this expression would be that, since democracy is transmitted through airwaves, which are not tangible, it might be quite difficult to stop from spreading.
This multifaceted and context-specific metaphor from example 7 is not retained in the interpretation of the speech. Even though the interpretation fully reflects the main idea of the speaker and the factual information about the events in the Baltic states is presented correctly, the interpreter merges two elements of the third sentence, i.e., TV tower and defend, hereby excluding the metaphor from the original. Arguably, such interpretation is accurate and appropriate, however, bearing in mind that the metaphor in the original speech encapsulates several ideas which strongly resonate with the speech audience, the people of the Baltics, its intended rhetorical potential could not entirely reach and affect the audience listening to the speech in Lithuanian for the interpreter uses the strategy of reformulation and the metaphor is not retained.
Example 8 below illustrates the case in which the effect of antithesis is absent in interpretation.
...small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.
Per ilgai maža mūsų tautos grupė naudojosi tomis dovanomis ir tuo, kas buvo pasiekta vien tik savo tikslams.
The original speech employs an antithesis to contrast the idea of several entitled people benefitting from being in government while the ordinary people pay for those privileges. This antithesis might evoke the feeling of extreme injustice and emphasises the greediness of the privileged. In addition to that, this antithesis is composed of two metaphors. The metaphor reaped the rewards of government according to which, government is a field of crops and rewards are the harvest, while people have borne the cost suggests that the ordinary people struggle only to see the privileged benefitting from their hard work. Moreover, the alliteration reap the rewards, which may capture the audience’s attention and invoke rage for such injustice, can be observed in the original. This sentence is a good example showing that rhetorical figures and tropes sometimes merge into one rhetorically dense sentence which becomes a great challenge for interpreters.
In this case, the interpreter manages to translate the first part of the antithesis and the figurativeness of the original is retained, i.e., naudojosi tomis dovanomis, however, the second part of it is omitted, thus, the contrast between the greedy government and the hard-working nation is not present in the interpretation. The interpretation into Lithuanian implies that the speaker is against social injustice because adverb per ilgai is used, however, the interpretation does not appeal to the audience’s emotions in the same way as the original and the intended rhetorical effect of the antithesis is clearly mitigated because the interpretation preserves only one rhetorical element out of four used in the original.
To conclude, the study revealed that approximately a half of tropes and rhetorical figures identified in presidential speeches by Obama, Trump, and Biden were not retained in simultaneous interpretation into Lithuanian. The absence of a fair number of tropes and rhetorical figures in interpretation might imply that rhetorically dense language is challenging to interpreters to some degree. While it is extremely difficult to measure the persuasive impact of tropes and rhetorical figures, a closer analysis of examples might lead to the conclusion that in the cases where tropes and rhetorical figures are not present in interpretation, presidential speeches tend to lose their intended persuasive impact even if the essence of the speaker’s idea is rendered in the interpretation using other means. Contrastingly, if tropes and rhetorical figures are present in the interpretation, they appear to quite successfully convey the rhetorical effect of the original into the target language.
The reasons of the omission of tropes and rhetorical figures in interpretation are numerous and the present study allows for several speculations. Firstly, it is important to bear in mind that the analysed presidential speeches were interpreted in live broadcast setting, which, according to literature, tends to impede the interpreters’ performance due to a high degree of exposure. Moreover, the habitual strategies that interpreters tend to rely on when coping with difficult speeches, for example, reformulation or omission, may also lead to the interpretation which lacks the persuasive effect created by tropes and rhetorical figures. It is also possible that there might be cases where interpreters are not entirely aware of the persuasive effect of tropes and rhetorical figures, therefore, the task to provide an adequate, coherent interpretation surpasses the need to retain tropes and rhetorical figures in interpretation. Finally, the analysis of the examples cues that certain rhetorical figures, i.e., anaphora, epiphora, symploce, may be omitted due to the syntactic differences between English and Lithuanian as it is not always possible to retain the syntactic structure on which a certain rhetorical figure is based.
Arguably, the omission of tropes and rhetorical figures of presidential speeches might not be a critical mistake in interpretation in most cases, however, the analysis suggests that it might change and diminish the rhetorical impact of the speech. In regard to presidential speeches, whose distinctive feature is frequent usage of tropes and rhetorical figures, it might be appropriate to aim to retain them in interpretation as much as possible for presidential speeches often go down in history and are listened to by a large audience. While the task to retain all tropes and rhetorical figures in interpretation might be too ambitious, it would be advisable for interpreters to observe those means of persuasion, acknowledge their importance in certain speeches, and to try to retain their effect in the target language when possible. A good starting point could be to focus on retaining the most frequent tropes and rhetorical figures, for example, metaphors, anaphoras, antitheses. Another suitable strategy, especially in the case of rhetorical figures relying on the syntactic structure of the sentence, such as anaphora and antithesis, could be to increase one’s lag time which would allow the interpreter to pay attention to the rhetorical figure in the original and to find the means to retain it in the interpretation.
Only tentative conclusions can be drawn in the present study and there is a need for a more extensive research. It could be fruitful to analyse simultaneous interpretations of the same speeches into other languages to determine whether the findings would resemble this study. Additionally, it might be useful to analyse more speeches which rely on a heavy use of tropes and rhetorical figures. An experiment, where interpreters would be asked to interpret rhetorically dense material in a controlled environment, could also be beneficial as it could help to explain whether tropes and rhetorical figures per se or the stressful mode of broadcast interpreting cause issues for interpreters.
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Obama’s speech in Tallinn:
Obama’s speech in Tallinn (interpretation): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bee22XWhukk
Trump’s inaugural speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThtRvBUBpQ4
Trump’s inaugural speech (interpretation): https://alkas.lt/2017/01/20/donaldas-trampas-prisieke-45-uoju-jav-prezidentu-tiesiogine-transliacija-video/
Trump’s speech in Warsaw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byBwWvgCDmU
Trump’s speech in Warsaw (interpretation): acquired via a personal source.
Biden’s inaugural speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGukNIEIhTU
Biden’s inaugural speech (interpretation): https://www.lrt.lt/mediateka/irasas/2000138419/speciali-laida-jav-prezidento-inauguracijai-bideno-ir-harris-priesaikos-noras-suvienyti-amerika-ir-ekspertu-izvalgos (minutes 23:58 – 45:00)