In this sketch from Key and Peele, the then-president Barak Obama has an “anger translator” named Luther who helps him vehiculate the subtext of his speeches. The premise is supposed to be funny but the source of the humor is revealing: Luther isn’t interpreting any language – Obama’s speech is clear – he only works as a cultural broker by clarifying Obama’s subtext.
In addition to being funny, the sketch also highlights the absurdity of only being a cultural broker. If two people speak the same language, they should theoretically be able to communicate without barriers – especially if it’s a president addressing his citizens.
The comic premise is steeped in satire – politicians have become so deliberately subdued in their anger that it is no longer relatable to the people they represent, who now need a professional to lower the language register and make the speech more franc and comprehensible.
It is important to note that the humorous absurdity of an “anger translator” acting as a cultural broker to a president’s audience only works within the context of the speaker and the audience be from the same culture. If the American president was addressing a British audience and a cultural broker was there to clarify the president’s colloquialisms, then the role of the “anger translator” would only mean that the American and British dialects of English have diverged on some points – which isn’t intrinsically funny.
For interpreters, it’s a good illustration of why language should be the principal thing to interpret, not culture. If a speaker’s speech is overly euphemized or too steeped in colloquialisms, then the other speaker should intervene and ask for his interlocutor to adapt his speech instead of having the interpreter do it for him by default. Don’t adapt a speech if the speaker can do it themselves!
As always, be sure to check out www.cypherlanguages.com to see our next post!