Jonathan Ross
Wed 10 Feb 2016, 16:30 - 18:00
Project Room, 50 George Square

If you have a question about this talk, please contact: Hephzibah Israel (hisral)

All Welcome

It would be fair to say that most scholarly literature on community interpreting has focussed on the richer countries of ‘the West’ such as Canada, Australia and Sweden, which can boast well-established professional interpreting services. Yet there are many other countries with sizable multilingual and multicultural populations where community interpreting, often done by non-professionals, is a fact of daily life. One such country is Turkey, where many people have limited proficiency in Turkish, the sole official language, and thus face difficulties accessing public services, including healthcare. A particularly visible minority nowadays are the more than 2 million Syrians who have fled to Turkey since the outbreak of the civil war, but there are many other residents and visitors who are unable (or in some cases reluctant) to speak Turkish and who are thus dependent on alternative means of communicating with public service providers. Among these potential patients are the approximately 2.5 million deaf Turkish citizens, the 1.5 million mother-tongue speakers of the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish, and a sizable number of tourists, medical tourists, migrant workers, refugees, and members of indigenous minorities.

For a number of reasons, it was only around 2000 that law-makers, policy-makers and healthcare stakeholders in Turkey started to acknowledge the extent of linguistic and cultural mismatch between patients and healthcare providers and introduced measures to cater to a diverse population. The steps taken or at least proposed reveal a great deal about the wider political context in Turkey. Benefiting from the AKP government’s ‘Kurdish initiative’, for instance, which ushered in greater tolerance of the use of the once taboo language Kurdish, health workers and their professional associations in the East and South-East of the country have been pushing for doctors to communicate with patients in their own mother-tongue (i.e. Kurdish) and expressly reject the involvement of interpreters, not least because of their overwhelmingly negative experience of relying on untrained ad hoc interpreters. On the other hand, in an attempt to promote Turkey as a destination for medical and conventional tourism, in 2011 the Turkish Ministry of Health established a telephone interpreting line for speakers of six foreign languages. This innovative project, however, soon found itself overtaken by international developments, and a large proportion of calls fielded by the so-called ‘International Patient Assistance Unit’ now concern Syrian refugees.

The aim of my paper is to present the complex macro-context within which healthcare interpreting has emerged in Turkey. Besides portraying the range of potential clients, it will explore the reasons why the need for communication solutions was recognised when it was and, drawing on the little research done so far, discuss some of the steps taken in recent decades.

Dr. Jonathan Ross, Boğaziçi University (Istanbul, Turkey), Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies