False Friends of Interpreters - Yelena McCafferty – Russian Interpreter

Interpreters working in courts will be aware that since 2017 legal advisors have been required to ask defendants about their nationality at first appearance hearings. Someone’s nationality may be a sensitive subject and when the legislation came into force, it was heavily criticised by human rights groups.

In my language (Russian) the word “nationality” itself may be a cause of confusion. The direct calque of nationality in Russian means “ethnic origin”, not belonging to a particular nation. So a Russian national may be of Kazakh ethnic origin, for example. It is therefore important that as interpreters we render the meaning of “nationality” as “citizenship” to avoid any misunderstanding, which has already happened as I mentioned in my recent article Slips of the Tongue.

I wonder if the term “nationality” presents a similar false friend of interpreters issue in other languages?


Author: Yelena McCafferty – Russian Interpreter


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