Linus Tengdong.
Linus Tengdong.
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By Linus Tengdong

Without understanding each other’s language, how can mediation take place between disputing parties?

The importance of translation/interpretation in mediation cannot be overemphasised in the case where the negotiating parties in the mediation do not understand and speak the same language.  This therefore necessitates translation.

What is Translation?

There are several dictionary definitions of translation. The Merriam-Webster defines translation as: words that have been changed from one language into a different language; words that have been translated; the act or process of translating something into a different language:  the act or process changing something from one to another.

The OXFORD dictionary says it is: the process of translating words or text from one language into another; a written or spoken rendering of the meaning of a word or text into another language.

Since mediation is an assisted negotiation; there cannot be any effective discussion, communication and above all bringing out ideas, fears and hope without translation into or from the language of all parties involved (mediator and parties in contention).

Translation is really indispensable if the PULSE frame (a modern conversation structure for mediation) is to be used. PULSE is an acronym referring to Prepare, Uncover, Learn, Search and Explain. It is a vibrant operating system for communication or conversation of any form: negotiation, decision-making, staff meeting, family, industrial relation etc.

A successful mediation, especially the PULSE, needs to have brainstorming whereby both parties are able to express their ideas freely in calm and relax manner; translation plays a very important role for them to share these ideas properly. In Africa and particularly in Ghana there are several ethnic and armed conflicts.  The Bawku chieftaincy conflict between Kusasis and Mamprusis had some mediation talks in 2002 at the Unity Centre at Damongo in the Northern region whereby translations into or from English, Kusaal, Mampuli and Moore were used. The ECOWAS mediation team was able to put in place a union government with the toppling of a democratically elected government by military junta in Guinea Bissau  (2016) with translation as the country is Lusophone (Portuguese speaking).  The last 2016 election impasse in Gambia was solved with ECOWAS mediation team which allowed the former President Yahaya Jammeh to leave the country peacefully for the new President Adama Barrow sworn in with translation playing a prominent role.

There are different styles of translation. One is what Forster indicates as “a mental activity in which a meaning of given linguistic discourse is rendered from one language to another.  It is an act of transferring the linguistic entities from one language into their equivalents in to another language.  Translation is an act through which the content of a text is transferred from the source language into the target language (Forster 1958)”.

Forster further explained that the language to be translated is called the source language (SL) whereas the language to be translated to is the Target Language (TL). “The translator needs to have good knowledge of both the source and target language, in addition to high linguistic sensitivity as he should transmit the writer’s intention, original thoughts and opinions in the translated version as precisely and faithfully as possible, he expatiated.

This is amply demonstrated in international conferences where translators are given languages they are well versed to do the target language for instance French speaking do translation into French whiles the English, Spanish and Chinese speaking do translation into their respective languages as the target language.

Due to its prominence, translation has been viewed differently. According to Ghazala (1995), “translation is generally used to refer to all the process and methods used to convey the meaning of the source language into the target language” (P.1. Ghazala’s  definition focuses on the notion of meaning as an essential element in translation. That is, when translating, understanding the meaning of source text is vital to have the appropriate equivalent in the target text thus, it is meaning that translated in relation to grammar, style and sounds (Ghazala, 1995).

This goes to emphasise the need to have native speakers or translators having better command of a particular language doing target language translation. He or she is better placed to understand the style, expressions and idiomatic expressions for complete immersion for absolute understanding.

Mediation succeeds when the parties’ beliefs, expectations, assumptions, concerns and hopes are freely expressed and understood clearly without any ambiguity in the respective languages of parties in negotiation. Translation facilitates the smooth process of speaking and understanding; this is a non-negotiable condition for mediation to obtain sustainable solutions for both parties. If improper translation is done the solution could be jeopardized and thrown overboard in future which is a threat to the mediation.

The mediator’s role is to assist the disputing parties to find their own solutions to their differences without any interference, and translation will further assist in this regard.

This ensures stability and peace to fight poverty for enhanced development.  If translations lead to achieving solutions to conflicts and differences for peace and development, then it a very useful tool that cannot be down played in mediation.

Although Ghana’s ADR Act 2010, Act 798 is not specific on translation for mediation, the expressly required that the mediation process is conducted in an agreed manner that is understood by all parties

For instance, regarding arbitration, Section 32 of the ADR Act 2010, Act 798 indicates that; (1) The parties are free to agree on the language to be used in the arbitral proceedings. (2) In the absence of an agreement, the arbitrator shall determine the language of the proceedings.(3) The arbitrator may direct that any documentary evidence should be accompanied with a translation into a language agreed on by the parties or determined by the arbitrator.

In addition, the Judicial Service’s Court-Connected ADR Manual stipulates under section 6.1 (Medium of Expression) that “All ADR shall be conducted in a language determined by the disputants. Where the court interpreter cannot satisfy the needs of the parties, the parties shall engage the service of an interpreter at their own cost.”

VIALinus Tengdong
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