When I started freelancing in 2011 in London, I was providing Public Service Interpreting (PSI). This meant waking up very early (sometimes 4 am), travelling around London, visiting hospitals, GPs, various medical units, care homes, and homes of patients to interpret, facilitating communication between patients, medical professionals and carers.
A lot of people I interpreted for were elderly from Cyprus. if I hadn’t grown up in Cyprus, I wouldn’t have been able to understand a thing from what they were saying. They were speaking Greek, but Cypriot Greek.
Let’s take it from the start
There is the Republic of Cyprus and there is Northern Cyprus. In this post, I am focusing on the Republic of Cyprus (south Cyprus).
The official languages of Cyprus are 3: Greek, English and Turkish. All official documents (IDs, passports, birth certificates etc.) are issued in all the above three languages, which makes them trilingual.
Cypriot Greek is a Greek dialect spoken in Cyprus. It has different words, pronunciation, grammar and syntax compared to Greek, Greece. The language of the news, the government, and the school is Greek, Greece. When you go home, when you’re with family and friends, you speak in and listen to the Cypriot dialect.
What does this mean for linguists?
For Cypriot translators, this is an advantage because it puts them in the privileged position to be able to understand both Greek, Greece and the Greek, Cyprus. This is because when they were at school, or listening to the news, they were exposed to Greek, Greece. Then at home, they were exposed to the dialect. For Greek translators, that’s not so good. Most of the times, and depending on how heavy the person is speaking, Greek translators or interpreters need help to understand a Cypriot person speaking.
Now let’s differentiate between translation and interpreting.
Translation is written. Interpreting is spoken.
It is very likely that any, Greek or Cypriot, translation professional will be able to translate something into Greek. In terms of translation work, there isn’t much to worry about. This is because the Cypriot dialect is mostly spoken rather than written. If someone asks you to translate into the Cypriot dialect, then you’re probably translating a poem, a folk story or a song.
However, attention is needed when the content to be translated is legal, government-related or for marketing purposes. As Greece and Cyprus are two different countries, they have different laws and different government bodies, so appropriate localisation is required when intending to reach the Greek-speaking audience of Cyprus. The culture is different too.
Here's an example illustrating the above:
English source text: Ministry of Defence
Greek, Greece equivalent: Υπουργείο Εθνικής Άμυνας
English back translation: Ministry of National Defence
Greek, Cyprus equivalent: Υπουργείο Άμυνας
English back translation: Ministry of Defence
With interpreting, and in particular Public Service Interpreting, things become a bit more complicated. A person requiring an interpreter in central London is probably someone vulnerable, someone perhaps older who doesn’t speak English. It is also very likely that the older the person, the heavier the dialect.
In my experience, the individuals I interpreted for where elderly, with dementia, or other mental or physical health issues. Sometimes, even if someone speaks a second language (in this case English), in situations of trauma or stress, the brain defaults to the mother tongue. It is, therefore, particularly important to ensure effective communication between people in need and healthcare professionals, police officers etc.
Also in my experience, when a professional interpreter from the same language group and culture is hired, the party of the same language group and culture feels more comfortable when they hear the interpreter speaking in their dialect. Rapport is established more easily and quickly between everyone involvedand the meeting is guaranteed to be successful.
So what's the conclusion?
To summarise, my professional advice, as someone who is both Greek and Cypriot and a professional translator and interpreter with experience in Public Service Interpreting, is to always ask the individuals involved what language they speak and what is the kind of the content that needs translation. This will then help you determine whether a Greek or a Cypriot linguist would be suitable for the job.
If you are coordinating an interpreting session where one of the parties is Cypriot, hire a Cypriot dialect-speaking interpreter to be safe. But remember to always, always check what language the Cypriot party speaks; it could be Greek, Turkish, English or even Russian these days.
If your document requiring translation is legal and is intended to be read in a court in Cyprus for instance, then hire a Cypriot professional translator familiar with Cyprus law.
Vasiliki is a professional translator and
interpreter working with English and Greek. She runs Greek to Me Translations from Oxford, UK. She is a Member of the CIoL and the ITI and she is registered with the Greek Embassy. She specialises in legal, marketing, and psychometrics. Her mission is to help you reach your goals through the power of words. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.