Oral tradition

Transcription and translation

The transcription of the contents –the conversion of orality into writing– must collect all the elements as they are heard in the recording, respecting both fidelity and legibility. Some oral tradition collection programs spend between 40 and 60 hours to transcribe and edit a single hour of recording, which is a clear indicator of the complexity of the process.

Due to such complexity, it is important to decide whether it is worth transcribing the recorded contents: often, interviews do not provide much salvageable information. The criteria for making such a decision include the evaluation of costs and resources, the significance of the interview, the importance of the final product that will be derived from the transcript, and the extension of the final audience of such product.

If its usefulness is proven, the transcripts are valuable for several reasons:

  • They are easier to handle than tapes, because they can be read, reproduced and broadcast faster.
  • They are useful for double-checking data with the interviewee.
  • They can be used by others in the future more easily (they are distributed and analyzed in a simpler way).

The transcript may be full, partial (memo) or include only a list of key words or short descriptions accompanied by timings or "tape numbers": they provide the approximate location of the content within the recording. The category to choose is the one that best responds to the research's objectives. The most recommended are full transcriptions. However, the memos are very useful, as they are quickly developed (reviewing the recording and using the research notes) and concentrate all the valuable information.

The task of transcribing a recording can be done by the researcher (which is optimal) or by a professional transcriptionist. Although the last option saves time to the interviewer, it is the least recommendable, given the lack of knowledge that the transcriber will have on the context of the interview.

The transcript begins with the name of the project, the name of the interviewer and the interviewee, the interpreter, the date of the interview, where it was done, the name of the transcriptionist / translator and the side of the tape. It is necessary to number and use a header with the last name of the interviewee on each page, to avoid mixing, loss and confusion.

The name of the speaker should be written (initials in uppercase) at the beginning of each intervention. Also, every word said, even when it is repeated. Expressions such as "ah" or "uh" are often avoided, and expressions such as "aha" for "yes" and "uhum" for "no" are translated. Interjections, onomatopoeias, silences, laughter, noises, acts and gestures are to be included (the latter noted in the researcher's field notebook during the interview, recording the point of the tape on which such an event occurs). Such annotations are included, in the transcription, in parentheses: "(pause)", "(silence)", "(laughs)". The pauses, thus indicated, allow us to understand, for example, that what was said was meant to be funny (and waited for the listener's laughter)... as well as to notice discursive pauses and meditations.

Words whose meaning is not understood, whether very regional or uncertain, are represented by "?". With respect to these terms, footnotes may be included to clarify the meaning. The own comments are noted in square brackets: "[he makes a sign with his hands, but it's not understandable]", "[she points to an object, but it cannot be distinguished]", "[he covers his face in an attitude of shame]", "[she seems not to believe what she says]." Such comments by the researcher, when included and indicated, allow a better understanding of what is happening, and what is being said.

In the case of inaudible words, "____" is inserted. If the words are multiple, "____ +" will be noted. If the inaudible fragment is important, the duration of the inaudible fragment will be estimated, and "___ ... (20 seconds)" will be transcribed.

The end of one side of the tape and the beginning of another must be marked in capital letters: "END SIDE A", "START SIDE B".

In the case of languages other than the official, an interpreter should be used during the interview (recording the response in the original language and its translation) and a translator (if possible, a different person) to control the transcription. This allows to contrast the interpretations and enrich the testimony.

The translation must be carried out, in general, from complete ideas, not word by word (although the latter can also be done). The best way is to transcribe the tape into the original language and then translate the written text. Problematic ideas and words can be marked by their meaning and notes drawn from them.

Once this work is completed, it is necessary to revisit the interviewee to check written content, check translations, reiterate badly recorded parts and clarify misunderstood ideas and unknown terms. Observations arising from this review with the interviewee should be noted in the transcript with special marks, which allow to understand that such knowledge was added in a post-recording instance.

Already in possession of the final version, the materials must be edited, according to pre-selected style standards, and carefully stored and / or sent for publication. The process of editing the transcript allows correcting errors and giving an accessible reading format for any reader.

After completing the oral content management tasks, it is time to write the final report of the project. This report should include the title page, acknowledgments (interviewees, funding agencies, advisors... in no more than one paragraph), introduction (what the project wanted to do, how it was done and how the results were used, in a general style of no more than two pages), method (how the project was carried out and what methodology was used, background research, consultation methods, advisory board, interviewer choice decisions, team, interpreter, translators, payments, results, things that were learned, photos, names and dates of interviews, number of cassettes, libraries or archives on which the original material rests) and conclusion (repeat which were the discoveries, if the objectives were achieved, what will be done with the information, what will be the next step, and any work experience that may be useful for others). The report allows to summarize the work done, to evaluate the results and to stress the main advances and the problems that were overcome.