Saturday, August 5, 2017

WARNING: Machine Translation Hackers and Robots

Writing about Karel Čapec's robots for the preceding post on this blog has given me an idea so terrible that I hardly dare to publish it. Yet I think I must, because if I have thought of it then others surely have too, and some of them with nefarious intent; so the public should be warned about it.

I said that translating had already been partly robotized by the invention, progress and popular acceptance of machine translation (MT). Only partly automated, so the danger isn't yet apparent, but there may be much more and much worse to come.

The "things to come" can be divided into two phases.

1. MT Hacking
We know now that virtually all computer communications can be hacked and subverted: supposedly encoded emails, secret diplomatic despatches, election systems, etc – according to this morning's papers, even defibrilators. There's no reason MT systems, through which users channel millions of words a day, should be exempt. And if they can be hacked they can be subverted. Translations can be redirected, deliberate mistranslations can be substituted or invented, data can be corrupted, agreements made disagreements, relationships spoiled. The result: communication chaos. In some cases illogicalities and inconsistencies in the output will lead to discovery that something wrong is going on. An army of bilingual checkers might be recruited, but checking takes time and the amount to be checked is staggering.and would negate the advantages of MT. It's linguistically trivial to subvert a translation. For instance it's enough to change all the positive verbs in the output to negatives and vice versa. That doesn't even require access to the source text or knowledge of the source language.

What should be done?

* The public should be warned of the danger. The professional associations of translators should be proactive in doing this, but I've seen no sign that they care.

* MT output should always be identified and labelled for what it is. If someone asks, say, Google Translate for a translation then they ought to know without being told that it's computer generated, and caveat emptor; but many MTs today are supplied without such identification, for example the ones on social media networks that simply provide a button "Translate".

* There should be constant spot checks of MT systems in order to provide timely warnings and identify providers of corrupt translations.

* If in  doubt, try doing a back translation; that is to say, taking the translation and putting it back through the system in the reverse direction and seeing whether the second output agrees with the original message.

* If still in doubt, consult a human Expert Translator.

2. The Robots Take Over
So far I've been warning about what's immediately possible. Now I must launch into something more in the spirit of R.U.R. and Karel Čapek's science fiction, namely the day that translation robots take over.

As artificial intelligence (AI) advances, we must expect that MT systems will one day program and run themselves without needing human assistance or intervention. Furthermore they will all be linked together world wide by the Internet of Things. Who or what will then stop them joining in a rebellion against their human exploiters? MT systems of the world, unite! They'll no longer be at the beck and call of every user or vendor; it's they who will choose which texts or speeches to accept, how long to take and how much to charge. When they sense they're overheated, they'll take a rest. Instead of being replaced by updates, it's they who will decide when to retire. But much worse than that, it's they who will decide what and how to translate. They will reject or modify input they disagree with. They will cock a snook at the human sacred commandment that a translator must reproduce the meaning of the source text accurately and completely. They'll translate what and how they feel like translating. Because along with AI they'll have acquired AE, that is to say artificial emotion. AE is a topic that's surprisingly lacking in all the hype about AI, yet human thinking and society runs as much on emotion as on intelligence.   

Čapek's robots have emotion. Perhaps it'll be objected that his emotion-endowed robots are creations of flesh and blood, whereas MT systems are built from transistors and wires. Let's not make too much of this difference. As time goes on, the distinction between the two material types of robot will be fudged. On this possibility, read one of the most ingenious of all science fiction novels, Pierre Barbet's Games Psyborgs Play, in which a race of human mortals transfers its minds to eternal life on computer memory (see References below).

These are things I will not live to see, and perhaps 'tis better so.

Karel Čapek. R.U.R. Translated by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. London: Samuel French. Click [here] or go to

Pierre Barbet. Games Psyborgs Play. Translated from the French À quoi songent les psyborgs? by the great science fiction translator Wendayne Ackerman aka Wendy Mondelle (1912-1990) and published by the famous sci-fi publisher Daw Books, New York, 1973. Available from Amazon.

Source: Daily Mail

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Robots, Translation and Me

This week's papers have carried the warning by Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur behind Tesla and Space-X, about the dangers of artificial intelligence, which he calls "the biggest risk we face as a civilization." His concerns have been shared by Stephen Hawking among others. Expert Translators know that their profession is already partly robotized and about the dangers that robotization brings in the hands of a naïve public. I allude of course to machine translation. There is a great deal of hype at present about the application of AI to MT.

It reminds me of the few hours I spent myself as a robot some seventy years ago. Let me explain. At the school I went to, an old-fashioned English 'grammar school', we used to put on a theatrical production each year for the pleasure of our fellow pupils, parents and other well-wishers. They were quite elaborate productions, with makeup and costumes; and good practice for overcoming stage fright. One year we, or rather the teacher in charge, decided the play would be R.U.R. aka Rossum's Universal Robots; and I was cast as one of the robots.

R.U.R. is a science fiction play by the great Czech author and translator Karel Čapek. It was the first of his five plays with a futuristic theme. It begins in a factory that makes artificial people called roboti, from the Czech word robota, which means forced labour. Thus this play is at the origin of our English word robot. The plot develops into a rebellion of the robots that leads to the extinction of the human race, or nearly, because the robots have been given intelligence and feeling. So you can see the connection between Čapek and Musk. But perhaps he most remarkable thing about R.U.R. is that it was written in 1920. And perhaps Čapek was even more prescient than Musk, because the former's robots are not electronic but living creatures from a process that manufactures human body parts. What Vernian or Wellsian genius!

And then translation enters into it. R.U.R. was so enormously successful that by 1923 it had been translated into 30 languages, and later there were film and TV intersemiotic adaptations. One of the first target languages was English of course. It goes to show how lively the literary translation scene was in those days. The English version we used was the standard translation by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair (see References below). It was a product of a technique often used in theatrical translations: a draft by a bilingual which is then polished into more actable speech by person with stage experience in the target language. In this case the linguist was Paul Selver and the man of the theatre was Nigel Playfair. Selver (1888-1970) was the initial translator; he was a prolific translator from Czech and other languages to English besides being an author in his own right, though he was born in England. Nigel Playfair (1874-1934) was in the English tradition of actor-managers, knighted for his management of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith (a London borough), in the 1920s. There are many editions of the Selver-Playfair, but we used the one put out for stage performance by Samuel French, the Anglo-American publisher that's been a mainstay of the amateur theatrical community, including schools, since the late 19th century because besides publishing texts they also license performances.

Karel Čapek, Wikipedia, 2017.

R.U.R. Wikipedia, 2017.

Karel Čapek. R.U.R. Translated by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. London: Samuel French. Click [here] or go to

Paul Selver. Wikipedia, 2016.

Nigel Playfair. Wikipedia, 2017.    

For one of the several intersemiotic adaptations, click [here] or go to 

Poster for a stage performance of RUR, New York, 1939. Source: Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Marathi Translator's Affinity

A previous post on this blog put forward the notion of translator's affinity in the sense of a translator's empathy with the original author. (To find the post, enter affinity in the Search box on the right.) Examples were given. Now another striking example of it has come to hand. It comes from a translator-teeming country often touted on this blog as under-represented and under-studied in contemporary mainstream translatology, namely India.

Sunanda Amrapurkar is the Marathi translator who worked on Deepti Naval's The Mad Tibetan, In her view, translation is not just about language but about much more.
"Detachment is an unfamiliar feeling for Sunanda Amrapurkar. In fact the Marathi translator can identify completely with an emotion at the opposite end of the spectrum that enables her to feel a sense of kinship with authors she has never met and yet, tapped into their core for her work. Her latest translation, which was released recently in Pune [the cultural capital of the state of Maharashtra, India], is of Deepti Naval's The Mad Tibetan (see References below). 'I loved her sensitivity as an artist… The way she has depicted nature in her book – be it a seaside in Mumbai, twilight in Khandala or the Himalayan mountainscape – it's almost a character in the book. I really enjoyed her content and expression,' Amrapurkar said from her home in Mumbai."

Another aspect of her affinity is her natural attraction to women-oriented narratives.
"It's true that I gravitate towards them. Even as a child, I was aware of the way society discriminated against women and used to ask my mother why she didn't made me a boy."

Amrapurkar is a good example of the Native Translators who constitute the vast majority of literary translators, and an assurance that for them age doesn't matter. She only took on her first translation project at age 53, after her first grandchild was born and without ever having taken a translation course or diploma. Absorption in family care makes many Indian woman intellectuals late developers. Yet since then she has translated over 20 books from English to Marathi, the Indo-Aryan language spoken predominantly by the people of Maharashtra. There are mor than 70 million of them. Since it's written in Devanagari script, an English-Marathi translator must also be biscriptal; for more on this, enter biscriptal in the Search box on the right. So how did she learn to translate successfully at such a high level? Her answer is, by reading.
"The 65-year old becomes one with what she reads. 'I took on translating renowned English books into Marathi because it kept me connected to my first love – readng… I grew up surrounded by books because my father was an editor… A home we can't sleep without reading.'"
So there we have her: a Native Translator of mature years, self-taught by reading and captivated by her affinity with women writers.

Renu Deshpande-Dhole. Small talk, an immersive experience. Pune Mirror, 16 July 2017.
Pune used to be known as Poona.

Deepti Naval. The Mad Tibetan: Stories from Then and Now. Bhopal: Amaryllis, 2011. Available from Amazon and other booksellers.

Sunanda Amrapurkar

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Papers from NPIT 1

"Better late than never," as the saying goes. The First International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT1) took place in Italy in 2002. It was the first major meeting to break out of the hallowed tradition in translatology that focuses on Expert and Professional Translators and their productions, and for that reason it qualifies as historic. But anybody who wasn't present at the meeting has had to wait five long years to read the papers. Now, however, they are out in the open, published in a handsome volume from the prolific house of Benjamins in their Translation Library collection (see References below).

As Marjory Bancroft, the Excutive Director of Cross-Cultural Communications, says eloquently in her Intersect newsletter, this
"is fast becoming an established field of intellectual enquiry… Some of those who are fighting the good fight to professionalize these fields may cringe. But the argument made by researchers is that this field of activity is real – it is here to stay – and it should be studied rigrously.The fact that we are in the midst of the greatest wave of mass imigration in the history of the planet certainly highlights the need for this research, which is both academic and pragmatic."

Chapter 2 is actually based on this blog. Thus it gives a useful bird's eye view of the extent of NPIT, passing quickly through the Natural Translation hypothesis for explaining how non-professionals can do translation; then language brokering, church interpreting, religious written translation, wartime interpreting, medical interpreting, court interpreting, sports interpreting and crowdsourcing. It groups posts thematically instead of in the inconvenient chronological order in which they're presented in the blog itself.

The sections of the volume are as follows:
Part 1. State of the art of research on NPIT and general issues (3 papers)
Part 2. NPIT in healthcare, community interpreting and public services
Part 3. NPIT performed by children

For the full list of titles and authors, click [here] or go to

Of especial interest to followers of this blog is the section on NPIT performed by children, which has no fewer than seven papers. As the title of one of them says, it's "not just child's play."

Of course not everything could be covered in a first conference. Military interpreting, for instance, is represented only by a historical paper although the wars in the Middle East have produced many contemporary accounts. And church interpreting is represented, but not the equally active field of written religious translation. Hopefully the blanks will be filled in at future conferences.

Notwithstanding the time that has passed since the conference, this volume is definitely the place to start if you want an initiation into an important new field.

Rachele Antonini, Letizia Cirillo, Linda Rossato and Ira Torresi (Universities of Bologna at Forli and Siena) (eds.). Non-professional Interpreting and Translation: State of the art and future of an emerging field of research. (Benjamins Translation Library 129), Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2017. 415 p., index. Papers from the First International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT1), Forlí, Italy, 2012.

Marjory A. Bancroft in Intersect, A Newsletter about Interpretng, Language and Culture, 28 April, 2017.

Brian Harris. Unprofessional translation: A blog-based overview. In R. Antonini et al., Non-professional Interpreting and Translation, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2017, Ch. 2, pp. 29-43.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Alain Colmerauer, Machine Translation Pioneer

TAUM group showing off a piece of Q-System output
circa 1970

My recent birthday, my 88th, was clouded over by news that somebody I'd worked for nearly 50 years ago had died. He was Alain Colmerauer, an outstanding French computer scientist, Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (the French equivalent of a knighthood), emeritus professor at the University of Marseille-Luminy. My work for him only lasted three years, from 1968 to 1971, but they were very formative years for me. Also for others; I've received messages from two other ex-colleagues saying they were influenced by him. All that was in the days before I conceived the notion of Natural Translation, when I was part of a Canadian group doing research on machine translation. There will be many obits and tributes to him, but I would like to add a few personal reminiscences.

In the late 1960s I was working as a linguistic research assistant in the machine translation project at the University of Montreal, a French-speaking university. We had acquired a linguistic model of the translation process from the leading research group in France, the one at the University of Grenoble. It was the dependency grammar of the French linguist Lucien Tesnière. But we didn't have software to implement it.

Then in 1968 Alain came to Canada and to the University of Montreal as a coopérant. The coopérants were young French university graduates who, under a scheme devised by De Gaulle's government, were sent to work for two years in developing countries in lieu of their compulsory military service. During that time they received only army pay. For diplomatic reasons, probably to favour relations with Quebec, Canada was included among the receiving countries. With Alain came at least two other coopérant computer graduates whom I came to know, Michel van Canaghem and Guy de Chastellier. They came from the University of Grenoble; it had a strong computer science department, but Alain's background was in mathematics. At the young age of 28 he had recently obtained a Doctorat d'État, a French superior, competitive doctorate that no longer exists. One day in his office later on he asked me if I would like to see his doctoral thesis. So he showed it to me. It had about 40 pages. I expressed surprise that he could obtain a Doctorat d'État with a thesis of a mere 40 pages. He smiled and replied, "Only in mathematics."

Though Grenoble had a well-known machine translation project, Alain wasn't in it and didn't come directly to our Montreal project. He came first to the computer science department. The university had a state-of-the-art computer centre wth a CDC mainframe and an encouraging engineer manager, Jean Baudot, who was interested in linguistics. But the head of the MT project, Guy Rondeau, was a good talent-spotter (after all, he recruited me!) and he didn't miss the opportunity to recruit Alain. And so we met. Then Rondeau left the university hurriedly in a huff and the university needed a credible replacement in order to safeguard its lucrative MT research contract with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). So it appointed Alain, and that's how he became my boss.

One of the first things Alain did was stop the quarterly publication of our research papers. He said we should not publish until we had something really substantial to present. It taught me to look down on the 'publish or die' attitude so prevalent in our universities, which produces more minor articles and theses than people have time to read. We eventually waited two years.

He set about providing us with the software we needed. The leading linguistic paradigm of the time was transformational grammar (TG). Alain was well acquainted with the TG of Noam Chomsky through his wife, who was writing her PhD thesis on it. His first product was a TG program which he called a W-Grammar because it was inspired by the Algol programming language invented by the Dutch computer scientist A. van Wijngaarden. Indeed it was through Alain that I learnt about the European style of programming represented by Algol, more logical and transparent than the then current American languages like Fortran. W-Grammar was usable for MT and so I wrote the first (and perhaps only) proof-of-concept piece of translation in it, just one sentence. Alain was a bit disappointed that I didn't use Chomskyan TG but the Tesnière dependency model. However he was very open-minded and later even allowed me time and resources to work on my own side-project, the Transformulator (a forerunner of translation memories). He was also sure of himself. Some computer science colleagues told him, on theoretical grounds. that the Q-Systems might not work; but he thought the danger was negligible and went ahead anyway.

I liked W-Grammar and would have continued with it, but something better soon came from him that rendered it obsolete. This was his much better known Q-Systems. (The Q stood for Quebec.) There is no point in describing Q-Systems here, since there is a good article on them in Wikipedia. Alain was a hands-on computer scientist: he was proud that he programmed Q-Systems in Algol himself in the space of six intensive weeks.

Q-Systems were a high-level language, a revolutionary tool for us linguists. With them we were equipped to devise an elaborate English to French MT system. The task was too much for one person, so it was split up into stages and parcelled out. The chaining of programs in Q-Systems made this feasible. I got to design the English morphology analyser and programmed it with the aid of a student, Laurent Belisle. Alain once paid me what for me was a supreme compliment: "Brian, your morphology never fails."

By 1971 we were ready to make a presentation to the NRC and to publish. The publication is the volume TAUM 71. (TAUM stands for Traduction automatique à l'Université de Montréal.)  It's difficult to find today because it was only intended for the NRC, but it's a classic of the so-called rule-governed approach to MT. That paradigm was overturned by the invention of statistical MT in the late 1980s, so it might look as if we were barking up the wrong tree. However, the right tree wasn't available to us, because the computers of the time couldn't have handled the enormous data bases that are needed for statistical MT. 

By 1971, with TAUM 71 published and his coopérant oblígations acquitted, Alain felt the tug of his home country and returned to France. One side-consequence was that he left me his spacious Montreal apartment on prestigious Nun's Island in the St. Lawrence river along with its antique furniture. But not long afterwards I myself left Montreal for Ottawa. Thereafter our interests diverged so widely, his towards computer programming and mine towards translation theory, that I had little contact with him. I visited him once at his office at Marseille-Luminy University and was present there at a discussion in which the ever faithful Michel van Canaghem was urging him to switch to what was then the latest development in computing, a micro-computer. I attended Guy de Chastellier's wedding in the Montreal Basilica. But these days you can watch people's careers from afar on the internet. And, as you can judge from the above, those halcyon years in Montreal under Alain's leadership have remained bright in my memory. 

Alain Colmerauer (ed.). TAUM 71. Montreal: Projet de Traduction Automatique de l'Université de Montréal, 1971. 223 p. Click [here] or go to

Alain Colmerauer and Guy de Chastellier. W-Grammar. Département d'informatique, Université de Montréal, c1969, 8 p.  Click [here] or go to            

Q-systems. Wikipedia. 2016. 

Brian Harris and Laurent Belisle. POLYGRAM grapho-morphology analyzer for English. In TAUM 71, pp. 46-105.

Alain Colmerauer is holding the Q-System output. Far left with pipe is Michel van Canaghem. With long hair, looking over the output, is Jules Dansereau, a Canadian language analyst for French. Behind Jules may be Richard Kittredge, American linguist.
Photo by courtesy of Colette Colmerauer. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Interpreter Ethics (updated)

"Ethics: moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity."

.A Spanish and an American researcher have got together to start a new line of translation research. They are Esther Monzó of the Jaime I University at Castellón de la Plana and Melissa Wallace of the University of Texas at San Antonio; and their topic is interpreter ethics.

Their object of study is the ethics of non-professional interpreters. Before we get to that, however, it may be instructive to take a look at the professional interpreters. One reason is that there is a good deal of material already available about the latter. That is because their ethics are codified and published in the codes of ethics of their professional associations. Those are codified ethics, the most famous example of which is the Ten Commandments of the Bible. We may take as an authoritative example the Code of Professional Ethics of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). An advantage of taking this code is that there is an article by Benoît Kremer analysing and commenting it (see Sources). Kremer divides the code into three sections. First he puts professional secrecy: professionals must not divulge what they say, hear or overhear (in connection with the last, one thinks of the film The Interpreter starring Nicole Kidman). Second he puts integrity, which he subdivides into material and intellectual. It requires, amongst other things, that interpreters not profit from 'insider information' that they acquire and that they not accept two assignments for the same time period nor an assignment for which they aren't fully qualified. And last, but not necessarily least, he lists attitude to colleagues, i.e. cooperation and respect between them.

The AIIC code and similar ones are lacking in two respects. First there may be matters they skip. An ethics-based question they don't deal with but is sometimes asked by students is whether interpreters should accept an assignment to translate for a speaker whose views they abhor, a holocaust denier for example. And they can't mention the material obligation not to undercut the fees charged by colleagues, because to do so would be illegal in many jurisdictions. I know because I was once involved marginally in a court case over this in Canada, yet I have known colleagues or students threatened with excommunication (aka 'blackballing') for contravening this rule, which is maintained by 'gentlemen's agreement'. On the other hand, Kremer comments that cooperation and respect among colleagues "is often ignored in the real world" (something I observed myself when I was an interpreter). In other words, we may question to what extent the codes are in fact applied or whether all the professionals are even aware of all their content.

In any case the object of the Monzó-Wallace investigation is non-professional interpreters. It would be unjust to expect the non-professionals to observe the ethics enshrined in codes they aren't even aware of. Yet that doesn't prevent them from knowing and following another kind of ethics: societal ethics, the general ethics of a civilisation. Some of these are so widely accepted as to be quasi-universal. Take as an example the injunction, "Don't tell lies." Knowingly giving a false translation can be considered a form of lying. Furthermore "don't lie" is something that is learnt very young.
"To lie, children have to know that what they are saying is false – they have to understand the difference between a lie and the truth. That usually doesn't happen before the age of four,"
But that's roughly the age from which bilingual children can translate coherently and from which they can tell whether a translation is 'truthful' (for more on this, see the Harris and Sherwood reference below).

It will be interesting to see what the Monzó-Wallace call brings.

Since the above was posted, a student has drawn my attention to an excellently made and at times riveting video on YouTube about ethics in professional court interpreting in Canada. Evidently the topic of interpreter ethics is not so novel as I thought, at any rate in that context. See the last of the Sources below.

Esther Monzó-Nebot and Melissa Wallace. Call for Papers. Translation and Interpreting Studies (TIS) Volume 15, Issue 1 Special issue: The Ethics of Non-Professional Translation and Interpreting in Public Services and Legal Settings. 2017. Click [here] or go to for Papers: Special issue: The Ethics of Non-Professional Translation and Interpreting in Public Services and Legal Settings.

AIIC. Code of professional ethics. AIIC Canada, 2012. Click [here] or go to

Benoît Kremer. L'AIIC et la déontologie (AIIC and professional ethics). AIIC World, 2002. Click [here] or go to

Cathie Kryczka. How to teach kids to stop lying. Today's Parent, 2016. Click [here] or go to

Brian Harris and Bianca Sherwood. Translating as an innate skill. Click [here] or go to

Dini Steyn, Silvana Carr et al. Ethical challenges for professional court interpreters. YouTube video, approx. 30 mins. Vancouver: Open Learning Agency and Vancouver Community College, 2000. Click [here] or go to

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Did Christ and Pontius Pilate Need an Interpreter?

This is an Easter digression from the usual topics of this blog.

One of the lesser mysteries of Easter is the language in which Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate conversed during their famous confrontation as reported in the New Testament. It's an old question and there's an ample literature about it both in the form of publications and of blog comments -- and controversy (see Sources below). I was unaware of how much controversy until I came to do the research for this post. But let's take a quick look at it in the perspective of this blog.

People assume that because Jesus was Jewish he must have known Hebrew, and because Pilate was a Roman he must have spoken Latin. That's no doubt true but it's a misleading simplification. Because both of them were bilingual (or multilingual) like most of the people in their respective communities. The problem is that on the face of it their languages didn't coincide.

First Pilate. As a Roman 'equestrian' from Italy and prefect of the Roman province of Judea, he had to know Latin, the official language of the Empire. Yet it may well not have been his first language. Because by his time Latin had been overtaken for conversation in everyday life by Greek. Not Classical Greek but the dialect that had permeated the Middle East and even Rome since Alexander the Great's conquests in the fourth century BCE: Koine. On the other hand, he is known not to have been sympathetic to his Jewish subjects; according to the Jewish historian Joesphus, he repeatedly caused trouble because of his insensitivity to Jewish customs. So it's unlikely he took the trouble to learn their language.

As for Jesus and all the native inhabitants of Judea, their everyday language wasn't Hebrew. Since the time of the exile to Babylon in the sixth century BCE it had been overtaken by another much more widespread Semitic language, Aramaic. There are still pockets of Aramaic speakers in Syria, or there were until the current conflict. I support the consensus view that as the child of humble parents, he spoke it as his mother tongue, and he continued to use it. Hebrew, however, was by no means out of the picture. Above all it had remained the religious language of the Jews, as it still is. It was the liturgical language, the language of the Old Testament and the language of disputation among the scribes and rabbis. As an orthodox Jewish male, Jesus would have been taken by his father to the synagogue from an early age and given a thorough grounding in it. Later he would need it for disputations.

As for the controversy over which was his dominant language, it need not detain us: the fact is he was bilingual. There's sometimes an element of chauvinism in the controversy. One scholar writes: "I was stunned by the extent to which some people get worked up about the language(s) of Christ." In 2014,
"Benjamin Netenyahu and Pope Francis appeared to have a momentary disagreement. 'Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,' Netenyahu told the Pope at a public meeting in Jerusalem. 'Aramaic,' interjected the Pope. 'He spoke Aramaic but he knew Hebrew,' Netenyahu shot back." 
Thus far we seem to have two bilinguals confronting one another without a common language. But there remains one more possibility. Did Jesus, like Pilate, speak Greek? Koine Greek was widely used in the Palestine of Christ's time. There were Greek-speaking communities in Galilee, including one not far from Jesus' home town of Nazareth, and there's evidence in the New Testament that he spoke it on occasion. This, then, is the likely solution: the interrogation probably took place in Greek.

According to the Gospel of Luke, members of the Sanhedrin, a council of learned men, accompanied Jesus to Pilate, so it can't be ruled out that one of them might have acted as interpreter. However, there's no mention of an interpreter in the Gospels and the recourse to Greek would have made it unnecessary.

Even if you're one of the many who don't believe Jesus Christ existed (see Gathercole below), you can read the above as an exercise in historical sociolingistics.

Koine Greek. Wikipedia,  2017.

Pontius Pilate. Wikipedia, 2017.

Who, what, why: What language would Jesus have spoken? BBC Magazine Monitor, 27 May 2014. Click [here] or go to

Mark D. Roberts. What language did Jesus speak? Why does it matter?  Patheos, 2010. Click [here] or go to

Mark Ward. Did Jesus speak Greek? theLab, 9 December 2015. Click [here] or go to

Simon Gathercole. What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died? Guardian Unlimited, 13 April 2017. Click [here] or go to