Reflections on interpreting settings and ethics in view of visual representations of la Malinche

Krisztina Zimanyi


During the conquest of the territory of today’s Mexico, a young indigenous woman, mostly known as la Malinche, emerged as the main interpreter, and later lover, to the Spanish Conquistador, Hernán Cortés. Numerous written references and pictorial representations attest to her linguistic, communication and diplomatic skills, and they also reveal a fascination with her private affairs. This article applies 21st century conceptualisation and terminology to analyse the kind of interpreting she practised and to evaluate her professional performance from an ethics perspective. By examining both contemporary and subsequent illustrations that depict her in a professional or personal capacity, the study comes to a number of interesting conclusions. First, the kind of interpreting in which la Malinche could best be described as ‘interpreting in conflict zones.’ Second, the iconography of interpreting displays a series of recurring motifs. Third, there seems to be a distinction between the focus in contemporary and retrospective images along the lines of skills versus ethical guidelines. Finally, this idiosyncrasy could serve as a valuable lesson for today’s interpreters.


interpreter role, perception, historic visualisation, identity

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