Yosemite cuts sign language interpreters

Yosemite-National-Park

In an article from Mashable called “Left Speechless”, Claire Trageser describes significant cuts to interpreter services at Yosemite National Park. In short, while the park used to have rangers who were–themselves–certified interpreters and/or fluent in sign language, the park now relies upon contract interpreters to serve the declining number of Deaf visitors.

This is too bad. Mainly because, in my view, the best way to fully serve members of the Deaf community is to create circumstances where professionals know sign language and can communicate directly, rather than relying in interpreters to fill in the language gap. In this sense, the institutional changes as Yosemite are the opposite of progress.

Do you know of any situation where a public or private entity has signing staff instead of hiring out interpreters? I’m sure it’s rare, but it must be out there.

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Making Research Count 3 – Language Policy

Language Policy
Language Policy

Language Policy

Even though I’m writing this workshop in English, the original was presented in ASL. The workshop also offered voice interpreting, but since none of the registered participants requested it, there was no voicing.

I was treading a fine line on an important issue at RID conferences that is reminiscent of Hamlet: “To sign, or not to sign.” I chose to sign. The reason was, I really do think that all interpreters should have the chance to learn and to present in their second language. It’s an important and fun (yes, fun!) challenge that will make you a better presenter, better signer, and better interpreter.

I have empathy for those who say they would prefer to learn in their first language. I also want to honor (and not alienate) those who are new to interpreting or who have never had the opportunity to be in an immersive ASL environment.

I also want to say that my goal in presenting was certainly not to show off or to provide a language model for ASL. I’m definitely not qualified for that.

What was the feedback on language policy?

I was curious to know how participants would feel about the language policy. I received only two comments on the language policy in the feedback:

  1. Really grateful this was in ASL 🙂 Great Presenter.
  2. (…) BRING BACK SPOKEN WORKSHOPS!

I suppose you could read those remarks either way you wish. I choose to think that even if not everyone preferred to learn in ASL, everyone probably benefitted from it.

I want to emphasize that in keeping with the principle of language access that defines our field, OCRID was happy to provide voice interpreting as requested. No attendees requested those services.

What do you think?

What do you think of the above language policy? What would you change?

Deaf Community as Imagined Community?

Imagined Communities

Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities should be required reading at all interpreter training programs. (I just added it to the Interpreter’s Library.) The thesis is quite simple. The idea that you and I belong to a community called a “nation” is an enormous stretch of reason, given that we can’t possibly be in daily relationship with the other people in this “national community”. Yet, this is precisely the ideology of nationalism, which seeks to collectively represents people on the “inside” against people on the “outside”. Anderson never says that imagined communities aren’t real simply because they are imagined. On the contrary, imagined communities have even more power because they are imagined. If this seems trivial, take a quick glance at the news coming out of Crimea this morning.

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Politics of Language

Language is central to Anderson’s argument. The bulk of Imagined Communities is about how nationalism took off and where nationalism got its start (spoiler alert: its not just about Europe). One of the major players here is language, because language became such an important element of nationalism. Even in the U.S., where the dominant language of English is hardly owned by U.S. citizens, English-only policies have been regularly introduced for well over a century to distinguish so-called “assimilated” immigrants and foreigners from “native” residents. Yet, Anderson reminds us that what is truly at stake in the politics of language is its ability to create a strategic boundary around a political community.

“It is always a mistake to treat languages in the way that certain nationalist ideologues treat them — as emblems of nation-ness, like flags, costumes, folk-dances, and the rest. Much The most important thing about language is its capacity for generating imagined communities, building effective particular solidarities. (133)

Why should interpreters care?

Here’s why I think this is important for interpreters to think about.

First, we know that Deaf communities have always experienced social oppression in various forms. What hasn’t been sufficiently explored is why much of this has taken place within the field of language. In my view, the literature in Deaf studies and interpreting studies has over-emphasized the direct anti-Deaf discourse by people like A.G. Bell, but hasn’t sufficiently challenged the nationalist ideas that makes language discrimination possible in the first place. When the English language is used as a “national bond” for U.S. citizens, it justifies the exclusion of non-English speakers (Deaf individuals included). In other words, the U.S. as a “nation” is an imagined community – it is not simply “real” in any everyday empirical sense. (As a side note, it is fascinating to me how many Deaf and hearing ASL users have made anti-immigrant comments to me, always failing to recognize that every argument against immigrants in the U.S. – true or not – has been used to discriminate against Deaf people, too.)

Second, the politics of language isn’t just about hearing English-speakers. As I said in my previous post, Deaf consciousness in the U.S. emerged alongside ideas of culture and nationalism in the 1880s. Sign language in the U.S. (even before it became “ASL”) became a signature feature of the U.S. Deaf community, and for very good reasons which my readers probably do not need explained to them. But the story isn’t quite as clear-cut as it seems. If we want to take Anderson seriously, we should recognize that language identity is always a political strategy, not just an empirical reality. And like all strategies, it includes some things and excludes others. ASL research — again, for very good reason — has tended towards ASL purism in the confines of a media room with Deaf-of-Deaf participants. No significant research exists on the everyday diversity of language use in mixed Deaf-hearing workspaces, for instance. So I wonder how this imagined community that Anderson talks about also applies (as he says it does) to minority social groups like the Deaf community. It’s not just about dominant groups; it’s about the conditions of political recognition for minority groups, too.

Third, this starts to provide a more interesting context for understanding Deaf advocacy. The value of the strategy of rigid Deaf cultural distinction (see Mindess 1999) and ASL purism is that makes it possible to advocate for recognition of ASL as a real language at a time when many people are still ignorantly skeptical that ASL should count. ASL has justifiably been seen as probably the marker of the Deaf community, or as Anderson says, an “effective particular solidarity”.  But in doing so, we should always be cautious about believing in the idea of linguistic or cultural purism itself, an idea that is tied to the conditions of Deaf oppression in the first place.

Deaf Community as Imagined Community?

Calling the Deaf community an “imagined community” sounds risky. Many people have lobbed misplaced and ignorant criticisms at the Deaf community for not being a “real” culture, a “real” social group, not using a “real” language. The reaction has been to dig our heels in to the slippery soil of the “real”. And we respond. Yes, Deaf people are a “real” culture. Yes, Deaf people use a “real” language. Yes, Deaf people are a “real” oppressed social group. Indeed, much of the research on ASL, interpreting, and the Deaf experience has defended this position. This is somewhat unfortunate, in my opinion, but entirely understandable. But the side effect is that we are less and less capable of challenging oppression on its own conceptual grounds. We end up playing a game in which the rules are already set against us. Suggesting that we understand the Deaf community as an imagined community (per Anderson) doesn’t compromise the credibility of Deaf advocacy. Instead, it advances advocacy a step further by suggesting that not only do Deaf individuals not need to justify themselves to hearing individuals, hearing critics themselves don’t have a foundation for judging what a “real” language, culture or social group is in the first place. But it may also mean that as interpreters, we need to let go of simplistic divisions between what we think of as “Deaf” and “hearing”, what we view as “pure” ASL, and to challenge the ideas (such as some versions of nationalism) that make Deaf oppression possible.

Why is ASL so important to Deaf culture?

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Introduction

This post cannot answer the title question thoroughly. Nor is this a “study” of Deaf individuals’ narrative frameworks for understanding ASL and culture. (Interestingly, no such research exists.) Rather, this is an attempt to understand how ASL and Deaf culture have been conceptually linked, and how this particular link between language and culture is a double-edged sword.

In his 2005 article on “Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World”, Harlan Lane provides a well-argued critique of applying the term disability to Deaf individuals. Lane suggests that hearing people should view the Deaf community as an ethnicity, and he provides long list of properties which are intended to demonstrate that Deaf people are an “ethnicity”: language, kinship, “the arts”, social structure, values, knowledge, customs, etc. In the short paragraph describing language, Lane quotes well-known linguist, Joshua Fishman, in defense of language as a primary ethnic marker. I’ll quote the entire paragraph:

“‘The mother tongue is an aspect of the soul of a people. It is their achievement par excellence. Language is the surest way for individuals to safeguard or recover the authenticity they inherited from their ancestors as well as to hand it on to generations yet unborn’ (Fishman, 1989, p. 276). Competence in ASL is a hallmark of Deaf ethnicity in the United States and some other parts of North America. A language not based on sound is the primary element that sharply demarcates the Deaf-World from the engulfing hearing society.” (Lane 2005)

Anyone with a week of experience in the Deaf community will grasp the common sense of this statement. As Mindess quotes in an epigraph on page 110 (a quote from Schein 1989) of Reading Between the Signs, “For many members of the Deaf community, they and ASL are indistinguishable. Their self-concept is based on being Deaf and being Deaf to them means using ASL.” Interpreting students learn this simple fact from Stewart, Schein, and Cartwright (1998), too: “ASL is the language of the Deaf community.” (134) Minor quibbles aside, these are rather incontestable observations as far as I can tell. And they are – or should be – foundational knowledge of sign language interpreters.

But there is something missing for me.

Something is Missing

What’s missing for me is a history of the ideas that make the Deaf community a community – or ethnicity, or culture, or linguistic minority – and which therefore make interpreting a profession in the first place. I hope the following illustration explains what I think is missing from our current literature and creates an opening for further discussion within interpreting in the future. (See post What Do Interpreters Need to Accomplish?)

If we could summarize the above quotes in a brief assertion that sounds like anthropology 101, it would go something like this: “Language is one of the primary markers of distinct social groups.” This has been true for as far back as the historical record shows. But there’s a twist. It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that language took on a particularly powerful role in defining social groups in the sense that we think of it today.

What is language and culture?

The main figure in this evolution is Johann Gottfried von Herder (according to Peter Watson in The German Genius). Locke claimed that language was a natural phenomenon, not a divine gift – a transformation in thought that interpreters should certainly revisit. But it was Herder who gave language a new power it didn’t have before. It’s worth quoting from Watson’s book at length:

“Language identifies a Volk or nationality, and this, the historico-psychological entity of the common language, is for him ‘the most natural and organic basis for political organisation… Without its own language a Volk is an absurdity (Unding). … A Volk, on this theory, is the natural division of the human race, endowed with its own language, which it must preserve as its most distinctive and sacred possession.”

Herder should also be known for his advocacy a rather new idea at the time: culture. For Herder, “whatever the ‘collective consciousness’ of a Volk was at any particular time, was its culture.” (The term Zeitgeist – the spirit of the times – was Herder’s neologism.) For Herder, these concepts of Volk, language, culture, and nation are all intertwined. Ultimately, all of these features reach their height in the establishment of a nation-state, a political organization which has the authority to represent the political will of the people – in fact, the state itself is the political will of the people.

Why does this matter?

First, I think Herder’s original writings are more philosophically robust than most of what we find in interpreting literature today. This is not a criticism of books about interpreting, but it suggests that there is much to be gained from reading the original texts of thinkers who we often think of as old and irrelevant. This may not interest most working interpreters. But working interpreters deserve to know that it hasn’t interested scholars in Deaf studies and interpreting either. In other words, despite about 50 years of scholarship in our field, we still don’t know where our ideas came from. This is no small matter. And it would be a great topic for a MA thesis is anyone out there is thinking of going back to school. (See post All Interpreters are Philosophers.)

Second, I think we can detect in these excerpts the double-edged sword that is about to fall on Western civilization. This is a bit more complex, but it is very important. When Herder argues that language is the most natural, authentic characteristic of social groups, he is lending support to the idea that “natural divisions of the human race” exist, and therefore can’t be challenged. This is known today as essentialism. And he is lending support for the newly-formed nation-states of Europe. By 1945, these European states and their many counterparts in the Third World will have experienced a century of nearly unending conflict and war precisely on the basis of these “natural” human divisions. Horkheimer and Adorno will later call this the “triumphant calamity” of the enlightenment. (See The Culture Bargain post.)

Third, this is the time (late 1700s, early 1800s) that what we now call the Deaf community was beginning to take its modern form in Europe and the U.S. Notably, early texts written by Deaf individuals refer to themselves as a “nation”, not as a culture. Culture didn’t take on its modern meaning in English until the 1860s, and didn’t fall into common use until the 20th century. Interestingly, when it did enter English in the 1860s, it was introduced by German-trained anthropologists who were trying to identify and categorize Herder’s “natural divisions of the human race”. In other words, the term culture has a particularly colonial ring to it. Culture, like Herder’s theory of language, is going to but both ways against the emerging Deaf community. The Deaf community will see itself as a “nation” during the 1800s, and by the late 1960s, see itself as a “culture” (with the aid of hearing academics, no small matter, indeed). But culture and language are also going to be the tools of oppression. Deaf people do not have Herder’s nation-state to back them up. Quite the contrary, it will be the ASL users themselves who will later be seen as deviating from the national cultural model. (See Anthropology’s Culture Problem post.)

Our ideas using us more than we are using our ideas

Lane was right: ASL matters to Deaf culture. But when we claim, as we often do, that language and culture are inseparable, it can make it seem as if this is how it has always been since the beginning of time. Or it seems that this way of thinking is “natural”. In fact, this idea is relatively recent. And this idea has cut both ways, sometimes hurting the Deaf community, sometimes empowering the Deaf community. Without attention to where these ideas came from, I can’t help but think that we are captive to these ideas. When we are captive to our ideas, it becomes hard to imagine a different world and our options for advocacy are stunted, hampered, restricted. Our ideas using us more than we are using our ideas. It is worth our time to excavate these ideas and enrich our ability to be excellent interpreters and strong advocates.

This is not a definitive answer to the question, “Why Does ASL Matter to the Deaf community?”. But it is an often-overlooked part of a larger answer.

List of references:

  • Lane, H. L. (2005). Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10(3), 291–310. doi:10.1093/deafed/eni030
  • Mindess, A. (1999). Reading Between the Signs: Intercultural Communication for Sign Language Interpreters. Intercultural Press.
  • Stewart, D. A., Schein, J. D., & Cartwright, B. E. (1998). Sign language interpreting: Exploring its art and science.
  • Watson, P. (2011). The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century. HarperCollins.

Do Interpreters Dream of Electric Classifiers? (Or, The Year Interpreters Became Obsolete)

In his recent book To Save Everything, Click Here, Evgeny Morozov takes a bold stand against “technological solutionism”, the idea that complex political, social, and economic problems can be solved with social media, smartphone apps, and crowdsourcing. Criticism of the role of technology in society it nothing new. (See Malcom Gladwell’s excellent New Yorker article The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.) But Morozov’s book couldn’t have come at a better time. In the past few weeks, several projects have come to light that on their surface appear to challenge the future human sign language interpreters. Interpreters: prepare to go the way of pay phones, VHS cassettes, and department store catalogs. You’re about to become obsolete.

For many contemporary global problems we have unfortunately reached a point where our faith in so-called “technological solutions” allow us to be proudly ignorant yet sublimely guilt-free.

Big name companies like Microsoft, the secretive DARPA organization, and researchers at Asia University have funded projects to create technological solutions to sign language interpreting. Microsoft is creating software to capitalize on their Kinect hardware to recognize sign language and translate it into English (Call of Duty + sign language = very sneaky platoon). DARPA funded a project to create a robot that uses sign language (did someone forget to plug in the interpreter?). And researchers in Asia have created a bracelet that translates signs into spoken language (although they seemed to have forgotten the other half of the conversation).

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I doubt anyone who understands sign language thinks these technologies will replace interpreters. The translations these robots produce will be, well, robotic. Spontaneous human language continues to be one of the most complex, unpredictable, inimitable phenomena on our planet. In my interpretation, these technologies are merely conceptual demonstrations designed to gain recognition, earn research funding, and to test  hardware and software that has little to actually do with sign language. The researchers on these projects know they can’t recreate human sign language, and I can’t help but think that they are bluffing a bit to the media.

Even so, bluffing is not innocent. To successfully bluff, you have to bluff in a way that you know others will foolishly believe. Behind these projects I detect a sense of contempt for the richness of sign languages and a subtle (and very wrong) belief that since sign language is more rudimentary than spoken languages, technological solutions are more feasible. Many articles I found about these technologies have that “gee-whiz, we could help the poor Deaf folks” quality to it. I believe we should stand against this form of parentalism.

People often say that technology has an inherent democratic effect. Technology can democratize creativity and intelligence. But technology can also democratize ignorance. Much of the public will have their misconceptions about the Deaf community confirmed by news articles about this technology. It reminds me of the viral video from 2011 that showed the woman getting the cochlear implant. The real mistake of these technologies is not that they will actually replace interpreters – it’s that they perpetuate misconceptions about the Deaf community and sign language.

There’s more at stake here than perceptions about the Deaf community or sign language. The main problem with “technological solutionism” is that  important social problems become reduced to their most superficial and algebraic aspects. Should we address inequality by addressing massive earning differences between CEOs and lower level workers? No: develop an app that helps the unemployed find work. Should we restrict carbon emissions to mitigate climate change? No, but please join an “I-heart-nature” Facebook group. Should we reconsider war because of the atrocious cost of human life? No: just replace soldiers with drones. Should we pay interpreters a living wage and recognize the rights of Deaf minorities? No: invest millions of dollars to get computers to do the job. For many contemporary global problems we have unfortunately reached a point where our faith in so-called “technological solutions” allow us to be proudly ignorant yet sublimely guilt-free.

Through faith technological progress, we forget the causes of inequality, injustice, and ignorance in the first place. And as Max Horkheimer wrote in Critique of Instrumental Reason,

No age has demonstrated the universality of forgetting as clearly as the present.

I’m not worried that robots will replace interpreters. I’m actually quite curious about how technology will impact the interpreting community. My real concern is that millions of dollars are pumped into a circus of technological solutions, while public ignorance about interpreting, the Deaf community, and sign language remains pervasive and ignored.

Deafness on Film: There Will Be Blood

I love movies with well-crafted dialogue, especially those movies where a major theme is the power of language. There Will Be Blood, starring my all-time favorite Daniel Day-Lewis, is one such film. Daniel Day-Lewis plays a demi-sovereign Daniel Plainview, an oil prospector at the turn of the last century whose economic success is paralleled by his moral corruption and paranoia.

When one of his workers dies in a drilling accident, Plainview adopts the worker’s son as his own. When the son, H.W., is about 10, a drilling explosion destroys his hearing. At this moment I can’t help but think of the common motif of “disability” in film. (And at this point in the film, the deafness is treated as a disability.) In film, disability is often the physical manifestation or foreshadowing of flawed character. Ah-ha, you say; just when you think we are past the classical view of disability as sin, it reappears in film. H.W. is the only thing that Plainview seems to love. But Plainview also expects his son to succeed him in continuing the family business. When H.W. becomes a vulnerable, it strikes Plainview as weakness and his incapacity to make his son well again shows Plainview that he isn’t the all-powerful man he believes himself to be. H.W. is tricked into getting on a train and is sent away.

There is no footage of H.W.’s life during the years that he is gone. Plainview does eventually bring his son back after a salvation scene in a rural church – one of the best scenes in American film. However, since H.W. comes back learning sign language and with an interpreter, we can imagine that he went to a Deaf school at some unknown location. The older H.W. is played by Russell Harvard, the Deaf actor who also played Mark Hamill in The Hammer.  In a dramatic encounter between Plainview, H.W. and H.W.’s interpreter, Plainview tells his son that he isn’t really his son. He famously calls him a “bastard from a basket”. Note for a second that H.W. was actually found in a basket, as was Moses in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I can’t help but think that this is an allusion and foreshadowing of H.W.’s eventual emancipatory exodus from Plainview.

It’s at this point I’m not really sure how to interpret the role of deafness in the film. Here are some thoughts.

  1. It is uncommon to have such well-casted parts with well-signed dialogue. I can only commend the studio for (rightly) giving Harvard the acting work he deserves.
  2. The incidental nature of H.W.’s deafness (it was the result of drilling) forms a linkage between Daniel’s ruthless, greedy drilling, and H.W.’s incapacity (from Daniel’s view) to follow in his father’s footsteps. This makes the deaf H.W. into the expression of the weakness in the world that Daniel hates, and is a symbol of his incapacity to have a relationship.
  3. But H.W.’s deafness – and later Deafhood, I suggest – is what allows H.W. to create space between him and his father. Being sent away is a blessing. H.W. ends up being the most authentically compassionate character in the film. Yet, somehow without becoming a saintly figure, for which I’m thankful. It’s only too bad that H.W. doesn’t have more screen time. But then again, with Day-Lewis as lead that would be difficult.
  4. You could read parts of the film as repeating the stereotype that hearing parents can’t have authentic relationships with their Deaf children. That theme is there. We really don’t get to see a lot of healthy hearing parent/deaf child relationships on screen. (Think of how much all this corresponds with Mr. Holland’s Opus.) But I don’t think this message is the main one.
  5. Could one read Plainview, H.W., and the preacher as each filling a position a trinity motif? Plainview=father. H.W.=son. Preacher=holy spirit. (???) It wouldn’t be totally out of the question given the deeply religious nature of the film.
  6. If you’ve seen the movie, what else stick out to you?

I really think this film is about is the power of spoken language to control, persuade, and corrupt. Both Plainview and the preacher have lengthly, arresting monologues in the film. And both of them – in their own way – use their oratory gifts to manipulate, overpower, cajole, swindle, defile, and pervert people around them. And both Plainview and the preacher are examples of sovereign power: Plainview’s raw, human sovereignty to dominate nature, and the preacher’s metaphysical sovereignty over salvation. In this way, the film says something remarkable and profound about language through the character of H.W. It seems to suggest that a break with sovereign authority requires a break with the form of language that sovereignty takes. This doesn’t mean that ASL is the way out of issues of power. But it calls our attention to the powerful role that language has in making us who we are.

I dunno. That’s what I’ve been thinking about since I watched There Will Be Blood. See for yourself below.

The Interpreter’s Library: Lydia Callis’ Blog

I was pleased to run across Lydia Callis’ Twitter feed and find that she keeps an excellent blog on her professional website. She is only updating it about twice per month it seems, but I imagine that she is in high demand following her very public interpreting of past-mayor Bloomberg’s warning speech before hurricane Sandy. Perhaps even more impressive to me was the Times article (click here for article) on teaching science in ASL that included a video of Lydia. I loved the mixed media in that article, and I hope to see more like it in the future. (Check out those videos below.) In any case, her blog posts are excellent and worth visiting.

Click here to read Lydia Callis’ blog.

The Interpreter’s Library: Bibliography of Deaf Interpreter Research

The Deaf Interpreter Institute is an organization that provides resources for, by, and about Deaf Interpreters. The most impressive resource they provide are summaries in ASL of key research articles and dissertations related to interpreting. The content is well-curated and the summaries are appropriately concise in both ASL and English. Keep in mind: these are summaries not reviews. Summaries try to condense the main points of research. Reviews situate research studies in the broader field by addressing how the research advances the field and/or discusses problems with the research study. Annotated bibliographies are lists of publications that are summarized and reviewed usually for personal or in-house use. For this reason, even though the page is called an “annotated bibliography”, there’s nothing especially “annotated” about it. It’s a pretty traditional bibliography with the abstracts signed in ASL. That in now way detracts from its value as a great resources and a good model to build on for future projects.

I have a similar goal in mind with starting the Interpreter’s Library page on this site, except I am trying to add value by actually critically reviewing most of resources that are posted there, not just summarizing them.

The videos are clearly embedded from Vimeo, but since there is no source link, I can’t cross-embed them here. You’ll have to follow the link below to see them for yourself. And you should see for yourself, because it’s really cool.

Click here for the annotated bibliography of research literature on deaf interpreters.

The Interpreter’s Library: Sign Language Interpreting by Melanie Metzger

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One of the first (and only) careful and thorough accounts of the interpreting process is Melanie Metzger’s Sign Language Interpreting: Deconstructing the Myth of Neutrality.

I read it enthusiastically for the first time in 2004 and I was moved by its vivid and grounded analysis. In its simplest form, it’s a close analysis of two interpreted interactions (one mock, one real) between a doctor and a patient. The driving question is, “do interpreters influence communication in interpreted situations? And if so, how?” You already know that the answer is “yes”. But what Metzger gives the reader is a more careful analysis of how that happens. The purpose of the book (in my view) is to show how one could go about  studying the interpreting process in action. It’s a book that demonstrates research methodology and attempts to answer a straightforward question.

Four notes on the book.

  1. The term “deconstruction” is included in the subtitle of the book, but the book has nothing whatsoever to do with deconstruction. Deconstruction is a specific philosophical approach introduced and popularized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. The word deconstruction has achieved that strange place in popular vocabulary as a term which many use and few understand. A book on deconstruction in interpreting would be excellent, but this is not it. Instead, Metzger’s book is a relatively traditional analysis of interpreting done much better than most. (See this NYT article for a primer on deconstruction.)
  2. The book is well-cited, to Melanie’s great credit. Contrary to popular perceptions, citations are not about academic pretension. Citations situate research within a broader field and let the reader know where to look to learn more about the assumptions that guide the research. In my view, many popular texts in our field, including Mindess’ Reading Between the Signs and Cokely’s chapter on interpreter positionality, could be stronger if they engaged more directly with relevant academic literatures.
  3. I have heard some interpreters suggest that this book insufficient because it only includes two interpreted situations. In Metzger’s defense, it is not the number of analyses that are as important as the quality of the analysis. For some reason, interpreters are obsessed with large surveys. This is probably due to the lamentable dependence of surveys by sociologists and political scientists, which has gained a public reputation for being “the way you do real research”. Interpreters have to get over this.
  4. Despite the excellent study, I can’t help but notice that what drives the book is an assumption that interpreters disrupt otherwise “authentic” communication. The idea that there is real communication between two people and that interpreted situations “deviate” from these is a misplaced assumption. I don’t think we should view any mode of communication as authentic or inauthentic, closer or further away from “natural” communication, and so on. See other posts on hermeneutics for some hints on other ways of thinking about this.

This book remains one of the best in our field. You should read it. And it is hereby inducted into the Interpreter’s Library.

AIIC Accepts Sign Language Interpreters

Now here’s something interesting: as of 2012 the AIIC now accepts sign language interpreters into their organization as full members. Check out this great article here. I don’t know the background to this decision, nor can I explain why it took 60 years to accept ASL interpreters into their organization. But there you have it.

What’s the AIIC, you ask? Well, it’s only the International Association of Conference Interpreters, founded in 1952. Or in the original French: Association internationale des interprètes de conférence. The organization is known for its high standards and global reach.

ASL interpreters may not be familiar with this organization. But many of us are familiar with its most famous member: Danica Seleskovitch. Seleskovitch was one of the early theorists of the interpreting process and was a well-known interpreter trainer, albeit primarily for spoken language interpreters. However, her writings on interpreting – especially Interpreting for International Conferences – mirrored and even foresaw current pedagogy in interpreter training programs. I remember reading that book while I was in my ITP from 2004-2006.

I have always wished that spoken language and sign language interpreters would work together more on systemic issues related to language and access. The time may be more ripe given this recent AIIC decision, as well as the more local work of Janet Dobecki’s work with the Community and Court Interpreters of Ohio (CCIO), a multi-lingual organization trying to bring all interpreters together.