Is justice worth the cost of interpreters?


If there’s anything that bridges my work as an interpreter and my research as a graduate student, it’s court interpreting. While I don’t do any court interpreting myself, I have had the privilege of working with court interpreters and talking with those who work in immigration courts.

We may think that justice is justice and that’s that. But for thousands of people each year, justice – in the traditional, legal sense – remains illusive because they aren’t able to understand court proceedings in their most proficient language. This is where court interpreters come in. Even though interpreters do not truly provide equal access to court proceedings, they soften the gross disparities by at least bridging some of the linguistic gaps.

In the New York Times article below, there’s some great information on court interpreters, mostly voicing concerns about the costs of interpreters. There’s no question: the costs are not insignificant. But what is the cost of justice? Or worse, what is the cost of injustice?

At worst, it can be death, as Alfred Weinrib (see previous post) reminds us.

As the Demand for Court Interpreters Climbs, State Budget Conflicts Grow as Well

(Reposted from the New York Times)


Interpreting Citations: An Attempt at a Comprehensive List

Interpreting References

Explanation: This is a reasonably comprehensive list of research articles and books from the last 30 years that focus specifically on interpreting. It does not include texts in Deaf studies, linguistics, sociology, geography, literary theory, etc.

  1. Adam, R., Carty, B., & Stone, C. (2011). Ghostwriting: Deaf translators within the Deaf community. Babel, 57(4), 375–393. doi:10.1075/babel.57.4.01ada
  2. Antia, S. D., & Kreimeyer, K. H. (2001). The role of interpreters in inclusive classrooms. American Annals of the Deaf, 146(4), 355–365.
  3. Bade, D. (2012). Language Sciences. Language Sciences, 34(3), 361–375. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2012.02.003
  4. Bancroft, M. A., Bendana, L., Bruggeman, J., & Feuerle, L. (2013). Interpreting in the Gray Zone: Where Community and Legal Interpreting Intersect. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(1). doi:10.12807/ti.105201.2013.a05
  5. Beaver, D. L., Hayes, P. L., & Luetke-Stahlman, B. (1995). In-service trends: General education teachers working with educational interpreters. American Annals of the Deaf, 140(1), 38–46.
  6. Bentley-Sassaman, J., & Dawson, C. (2013). Deaf-Hearing Interpreter Teams: A Teamwork Approach. Journal of Interpretation, 22(1), 2.
  7. Berge, S. S. (2014). Social and private speech in an interpreted meeting of deafblind persons. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 16(1), 81–105. doi:10.1075/intp.16.1.05ber
  8. Berge, S. S., & Raanes, E. (2013). Coordinating the Chain of Utterances: An Analysis of Communicative Flow and Turn Taking in an Interpreted Group Dialogue for Deaf-Blind Persons. Sign Language Studies, 13(3), 350–371. doi:10.1353/sls.2013.0007
  9. Birgitta Nilsen, A. (2013). Exploring interpreting for young children. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(2).
  10. Bishop, R., & Phillips, J. (2006). Language. Theory, Culture & Society, 23(2-3), 51–58. doi:10.1177/0263276406062571
  11. Bontempo, K., Napier, J., & Hayes, L. (2014). Does personality matter? An international study of sign language interpreter disposition. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  12. Chin, N. P., Cuculick, J., Starr, M., Panko, T., Widanka, H., & Dozier, A. (2013). Deaf Mothers and Breastfeeding: Do Unique Features of Deaf Culture and Language Support Breastfeeding Success? Journal of Human Lactation, 29(4), 564–571. doi:10.1177/0890334413476921
  13. Christensen, K. M., & Delgado, G. L. (2000). Deaf Plus: A Multicultural Perspective. DawnSignPress.
  14. Christensen, T. P. (2008). Judges’ deviations from norm-based direct speech in court. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 10(1), 99–127. doi:10.1075/intp.10.1.07chr
  15. Cokely, D. (1982). Sign language interpreters: a demographic survey. Sign Language Studies, 32(1), 261–286.
  16. Cokely, D. (1984). Towards a Sociolinguistic Model of the Interpreting Process: Focus on ASL and English. Georgetown University.
  17. Cokely, D. (1986). The Effects of Lag Time on Interpreter Errors. Sign Language Studies, 1053(1), 341–375. doi:10.1353/sls.1986.0025
  18. Cokely, D. (1992). Interpretation: A Sociolinguistic Model. Linstok Press.
  19. Cokely, D., & Baker-Shenk, C. (1991). American Sign Language: A Teacher’s Resource Text on Curriculum, Methods, and Evaluation. Gallaudet University Press.
  20. Coyne, D. (2012). The Exploration of Signed Language Interpreters’ Practices and Commitments with a Social Justice Lens. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati.
  21. Dahl, C., & Wilcox, S. (1990). Preparing the educational interpreter: A survey of sign language interpreter training programs. American Annals of the Deaf, 135(4), 275–279.
  22. Davitti, E. (2013). Dialogue interpreting as intercultural mediation: Interpreters’ use of upgrading moves in parent–teacher meetings. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 15(2), 168–199. doi:10.1075/intp.15.2.02dav
  23. de Bruin, E. (2006). The Psychotherapist and the Sign Language Interpreter. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(3), 360–368. doi:10.1093/deafed/enj034
  24. Dean, R. K. (2014). Condemned to repetition? An analysis of problem-setting and problem-solving in sign language interpreting ethics. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  25. Dean, R. K., & Pollard, R. Q. (2001). Application of Demand-Control Theory to Sign Language Interpreting: Implications for Stress and Interpreter Training. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf ….
  26. Ervas, F., & Tripodi, V. (2012). New Perspectives on Quine’s ‘Word and Object’. Disputatio.
  27. Fant, L. J. (1990). Silver Threads: A Personal Look at the First Twenty-Five Years of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Registry of Interpreters for.
  28. Feuerle, L. M. (2013). Testing Interpreters: Developing, Administering, and Scoring Court Interpreter Certification Exams. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(1). doi:10.12807/ti.105201.2013.a04
  29. Frankel, M. A. (2002). Deaf-Blind Interpreting: Interpreters’ Use of Negation in Tactile American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies, 2(2), 169–181. doi:10.1353/sls.2002.0004
  30. Frishberg, N. (1990). Interpreting: An Introduction. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Incorporated.
  31. Garzone, G., & Viezzi, M. (2002). Interpreting in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities : Selected Papers from the 1st Forlì Conference on Interpreting Studies, 9-11 November 2000. J. Benjamins.
  32. Gómez, M. J. L. (2007). Predicting proficiency in signed language interpreting. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 1–25.
  33. Grbić, N. (2008). Constructing interpreting quality. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 10(2), 232–257. doi:10.1075/intp.10.2.04grb
  34. Haricharan, H. J., Heap, M., Coomans, F., & London, L. (2013). Can we talk about the right to healthcare without language? A critique of key international human rights law, drawing on the experiences of a Deaf woman in Cape Town, South Africa. Disability & Society, 28(1), 54–66. doi:10.1080/09687599.2012.699277
  35. Hastings, S. O., Musambira, G. W., & Ayoub, R. (2011). Revisiting Edward T. Hall’s Work on Arabs and Olfaction: An Update with Implications for Intercultural Communication Scholarship. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 40(1), 3–20. doi:10.1080/17475759.2011.558315
  36. Hlavac, James. (2013). A Cross-National Overview of Translator and Interpreter Certification Procedures. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(1). doi:10.12807/ti.105201.2013.a02
  37. Hlavac, Jim. (2010). Ethical implications in situations where the language of interpretation shifts: The AUSIT Code of Ethics. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 2(2).
  38. Hlavac, Jim. (2011). Sociolinguistic profiles of users and providers of lay and professional interpreting services: The experiences of a recently arrived Iraqi language community in Melbourne. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 3(2).
  39. Horváth, I. (2010). Creativity in interpreting. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 12(2), 146–159. doi:10.1075/intp.12.2.02hor
  40. Humphrey, J. H., & Alcorn, B. (2007). So You Want to be an Interpreter?: An Introduction to Sign Language Interpreting. H \& H Publishing Company.
  41. Ingram, R. M. (1988). Interpreters’ Recognition of Structure & Meaning. Sign Language Studies, 1058(1), 21–36. doi:10.1353/sls.1988.0025
  42. Jacobsen, B. (2012). The significance of interpreting modes for question–answer dialogues in court interpreting. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 14(2), 217–241. doi:10.1075/intp.14.2.05jac
  43. James, J. R., & Gabriel, K. I. (2012). Student interpreters show encoding and recall differences for information in English and American Sign Language. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 4(1).
  44. Janzen, T. (2005). Topics in Signed Language Interpreting. John Benjamins Publishing.
  45. Johnston, T. A. (2004). W(h)Ither the Deaf Community? Population, Genetics, and the Future of Australian Sign Language. American Annals of the Deaf, 148(5), 358–375.
  46. Kent, S. J. (2013). Deaf Voice and the Invention of Community Interpreting. Journal of Interpretation, 22(1), 3.
  47. Kicey, M. A. (2014). Road to Nowhere: The Mobility of Oedipus and the Task of Interpretation. American Journal of Philology, 135(1), 29–55. doi:10.1353/ajp.2014.0004
  48. Kritzinger, J., Schneider, M., Swartz, L., & Braathen, S. H. (2014). Patient Education and Counseling. Patient Education and Counseling, 94(3), 379–383. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2013.12.006
  49. Kukkonen, P. (2013). The translating and signifying subject as homo interpres and homo significans: Victoria Welby’s concept of translation – a polyfunctional tool. Semiotica, (196). doi:10.1515/sem-2013-0059
  50. Lai, M., & Mulayim, S. (2010). Training refugees to become interpreters for refugees. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 2(1), 48–60.
  51. Lee, J. (2009). Conflicting views on court interpreting examined through surveys of legal professionals and court interpreters*. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 1–23.
  52. Lin, I.-H. I., Chang, F.-L. A., & Kuo, F.-L. (2013). The impact of non-native accented English on rendition accuracy in simultaneous interpreting. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(2).
  53. Livingston, S., Singer, B., & Abrahamson, T. (1994). Effectiveness Compared: ASL Interpretation vs. Transliteration. Sign Language Studies, 1082(1), 1–54. doi:10.1353/sls.1994.0008
  54. Lommel, A. R. (2013). Alternatives to Certification. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(1), 222–234.
  55. Lukin, A., Moore, A., Herke, M., Wegener, R., & Wu, C. (2011). Halliday’s model of register revisited and explored. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 4(2). doi:10.1558/lhs.v4i2.187
  56. Marais, K. (2013). Constructive Alignment in Translator Education: Reconsidering Assessment for Both Industry and Academy. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(1).
  57. Marks, A. R. (2013). Participation Framework and Footing Shifts in an Interpreted Academic Meeting. Journal of Interpretation, 22(1), 4.
  58. Marschark, M. (2005). Access to Postsecondary Education through Sign Language Interpreting. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10(1), 38–50. doi:10.1093/deafed/eni002
  59. Marschark, M. (2006). Benefits of Sign Language Interpreting and Text Alternatives for Deaf Students’ Classroom Learning. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(4), 421–437. doi:10.1093/deafed/enl013
  60. McDermid, C. (2008). Social Construction of American Sign Language–English Interpreters. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 14(1), 105–130. doi:10.1093/deafed/enn012
  61. McDermid, C. (2014). Cohesion in English to ASL simultaneous interpreting. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  62. McKee, R. (2014). Breaking news: Sign language interpreters on television during natural disasters. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 16(1), 107–130. doi:10.1075/intp.16.1.06kee
  63. Merlini, R. (2009). Seeking asylum and seeking identity in a mediated encounter. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 1–37.
  64. Metzger, M. (1999). Sign Language Interpreting: Deconstructing the Myth of Neutrality. Gallaudet University Press.
  65. Metzger, M., Fleetwood, E., & Collins, S. D. (2004). Discourse Genre and Linguistic Mode: Interpreter Influences in Visual and Tactile Interpreted Interaction. Sign Language Studies, 4(2), 118–137. doi:10.1353/sls.2004.0004
  66. Mikkelson, H. (2013). Universities and Interpreter Certification. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(1). doi:10.12807/ti.105201.2013.a03
  67. Miller, K. R. (2001). Access to sign language interpreters in the criminal justice system. American Annals of the Deaf, 146(4), 328–330.
  68. Mindess, A. (1999). Reading Between the Signs: Intercultural Communication for Sign Language Interpreters. Intercultural Press.
  69. Morell, J. L. R. (2011). Toward the development of a metacognitive intercultural communicative competence in the education of students of bilingual interpreting: general theoretical/pragmatic foundations. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 3(1), 106–118.
  70. Napier, J. (2002a). The D/deaf-H/hearing Debate. Sign Language Studies, 2(2), 141–149. doi:10.1353/sls.2002.0006
  71. Napier, J. (2002b). University Interpreting: Linguistic Issues for Consideration. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 7(4), 1–21.
  72. Napier, J., & Barker, R. (2004). Sign Language Interpreting: The Relationship between Metalinguistic Awareness and the Production of Interpreting Omissions. Sign Language Studies, 4(4), 369–393. doi:10.1353/sls.2004.0020
  73. National Technical Institute for the Deaf Rochester Institute of Technology Marc Marschark Director, Rico Peterson Professor of Psychology Rochester Institute of Technology, Elizabeth A. Winston Professor of Psychology Northeastern University, Patricia Sapere Professor of Psychology Northeastern University, Carol M. Convertino Professor of Psychology Northeastern University, Rosemarie Seewagen Professor of Psychology Northeastern University, Christine Monikowski Professor of Psychology Northeastern University. (2005). Sign Language Interpreting and Interpreter Education : Directions for Research and Practice. Oxford University Press.
  74. Nicodemus, B., & Swabey, L. (2014). Conveying medication prescriptions in American Sign Language: Use of emphasis in translations by interpreters and deaf physicians. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  75. Obasi, C. (2013). Race and ethnicity in sign language interpreter education, training and practice. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 103–120. doi:10.1080/13613324.2012.733686
  76. Ott, E. K. (2012). Do We Eat Our Young and One Another? Horizontal Violence Among Signed Language Interpreters. Western Oregon University.
  77. Ozolins, U. (2009). Back translation as a means of giving translators a voice. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 1(2), 1–13.
  78. Ozolins, U. (2011). Telephone interpreting: Understanding practice and identifying research needs. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 3(2).
  79. Peng, G. (2009). Using Rhetorical Structure Theory (RST) to describe the development of coherence in interpreting trainees. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 11(2), 216–243. doi:10.1075/intp.11.2.06pen
  80. Pérez, M. S. (2011). The role of interpreters in the conquest and acculturation of the Canary Archipelago. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 13(2), 155–175. doi:10.1075/intp.13.2.01sar
  81. Phelan, M. (2011). Legal Interpreters in the news in Ireland. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 3(1), 76–105.
  82. Pöchhacker, F. (2004). Introducing Interpreting Studies. Routledge.
  83. Pöchhacker, F. (2010). The role of research in interpreter education. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 2(1), 1–10.
  84. Pöchhacker, F., & Shlesinger, M. (2002). The Interpreting Studies Reader. Routledge.
  85. Ra, S., & Napier, J. (2013). Community interpreting: Asian language interpreters’ perspectives. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(2).
  86. Roy, C. B. (1992). A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the Interpreter’s Role in Simultaneous Talk in a Face-to-Face Interpreted Dialogue. Sign Language Studies, 1074(11), 21–61. doi:10.1353/sls.1992.0018
  87. Roy, C. B. (1999). Interpreting As a Discourse Process. Oxford University Press, USA.
  88. Roy, C. B. (2000). Innovative Practices for Teaching Sign Language Interpreters. Gallaudet University Press.
  89. Roy, C., & Metzger, M. (2014). Researching signed language interpreting research through a sociolinguistic lens. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  90. Rudser, S. F. (1986). Linguistic Analysis of Changes in Interpreting: 1973–1985. Sign Language Studies, 1053(1), 332–340. doi:10.1353/sls.1986.0009
  91. Rudvin, M. (2007). Professionalism and ethics in community interpreting. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 1–24.
  92. Russell, D., & Winston, B. (2014). Tapping into the interpreting process: Using participant reports to inform the interpreting process in educational settings. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  93. Santos, C. M. S. M. (2011). Supervising sign language interpreters students. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 29, 5–12. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.11.200
  94. Scarpa, F., Musacchio, M. T., & Palumbo, G. (2009). A foot in both camps: Redressing the balance between the “pure” and applied branches of translation studies. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 1(2), 32–43.
  95. Schäffner, C. (2004). Translation research and interpreting research: traditions, gaps and synergies.
  96. Schick, B. (2005). Look Who’s Being Left Behind: Educational Interpreters and Access to Education for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(1), 3–20. doi:10.1093/deafed/enj007
  97. Scott-Baumann, A. (2010). Ricoeur’s Translation Model as a Mutual Labour of Understanding. Theory, Culture & Society, 27(5), 69–85. doi:10.1177/0263276410374630
  98. Seal, B. C. (2004). Psychological Testing of Sign Language Interpreters. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9(1), 39–52. doi:10.1093/deafed/enh010
  99. Seeber, K. G. (2011). Cognitive load in simultaneous interpreting: Existing theories — new models. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 13(2), 176–204. doi:10.1075/intp.13.2.02see
  100. Seleskovitch, D. (1978). Interpreting for international conferences: problems of language and communication. Pen and Booth.
  101. Seleskovitch, D., Lederer, M., & Harmer, J. (1995). A Systematic Approach to Teaching Interpretation. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.
  102. Setton, R. (2013). Brenda Nicodemus and Laurie Swabey (Eds.). Advances in interpreting research: Inquiry in action. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 15(1), 127–138. doi:10.1075/intp.15.1.06set
  103. Shaw, S. (2006). Launching International Collaboration for Interpretation Research. Sign Language Studies, 6(4), 438–453. doi:10.1353/sls.2006.0028
  104. Shaw, S. (2011). Cognitive and motivational contributors to aptitude: A study of spoken and signed language interpreting students. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 13(1), 70–84. doi:10.1075/intp.13.1.05sha
  105. Shaw, S., & Roberson, L. (2009). Service-learning: Recentering the Deaf community in interpreter education. American Annals of the Deaf, 154(3), 277–283.
  106. Sheppard, K. (2011). Using American Sign Language Interpreters to Facilitate Research Among Deaf Adults: Lessons Learned. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 22(2), 129–134. doi:10.1177/1043659610395765
  107. Shlesinger, M. (2009). Crossing the divide: What researchers and practitioners can learn from one another. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 1(1), 1.
  108. Shlesinger, M., & Pöchhacker, F. (2008). Introduction: Doing justice to court interpreting. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 10(1), 1–7. doi:10.1075/intp.10.1.01shl
  109. Shores, P., Hohenstein, C., & Keller, J. (2014). Deaf and non-deaf research collaboration on Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS) interpreter training in Switzerland. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  110. Siegel, P. (1995). What they didn’t know may have helped us: How the Supreme court misinterpreted the role of sign language interpreters. American Annals of the Deaf, 140(5), 386–395.
  111. Siegel, P. (2004). Language and the Law in Deaf Communities. Sign Language Studies, 5(1), 137–142. doi:10.1353/sls.2004.0025
  112. Siple, L. A. (1993). Interpreters’ Use of Pausing in Voice to Sign Transliteration. Sign Language Studies, 1079(1), 147–180. doi:10.1353/sls.1993.0020
  113. Smith, A. (2014). Think aloud protocols: Viable for teaching, learning, and professional development in interpreting. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  114. Stephens, C. J. (2013). Phonological Parameters of Indigenous and ASL Country Name-Signs. Journal of Interpretation, 22(1), 5.
  115. Stewart, D. A., Schein, J. D., & Cartwright, B. E. (2004). Sign language interpreting: exploring its art and science. Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
  116. Stone, C., & Woll, B. B. (2008). Dumb O Jemmy and Others: Deaf People, Interpreters and the London Courts in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Sign Language Studies, 8(3), 226–240. doi:10.1353/sls.2008.0009
  117. Storey, B. C. (2004). Sign Language Vocabulary Development Practices and Internet Use Among Educational Interpreters. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9(1), 53–67. doi:10.1093/deafed/enh012
  118. Strong, M., & Rudser, S. F. (1986). The Subjective Assessment of Sign Language Interpreters. Sign Language Studies, 1053(1), 299–314. doi:10.1353/sls.1986.0018
  119. Taibi, M., & Martin, A. (2012). Court translation and interpreting in times of the“War on Terror”: The case of Taysir Alony. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 4(1).
  120. Takeda, K. (2010). What interpreting teachers can learn from students: a case study. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 2(1), 38–47.
  121. Tryuk, M. (2010). Interpreting in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Interpreting: International Journal of Research & Practice in Interpreting, 12(2), 125–145. doi:10.1075/intp.12.2.01try
  122. User. (2009). Interpreter’s non-rendition behaviour and its effect on interaction: A case study of a multi-party interpreting situation. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 1–12.
  123. Valero-Garcés, C., & Abkari, A. (2010). Learning from practice: Interpreting at the 11M terrorist attack trial. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 2(2).
  124. Van Dijk, R., Boers, E., Christoffels, I., & Hermans, D. (2011). Directionality effects in simultaneous language interpreting: The case of sign language interpreters in the Netherlands. American Annals of the Deaf, 156(1), 47–55.
  125. Van Orman Quine, W. (1960). Word and Object. MIT Press.
  126. Varney, J. (2009). From hermeneutics to the translation classroom: current perspectives on effective learning. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 1(1), 27–43.
  127. Vernon, M., & Miller, K. (2001). Interpreting in mental health settings: Issues and concerns. American Annals of the Deaf, 146(5), 429–434.
  128. Wadensjö, C. (1998). Interpreting as interaction. Longman.
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  130. White, J. A. (2014). Cognitive spaces: Expanding participation framework by looking at signed language interpreters’ discourse and conceptual blending. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research.
  131. Wolbers, K. A., Dimling, L. M., Lawson, H. R., & Golos, D. B. (2012). Parallel and divergent interpreting in an elementary school classroom. American Annals of the Deaf, 157(1), 48–65.
  132. Yarger, C. C. (2001). Educational interpreting: understanding the rural experience. American Annals of the Deaf, 146(1), 16–30.
  133. Youdelman, M. (2013). The Development of Certification for Healthcare Interpreters in the United States. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 5(1).
  134. Zimányi, K. (2009). On impartiality and Neutrality: a diagrammatic tool as a visual aid. The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, 1(2), 55.

For Fidelity as a Core Value in Interpreting Studies


Early on in interpreting and translation studies, the central theoretical discussion was focused on fidelity, defined as likeness to the original. In recent years, the discussion of fidelity has been largely sidelined through a very useful focus on the important mediating effects of language that were ignored in earlier debates. The move away from fidelity, however, is based on a misunderstanding of the enormous importance and richness of what fidelity means.

I am reminded of two related uses of the term fidelity. First, the Marine motto is semper fidelis, a Latin phrase that means “always faithful” or “always loyal”. Faithful to what? Loyal to what? From the outside, it may seem that this loyalty is synonymous with following orders. Any service member knows this is not exactly the case. The point of following orders is not to follow blindly, but to orient one’s being in such a way that the order is simply the verbal recognition of a commitment that precedes the order. In other words, the soldier who gives the order and the soldier that follows the order are, together, fidelis/faithful to something larger than the two. What this “larger” thing is, is precisely the question of fidelity, since it can only be intuited as nationalism, patriotism, soldierly love for one another, etc. Fidelis, therefore, means behaving with discipline as a responsible individual within a regime where individual responsibility is always collective and organized. (Hence the General-Philosopher David Patraeus.)

Second, fidelity is faithfulness in the religious sense. Again, a religious person who is faithful is not one who follows the church commandments to the letter. Such a person may be devout but not necessarily faithful — a central feature of the division between Protestants and Catholics (i.e. Catholics are devout but Protestants are faithful). Faithfulness does not consist in adhering to the known the will of God, but in adhering to the will of God despite the impossibility of either knowing it or adhering to it. And faithfulness especially means adhering to the will of God as a material being “in this world” who is said to have purchase within the next world.

In sum, faithfulness, it seems to me, means holding onto two things which are impossible and yet mutually necessary.

This is why interpreting is so interesting to me. To interpret is to hold onto two separate languages that are mutually unintelligible and create the circumstances for an appearance that they actually are intelligible.

For example, most of us who interpret or translate do a pretty good job, even though we recognize how enormously difficult it is to explain this job to others. We know that interpreting is possible despite the fact that the process itself is complex beyond any practitioner’s understanding. Interpreting proceeds almost as a miracle which we, ourselves, are unable to explain or fully control. And yet, we also know that interpreting is impossible. We often discuss this among ourselves. We know that no matter how good our voicing or signing is, there’s always a certain gap that exists between the two languages which cannot be bridged with even the best interpreter. Interpreting is an impossible task.

Wholly possible. Wholly impossible. And as interpreters, we are motivated and guided by fidelity. We are committed to a task which we are all very qualified to do, and which none of us are fully qualified to do.

Fidelity is a rich concept which allows us to think about our job in this way, and for that reason I think we should include fidelity among our list of core principles in interpreting — albeit by including its richer philosophical valences.

Why May Day Matters for Interpreters


May Day is a unique international celebration of labor rights movements. On recent discussion boards, interpreters have been discussing the detrimental impact that comprehensive interpreting agencies have been having on sign language interpreting services. However, much of the discussion continues to view this problem within the potentially limited framework of what is best for the Deaf consumer or best for the interpreting field. On May Day, I think it’s important to remember that worker rights – including the right of interpreters to provide quality services – is an international struggle within the economic system known as capitalism. To understand what’s happening in the interpreting field, we have to understand labor and capital more broadly and recognize that no efforts to improve the quality of interpreting services will be possible without organizing across professions. Unfortunately, a countervailing trend in the interpreting profession is to view interpreting as a unique and often solitary profession. I hope that we can reflect on these problems on May Day.


The Task of the Interpreter and Walter Benjamin


I have always had a nagging feeling that interpreting is one of the most important human activities. Interpreting is valuable not only for the participants immediately involved, but its also a fascinating demonstration of the human capacity to do things with language.

Language is interesting because virtually no part of our human existence can be fully understood or thoroughly appreciated without language. Indeed, over the past 100 years philosophers as different (and in some ways as similar) as Bertrand Russell and Martin Heidegger have spent the better part of their professional lives trying to explain just how language structures the experience of being human. Central to these thinkers – and the many who followed them – was the notion that humans have a unique and extremely flexible capacity to assign meaning to the objects and experiences we encounter in the world. Our individual and collective role in assigning, negotiating, and contesting meaning in the world can be summed up in one word: interpretation.

Loosening the Boundaries of History

Therefore it is likely no accident that interpreting – and sign language interpreting in particular – became a profession in the 20th Century. We tend to focus on the historical events that define our profession (the Ball State meeting in 1964, let’s say) or the individuals who invested their labor into moving us forward (Lou Fant comes to mind). It’s clear why. Their stories are our stories handed down through mentorship or gleaned from the pages of textbooks or from the VHS cassettes we used in my interpreting program.

However, I’d would like to make a very simple suggestion: that we zoom out from our individual profession – if just briefly – to put ourselves and our collective history into a larger context. My is strategic. I am suggesting that we widen the scope of our own history, and in so doing recognize (and advocate for) the larger significance of interpreting in society. My imperfect example is to take a look at an essay written in 1923 by Walter Benjamin.

Walter Benjamin was a German literary critic, philosopher, and translator whose life of influence and tragedy is too dense to tell here. What is important for us is that in 1923, Benjamin wrote an introduction to his translation of a collection of works by the French poet, Charles Baudelaire. The introductory essay was called The Task of the Translator, and in it Benjamin lays out his approach to the nature of translation and some of its main challenges. One caveat: it’s true that the pragmatic considerations of translators appear very different from what we think of as interpreters. But a closer look at Benjamin’s text reveals language issues that transcend practical differences.

Walter Benjamin’s The Task of the Translator

I would like to focus on two main examples that I find especially relevant in Benjamin’s essay.

On the Limits of Fidelity

“…no translation would be possible if in its ultimate essence it strove for likeness to the original.” – Benjamin

The fundamental principle of translation and interpretation is the notion of fidelity. But Benjamin suggests – and working interpreters know – that strict formal fidelity is part of the problem, not part of the solution. We’ve all seen this, haven’t we? Those moments when we interpret something with undue literalness. We say things like, “that was too English” or “you’re talking in ASL” to indicate this simple concept. Awkward literalness isn’t a result of simply choosing the wrong variable in an otherwise balanced equation, like systematically replacing the red blocks in a Lego house with otherwise identical green blocks. There is something about interpreting which escapes formal calculation. And yet when we see amazing interpreters at work, we feel that “click” that something has come together in an entirely original yet accurate way. We recognize that provisionally – in the moment, in the set of circumstances at the time – a great interpretation performs the function it was intended to have. What Benjamin argues clearly (and more elaborately in his essay) is that fidelity, strictly speaking, is not always the best way to evaluate the success of a translation or an interpretation. This may seem obvious to us now. But remember: he was writing over 40 years before RID was came into existence, and still long before any systematic work had been done in interpreting theory.

On the Impossibility of a Final Interpretation

“…all translation is only a somewhat provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of languages.” – Benjamin

Even the best interpretations are always partial. In the everyday life of interpreters, there is a common (but under-analyzed) practice of commenting on the ways that we would have interpreted something that another interpreter signed or voiced. Yet have we fully appreciated the fact that this common practice is only possible because interpretations are indeed always partial, always “provisional”? Indeed, we always could have signed or voiced something different, and yet there is no need to imply that the first interpretation was inadequate. There are always openings for other interpretations which add something unique or relevant. This is not simply the result of peer violence, where interpreters belittle one another’s work (although it is sad when it stoops to that level). Instead, this is an indication that interpreting is our slippery attempt to make sense of the linguistic and social situations that we find ourselves in. A word of caution: this does not mean that all interpretations are equally valid. Benjamin is very clear that “bad translations” (his words) exist and perhaps dominate the world of translations. But it does suggest that even our best work will need to be refined over time, and that no interpretation can claim a superior finality.

Relevance Today

The conclusion I draw from this difficult essay is rather simple. Benjamin remains a significant literary and theoretical figure today – probably more so than when he was alive. There is great value for us in realizing the affinities between our work as interpreters and aspects of Benjamin’s work 100 years ago. Not only do we open up new opportunities for us to think about our own work, we can also open up dialogue with other fields of study. I recognize that this may not be attractive to all interpreters, nor does it make us better skilled or better paid interpreters overnight. But for some of us who are trying to meet new educational requirements for certification or trying to expand our professional knowledge base, this might provide new and useful opportunities.

I believe Benjamin’s essay is relevant today because it shows that the history of our profession is not simply our history. Rather, we exist today in part because of a number of social, political, and – yes – philosophical conditions the 20th century. What is at stake in interpreting is not only the important role of language mediation between the often-marginalized sign language community and the non-signing majority. Interpreting is intimately connected to the most profound and fundamental shifts in economic organization and philosophical thought in the past 100 years. With this recognition in mind, we may be able to argue forcefully that while our numbers may be small, we are nonetheless significant and deserve more than passing attention. It is to the benefit of society at large – not only to working interpreters – to recognize our important place in history.

*This is an incomplete short piece I started writing over a year ago and never quite finished. I present it here so I can just move on.


Why ASL Matters

The intellectual history of ASL and Deaf studies is a fascinating one. It has yet to be written. But if I get to tell that story, here’s how part of that story will go.

Interpreters and hearing scholars, often working alongside Deaf collaborators, recognized that “Deaf gesturing” was much more than gesturing: it was an actual language. To legitimize calling it language, these scholars drew heavily upon the structural linguistics of their day to show that ASL could be studied and described as any other language, albeit without a written form. While Deaf advocates have always existed, this linguistic research drew upon the anthropological idea of culture to reinforce their claims that ASL belonged to a social minority and could be studied alongside a study of the everyday life of the Deaf community. A powerful idea was born, which, alongside the commodification of interpreting services and social service in general, created a relatively coherent and internally consistent argument about Deaf difference, oppression, and justice.

There was just one problem: much of this literature, for very good reasons, uncritically assumed the ideas of majority academic research and popular thought at the time. Until today, these ideas have been relatively unchanged. (I would argue that the early articles in Sign Language Studies are an un-mined source of new ideas for us today.) Much like geography departments today, interpreting programs and Deaf studies programs are under constant pressure to justify their existence. They must answer the question: why does ASL matter? Why do we need to know anything about the Deaf community? The usual response about Deaf people being an oppressed minority is true, but insufficient. I think Giorgio Agamben provides a very thoughtful way forward. This thought came to mind as I was reading selections from his book Potentialities (1999).

In his essay The Idea of Language, Agamben describes language as revelation like this:

“…the content of revelation is not a truth that can be expressed in the form of linguistic propositions about a being (even about a supreme being) but is, instead, a truth that concerns language itself, the very fact that language (and therefore knowledge) exists. … humans see the world through language but do not see language.” (40)

And in a later essay On Gesture, he describes

“If speech is originary gesture, then what is at issue in gesture is not so much a prelinguistic content as, so to speak, the other side of language, the muteness inherent in humankind’s very capacity for language, it’s speechless dwelling in language. … gesture is always the gesture of being at a loss in language…” (78)

These two quotes matter for the following reasons.

First, they show that despite many years of recognition, visual languages still haven’t made a strong impact in precisely the most important philosophical circles that they should. You can see that Agamben’s notion of human language is still very oral/aural.

Second, don’t be too harsh on Agamben, because within these short excerpts you can already see that there is great potential here to extend these arguments to ASL. In fact, I think we can start to see why visual languages have been resisted for so long. It’s not just longstanding prejudice against the body and against sign languages. It’s also about the historic understanding of being as the one who responds to the event of spoken language, even when one can’t decipher language. Philosophers have always been fascinated by sign language communities — if only marginally — because they represent the limits of linguistic communities.

ASL matters because it is the point where gesture, which is typically the loss of language, becomes language itself. We should not try too hard to equate visual languages with spoken language, but to demonstrate how they push philosophy beyond its ontological limits.

Why is ASL so important to Deaf culture?



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.

Sorenson Files for Bankruptcy

Thanks to Street Leverage, I just found out that Sorenson has filed for bankruptcy (Reuters). On this blog, I have tried to emphasize the need for interpreters to think beyond the everyday. We need to understand interpreting within a broader philosophical landscape. And we need to recognize the structural – economic, political, legislative – conditions that make interpreting possible and drive the profession. (No, the Deaf community doesn’t drive the profession – we don’t have to like it, but we should recognize it if we want to change it.)

Sorenson’s bankruptcy is no small matter. They have been a huge funder for Gallaudet and for interpreting workshops (our field’s main way for advancing knowledge). While the press release claims that employees won’t be affected, I find that hard to believe. So I guess we’ll just have to see. There’s so much room for a good economic and political analysis of these circumstances. Unfortunately, we will probably have to settle for polemics.


What is empiricism? (And why should you care?)


Empiricism. Now that’s academic-speak if I’ve ever seen it. Yet the idea of empiricism – whether we know it’s name or not – is one of the strongest ideas of the 20th century, the century in which, by the way, what we now call “interpreting” and “Deaf studies” became viable fields of study. It is no small matter, therefore, to consider what this terms means and how it might effect us today.

In 1974, economic geographer David Harvey asked, “Why is it that so-called neutral studies of population and resources often end up with such conservative prescriptions?” The answer is one most people would accept today: science is never completely ethically neutral. But that only gives us an assumption to work from. It doesn’t answer our question.

Harvey suggests that part of the answer lies in the methods of 19th Century scholar Thomas Malthus, best known for his claim that (to put it simply) population growth will surpass resource growth. Harvey shows how Malthus’ relies on scientific empiricism to whitewash his own anti-socialist and anti-revolutionary bent.

Here’s how Harvey describes empiricism:

“Empiricism assumes that objects can be understood independently of observing subjects. Truth is therefore assumed to lie in a world external to the observer who job is to record and faithfully reflect the attributes of objects. This logical empiricism is a pragmatic version of that scientific method which goes under the name “logical positivism,” and is founded in a particular and very strict view of language and meaning.”

Skipping over a detailed argument about Ricardo and Marx, Harvey goes on in the conclusion to explain why this empiricism mattered:

“The political consequences that flow from these results can be serious. The projection of a neo-Malthusian view into the politics of the time appears to invite repression at home and neo-colonial policies abroad. The neo-Malthusian view [based on empiricism] often functions to legitimate such polices, and thereby, to preserve the position of the ruling elite.”

I can’t think of a more concise statement about empiricism and its potential consequences.

I point this out for two very simple reasons.

First, I think it is relevant to notice the fundamental relationship between empiricism and language. Interpreters are language professionals, and we cannot help be influenced by ideas about language, even those ideas we don’t know we have. It is worth pondering the relationship between empiricism in the century and the influence of this conceptual framework on the interpreting profession. (See article: Language, Power and Models of Interpreting.)

Second, if Harvey is right that empiricism often justifies repression, then it is important that we understand how our ideas about language and politics may have repressive effects. As Harvey indicates elsewhere, the role of thought in social change is to “formulate concepts and categories…which we can apply in the process of bringing about a humanizing social change.” (See article: All Interpreters are Philosophers.)

This year we celebrate 50 years of RID. We remember, as we should, so many important Deaf and hearing leaders in our history who have helped make this profession a viable — although far from perfect — way for providing language access for Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Alongside that celebration, it might not be a complete waste of time to think about the growth of the interpreting profession within it’s larger historical and conceptual context. (See article: What do sign language interpreters need to accomplish?.)

Some questions for pondering:

  • What ideas – recognized and unrecognized – did/do interpreters bring with them into the profession?
  • Where do we see empiricism today, and does empiricism have the negative political effect that Harvey suggests?
  • Which conceptual frameworks are dominant in research on interpreting and sign language?
  • What positive and negative political effects has research had on the recognition (or repression) of the human rights of Deaf communities?

For my part, I tend to think about how contemporary literary theory and authors such as David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon provide at least some provocation for different ways of thinking about language. See article: The unGishable David Foster Wallace.