RID Denies Members Opportunity to Vote on Motion

If you have an immediate negative reaction to the idea of unionizing sign language interpreters, then I would like to ask you—politely, please—to pause for a moment and recognize bias.

Most of us have no idea what it could mean to become a Union. In fact, I am still learning. I’m eager to find up to a dozen other sign language interpreters, Deaf and Hearing, who are willing to investigate this notion.

Most importantly, interpreters in general have no idea how much unionizing could help the aims and goals of the American Deaf Community. Instead, the notion is shot down by assumptions and stereotypes before we get a chance to engage in a thoughtful way.

The reality is that there are many questions to answer before we can have a clear vision about whether unionizing is an act of deep structural change that will promote Deaf people’s freedom to participate in social life, or just another way to protect the privileges of hearing interpreters. Anyone who wants to respond seriously to calls for social justice ought to be open to learning if unionizing has real potential to make differences that all of our other efforts have so far failed to produce.

The RID Bylaws Committee found a legal reason not to bring the Motion to the 2019 Business Meeting.

A Motion for RID to set up a Task Force to study the question of unionizing was rejected by RID’s lawyers on the basis of anti-trust law. Interpreters can talk about it, but not within the auspices of RID.  This means we have to establish ourselves on the outside, as a small self-selected study group, technically called an organizing committee.

The members of this group would invest time exploring the questions of what and how unionizing could be the best, right, next thing for sign language interpreting in the United States. Please sign up to volunteer or to receive information on developments.

Find more information at this webpage: Organizing Interpreters.

Europe: Amazing and Disturbing

One of the miracles of Europe is the amazing way communication is made possible among users of different languages in the European Parliament. While I do critique some of the outcomes of the transmission model of interpreting, particularly how the success of simultaneous interpretation generates the illusion of speaking in one shared language (which means erasing the differences of separate and unique languages and the worldviews they inspire), the fact that the system works is testimony to what humans can achieve with intercultural cooperation.

“Disturbing and Amazing”

Marsi’s words describe the effect of exhibits at the Museum of Young Art in Prague. Many of the works depict violence: relentless, remorseless, pervasive, and essentially without purpose. In retrospect, the small shock of David Cerny’s “Guns” became prelude to an increasing turmoil of viscera.

The rainbow ghouls in this painting, "Object III" by Jiri Petrbok, depict the irony of celebrating destruction.
The rainbow ghouls in this painting, "Object III" by Jiri Petrbok, depict the irony of celebrating destruction.

The horror of these exhibits was a rude intrusion into our twenty hours of reunion. Delicious food and delightful conversation affirmed the solid bedrock of unquestioned friendship. Our joy in play was a dreamy reprieve from the backdrop of ruthless reality.

Language Policy? “It’s a trick.”

My return to Belgium is fraught with contradictions. I have friends here who belong distinctly to different classes: the disparity of their experiences is distressing. The evidence of an interaction taboo moves from the theoretical realm of European Union language policy to practical lived experience. Fluency in Nederlands (for instance) is used as a bulwark to prevent immigrants from getting a legitimate job within the European Union’s economy – a job that qualifies for government benefits.  Hiring and paying workers “in black” is talked about as openly and casually as slavery in the antebellum south of the United States. The implications may be muted in genteel company but the structure is hierarchically racist. Notice the linguistic marking: no one names “the white economy” as the given standard. I understand better, now, the range of reactions to my poster, Beyond Homolingualism, which depicts two different systems of simultaneous interpretation.

Some of the participants at the EU’s Committee of Region’s conference on the European Public Sphere (mostly academics), were intrigued and asked many questions about my poster. A few also expressed feeling unease and discomfort, admitting that the implications to language policy and sociocultural life are unsettling. In one case, an argument lead to the accusation that I clearly had no concept of poverty – because, if I did, it would be patently obvious to me why all immigrants must learn the official EU language of their country of residence in order to work. Of course I understand this logic: not only a logic of language hierarchy and power, it stems from a simple human desire to “speak the same language” for purposes of connection and understanding. While both systems of simultaneous interpretation work functionally in their respective settings, there are – in my view – unintended consequences of the European Parliament’s model that warrant consideration.


Talking with those who “speak the same language” is comfortable and nurturing. Whether English, Hindi, American Sign Language, or a technical jargon common to a field of academic study or professional practice, excitement and entertainment are experienced more easily when the symbol system is already shared in common.

Albert Einstein's call for peace through understanding is a popular graffiti in Antwerp..
Albert Einstein's call for peace through understanding is a popular graffiti in Antwerp..

One of the miracles of Europe is the amazing way communication is made possible among users of different languages in the European Parliament. While I do critique some of the outcomes of the transmission model of interpreting, particularly how the success of simultaneous interpretation generates the illusion of speaking in one shared language (which means erasing the differences of separate and unique languages and the worldviews they inspire), the fact that the system works is testimony to what humans can achieve with intercultural cooperation.

Now, if language policy makers in the European Union and elsewhere could take some lessons from professional community interpreting (particularly as modeled with Deaf people), this would allow members of minority language groups to leverage their difference into the political-economic systems, with terrific gains in democracy and life chances. My hypothesis is that the institutionalization of live language interpreting could generate a field of equality by protecting diversity and promoting systemic resilience.

New England Deaf Studies Conference

Saturday, 3 April 2010
New England Deaf Studies Conference
Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill MA

A review of lessons Deaf people have taught ASL interpreters and others, which sign language interpreters can now use to challenge/educate spoken language interpreters. Deaf people have the opportunity to be role models and allies to people from other linguistic minority groups – even those who use spoken languages….

Educational Objectives:

  1. Participants will recognize attitudes toward criticizing interpreters.
  2. Participants will be able to distinguish different types of challenges for interpreters.
  3. On the basis of objectives 1 & 2, participants will be able to classify themselves in terms of standard identity development models.
  4. Participants will compare their levels of identity development with the observable empowerment behavior (in interpreted interaction) of users of minority spoken languages.
  5. Participants will evaluate and score the proposal of the presenter that the Deaf Community’s history of criticizing sign language interpreters presents a challenge to interpreters of spoken languages, too.
  6. Participants will analyze the potential of the Deaf Community becoming role models to other minority language communities.

Dear Carole,

I don’t want your departure to hurt so much, but it does.
Silly, I know. I’m watching the wind blow lush spring foliage like currents in the sea, swirling in multiply-rippled design – now unfurling a wide swath then cutting back against itself, sweeping into new unpredictable configurations and keeping me guessing, waiting, eager for the next sussuration. I envision your spirit – free and unconfined, stretching luxuriously in a slow rush into each nook and every new cranny available to your expansive perception.
Life with you was like that. Fun, adventurous – serious with plenty of irreverence and mischief to keep everything in balance.
You figure prominently in so many significant experiences of my life: co-chairing the BiBi Committee at Austine, corralling some wild women into a spirituality group, modeling motherhood – so proud and respectful of your daughter, she of the best name-sign in the world! All those talks and walks and meals in Vermont, the summer of our Saturday mornings at the Farmer’s Market. The trip to Hawai’i. Our friendship crested and ebbed like breathing as we experienced stretches of intimacy, distance, renewed closeness, and then this long, quiet goodbye.
I remember when you told me they’d found a lump in your breast. You minimized it, sure that it was nothing really, just a bit of lingering karmic energy that you would dissolve in no time. I believed you. You whose consciousness encompassed more spacetime than anyone else I know – probably more than all of us put together! – it just did not occur to me that you might be wrong. Even as the illness got worse and you left work, moving to a safe and quiet place for deep and wholesome healing, I never doubted that you would be back: that your laugh would ring out, your gaze question my grip on reality, your compassion pour out in my presence.
It will have to wait for the next incarnation, now, won’t it? Maybe I’ll have caught up a bit by then.

wink added 8 May 2009
after the shock wore off

This will blow your mind! :-)

film pitch
Master’s Thesis

Re-defining Deaf
Ryan Commerson

Ever wondered if abstract concepts can be discussed with signed languages?

    Here’s proof.

Ever suspected Deaf people may not be very smart?

    Find out just how wrong that view is!

The video is forty minutes long, so settle in and plan to give it your full attention. (Ryan suggests gourmet snacks to accompany viewing.)

a Deaf Hungarian in the European Parliament?!

machine translation (?)
political announcement
8 February 2009

The national committee of FIDESZ, Hungarian Civic Union, approved its list of candidate members for the European Parliament on January 17, 2009. Dit is een belangrijk historisch moment omdat een Hongaarse dove persoon, Ádám Kosa, op de lijst staat en dus kandidaat is om zijn landgenoten te vertegenwoordigen. This is an important historic moment because a Hungarian deaf person, Adam Kosa, on the list and therefore a candidate for his countrymen to represent.

Doordat dhr. By mr. Ádám Kosa de nationale voorzitter is van de Hongaarse dovenorganisatie zal hij de belangen van doven en slechthorenden rechtstreeks kunnen vertegenwoordigen in het Europese Parlement. Ádám Kosa national chairman of the Hungarian organization will extinguish the interests of deaf and hard of hearing directly represented in the European Parliament. En hij kan ook een belangrijke vooruitgang te realiseren voor de hele groep van personen met een beperking in Hongarije en in gans Europa. And he may be an important step forward to realize the whole group of people with disabilities in Hungary and throughout Europe.

De Europese parlementaire verkiezingen hebben plaats op 7 juni 2009. European parliamentary elections held on June 7, 2009. De beslissing ligt in handen van de burgers van Hongarije! The decision rests in the hands of the citizens of Hungary! Fevlado en de EUD ondersteunen volledig de kandidatuur van dhr. Fevlado and EUD fully support the candidacy of Mr.. Kosa en hopen dat er een eerste Doof Europees parlementslid komt in 2009! Kosa and hope that a first Deaf MEP in 2009!

two talks at Heriot Watt

for the
Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies in Scotland, Heriot Watt University & the
Translation Studies Graduate Programme, University of Edinburgh
Fishing for Culture and Missing Language:
Interpretation and Organizational Creativity

Culture(s) and discourse(s) are among the most unmanageable elements of international business. “You can’t model panic.” Patterns of cultural interaction and, especially, the range of interpretations of these patterns, have profound effects on the design and implementation of business plans. For instance, are differences of language a problem or a benefit? Do the homogenizing effects of using English as the language of international management outweigh the constant adaptation required by working multilingually? Discourses about simultaneous interpretation (SI) at the European Parliament (with its 23 working languages) pit danger and loss against loss and resignation. “Loss” of fluency and clarity worries professional interpreters at the European Parliament (EP) and “loss” of direct contact between interlocutors (users of interpreting services, in this case Members of the EP) seem – counterintuitively – to express anxieties about multilingualism and the possibilities for control. Understood as a practice of intercultural communication, the tensions made evident when simultaneous interpretation is used are a vital source of creativity typically overlooked because of conditioned (monolingual) preferences for using a shared language.

for EdSign33
The Department for Educational Studies, University of Edinburgh;
the Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies at Heriot Watt University; and
Speech and Hearing Sciences at Queen Margaret’s University.

Social Interaction, Simultaneous Interpretation, and Shared Identity

Contemporary social theory can help us understand participation in dialogue interpreting as a cultural form of communication. In addition to transferring information between people who do not share the same language, using an interpreter is a type of communication practice with implications for identity. The roles and norms for participating in simultaneous interpretation constitute social rituals that contribute to the maintenance of linguistic and cultural difference. To the extent that participants are aware of the significance of participation, the stronger a contribution can be made to creating more just and equitable global societies.

Deaf Children Write Differently

News from The Netherlands
translated by Arlette Van de Casteele

Deaf children who in their daily life ‘speak’ mainly Dutch Sign Language have more difficulties writing in Dutch than deaf and hearing children of the same age who use no sign language. The graduating researcher of Nijmegen (the Netherlands) Liesbeth van Beijsterveldt has studied their writing mistakes. The different types of mistakes seem to be easily explained with the existing theories on learning a second language.

Sign language is not a language you can write. Therefore, deaf people who communicate in Dutch Sign Language (NGT) write in Dutch. NGT doesn’t resemble Dutch at all. It has its own grammar and vocabulary, which is quite different from Dutch. Consequently, deaf children who mainly communicate in NTG have difficulty learning to write in Dutch.
At the Radboud University of Nijmegen, Liesbeth van Beijsterveldt has studied the writing skills of deaf children and adults. She has compared texts written by deaf and non-deaf people. In the texts of the deaf she distinguished between the deaf people who mainly speak NTG and those who mostly use Dutch. She discovered that deaf children who chiefly use NTG make more mistakes in their Dutch texts. In most instances, these mistakes can be explained by the NTG background of the child.

This text is written by a deaf girl of 11:

“Formerly I and my class quarrel with other class. That is not nice. Other child says. Mieke is stupid and always boss. Then says Mieke. That are you self. Then other children help on other child. Then my class help on Mieke.
Later go we inside. Then other children say on they teacher. Teacher of other class says on our teacher. Then must we not quarrel and also other children! Then say we sorry. Now quarrel we not, well bit not much. We can make up.”

One can easily understand the mistakes that deaf children make in their Dutch texts if one knows more about Dutch Sign Language (NTG). NTG makes no use of articles. Consequently, the research work of Van Beijsterveldt also revealed that deaf children who used mainly NTG left out a lot of articles in their texts. These children also had problems with verb conjugation in the past tense. This is probably due to the fact that in their NTG the past tense is communicated with specific time signs (such as ‘yesterday’) and not with verb conjugation. These mistakes occurred less frequently with deaf children who mainly use the spoken language.
Another way in which the texts of deaf children who use NTG diverge from the texts of hearing children and deaf children who use no NTG is the expression of evaluation, meaning the information that is provided in the text about the emotions, thoughts and motives of the individual. NTG has more ways of expressing these than the spoken Dutch language. So NTG signers can change the direction of their gaze or the orientation of their body, adapt their signs as to speed or movement, or alter their facial expression. Consequently, deaf children who use a lot of NTG more often enrich their texts with evaluative utterances than the other children.
To be adapted
How well the deaf children wrote in Dutch seemed to be strongly related to their age. The older deaf children (15-16) who used NTG made many fewer mistakes than the younger ones (11-12). And the deaf adults no longer make these mistakes. “These results suggest that the influence of one language on the other decreases with maturation,” the researcher says. Why this is so, Van Beijsterveldt can’t explain with certainty. “It may be that being exposed longer to the two languages with different grammatical systems has led to more insight into both systems and rules.”
According to the graduating researcher, these results point to the fact that the education of the deaf has to be adapted considerably. “I think that deaf children have to learn both languages as they do at present, but I think it is important that attention is given to the differences between the languages”, Van Beijsterveldt says. “Teachers could explain to the children how the grammatical systems of both languages work and what the differences are. By doing this, they might help children to move more easily through the stage during which learning two languages at the same time can be confusing.”
Liesbeth van Beijsterveldt will defend her thesis ‘Written language production in deaf children and adults’ on Friday 6th February 2009 at 10:30 in the auditorium of the Radboud University of Nijmegen.

Dove kinderen schrijven anders – Nieuws
Oorakel, informatie and advies, 28 January 2009

Rosa Lee: got it going on!

Grrl is rocking, there’s no doubt! 🙂

I wrote about another music video that she has interpreted in her wonderful style, from artificial code to organic language. In Cry Me A River, she has adapted the lyrics about a heterosexual (male/female) relationship to apply to the cross-cultural interaction of Deaf and “hearing” (non-deaf).

from artificial code to organic language

There are some wonderful layers of meaning conveyed by Rosa Lee in this music video, which is performed bilingually, in spoken English and American Sign Language.

“All I Want” opens with a literal translation of the English lyrics into a manual code that is not ASL. There is a transition – see if you can spot it – when Rosa Lee switches from the artificially-constructed signed code for spoken English into the fluid, natural rhythms of American Sign Language.
Then, the burden is placed on the English words to accommodate the rich, beautiful meanings she produces with ASL. The reversal is sweet. Can you perceive the difference? Now, imagine that you grow up with a code. There are rules and structures and boundaries, some of which make some kind of sense (or you create some meaning so that they do ‘make sense’), some of which appear isolated, with no obvious relationship to anything else. One can spend a lifetime bouncing off the elements of such codes. Perhaps the bouncing is motivated: a seeking for coherence, a search for niches where meanings are more transparent, a compulsion to re-discover relationships that passed one by in the slew of stimulus.
Life happens. Some people adapt to the code, either following its logic (or the logic they assign to it) or learning how to use the code to their own advantage. They play the game. Some play well, others not so well, but at least they feel they are in it, a part of society, a member of humanity.
Living happens. Many people are fortunate to grow up within a language that is whole, or have the organic neurochemistry to pick one up later in life. This does not mean their family is necessarily happy, or that society doesn’t have problems, or that culture solves everything. To live is to grow: bigger, smarter, faster, more lean, more mean – more kind, more generous; or less selfish, less demanding, less stubborn; more fluid. Individuals grow, but language is the medium for shared growth. Through language we learn together, teach each other, test ideas, discover errors. Language lets us breath inspiration into the world, infusing community, bridging differences, building commonality.
Thanks, Rosa Lee, for showcasing language’s glory.