interruptions, logic, skill

Have had a series of events and conversations recently that merged in my brain earlier today – let’s see if I can reconstruct the way they seemed to go together.
1st – a recent conversation about a workshop on saying “no” – when should interpreters turn down work? It’s been reconfirmed for me that one factor is clearly CONTENT. If you are not familiar with gay history, don’t take a job that features someone discussing this history! Or, if you can’t imagine the act of teaching, interpreting a training seminar for teachers probably isn’t your thing.
It’s not a question of language production or reception, if you lack the contextual knowledge it’s just a real stretch to be able to produce an interpretation that makes sense. Most of us can’t do it, regardless of how smooth our ASL might be.


2nd – sometimes presenters/speakers simply don’t make sense. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in relation to the work on the interpreter and interrupting. (Me, Eileen, and Anne are presenting at ASLTA soon… we’re deep in prep.)
So I’m interpreting for an English speaker who’s presenting information on a topic that I don’t know intimately but generally. Was it my lack of deep knowledge that led to communication breakdown? I don’t think so, and here’s why. When I asked her to explain her logic later, she still couldn’t make all the connections plain. It wasn’t that she didn’t know what she was talking about – in fact, I think it was almost an instance of her knowing too much! She was trying to coordinate at least three different scenarios as a foundation for information to go into more depth with later on… She – the presenter – had a framework in her head for how the three scenarios went together, but she could not make the relationship among them plain. As an interpreter, I’m not just paying attention to the words, but to the logic. If I can follow the logic, then in-depth knowledge may not be vital. If there isn’t a clear logic (which happens often enough), then it’s the in-depth knowledge that helps us make sense out of things that may not have had their “sense” fully explained.
This presenter was great when I approached her, but it was an all-around dicey situation because the problem was ‘too big’ to be dealt with during the dynamics of the setting. Background info and prep might have helped, but the reality is people usually speak extemporaneously. They might have the overall gist of what they’re going to say and the argument or structure of the way they’re going to say it, but this always changes. So prep isn’t going to solve everything either.
The thing I realized, thinking about some video I’ve been watching from last summer’s RID conference where Eileen facilitated a couple of panels, is that sometimes (brace yourselves), interpreters interrupt NOT because their comprehension is lousy, but because the Deaf person’s logic breaks down. (I think we’re maybe not supposed to say this….?) Come on! Sometimes people just don’t make sense! No one is perfect with explaining their logic, or always providing the most accurate segue from one point to another. If we (interpreters) let these go (which is what we usually do, I think, unless we think the stakes are either high enough to warrant “interrupting” or low enough that an interruption “won’t matter”), then … what problems does this lead to? And if we don’t let them go, if we interrupt for clarification, what does it mean if the lack of misunderstanding is always assumed to be because we suck?
Ok, I’m writing in blatant, provocative language. Sometimes we do suck. And there are way too many interpreters working in situations for which they are not qualified. How do we (interpreters) shift the dynamics of talking about these things such that we make openings for creative solutions rather than more of the same ol’ same ol’ crappy experiences of exclusion and inequality that Deaf persons usually face?
At the same time, I’ve got these examples from spoken language interpreters at the European Parliament running through my mind. Talk about interrupting causing a scene! So they never do it. Period. Which means they simply do their best no matter what and hope to high heaven if its off the interlocutors will figure out how to fix it. We sign language intepreters get in trouble for doing this too… what did someone call it? “Fill in the blank interpreting.” Ouch!

5 thoughts on “interruptions, logic, skill”

  1. Hi ! In a perfect world this is a great idea that we interpreters know a lot about a lot. I tend to know a little about a lot and only a lot about only a little. So should the deaf populaion have just less interpreters available for no facilitation if they are not well versed? I suppose we should have multitudes of free courses, lectures, workshops, classes on all different subject matter free of charge to supplement our proffesional developement! And where does the idea come into play that the deaf person get what the speaker is putting out. If we the iterpreter can’t decode the meaning from the mixed up logic, shouldn’t then the deaf person realize the speaker is speaking in mixed up logic? Why doesn’t the deaf person have the opportunity to realize that all hearing speakers to not speak logically but sometimes THEY Suck? ha. smile.

  2. grinning, you’re right! People often suck at communicating, period. (Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything. ahem.) It’s interesting, when you think of it, that there is an equation that “communication” ASSUMES “understanding.” What if we assumed NOT understanding as the norm? In reality (meaning in all conversation) there’s some kind of continuum between times we’re pretty sure we’ve understood, times we know we didn’t, sometimes when we think we did and we’re wrong (!), and times when we understand part and misunderstand other parts. Why is interpreted conversation measured only by the criteria of absolute understanding? It might seem that I’m arguing for a lessening of standards? No, that’s not it – I want more description of strategies that work in the moment…

  3. [Quoting f]rom your blog: “The thing I realized, thinking about some video I’ve been watching from last summer’s RID conference where Eileen facilitated a couple of panels, is that sometimes (brace yourselves), interpreters interrupt NOT because their comprehension is lousy, but because the Deaf person’s logic breaks down. (I think we’re maybe not supposed to say this….?) Come on! Sometimes people just don’t make sense! No one is perfect with explaining their logic, or always providing the most accurate segue from one point to another. If we (interpreters) let these go (which is what we usually do, I think, unless we think the stakes are either high enough to warrant “interrupting” or low enough that an interruption “won’t matter”), then … what problems does this lead to? And if we don’t let them go, if we interrupt for clarification, what does it mean if the lack of misunderstanding is always assumed to be because we suck?” My reply…. EXACTLY! And interpreters may be more likely to interrupt the deaf presenter because we (they? smile) assume that it is their comprehension of their second (or third, etc) language that is faulty, not the logic. i believe we are better able to ‘fill in the blank’ interpret from English to ASL because we are better able to create meaning or logic in our first language…therefore less inclined to ask for clarification. or even to know that we have the logic all wrong. more trusting of working from that language… i had a situation last week where the deaf person was speaking at a public forum and made this segue that made no freaking sense to me. i didn’t know where they were going with the topic. i couldn’t recover. i couldn’t just say what they signed…because it made no sense. i just couldn’t get my brain/mouth to say something that didn’t make sense. i stopped the deaf person, repeated back in paraphrase the best i could what i understood them to say, was told YES, that. even though my paraphrase made no sense and revealed the faulty logic(i thought). So, i just spoke. it was painful. afterward, the deaf person wanted to know what happened, that i usually understand them, etc. thankfully the other deaf person in attendance stepped up to the plate and told the deaf person who spoke that they made no sense… the deaf person who spoke stil didn’t “get it” still thought they were very clear (as mud, i say). funny that you are saying this as if it is news…i guess it is in some way with how you are thinking about our work. Of course we are supposed to say this…that logic is faulty in communication. Hell, i am queen of being unable to make myself clear. and it ain’t about vocabulary, or semantics, or syntax. is it and has it ever been an interpreter’s job to make a speaker ‘clearer’ than they really are? no, but the receiver of our work expects it. The deaf person views us as a lousy interpreter when the speaker isn’t clear, the hearing person views us as a lousy interpreter when the signer isn’t clear. Language users who are unable to be coherent, plain, and clear make our lives hell… makes us re-think implict/explicit messages between ASL and English. Makes us re-think our own proficiency in either language…just some thoughts…

  4. Amy – you said it’s funny I’m saying that people don’t always express themselves clearly as if this is news. You already know (don’t you?), that I have a slow learning curve?!! What felt like a revelation to me is recognizing the assumption that interpreters are somehow supposed to cut through everything to get to some magic point that exists only in the mind of the speaker/signer. I may have had the revelation before and forgot. Maybe even several times. ;-/ Another revelation that comes and goes, comes and fades again, is “It’s the relationship, stupid!” (A play on Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid!”) I think there’s something so patterned about the way we talk that even though we KNOW these things, somehow we get diverted from TALKING ABOUT them. Or maybe we just don’t believe talking about them can make a difference?

  5. proposal: what if we brainstormed all the reasons, explanations, and suggestions for fixing interruptions, and then tried to move the level of discussion “up” a notch to see how each of these reasons, explanations, and suggestions participate in an overall logic that prevents us from collectively finding and implementing effective change?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *