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!