an invitation to help me gaze

“Words. A world made of words.”
Ursula Le Guin
The Telling
(p. 111, 2000)

My dissertation committee is keen on the clarification of method. They want an articulation of what I will do as I conduct research into simultaneous interpretation at the European Parliament: particularly how I will decide what counts and doesn’t count (what’s “in” and what’s “out”) and – most significantly – what constitutes the boundary between inclusion and exclusion.
Triangulation is the key. I’ve had two distinct reference points all along – the spoken language interpreters and the people who use simultaneous interpretation. The third point has an amorphous existence, it’s “there” and “not there,” unfixable in a quantumly indeterminate way. Call it language, or meaning, or (my preference) meaningfulness; the relational axis shifts contingently, dependent on numerous variables any wild combination of which could be present and active in any given exchange. To wit: Is the dictionary definition most relevant or the slang usage? Is there an inside joke that relies upon a less common usage or is the popular sense the one intended? Does a particular political context – some story in the news, perhaps – shade a statement with a certain character, one that would otherwise convey either a less or more distinct point?
For instance, I am currently reading a book in the genre of fantasy. The title captured my attention because it invokes communication theory, the author is one I read voraciously in my youth and continue to revisit. If I had a chosen another book, I would be writing a different entry. But this book, read at this time, interacts with research planning. I embrace its temporal triangulation and claim its influence because it inspired me to craft an open invitation to join this research project. Put me (!) in the protagonist’s position upon encountering one of the profound phenomena of the world she explores: “. . . she was dazzled . . . . she stood staring, blinking . . .” (p. 45).
Beautifully, what happens next is a stranger passing by offers an explanation – and then, most significantly (note: I’ve taken the liberty of replacing her object of study with mine):

“As she and the barrow man stood gazing, others stopped to help them gaze. That was the impression Sutty got. They all know what [simultaneous interpretation] looked like and therefore could help her see it” (p. 45-46).

I request your help (anyone interested in language, interpretation, meaning) to see fully, thoroughly, with incisive depth and relevant breadth, because only you (most precisely, Members of the European Parliament, – and simultaneous interpreters, and language scholars, and …! ) know when and how you are trying to exercise leadership. This is how I would like to narrow that elusive third point of the research triangle – to the relationship between leadership and language choice. I am curious about correlations between best language use and leadership effectiveness, as well as correlations between leadership effectiveness (i.e., accomplishing what you want in terms of policy) and use of a lingua franca. Near the end of what will probably strike you as a rambling post (arcs of meaning), I wrote:

The interesting question then (to ask of your interpreter), is not “did you say what I meant” but “did you say what will accomplish for me the end I seek?”

As an interpreter myself (American Sign Language/American English), and based on interviews with European Parliament interpreters in 2005 (publication forthcoming), I have a decent sense of the typical ambition and outlook of simultaneous interpreters. What is missing is clarity concerning MEPs active, conscious, and deliberate use of simultaneous interpretation to accomplish your own independent and political goals.
Because this is research (not journalism), anonymity is assured. Comments (feedback, input, critique, etc.) here (in this public space, to me via email, and – ideally – through the official research series of brief conversations) are welcome from any and everyone. 🙂

One thought on “an invitation to help me gaze”

  1. A wise woman suggested that I avoid “leadership”.
    Her points are well-taken. She suggests that people (the MEPs themselves) may not consider that they are leading, that everyone construes the meaning of “leadership” in different ways, and that the term itself is used in so many ways/applications to refer to such a variety of actions that no one ever knows for sure what someone means when they use it.
    Instead, she suggests I use “influence,” which is much less loaded. And, I noted, quite in keeping with the operationalization of “voice” and the motive of/for agency.

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