what I am trying to do

Conference: Perspectives and Limits
of Dialogism in Mikhail Bakhtin

I had to invent the presentation proposal many months ago . . . I’ve highlighted the phrases in bold that speak most directly to the shaping of the actual presentation.

Novelizing Social Interaction:
Language and Simultaneous Interpretation

This presentation conjectures an extension of Bakhtin’s exposition of language via the novel to cultural practices of simultaneous interpretation. Interpreters deal in real time with features of language and characteristics of authorship apparent in novelization – such as heteroglossia, polyphony, alterity, interpenetration of different languages, and double voicing – all intersecting in conglomerations of meaning/meaningfulness. The task of the interpreter is to minimize authorial interference with the mix of discourses in speaker’s utterances in order to include, as fully as possible, the original interlocutor’s voice within their own utterance. While endeavoring to re-present another person’s use of (centripetalizing and centrifugalizing) language, interpreters deliberately try to root in an authorial position without force.
Meanwhile, general discourses in popular culture and by participants in simultaneous interpretation about interpreting indicate that most people think about language in non-dialogic terms: as homogenous, unifying formal structures with fixed meanings, i.e., with monolingual logic. Interpreters’ intimate familiarity, however, with the presence and use of different languages in actual interactions yields experiential knowledge that monolingual logic cannot accommodate. Nonetheless, discourses among professional interpreters display features Bakhtin describes as characteristic of the epic. This paper investigates a triangulation among images of language presented by Bakhtin and those in interpreter and interlocutor discourses about interpreting. While creative use of language brings us novels, novels show us the incredible spectrum of what language can do.

The motivation for this intellectual exercise is to explore whether the epistemological capacity indicated by novelness can be used to better conceive how to use language to generate interventions in the centripetalizing and centrifugalizing discourses of our era.

This is not only an academic endeavor for the purpose of theory, although the theoretical foundation must be strong. Nor is comprehending the peculiar situatedness of the interpreter a task only for interpreters; this is a collaborative endeavor requiring the active participation of interlocutors as well. If all language is dialogical (i.e., polyphonic with multiple meanings), and all language is also discursive (representative of and subject to discourses, e.g. Foucault, Fairclough, Blommaert), then interlocutors and interpreters must recognize their (our) mutual participation in generating meaningfulness. For instance, which choices of language use reinforce established dialectical formations (such as, for instance, the perpetuation of discrimination), and which choices unsettle them? Is the speaker’s goal in making utterances to contribute to reification, or does the utterer seek to resolve that (or some other) problem, unaware that their use of language guarantees failure because of what it invokes?
The presenter is currently engaged in dissertation fieldwork into discourses about simultaneous interpretation at the European Parliament. An experienced American Sign Language/English interpreter, she wants to develop and test the intellectual limits of borrowing from Bakhtin’s theoretical framework to elucidate the practical problems of generating simultaneous interpretations in various linguistic combinations among twenty-three languages at the same time. Concurrently, she is trying to act into the system of interpretation at the European Parliament through an action learning/action research methodology that presumes the presence of dialogical capacity even in the presence of a strictly formalized institutional regime. The strategic goal is to cultivate a bed of curiosity about the potentials of simultaneous interpretation. Ideally, spinoff from the project might contribute to public debates concerning language (particularly policies and practices), and specifically in simultaneous interpretation as both end and means for creating and maintaining deep infrastructures that reinforce the capacity of democratic institutions to manage the tensionalities of difference in increasingly equitable ways.
A critical discourse analysis of talk generated in conversation with individual Members of the European Parliament (MEP) is currently being constructed. This analysis will be put into conversation with a similar analysis conducted four years ago in interviews with individual interpreters for the European Parliament. The juxtapositions of viewpoints (opinion, critique, complaint, praise, etc) will compose a more-or-less wholistic image of the conceptual and functional status of language in the workings of the European Parliament. Early findings suggest some intriguing areas of alignment between professional interpreters and the MEPs as users of simultaneous interpretation. These perspectives from participants situated in different roles within a coherent practice of cultural communication indicate some shared identifications.
The conceptualization of participating over time in a shared, cultural communication event can be used to highlight residues of monolingualistic logic in a society overtly seeking to increase multilinguality. Mapping discourses about simultaneous interpretation may illuminate the workings of centripetal and centrifugal forces in a particular case, a bounded ‘location’ involving a specific set of ‘users.’ The results may tell us something interesting about language in society today, and point (I hope) to exciting possibilities for developing conscious and conscientious uses of language in ways that further language policy development and education in accord with democratic political goals. Can we, novelistically, speak the societies in which we want to live into institutional reality?

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