English Transcript for “Holding Time: The Significance of Deaf Interpreters”

What’s the real difference between CDIs (Certified Deaf Interpreters) and ‘regular’ hearing interpreters? It’s not only language and internalized culture….Something else that could be described simply and taught to interpreters to help them realize one thing to do differently.

This transcript is offered instead of captions for a 14 minute videotaped conversation in American Sign Language with Deaf elders Winchell and Ruth Moore.

View the ASL vlog at  http://vimeo.com/loosevariable/holdingtime



R: Ruth Moore

W: Winchell Moore

S: Steph Kent

CDI: Certified Deaf Interpreters

NAD: National Association of the Deaf

RID: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

R: Hello. I’m Ruth Moore, from Massachusetts.

W: I’m Winchell Moore, some people call me Win. This is my wife.

R: We will have been married 51 years this June!

Wow. Time flies.

S: I’m Stephanie jo Kent. I am an interpreter from outside the Deaf community. I began learning ASL when I was 29, maybe 28 or 30. I learned very late!

R: We’re looking forward to going to Deaf Seniors of America Conference in Baltimore, MD, August 23-28, 2013.

S: I want to try and explain my thinking. I’m asking you to help me be clear because the audience watching – you Deaf seniors, you grew up  in community and remember the old ways, how Deaf people would help each other…

R: Deafheart

S: What’s the real difference between CDIs (Certified Deaf Interpreters) and ‘regular’ hearing interpreters? It’s not only language and internalized culture. Those things are important, yes, but I think there’s something else. Something else that could be described simply and taught to interpreters to help them realize one thing to do differently.

Can I call that Deafheart? I don’t know. It’s a behavior. It’s related to the interpreter’s ‘role’ or ‘function’ or how they do their job.

That’s what I want to ask you. Because I’m not a member of Deaf culture. I’ve been watching for 20 years. I entered the field around 1990. There was a lot of conflict between NAD and RID, it was painful, insulting. Now it may be happening again.

Who am I to observe? I’ve watched the Deaf community resist and criticize interpreters, and I wondered why it started. I learned that interpreters got their model from other spoken language interpreters in Europe. So I went to Europe to see their model, and their interpreting really is a machine! They brought that model here.  And Deaf people recognized it as a machine model!

What does the machine do?

That’s what I ‘m asking, through comparing sign language interpreting for the Deaf with spoken language interpreting.

So I am not studying Deaf people or Deaf culture. I am studying the process of interpreting as a whole: with the interpreter, a Deaf person and a Hearing person, altogether that makes one system.

To look at interpreting as a system means there is a mix of, “we are all ‘guilty’ and all ‘innocent’” because the interpreting process is under a bigger system.

This is why I want your help to make sure I explain clearly. Or, if you think I’m totally off the point and have no business saying anything at all!  Please let me know! I want your feedback.

R: I’m interested in your perspective. I’ve never thought of that until today, until you brought it up, how “the machine” is running [us].

S: CDIs . . . what’s the biggest difference between CDIs and ‘regular’ hearing interpreters – like me?  CDIs grow up in the culture… and internalize something. People want to know what that is.

R: They take in Deafhood, the cultural ways of being a member of Deaf community. Hearing interpreters don’t get a full experience of that.

(turns to address W) Do you remember doctor’s appointments? We used to thank them for the medical terminology and go home to look it up in a book to learn all about it.  But ghostwriters? We never had that experience, what’s that?

S: I’m curious if people who grew up at a residential school for the deaf had that experience of knowing who was really good at English and getting help from them? I don’t know. I’m just guessing! But that concept, a team of three scholars did research in Australia and found that concept already existed a long time ago in the Deaf community. We could call that interpreting: sitting together, using two languages, watching signing and writing down the English, reading and signing the meanings back-and-forth… that is a kind of interpreting.

One name for it is ghostwriting.

One of those researchers also wrote about Deaf translators for British television. This is a little bit different than regular interpreting because they have the script in advance. They study it carefully and make a complete transformation into British Sign Language. Their goal is to make sure that the Deaf TV audience understands.

Understanding is the key: comprehension!

That researcher is Christopher Stone. In the United States, Eileen Forestal has studied CDIs.

Her work is amazing.

Her research reveals one thing that CDIs do differently than ‘regular’ interpreters.…..  there’s a name for that ….  schooled interpreters.  (Wow – sorry for the lousy fingerspelling!) – it means that they learned signing in school, at college. They didn’t grow up within the culture. Those who are born and raised in the culture are called evolved interpreters. This distinction comes from Dennis Cokely.

Most of the problems seem to be with school interpreters, because they have not had the socialization. But what is the real difference between schooled and evolved interpreters?

It’s tricky – maybe language, maybe culture but I think these hide what’s most important. The most important thing is that we give CDIs permission  – and that’s the only way we can recognize it!  Without CDIs, you can’t see the difference!

Because evolved interpreters, with Deaf parents, they are still able to hear. So we notice their language and culture but they are still under the same system with schooled interpreters. But also – Deaf people are under the same system! That’s why I say we are all guilty and all innocent!

When CDIs show up, we give them permission to make sure everyone understands. We don’t give other interpreters permission to do that.

W: Yes, but one problem. There’s never time to interrupt the teacher.

S: Yes – it seems natural! Keep the machine running! Keep going! Don’t interrupt! Don’t take over! Keep going!

But that pressure means the interpreter can’t take time to make sure everyone understands. This reflects the system we’re all in. It isn’t about hearing people against the Deaf. It could be, sometimes, that audism is involved too. But the point is time.

Today in history, we are existing as if we are in a race. We’re always in a hurry. Beat the clock. Hurry up.  There’s no time for that! You want to interrupt – oh my!  You’re consuming, wasting time. That’s the attitude behind the machine.  That value comes from overarching society. It doesn’t matter if you are Deaf or hearing, we are all under that machine. This gives the reason to say the interpreter should be invisible – that’s still the machine model.

We don’t see the machine. We expect the machine to work perfectly without a problem. We only notice the machine if there is a mistake, and then we’re upset at it. We treat interpreters the same way. The interpreter ‘isn’t supposed to be there.’

But we are there. [Here.]

This need for speed is from society. If we have to blame, blame society. That’s modernity. It is living in an industrial way, being ground up in a factory. How can we interrupt this societal machine?

 CDIs interrupt that.

R: I never thought of that. But it’s interesting. We tend to use hearing interpreters. Their language fits with ours. But we know other Deaf people who do better with CDIs.

How do you meet everyone’s communication needs?

S: We have to give permission…. The label I thought of is called, HOLDING TIME.  To ‘hold time’ is a concept I adapted from a philosopher, a communication philosopher who talks about how to show the most respect. His name is Martin Buber.

R: We all need, number one, to become more aware, including the Deaf. It would be nice to have a workshop with Deaf, hearing and interpreters, to learn about interpreting and how to work with interpreters.  To really understand what the interpreter’s job is, to facilitate communication? To make sure the communication is clear between deaf and [non-signing] hearing people.

And, as you said, the mutual respect is very important. Successful communication comes when we are sensitive to each other’s perspectives and give each other mutual respect.

It has been our pleasure to talk with you and learn from each other. We hope the Deaf Seniors of America will enjoy watching this video.

W: Bye bye! See you soon.










5 thoughts on “English Transcript for “Holding Time: The Significance of Deaf Interpreters””

  1. Steph, Thanks for sharing this around…in what way will it be shared with DSA attendees? Will a workshop be offered?

    I can appreciate having a conversation with Ruth and Win but am not sure what the context is and what the motivation for making a video of it actually is. It appears to be a way for you to talk about Deaf Interpreters. Not much of a dialogue. Curious, me. Can you tell me more about this?

    I realize that this post isn’t about coda interpreters but I believe that we can lump (many? some?) coda interpreters in with deaf interpreters in the frame you are building in this video. Coda interpreters are also evolved interpreters. Like deaf interpreters, coda interpreters bring with them experience brokering between two languages and cultures with varied degrees of fluency. I would argue that in some cases more fluency than some deaf interpreters.

    What I am seeing more and more is that coda and deaf interpreters are becoming schooled interpreters and are forgetting how to be evolved interpreters…or are struggling with the conflict between the two. They are receiving pressure from hearing interpreters to fit the mold of more machine-like schooled interpreters, forced to fit into the testing model of the current certification system that does not allow for holding time, and in some cases are flat out being told that the way they interpret is ‘wrong’.

    The best interpreters I know are able to retain and tap into their experience as young people…those formative years…when they were vested in making communication happen between 2 people that did not understand each other. It is in that time that we (as a coda interpreter I include myself here) learn how 2 communities communicate with each other, see the world, express their values and it is almost always done consecutively. Schooling (I include IPPs and the trainings provided to deaf interpreters in this group) negates the real world experience of many of us by putting the interpreting process in a nicely packaged box that can be taught in a classroom.

    As always, you have me thinking and interested in a dialogue about this.

    Hugs to you,

  2. Hello Amy 🙂

    Thank you for engaging!

    Ruth is going to approach the Chairperson and Secretary of DSA to ask if it can be placed on their website. We’ve scheduled to work on the email together next week. I was eager to go ahead and begin distributing it, though, because of a talk I’ll give at Interpret America next Saturday, and also because of my participation in the RID Task Force on Emergency Management Interpreting.

    As to dialogue, I’ve got radical ideas about that! First, it has to be voluntary. I’m casting the net as wide as possible so as not to miss people with a vested interest. Second, for it to qualify as dialogue, everyone entering the conversation has to be willing to be changed – that is, actually open to the possibility of learning something new that leads to different ways of thinking and acting. This includes me of course! I have already been deeply changed by my interactions with Deaf people and codas – in ways that seem to me to be all for the good.

    So, third, I’m an academic (you know, a nerd!) which means I participate in a philosophical conversation about the meaning of interpreting on the big scale. But I have never been satisfied with only talking theory: what I really care about is the practical value of philosophical thinking. So, how do I “translate” that academic language to a (hopefully) more common language that invites more people to think together about what interpreting means to humanity?

    (Background: every step of my phd studies, I sought a Deaf audience to present my findings to first. One year I went to ASLTA in Las Vegas, another year to an ADARA conference, etc., before publishing or presenting at hearing conferences. It has always been somewhat scattershot because my thinking was complicated and confused/confusing. This time, I was frustrated by the publishing delay with the 2012 Journal of Interpretation – that article I wrote (on the Deaf Invention of Community Interpreting) has direct relevance (hopefully not just in my imagination!) to the revival of contentious Deaf-Hearing dynamics within RID, but who’s had the time to read or think about it in the midst of all the uproar?)

    Fourth, the time is now! I’m motivated by a sense of urgency. It took me a very long time to sort all this out (20 years!) and I wish it had become clearer sooner. Or that whatever glimmers of clarity I have had didn’t keep vanishing until I was finally able to put the pieces together in a way that holds up with historical facts and social dynamics.

    So, yea, let’s dialogue! I do include codas with deaf in the category of evolved interpreters (as does Dennis Cokely), and I’m not disputing any of your points about the drift away from the wisdom of evolved interpreters to the (what I call) homolingualism of schooled interpreters. How do we reverse that? Well, my strategy is to name exactly and precisely what it is that deaf interpreters are permitted to do that the rest of us are not. It is a use of the extreme case to get us beyond the typical dichotomy which has clearly gotten us nowhere! The discourse of insisting on language and culture has failed. We need a new discourse. What can ground the center of that discourse? I suggest that it could be the practical skill of Holding Time.

    And yes, codas and other interpreters with strong deaf ties such as siblings and spouses also know how to hold time! But we have never named it, have we? As practitioners, as scholars, we have not said, the best or most effective way to ensure mutual understanding is to hold time. And not just for the Deaf to understand but also for the hearing people in the communication too – who also pretend they understand or assume they understand – and are often wrong!

    So, my action research hypothesis (!) is that holding time is the most basic and essential skill of an interpreter who is functioning as a steward of the overall communication process. I’m putting this out there for debate and experimentation, rebuttal and refinement.

    Hugs back,
    ~ steph

  3. Hey Steph,

    I could just wait and say this all to you in person (maybe we can do that too), but I want to chime in here and say that I think other Amy’s intent when she says “not much of a dialogue” doesn’t have specifically to do with dialogue as you are talking about it in your response (academically) but more in the lay sense as talking-back-and-forth. As in, you call this a conversation with Ruth and Win, but it really does come off as more of a platform for your ideas than an opportunity to observe a real discussion about them. I know you have a lot of things in mind when you talk about conversation and dialogue and so on, and that you most likely expect the dialogue to really start happening post-video.

    Also, I take issue with this:

    “R: I’m interested in your perspective. I’ve never thought of that until today, until you brought it up, how “the machine” is running [us].”

    Mind offering some insight into why you added the [us] bit? To me, the addition really skews how the transcript is read toward a very specific meaning that I didn’t necessarily see in Ruth’s comment. So I’m curious.

    Amy Wilson

    P.S. I love this concept of holding time, and I have so much more to say about it, smile.

  4. I like that you’re chiming in here! It’s better for others to read and see in public. Of course we can talk in person too 🙂

    You’re probably right about what Amy meant re “dialogue” and yes, more dialogue will hopefully stem from now on. I’m sure Amy will let us know!

    Ruth and Win let me edit the video in order to express what I am better able to explain in a conversational way than in a lecture type way, so you’re not wrong to see it as a platform for a particular idea that I have come to (finally!). It also felt important to keep it short and as focused as possible.

    Your point about me adding “us” is well taken – that’s why I put it in brackets – to indicate that it is my addition. When she said that, my mind went to an amazing video about internet technology… The Machine is Using Us. So I took the hint she planted and carried it a bit further.

    I’m really glad you approve of the concept of holding time! Woo Woo!

  5. Dear Amy Williamson and Amy Wilson (and everybody else taking a gander at this conversation) –

    Update 1: Ruth and Win have agreed to a “Part 2” conversation sometime later this fall. We’ll see if I can get the balance better this time.

    Update 2: I’ve posted the powerpoint to a talk I just gave at the 4th Interpret America Summit, and am eager/curious for some cross-pollination…. I’m giving discounts to folks who comment there-and will do the same for folks who comment here (both of you have earned 5% off my upcoming online course) in an effort to a) grow the dialogue and b) develop a “proof-of-concept” example to share with potential funders (so that I can get more sophisticated with the change agent/action research element entailed with all my studies, teaching, and projects over the years).

    The powerpoint is on The Real Value of Interpreting. In it, I introduce the concepts of pluralingualism and homolingualism. Amy Williamson, in your article for Street Leverage on The Cost of Invisibility: Codas and the sign language interpreting profession, I think you describe an example of pluralingualism, especially when you refer to “the invisibility of between.”

    When someone is between, they are torn between the imperative of the machine to be homolingual (please see the powerpoint for more background) and the social reality of difference to project pluralingualism.

    One of the claims I make in the presentation on The Real Value of Interpreting is that “Interpreting makes culture visible.” Someone who observed the webstream wrote in an email: “I’m reflecting on “Interpreting makes culture visible,” and thinking of how easy it is not to be aware of culture, and more particularly of differences in culture.”

    This is what codas and CDI’s can bring as evolved interpreters that schooled interpreters have to struggle to acquire. For some schooled interpreters the leap is not so foreign, because of their own multicultural experiences growing up (e.g., as described by Adam Bartley), many others, however, have grown up in an essentially homolingual version of the societal machine.

    The critique I offer of the machine model is that it was designed to maintain the homolingual impulse of the machine – not exactly on purpose, but as the inevitable outcome of the context in which it came to be (which is elaborated in the powerpoint). This does not excuse schooled interpreters from the learning curve, but ought to (I hope) illuminate how it is not just stubborn, individual “NERDAs” (Not Even Related to a Deaf Adult) who don’t get it, but a deeply embedded function of the overall institutional matrix – which effects Deaf people and evolved interpreters and everybody else, too. Maybe I’m simply restating something everyone already knows in a different way, but I think there are implications for how we frame efforts at social change that are worth consideration.

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