October 7, 2007

on being an ally

Anne Fadiman's "in" to a Hmong family's view of their tragic encounter with the U.S. medical system was accomplished via two crucial individuals: an American psychologist and a Hmong-English interpreter. Dr. Sukey Walker explains why the Hmong community respects her:

"The Hmong and I have a lot in common. I have an anarchist sub-personality. I don't like coercion. I also believe that the long way around is often the shortest way from point A to point B. And I'm not very interested in what is generally called the truth. In my opinion, consensual reality is better than facts." (p. 95)

"Consensual reality is better than facts" strikes me as a way of articulating the value of intentional, conscious co-creation of meaning. Dr. Walker's crucial advice to Ms. Fadiman is to find a qualified interpreter:

"...in [Dr. Walker's] opinion," writes Fadiman, " someone who merely converted Hmong words into English, however accurately, would be of no help to me whatsoever. 'I don't call my staff interpreters,' she told me. 'I call them cultural brokers. They teach me. When I don't know what to do, I ask them. You should go find yourself a cultural broker." (p. 95)

May Ying Xiong was not trained by the interpreting profession, which might be why she was able to act more as a cultural broker than a code-of-ethics-abiding professional. ASL interpreters, for instance, are explicitly forbidden from giving advice during interpretation. The roots of this rule was the need to end paternalism between non-deaf interpreters and deaf individuals who were (and sometimes still are) stereotypically-perceived as less competent at understanding and/or negotiating their way through communication to good decisions. The rule has served to reduce paternalism, but - like many rules - prevents many of other actions too. For instance, answering such as question as "What do I do now?" would be a blatant violation of the national certifying body's Code of Professional Conduct: "Refrain from providing counsel, advice, or personal opinion" (Illustrative Behavior 2.5).

Interpreters are criticized by institutional representatives for any kind of presumed advocacy on behalf of the minority language user. This dynamic is most visible in legal situations, and adversely affects immigrants much more so than members of established minority-language communities. The travesties of miscommunication which heap more violation, degradation, and pain upon refugees and asylum-seekers leap to mind. If only more members of dominant language groups would ask how to proceed, rather than assuming that they know!

Posted by Steph at 1:17 AM | Comments (0)

October 6, 2007

more of this

In keeping with Kenneth Burke's mission to purify war, the use of social science to shift problem-solving from violence to conversation is a welcome development.

Burke says, "language... [is] the 'critical moment' at which human motives take form" (from GM 318, in Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism by Robert Wess).

Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones, a feature story from the NYTimes, has demonstrated the "ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations," enabling soldiers "to focus more on improving security, health care and education for the population."

This kind of humanitarian army is the cooperation that our world needs. We must learn to eat with our enemies. Liberal leftists (I assume?) are criticizing the experimental military program for institutionalizing yet another way to coerce local peoples to accept occupation. My initial lean, however, is that the military does not "'yet have the skill sets to implement' a coherent nonmilitary strategy," as explained by United Nations' official Tom Gregg (download a Real Audio interview by CBC radio, June 2007). One of the critics, Roberto, J. González, might characterize himself as an empowered critic of western domination. He is of course correct that the military machines have deviously misused social scientists. Are we not, collectively, less naive now than in history? Perpetuating the same old oppressive frameworks through social criticism is as devastating as popular propaganda.

Posted by Steph at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

October 5, 2007

no mother tongue?

"My best language is my third;
I know five and am learning another one."

Rhona Trauvitch complicates the usual equation that the first language learned establishes cultural ways of thought. Her spoken English rarely evinces signs indicative of a non-native user, although the trace of an accent suggests she did not learn English in the U.S. or United Kingdom.

We spoke after our professor promised to make her famous. Stephen introduced us to the thought of Matteo Bartoli, the figural teacher of Antonio Gramsci.

"Bartoli says all languages are the result of sociocultural conflict. Words are in competition with one another; words and languages are grammatical structures in competition with each other and cannot coexist: language is a battleground. There is always conflict between languages, and conflict within languages. Conflict conflict conflict, that’s what language is and what language is about. Words are always vying for position in language. [Bartoli] does not mean disembodied words, but that what we are doing in language is deciding ‘what will be the word for this? what will resonate?'" {From notes typed during lecture.]

Bartoli called his work neolinguistics, and then spatial linguistics. His phrase, "pattern of irradiations" caught my attention. Whatever the limitations of mathematical thinking (particularly its assumptions of permanence and predictability), physics is an amazing metaphor for human relations. Why irradiation not radiation? My own simplification: Radiation is the (natural) medium; irradiation the (man-made) use/effect. The term is applied in risk communication regarding food safety, industry (e.g., manufacture of foam, insulation, jewelry/gemstones), and medicine. Specificallly, irradiation refers to a process of ionizing radiation intended for a purpose, explicitly in contrast with the normal backdrop of daily exposure to background radiation.

In the context of this graduate seminar, Language as Action and Performance, Bartoli's combination of geography with language use is a revolutionary conception of how language makes human interrelations visible. The patterns of linguistic survival illustrate material conquest, yet - even more so - when one stops using the mother/native tongue, abandoning the cultural language in favor of the dominating language of power, then one has truly conceded to colonization. Ouch.

We spent some time discussing solutions (from Gramsci's view, linking with Bakhtin and Burke) to the dilemma of needing to learn the language(s) of power in order to work within them to preserve one's own heritage language(s) and the worldviews and wisdoms they contain. During class discussion, Gramsci's abhorrence of Esperanto was raised. His objection is rooted in the fact of Esperanto's formal rules: its refusal to accommodate innovation - the natural flexibility of languages to adapt and grow in accordance with human experiences. Rhona's moment of inspiration was describing Esperanto being "born a dead language." Her logic was comparing its rigidification to the stale preservation of languages no longer spoken - preserved only in ancient texts.

This particular session was one of the best to date. The subjectivity of my read is based largely on the subject matter: grasping ways of conceiving of languages (specifically when, how, and where they are used, by whom) as a way of mapping power relations and imagining how the continued use of diverse languages is a necessary and vital corrective to entrenched hegemony.


Rhona presented Flying Through Walls: Magical Realism in Literature and Advertisements this past April at Cross-Over Arts: Intermediality, a seminar in Puebla, Mexico that she attended with colleagues from the Comparative Literature Department at UMass Amherst. She placed 91st in her age/gender class in a 10km Road Race in Athens, 2005.

Professor Stephen Olbrys Gencarella is (among numerous accomplishments) a co-signer of a letter to Lingua Franca in defense of Folklore, co-author of Working with Tradition: towards a partnership model of fieldwork, and is a member of the editorial board for Liminalities: A journal of performance studies. Stephen describes his pedagogy in The Ivory Tower, Apathy, and the Art of Citizenship (available as a pdf from Best Practices).

On irradiation:

I came across a description: local image structure, and some definitions. Irradiation = "treatment with, or exposure to, any form of radiation. Cell cultures are often irradiated in the lab to induce the production of mutations" (QIMR), "Exposure to radiant energy, such as heat, X-rays, or light; the product of irradiance and time" (Laser Glossary), "the application of radiation for various purposes, including reducing levels or killing microorganisms and mould in foods, killing insects and pests that infest certain foods, and sterilizing food for specific medical applications" (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), "the crosslinking process that bonds the molecules of the polyolefin resin into a structure, giving the polymer increased strength and resulting in superior properties" (The ABCs of Foam}, "The use of radiation in food processing to lengthen shelf life by eliminating pathogenic microorganisms" (Rhode Island Food Safety).

Posted by Steph at 9:51 AM | Comments (2)

October 1, 2007

researching the edges

I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where edges meet.

Anne Fadiman. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.
1997. (Preface, p. viii.)

The Review linked above does criticize Fadiman for overromanticizing some aspects of Hmong culture, history, and customs; what reviewer Mai Na M. Lee calls "the bigger issues." In particular, she criticizes Fadiman's conclusion that Hmong are "differently ethical." The phrasing itself is curious, requiring some serious parsing. The way I read the phrase, Fadiman is asserting that ethics are as foundational and valued among the Hmong as within any people. The use of "differently" (instead of the starker label of "different") - refers to the ethics being performed or based "in a different manner." It seems to me this opens up comparision on the basis of more, rather then less, similarity. Dr. Lee did not read the phrase this way, interpreting its meaning as more distancing (differencing?) than joining.

Dr. Lee has the benefit of context; I have not yet read that far. There is a Bakhtinian movement discernable here: the counterplay of centripetal and centrifugal forces in the utterances of Fadiman's book and Dr. Lee's review.

Posted by Steph at 8:58 AM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2007

Updated European Parliament websites

The site seems a bit cleaner, more sharp than the last time I spent time there. They've got a multilingualism tab from the home page (English version) that leads to basically the same information about interpreting (although I do not recall the statement about "render[ing]... faithfully and in real time."

Posted by Steph at 5:42 PM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2007

i think contiguously

Seriously! Roman Jakobson (Prague School Linguist, functionalist), describes a kind of aphasia that brings the distinctions between metaphoric and metonymic speech. Metaphoric speech operates by substitution - you say something, I say something about another thing that reminds me of that thing you said - it "re-fills" the same space by replacement of an equivalent. Metonymic speech jumps levels, instead of substitution, you say something, and I say something related in terms of meaning but operating at a different position within a realist hierarchy.

While reading The metaphoric and metonymic poles today (subsequent to a few other articles, too) I became convinced that simultaneous interpreters can orient themselves to the performance of interpretation as verbal art, possibly even a kind of poetry. Some already do, but I think these are possibly a minority? Or, perhaps the dominant paradigm prevents full admission of the poetic latitude often exercised. :-)

Posted by Steph at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2007

reducing art to programming :-(

I have a mixed reaction, leaning to the negative, concerning news of a software translation program for British Sign Language. The avatars look cool, and the idea is neat, but I cannot imagine that Artificial Intelligence has suddenly improved so much that the translations represent a wide swath of potential meanings instead of a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all reduction to dictionary definitions.

I was surprised at the endorsement from the Royal National Institute for Deaf people (RNID), until I looked at their website. I admit, I have not looked all that closely and do not know any contextualizing history...but the RNID is registered as a charity and the products on the home page are geared to late-deafened and hard-of-hearing people, not the culturally Deaf who use BSL as their native language.

In other words, the avatar system might work just fine for people using BSL now but whose first language is English. Notice the difference in the homepage of the British Deaf Association Sign Community. In fact, looking at their internal link on language, I'd say it looks like the most useful thing allies and advocates can do is make BSL legal and - therefore - subject to anti-discrimination law.

BSL was recognised as an official British language by the UK government on 18 th March 2003, but it does not have any legal protection. This means that Deaf people do not have full access to information and services that hearing people take for granted, including education, health and employment.

Posted by Steph at 9:50 AM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2007

bilingual announcement (Spanish/English)

2007 Ct River Cleanup -- Holyoke

You're invited! Canoes, kayaks, riverbank scrambling, scuba divers -- and a
river left cleaner than when we arrived! (To continue reading this in English, please look further down!)

Limpieza del Rio Connecticut de 2007 -- Holyoke

¡Ud. Está Invitado a Participar! Canoas, kayac, cruzando la orilla del río, buzos - ¡y un río más limpio de que cuando llegamos a hacer la limpieza!

La 11a Anual Limpieza del Río Connecticut "Source to Sea" - Patrocinado en cuatro estados por el Concilio de la Cuenca del Río Connecticut y por New England Family Farms Milk, y aquí en Holyoke por los Amigos del Río de Holyoke.

La limpieza "Source to Sea" es un evento annual de un solo día que tomará lugar desde el norte de New Hampshire hasta el océano, organizado por el Concilio de la Cuenca del Río Connecticut, y por comunidades locales a lo largo del Río Connecticut y sus afluentes.

Los Amigos del Río de Holyoke participarán en la Limpieza "Source to Sea" el sábado, 29 de septiembre de 2007. Estamos trabajando juntos con el Club de Buceo del Pioneer Valley, Appalachian Mountain Club Berkshire chapter, y otras organizaciones locales y personas de la comunidad. Nuestro foco específico es de sacar la basura directamente del río, y también la limpieza normal de sacar la basura de la orilla del río.

¡Nos gustaría mucho tener su ayuda! Tendremos buzos, un barco con una grúa para sacar los objetos grandes del río, voluntarios en canoas y kayac para ayudar los buzos, llevando la basura pequeña a los sitios de colección de las oriallas, voluntarios en las orillas sacando la basura en los bordes del río, y más gente en canoas y kayac para ayudar a transportar la basura de las orillas hasta los sitios de colección. (La Orialla del Río Connecticut en Holyoke no tiene mucho acceso del lado de la tierra.)

La diversión empieza a las 9 a.m., con [registration] y refrescos proporcionados por Don Wielgus y sus amigos. Vamos a encontrar en El Centro de Acceso del Río de Jones Ferry, La Calle Jones Ferry, Holyoke.

Para más información, entre en contacto con los Amigos del Río de Holyoke al 413-538-5772, y vea el sitio en internet del Concilio de la Cuenca del Río Connecticut en: http://www.ctriver.org/cleanup/index.html

Que: La Limpieza del Río Connecticutt "Source to Sea" en Holyoke
Cuando: 9 a.m., sábado, 29 de septiembre de 2007
Fecha en caso de lluvia: domingo, 7 de octubre de 2007
Donde: encontrarse en El Centro de Acceso del Río de Jones Ferry, La Calle Jones Ferry, Holyoke
Persona de Contacto: Shemaya Laurel, Amigos del Río de Holyoke, 413-538-5772
o Andrea Donlon, El Concilio de la Cuenca del Río (Connecticut River
Watershed Council), 413-772-2020, www.ctriver.org


for English:

Source to Sea 11th Annual Connecticut River Cleanup -- Sponsored in fourstates by the Connecticut River Watershed Council and New England Family Farms Milk, and here in Holyoke by Holyoke Friends of the River.

The Source to Sea cleanup is an annual one-day event that takes place from northern New Hampshire to the ocean, organized overall by the Connecticut River Watershed Council, and locally by individual communities along the Connecticut River and its tributaries.

Holyoke Friends of the River will be participating in the Source to Sea cleanup on Saturday, September 29, 2007. We are working together with the Pioneer Valley Dive Club, Appalachian Mountain Club Berkshire chapter, and other local organizations and individuals. Our particular focus will be pulling trash directly from the water, as well as
the usual cleanup of trash along the shore.

We'd love your help! We will have scuba divers, a boat with a crane for pulling large objects from the river, folks in canoes and kayaks who will assist divers by ferrying smaller trash to the collection area on the shore, folks along the shore retrieving trash from the edge of the water, and more canoers and kayakers helping transport shoreline trash to the collection area. (The Holyoke shore of the Connecticut River is mostly inaccessible
from the land side.)

The fun begins at 9 a.m., with registration and tasty refreshments generously provided by Don Wielgus and his friends.
Meet at Jones Ferry River Access Center , Jones Ferry Road in Holyoke.

For more information please contact Holyoke Friends of the River at
413-538-5772, and see the Connecticut River Watershed Council website at:

What: Source to Sea Connecticut River cleanup in Holyoke
When: 9 a.m., Saturday, September 29, 2007
rain date: Sunday, October 7, 2007
Where: Meet at Jones Ferry River Access Center, Jones Ferry Road, Holyoke
Contact: Shemaya Laurel, Holyoke Friends of the River 413-538-5772
Andrea Donlon, Connecticut River Watershed Council 413-772-2020

Posted by Steph at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

September 9, 2007

Instruction in ASL

I should have watched these training clips about using a Blackberry before signing my presentation in class the other day! The discourse structure of ASL is evident in each clip: first, the point, second - the illustration, third, the point again/expanded. One can watch how technical terminology is introduced and then incorporated naturally - with the side effect of contributing to the standardization of new terms in the lexicon. (I notice he does not fingerspell "email" for instance, which will annoy at least a few of my purist friends!) There's evidence of contextualization: the same sign is used for "escape" and "sprint" - illustrating how meaning coheres in different combinations of signifiers/signifieds within different languages. (Hence, why interpreters, when asked, "What's the sign for _______?" usually say, "It depends.") Finally, there is much to notice about the logic of the visual in ASL.

This is an area in which (it seems to me), non-deaf people need serious education. I, myself, am still learning how to shift out of the linearity of sound-based logic to the three-dimensionality of the visual - eighteen years (!) after I began to learn ASL. One of the most common ways this non-knowledge shows up is the curiosity of non-deaf people about whether any particular deaf person can lipread. My hypothesis is that the assumptions behind this question involve a) how much are you similar to me, and b) how far can you come to my way of communicating? Vikki Washington addresses this in her blogpost, Squealing for Attention.

Then, there's the relational problem between interpreters and deaf folk whom we serve. My issue has always been the way we (interpreters) subtly - and not so subtly - reinforce the dominant model of oppression/discrimination by "being on the deaf person's side." We serve the non-deaf people in the room just as much, but few people understand this. It seems normal to assume that we are interpreting "for the deaf person" and no one else. Another view on this issue comes from Jeannette Johnson (a.k.a. Deaf Pundit), writing on fallout from friendships with interpreters: The Interpreter and The Deaf Community Hitman. The misunderstanding she describes sounds painful, although - on principle - I would be inclined to suggest there's room for growth (forgiveness?) on both sides, especially given the foundation of friendship. The principle I'm thinking of is how to accomplish long-term structural change. Everytime we, as individuals, fail to repair our relationships with each other, I suspect this is a social metonym for the failure of larger groups of people (deaf/non-deaf; racial and ethnic groups with contentious histories; even nations - think Israel/Palestine) - to find ways to stop war and shift systemic oppressions to relations involving more social justice.

So, I am happily encouraged to read (and watch, via a vlog) alternative stories about deaf and non-deaf people become allies on common causes, such as Jack Barr's union activism.

Complicating the friendship angle from the interpreter's point-of-view, is the persistence of activist organizations to create inclusion through calls for volunteer interpreters. Not that I wouldn't do it, but it is the other extreme of the "non-friendship clause" invoked (above) by Deaf Pundit. I'm not sure what happened regarding ASL/English interpretation at the recent U.S. Social Forum, but there was a call that circulated for volunteer interpretation. If I could have gone I probably would have volunteered, but still.... isn't there a double-standard at work? Non-deaf people still approach interpreting as the work of charity (instead of as a profession that requires years of training, serious testing, and on-going professional development); and deaf people (sometimes) accept our work as volunteers on an impersonal basis. In my own experience, I have never felt unappreciated, even if I have been excruciatingly aware that my presence is undesired (given the intimate nature of the business at hand). So - I'm not trying to generate any accusations toward any one in particular. I am reflecting on the way we talk about the relationship between interpreters and members of the deaf community. Sometimes, there is a disconnect between our talk and our actions; sometimes our talk perpetuates actions that hurt us all in the long run.

Who knows how much of what happens between deaf persons and interpreters is an extension from experiences with parents who themselves were not deaf (90% of deaf people are born outside of the linguistic/cultural community). "Our parents were usually the first to betray us--not knowing how to effectively deal with our deafness," writes Carl Schroeder, in Betrayal of the Deaf: Grow Up and Get English.

All the links to Deaf blogs and vlogs were shared with me by Amanda. Thanks! :-) If you still wanna check out more, click through to the Best of Deaf Blogs and Vlogs. Thriving under threat, if you ask me!

Posted by Steph at 7:30 AM | Comments (0)

September 8, 2007

Performing Research

I uploaded a five minute video of my brief introduction (in American Sign Language) to my proposed dissertation research.


The shaking in my hands and legs stopped about half an hour later. "Did you accomplish the effect you wanted?" a friend asked after class. No, I knew I had not created the simulation I intended, and I did not yet know what - if any - effect there might be. "Why so nervous? You do this everyday!" Yes, but...this was so obviously for show. Without live interpretation, did it make sense to still do it?

Later, when I watched the video for the first time, I noticed the errors. My idiosyncratic mixing of coded English and ASL, fingerspelling that was too fast, rushing through parts of the presentation. Was it worth making public despite these imperfections? Was it sensible enough? I had my doubts.

Then I received an email from a peer in the class regarding something unrelated, but she added:

I kept thinking about signing while reading over and over about how written language is inadequate and arbitrary. I was wondering, did you alter your performance at all for a non-deaf audience? I thought the most interesting effect was watching everyone struggle to choose between the written script and your performance.

Now I'm psyched! :-)

I did not alter my performance FOR a non-deaf audience, but it is obvious to me some of the ways the clarity suffered because there was not a deaf person in the room. I lacked the nonverbal feedback indicating comprehension/confusion. If someone literate in ASL had been watching, I would have known when I needed to repeat, embellish, or rephrase. Instead, I plunged on too rapidly. (Or at least, I'm worried that I did.)

One thing I definitely did do in order to frame the presentation for a (non-present) deaf audience is consider the opening carefully. The logical structure of discourse is different in ASL than in English; I really wanted to be comprehensible. Basically, I guess I did what I often do when I am interpreting: tune out the non-signing hearing audience! ( Should I be making this confession?!)

I was unaware of the struggle between choosing to read the text or watch the signing while I was giving the presentation. I mean, I did notice that some people were looking at me, others at the handout, and some looked back and forth, but I experienced this matter-of-factly. Not as an indication of "struggle" associated with the choice. Now I am intrigued as to what this choice meant! Some people did comment on this afterwards, about not knowing whether to watch or read, and about trying (?) to match up the signing with the written text. Was there more going on with the need to make that choice than the obvious? (The "obvious," in my mind, being one language is accessible/understandable and the other not.)

Here's a link to the handout, with the text prepared for the (hoped for) interpreters. Below is more background on how I came up with this idea and prepared for it.

Prior to start of this semester, the professor for this course, Language as Action and Performance, emailed us:

...it's important to hear what folks are working on these days in more than the AA style of introduction...Be prepared to take three-five minutes to sketch out your interests...

Somehow I read this to imply "be creative" with the intro. (Re-reading it now, my mind must have been already inclined to take liberties with meaning!) Since the concept of performance is central to the course, I wondered if I could generate a simulation ... could I place my classmates in the position of listening to me/my words as interpreted by someone else from a language that they do not know?

I did not have much time; only a couple of days. I knew finding someone to interpret with such short notice would be a major feat. I asked colleagues that I know work on campus, and made an official request through the Vermont Interpreter Referral Service. Then I waited . . . no, nope, no one....someone (maybe) but qualifications (skill) sketchy...maybe someone? But maybe not.....then, yes, the morning of that very day, two affirmatives! I had to get busy with prep materials: this is a graduate level course, and my research is specific with theoretical terminology.

It took me some three-four hours to compose 500 words that captured the gist and spirit of my interest without all kinds of extra tangents and unnecessary (at least for my immediate peers) explanations. I kept telling myself to imagine I was presenting to Laurene. I also told myself not to worry about the ASL - it would come. Focus on the English. After I had written the document to prep my peers, my mind was much clearer for me, too. :-)

I whittled the statement down to bullet points so I would have an outline to follow. Again, I had already decided to sign, to let go of the form of the written code and explain the ideas using the syntax of ASL. I knew my colleagues would go with it: whichever "Wanda" I ended up with had the text in advance, and would remember some of the specific English terms or use equivalents. (Any of my interpreting colleagues who make the blog because of work become "Wanda.") I turned my attention to the ideas and concepts with no direct equivalents in ASL. How would I convey them?

First, I remember seeing Deaf comedians and storytellers play around with looking inside people's heads. That helped me with the concept of "cognition." It took me longer to come up with a strategy for the transmission model of communication. What came to mind was a project I did in one of my very first ASL classes, taught by Ann Reifel. We had to investigate the flexibility of ASL by videotaping several people explaining how they would do a simple action. The goal was to prove that there are unlimited ways to say a thing; no one person says the same thing in the exact same way. I wanted to learn about classifiers, and selected the simple act of getting in/out of a car. I could not tell people that was what I was looking for, however, instead, I videotaped a dozen narratives of the commute to work. The best story was provided by my mentor, Evelyn Thompson. :-) She included a hundred hilarious details, including near accidents, long stretches of traffic, and the bumps of construction. (I have it, still, somewhere....)

As luck would have it, something came up for both of my colleagues (and they get teased about it, too!). I was faced with the choice of going on alone, not doing it, or - as the professor later offered - waiting until next week.

Well, with performance, you know what they say! The show went on....

Posted by Steph at 9:09 AM | Comments (8)

September 7, 2007

Interpreted Music

God is a DJ, by Faithless.

The signer is using British Sign Language (note the two-handed alphabet for "D" and "J"). He seems to rely on a literal translation, taking few liberties with BSL's capacity to generate meaning beyond the coded English. Since I do not actually know BSL, this is just an impression, but notice the production difference between the song lyrics and the clip of Deaf Britons talking. I'm not referring to the stylistic use of no facial expression - I assume this is an aesthetic choice by the interpreter - rather, the difference in the general animation of the language in use.

Cool. Very very cool. :-) Thanks David!

Posted by Steph at 9:33 AM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2007

Interpreting Studies: Joining the conversation

The gauntlet thrown down when I entered graduate studies to try and earn a phd was the need to find conversations already underway in the academic literature and add my perspective. I've written many smallish pieces that have been published by journals and newsletters for sign-language practitioners in the U.S., England, and Germany. My first substantive contribution at the theoretical level came out this summer in the Benjamins Translation Library: The Critical Link 4: Professionalisation of interpreting in the community (see blurb). My article, "Why bother?" Institutionalization, interpreter decisions, and power relations is in Part V: Professional ideology: Food for thought (see abstract).

My submission for the next Critical Link volume presents a theme from the discourse of spoken language interpreters at the European Parliament, and engages a paradigm debate over conceptions of "interpreting": particularly where we locate meaning. These ideas are a foundational part of the dissertation I hope to write if the European Parliament will let me back for more research. I'm making the paper available for feedback and input. Please, if you read it, would you let me know what you think? The more conversations (input, feedback, critique) I can have with more practitioners and teacher-trainers, the more thoughtfully the project will develop.

A Discourse of Danger and Loss:
Interpreters on Interpreting for the European Parliament.
(Download file)

Posted by Steph at 8:58 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2007

updated references (EP)

What I had found before: European Parliament Procedural Rule 138.


Rule 22 : Duties of the Bureau

"8. The Bureau shall be the authority responsible for authorising meetings of committees away from the usual places of work, hearings and study and fact-finding journeys by rapporteurs.

Where such meetings are authorised, the language arrangements shall be determined on the basis of the official languages used and requested by the members and substitutes of the committee concerned."


Rule 138 : Languages

1. All documents of Parliament shall be drawn up in the official languages.

2. All Members shall have the right to speak in Parliament in the official language of their choice. Speeches delivered in one of the official languages shall be simultaneously interpreted into the other official languages and into any other language the Bureau may consider necessary.

3. Interpretation shall be provided in committee and delegation meetings from and into the official languages used and requested by the members and substitutes of that committee or delegation.

4. At committee and delegation meetings away from the usual places of work interpretation shall be provided from and into the languages of those members who have confirmed that they will attend the meeting. These arrangements may exceptionally be made more flexible where the members of the committee or delegation so agree. In the event of disagreement, the Bureau shall decide.

Where it has been established after the result of a vote has been announced that there are discrepancies between different language versions, the President shall decide whether the result announced is valid pursuant to Rule 164(5). If he declares the result valid, he shall decide which version is to be regarded as having been adopted. However, the original version cannot be taken as the official text as a general rule, since a situation may arise in which all the other languages differ from the original text.


Rule 139 : Transitional arrangement

1. During a transitional period extending until the end of the sixth parliamentary term, derogations from the provisions of Rule 138 shall be permissible if and to the extent that, despite adequate precautions, interpreters or translators for an official language are not available in sufficient numbers.

2. The Bureau, on a proposal from the Secretary-General, shall ascertain with respect to each of the official languages concerned whether the conditions set out in paragraph 1 are fulfilled, and shall review its decision at six-monthly intervals on the basis of a progress report from the Secretary-General. The Bureau shall adopt the necessary implementing rules.

3. The temporary special arrangements adopted by the Council on the basis of the Treaties concerning the drafting of legal acts, with the exception of regulations adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the Council, shall apply.

4. On a reasoned recommendation from the Bureau, Parliament may decide at any time to repeal this Rule early or, at the end of the period indicated in paragraph 1, to extend it.


Rule 143 : List of speakers

2. The President shall call upon Members to speak, ensuring as far as possible that speakers of different political views and using different languages are heard in turn.


Rule 176 : Committees of inquiry

7. A committee of inquiry may contact the institutions or persons referred to in Article 3 of the Decision referred to in paragraph 2 with a view to holding a hearing or obtaining documents.

Travel and accommodation expenses of members and officials of Community institutions and bodies shall be borne by the latter. Travel and accommodation expenses of other persons who appear before a committee of inquiry shall be reimbursed by the European Parliament in accordance with the rules governing hearings of experts.

Any person called to give evidence before a committee of inquiry may claim the rights they would enjoy if acting as a witness before a tribunal in their country of origin. They must be informed of these rights before they make a statement to the committee.

With regard to the languages used, a committee of inquiry shall apply the provisions of Rule 138. However, the bureau of the committee:

- may restrict interpretation to the official languages of those who are to take part in the deliberations, if it deems this necessary for reasons of confidentiality,

- shall decide about translation of the documents received in such a way as to ensure that the committee can carry out its deliberations efficiently and rapidly and that the necessary secrecy and confidentiality are respected.


Rule 191 : Right of petition

3. Petitions must be written in one of the official languages of the European Union.

Petitions written in any other language will be considered only where the petitioner has attached a translation or summary drawn up in an official language of the European Union. The translation or summary shall form the basis of Parliament's work. Parliament's correspondence with the petitioner shall employ the official language in which the translation or summary is drawn up.

ANNEX X : Performance of the Ombudsman's duties

A. Decision of the European Parliament on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman's duties (1)
B. Decision of the European Ombudsman adopting implementing provisions (2)

Article 15 : Languages

15.1 A complaint may be submitted to the Ombudsman in any of the Treaty languages. The Ombudsman is not required to deal with complaints submitted in other languages.

15.2 The language of proceedings conducted by the Ombudsman is one of the Treaty languages; in the case of a complaint, the language in which it is written.

15.3 The Ombudsman determines which documents are to be drawn up in the language of the proceedings.

15.4 Correspondence with the authorities of Member States is conducted in the official language of the state concerned.

15.5 The annual report, special reports and, where possible, other documents published by the Ombudsman are produced in all official languages.

Posted by Steph at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2007

my point, precisely!

Not the main one I want to make, but a corollary: what is a lingua franca?

"The term lingua franca comes from an Italian phrase for "Frankish language". The term harkens back to the traditional role of French as the "language of diplomacy". The underlying idea was that no matter what languages two diplomats might speak at home, they could always communicate if both had a command of French. Indeed, at one time it was not unusual for aristocrats and royalty in the courts of eastern Europe to speak French in lieu of the native tongues of their subjects. The term is something of an anachronism. At one time Latin and Greek played this role among scholars. These days, English has assumed the role of the lingua franca in many parts of the world, and is the language of choice for discourse among scientists and aviators."

Brian Foote and Don Roberts, Paper presented at Fifth Conference on Patterns Languages of Programs (PLoP '98)

Brian Foote foote@cs.uiuc.edu
Last Modified: 23 April 2004

What's up with the Lorenz Attractor?! :-)

Posted by Steph at 8:34 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2007

a "trans moment in world history"

Seriously. Todd Hasak-Lowy.

Every short story in this collection is graduate school hilarious. This guy speaks the language, knows the culture, and is an astute social commentator in an-understated-while-laughing-at-himself way. I have laughed out loud several times. In this title story, The Task of This Translator" (a play on Walter Benjamin), Ted hires "our hero", Ben (151), to work for the translation business he establishes after a course on "'Transnationalism and Borders' or something like that" (150), because "Ted concluded that ... the future was about transnationalism, or something to that effect - and that a business, one day a giant corporation, was waiting to sprout from this trans moment in world history" (150-151).

Some of his phrases are sheer elegance:

"...the sheer beauty of the language, wanting to learn it in order to better understand the unrest that speaks this language..." (152)

"...the unrest that speaks this language..."

In this phrase is all of postmodernism, eh?

Posted by Steph at 4:12 PM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2007

Enough Already!

As a teacher myself, I loved interpreting another professor today.

Professor: "Since class began, I have received over 100 emails and have answered almost every single one individually. You have told me about your personal life - going to weddings, car breakdowns, your commute time, how many hours that you work, that you have to get up too early in the morning, how late you go to bed. I know so much about you."

"Let me tell you a little about myself." (At which point my team interpreter looked me in the eye and signed OMG, "Oh my god", and I thought, "Yep, here we go!")

The professor continued: "I work sixty-five hours a week on payroll: time counted by the clock. I commute fourteen hours a week. I work another sixteen hours a week grading homework, this is not on the clock. I get up at five a.m.; I go to bed at one in the morning."

He did not say, "Stop whining!" but really, after that, was it necessary? :-)

Life is demanding. Education asks much.

Many students go through the motions - to get a job, to earn the credit, for a grade - but how many really want to learn?

These are the ones who keep us teaching. :-)

(I am thrilled to have several motivated learners in my intensive summer session online course, yippee!)

Posted by Steph at 8:54 PM | Comments (0)

June 6, 2007

dynamics (physics and Interpersonal Communication)

Online teaching began Monday, as did interpreting for Physics 101. Ha! (I'm in heaven.) :-)

The physics definition of dynamics is "the effect that forces have on motion."

I have been wrangling some "force" onto my students use of the online discussion technology (an asynchronous "bulletin board" type of software). Of course I am curious what "motions" will be effected by my language-based exertions. In which "direction" will the students move? Compliance? Competition? Resistance? OH the JOYS of HUMAN INTERACTION!

The first "lecture" was made available to them yesterday morning. I'm going to post them here, too, to see what (if anything) gets sparked in and/or out of the class.

Introduction and Immersion

~ “Lecture” One ~

What is “interpersonal communication”? Can we communicate, interpersonally, through written text coded into bits of electronic data and spirited across cyberspace? Is writing to each other, and reading each other’s words, substantially different than speaking and listening to one another? If you are deaf: is it different to watch someone signing than it is to read letters on a computer screen? How much does it matter to type on a keyboard instead of moving your face and hands in order to tell someone what you think?

The study of any subject requires establishing a boundary that distinguishes and sets the subject apart from other subjects. The terms of the label can be broken down into three components:

1) inter-
2) personal
3) communication.

Which of these three words (or parts of a word) seems most important? Does one or the other establish the focus for thinking and learning?

As I consider how to teach a course on interpersonal communication in an online environment where I will probably never meet any of you, nor any of you each other, I have to question my usual style. Normally, I teach this course based on the assumption that the most effective learning comes through personal application. Effective learning, in my mind, is when students realize that the concepts we study are not just abstract terms “out there.” Instead, the vocabulary, theories, philosophies, similarities, and differences that we will explore in this course are descriptive categories that describe our own behaviors. Once we have a sense of how our own interpersonal communication functions, this provides a base to comprehend on a deep level the ways in which other people use interpersonal communication differently than ourselves: sometimes to accomplish goals or values that are not the same as ours, sometimes to accomplish the same tasks that we want but through alternative strategies.

Differences of interpersonal communication can be attributed to a range of factors, including culture, gender, the environment, life stage, personal or situational elements outside of the immediate communicative event, even levels of linguistic fluency. I, myself, am not convinced that written communication is necessarily “less” or even substantially “different” than what can be accomplished in a face-to-face interaction, however I do think communicating via the written word requires a particular set of skills, including literacy, imagination, focus, and fluency. I separate “literacy” and “fluency” because if one is going to be effective communicating via text, one must read carefully for the meaning of the writer (literacy), and one must deliberately consider your choice of words and phrasing (diction) to minimize confusion for readers (fluency).

We will devote serious attention to the concept of “meaning” – which is not as transparent as we (Americans, especially) are taught to think. First, though, I want to distinguish “interpersonal” communication from mass communication, and notice the ways in which what we are doing here in this online class is more like small group communication (which has elements of both interpersonal and mass communication).

The most basic factor distinguishing mass and interpersonal communication is audience. Is quantity the clearest difference? Interpersonal is between persons, discrete individuals; whereas mass communication is directed to a large audience, including – obviously – more than one person who are obscured or blended in some way (usually via a medium, such as television, radio, the movies) into an indistinguishable mass. A second important factor defining mass communication from interpersonal communication is the presence or absence of anonymity. Interpersonal communication can be more “public” in the sense that you “show” yourself to another human being, you become known and mis/understood in a direct relationship. Mass communication, although witnessed by many, can – paradoxically – be more “private” in the sense that audience responses may not be revealed (and producers of mass media often work in teams, or behind the mask of a pseudonym or persona).

What we have in this class is a group of a few dozen people, who are

a) anonymous in the sense that we won’t meet in personal physical space (unless someone coordinates an extracurricular event),
b) communicating directly with a teacher and peers,
c) while witnessing and being witnessed in these interactions by each other, and
d) potentially engaged by each other in surprising and unpredictable as well as standard and typical ways.

What kind of a conversation will we build together?

Posted by Steph at 4:42 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2007


My stance vis-a-vis the UMass Amherst administration's decision to grant an honorary degree to President Bush's ex-chief-of-staff, Andrew Card, was pre-established before the event was known. I was hired to interpret the graduate commencement ceremony at least a month before the decision about Card was announced.

I witnessed the swell of protest activity from a distance, observing. I did sign the petition, but my active participation was constrained by my paid role, by my work. Of course, I could have done many things, and probably could have "gotten away" with many things - but to do so would have compromised the deep commitment of professional interpreters to provide linguistic accessibility in the most impartial way possible.

Still - the challenge of how consumed some quality planning time between my teammate and me. We were fortunate to be aware of the scope of the planned protest and thus were able to strategize effectively. It so transpired, therefore, that my partner interpreted what she could make out of speech concerning Card, and I interpreted the protesters chanting. A satisfactory, ethical, and impartial arrangement. In fact, the protest was so loud and persistent that audience members watching the American Sign Language interpretation were probably the only ones to glean even a tiny bit of the content of the speech! An overcompensation, therefore, on behalf of professional duty.

Meanwhile, I must say that the moment of outburst was extraordinary. The "automatic" mode of interpreting everything I hear was well upon me, so the sound catapulted me into motion. I had to pause to assess what my teammate was doing (no need to duplicate)...when she shifted from the protest to the actual speech (physically walking over to the podium to be able to hear and - presumedly - read along with the speaker), I rose again to interpret the chants.

The discipline and coordination of the protestors was impressive. The administration reversed the order (as listed in the program book) of honorary degrees and everyone simply held their ground, waiting patiently and giving due respect to Tisato Kajiyama, a UMass alum and President of Kyusho University, Japan. As Provost Charlena Seymore began the announcement of the next degree, the silence in the Mullins Center was palpable. When she uttered Andrew Card's name the place erupted. Noise exploded throughout and people burst out of their chairs waving banners and signs.

The video by Traprock on YouTube captures the somber mood of the event and the displeasure of graduate students and faculty. News coverage includes a photo of the audience dotted with yellow protest signs. An online petition garnered 1721 signatures (as of today), in addition to hundreds of physical signatures from on campus. Much of the organizing for the protest was done by the Northampton Committee To Stop the War in Iraq, which reports that at least 125 newspapers carried the story, a local television story aired a news segment (search for "Andrew Card") which captures the visual moment of disruption and includes an interview clip from UMass Communication Department alumni Dr. Garnet Butchart, and also plugs the Traprock video.

UMass has other troubles, including a vote of no confidence from the faculty and a seriously disrespectful attitude toward negotiating a contract with graduate teaching assistants.

Daily News Summary for UMass Amherst, May 25, 2007

Daily News Summary for May 25, 2007

The UMass Amherst faculty declared no confidence in the Board of Trustees and President Jack Wilson on Thursday in a 214-1 vote triggered by a proposed administrative reorganization and the announced departure of Chancellor John Lombardi next year. The resolution also called upon Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an independent commission to review the actions and make recommendations to improve the UMass system and raise the stature of the flagship Amherst campus. Wilson spoke at the meeting and apologized for the way in which the proposed changes have been communicated. Following the vote, spokesperson Libby DeVecchi said Wilson “takes the Amherst faculty’s message very seriously and will do everything that he can to rebuild their trust.” Trustees Chairman Stephen Tocco did not attend the meeting, but in a statement he expressed confidence in Wilson’s leadership. He said, “It is our goal to make the University of Massachusetts one of the very best public universities in the United States. I understand this involves change and sometimes change can seem difficult.” Related coverage includes a letter to Wilson from upset faculty, and a columnist who observes the local legislative delegation is angry because they learned of the news through press reports. (Globe, AP, Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Republican, Gazette, Gazette, Recorder, 5/24-25/07)

A story on Andrew H. Card Jr., who is to receive an honorary degree today at the Graduate School Commencement, lays out what critics and supporters have been saying about his role in the administration of President George W. Bush. University officials say they intend to award the degree. An editorial says Card doesn’t deserve the honor and says it degrades the value of honorary degrees conferred by UMass. (Gazette, Republican, Metrowestdailynews.com, 5/25/07)

A column by Martin Miller, general manager at WFCR, says the station works hard to reflect the tastes of the community and listens to what people want for programming, even though some listeners are angry about recent changes in what the station broadcasts. (Gazette, 5/25/07)

A panel, including Madeleine Blais, journalism, discussed how the Internet is changing journalism last night in a meeting sponsored by the News Forum. The ongoing series is run by the journalism department at UMass Amherst. (Republican, 5/25/07; News Office release)

Posted by Steph at 2:52 PM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2007

Interpret This!

"Plans are now beginning laid out to increase project collaborations, where appropriate, between the ICDP and the IODP."

Details are at the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program. Note:

"The evaluation of the relative importance of anthropogenic versus natural forces in controlling climatic and environmental change."

Just remember:

No road is too long with good company. .....Turkish proverb

Posted by Steph at 7:54 AM | Comments (5)

April 25, 2007

"the end of Ordibehesht 1386"

I had to ask my partner in crime about this. Strong Minor Bridge The Brilliant explains:

"Ordibehesht is a month in the Persian calendar, and 1386 is the current year (2007 in our Gregorian era). And Ordibehesht overlaps parts of our April and May. Ordibehesht ends on May 21 - so that's "the end of Ordibehesht 1386."

Yes, I'm still trying to get to Iran and isn't it cool they use a solar calendar? :-)

Posted by Steph at 9:55 AM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2007

Research in Interpreting Studies

Olivier set up an online forum for Research in Interpreting Studies: Resources for researchers working in the field of interpreting studies. Let's see if it goes anywhere - feel free to join!

Posted by Steph at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2007

“All my mothers were born here.”

We were welcomed to the country by a member of an Aboriginal group native to the Parramatta area, the Darug. She shared some of her story, sang a song and then was joined by a cousin she called brother for a duet (guitar and didgeridoo). He finished with a solo called “The Hitchhiker,” leaving us in the cab of a tractor-trailer truck driving into the sunset.

The speakers were all passionate about the need for quality and high standards in community interpreting, as well as the need for adequate funding and training. Sandra Hale, Chair of this Critical Link Congress (which has drawn more than 500 delegates, the largest in history) made a nice parallel between the Critical Link and Parramatta. This is the first time the conference has been held in the southern hemisphere, and Parramatta is where the landmark first reconciliation conference the Darug and European settlers was held in 1805.

Professor John Ingleson provided a stellar local idiom: "teaching my grandmother to suck eggs." This morning I met Catherine, a New Zealand Sign Language interpreter, who explained the phrase means teaching someone something obvious, that they already well know how to do. Who would have guessed! (By the way, New Zealand Sign Language became an official national language of the country nearly one year ago: historic!)

The keynote given by Stepan Kerkyasharian was informative and compelling, particularly on the themes of quality of interpretation, adequate funding, and concerns of ethics. In particular, he spoke passionately about interpreter neutrality: that we are "not the guardians of the interests of one party or the other." This is in some contrast to Christopher's talk yesterday about minority language users desire to know that interpreters are working "on behalf of the community" instead of merely in the service of interpreting.

I was interested that both Australian speakers' first comments were in honor of the indigenous people of the land. I've not experienced such recognition in the US unless at an event of, by, and for American Indians or at certain progressive lesbian events. Neat!

I walked to the Opening Ceremony at The Roxy with (Spanish-English interpreters) Nancy, Carmen, Elizabeth and Ron (the token husband). After snarfing down an orange juice and some canapes, I turned in: an early evening.

Posted by Steph at 8:34 PM | Comments (0)

ITPs: "giving interpreter trainees a fish or teaching them HOW to fish?"

Claudia Angelelli asked this during the workshop "Program quality in interpreter education." I like it. :-)

According to the list of participants, there are people here from more than thirty countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, England/UK, Finland, France, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and the US. Who knows how many languages!

Sydney reminds me of two places, in different ways: first, Hawai’i – the feel of the air, perhaps a faint olfactory recognition, and the presence of palm trees; second, Istanbul – riding the train and looking out on blue sky and the curve of coast along the bay. Walking along a broad pedestrian way toward the conference hotel this morning, I recalled Brussels, even Madrid. Of course there are distinctions, but my American sensibilities take in the similarity of pace and priorities in contrast with the hurry-burry hustle-bustle never-slow-down-and-take-a-break rush of typical days in the States.

I went to the wrong room for the pre-conference (!) but it was fortuitous in one regard: a discursive theme around shifting from linguistic (information-based) transmission-type interpreting to more something else appears to be underway. For instance, Angelelli discussed how interpreting training programs tend to do well in three areas: information-processing, linguistics, and professional conduct; while not yet doing well in the areas of interpersonal communication, setting-specific features, and socio-cultural factors in the intercultural communication process. This was also a theme of the pre-conference (I caught the last half): “Beyond the linguistic conduit” by Izabel Arocha, one of whose final recommendations is that interpreter training programs need to implement "a practice framework instead of a linguist framework."

After lunch (where Helena instigated a last-minute move from the Rockabilly to the Quake, she's also responsible for hooking me up with "the young man" in Marsden), I caught the last ten minutes of Christopher Stone's presentation on "Collective notions of quality of Interpreting: Insights from the British deaf community." As usual he was crisp in delivery and sharp with time management, not to mention being a strong ally. Chris fielded some complicated questions very well, discussing how much more of a "global identity" deaf persons have with deaf people from other parts of the world, and how the UK is fortunate to have so many well-traveled deaf people who can generally establish some level of communication with deaf refugees with unfamiliar signing.

The main point of Christopher's talk was on consumer choice in selecting interpreters (and how this has been diminished by processes of institutionalization - governmental legislation). Jemina Napier (who presented in the first workshop with Angelelli and others), noted the frequency of this emphasis on consumer perception of interpreting services through the conference program. :-)

Hanneke Bot in her presentation, "Quality in interpreting as a shared responsibility," presented a fascinating comparison of three interpreters with different styles in a mental health setting. Her point is to illustrate how necessary it is for the users of interpreting services to participate in repair and be knowledgeable of and responsive to the characteristics of an interpreted situation. She listed four things all USERS need to be aware of and act upon:

1. management of turn-taking
2. the equivalency problem (she quotes Pollard, 2005:265 - a great quote I've seen before about consumers responding to the choices (judgment) of the interpreter, not to any "original" utterance)
3. encourage the interpreter to ask questions (!!!)
4. ask questions and use repair

The main source of communication breakdown was lack of repair - an element that is common to all language-based interaction: even without an interpreter we misspeak, repeat ourselves, add, clarify, and alter things we've said. This should be an integral part of the interpreting process that everyone present, users and interpreters, need to exercise. (Good stuff, Maynard!)

Meanwhile, I’ve seen some LSF (French Sign Language) which seemed almost comprehensible (!) and met a few deaf women and interpreters from Canada (some using ASL as well). I’ve watched some BSL and Auslan from a distance – that two-handed alphabet really throws me off. :-)

Posted by Steph at 12:08 AM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2007

Details matter

For instance, carefully looking at the travel zones to be sure that the week pass I bought (for all trains, ferries, and buses) actually goes all the way out to my hotel! (Not quite, argh! Seems the only way to upgrade it is to go all the way back to the airport!???!) So, my six a.m. decision-making after a twenty-two hour journey is not so hot. :-/

Going on the SBS tour, however, was an excellent idea. :-) They broadcast in sixty-eight languages, which puts them in a class by themselves. They use the phrase “mini-UN”: perhaps this is true in terms of written translation? Yet, it seemed to me that the daily production of so many different language group voices is much closer to the language regime of the European Parliament. SBS does television and radio, with radio described as “the mother of the organization” and subtitling as “the key” to delivering the organization’s charter, which is to “bring the world to Australia.”

Two aspects of the visit captured me: the parallels between subtitling and sign language interpretation, and meeting with Francis Lee, Head of the Cantonese Program for SBS Radio (Sydney).

I have never thought deeply about subtitling as a craft. What struck me today is the challenge of coordinating the written text with the rest of the visual imagery. For instance, coordinating chunks of text with the matching scene is similar to what sign language interpreters do by minimizing visual noise and identifying speakers. Additionally, there are huge challenges in timing and the need to manage - even weed out - various sound inputs: such as overlaps in speaking (turn-taking dynamics), recomposition to work within differential time constraints (it takes longer to read text than to hear speech; just as simultaneous interpreting requires processing time), and having to create sense (meaning) even when speakers utter something extemporaneously that actually doesn’t make sense (all interpreters must do this, not just sign language interpreters).

The SBS also does closed-captioning – only in English – for the Australian Deaf Community. I wanted to ask if they combine closed-captioning with subtitling but the moment did not arise. The presentation was educational concerning the intent to be verbatim and neither give more information than the average non-deaf television watcher would receive nor less; to be cautious of condescension but aware of cues that would be obvious to a hearing (non-deaf) person but not accessible at the same time to a deaf person, such as recognizing George W. Bush’s voice before an image of him appeared visually.

After tea, I tagged along with a few folk who work into Arabic, including Arda (English, Armenian, and Arabic), to check out the Arabic language group’s desk for radio. As luck would have it, there was no one there. :-( Most of the group went downstairs to subtitling but, on a whim, I joined Diana to visit the Cantonese and Mandarin desk. What a happy turn of events! Francis has been fulltime at SBS for fourteen years, prior to that he was an engineer. He entertained my attempt to link homomorphisms to repeating dynamics in social interaction, “That is very abstract!” he said, smiling. Guilty as charged! I picked up a copy of his bilingual (Chinese/English) book on “English Idioms: under the lucky stars”, which I am eager to read and share with a few friends (yes, George, I’m talking about you!)

Diana (who doesn’t need business cards because she already has so much work with Mandarin!) spent most of the time talking with Martin (?), after awhile Francis introduced me to Jennifer, a part-timer. I learned from her that access to spoken language as well as signed language interpretation appears to be a widespread practice in Australia, although underused either because people do not realize the service is available or “trust their friends more.” Seems that the law is much more progressive here than in the US or even most European countries, as she said interpreters are not only available for court proceedings, but also medical (“even private doctors”) and educational (if parents want to find out how their children are doing in school, for instance). Anyway, Jennifer said of Francis, “Life comes your way,” while talking about how he manages to pull in subs when he needs them. I like that saying. :-) The Cantonese desk runs nine, hour-long television show per week. They draw most of their material from English sources and create the shows themselves. The shows are done live with some pre-recorded segments.

I met some nice “Critical Link” people during and just after, including Emmanuelle (researching pragmatics in court interpreting), Gaëlle (an administrative type, hmmmm!), and Helena (who I’ll have to tease next time). Arda introduced me to Micaela (?) over tea; we had an interesting talk about Sign Languages). By the way and talk about serendipity! – the folks at SBS had placed stacks of two volumes near the cakes and cookies for our perusal: their annual report and (go figure!) a report, Connecting Diversity, by Ien Ang and Greg Noble (who was also at the Crossroads conference)! (There are two more co-authors, Jeff Brand and Jason Sternberg.) I glanced through it already and it looks sharp – high production value (not surprising) and fascinating information on media use across language groups and generations in Australia.

I like when these things happen!

Posted by Steph at 8:26 AM | Comments (0)

April 6, 2007

questioning the functions of team interpreting

I had the most phenomenal conversation with a team interpreter recently, which carried into revelations during my next working gig with another peer.

The topic was the moving around (while interpreting) instead of sitting-in-one-place experiment that I've been doing for the past year and a half. I was able to do this with a very experienced interpreter who had never done it before: she discussed her resistance to standing and following the turn-taking of non-deaf interlocutors, while acknowledging that at least one source of her resistance was never having done it before, admitting, "this is not a good reason not to do it!"

Before she agreed to do it, she asked the opinion of the deaf interlocutor, who responded, "it would be nice" for us to physically move to be near the actual speaker. We did note some periodic confusion as the deaf person looked to see which one of us was "on", especially when the turn-taking jumped from one side of the room to the other. (My team and I experimented with moving together, in order to preserve the ability to whisperfeed, but wound up dividing the room: one of us sticking more-or-less to one half-circle and the other one to the other half-circle of participants.) My own guess is that

a) this is a matter of the deaf person's visual practice and breaking old habits (of looking to a stationary, fixed location for the interpretation) and/or

b) an area for skills development in the team to indicate when the teams switch (because this occurs more frequently than the standard 20-30 minute blocks of time).

What this means is that both members of the team really are "on" all the time, and feeding does not happen in the usual way. (Getting support from one's team has been the most common complaint from colleagues that have tried this style with me). An effect of all of this is an actual shift in the philosophy of communication governing the delivery of interpreting services. Instead of privileging the transmission model - which insists that accuracy of message is the highest value (hence, why a team is necessary to monitor and "guarantee the accuracy of the message"); physically moving to follow the flow of the actual turn-taking privileges the identity-enactment model of communication, described by James W. Carey as "the ritual model." (Much more detail: Communication as Culture.)

My teammate was not only game to try out this new system, but thoughtful about what this change did to our work as a team. She concluded, "it changes the distribution of tasks in the team." Later that week, I worked with another interpreter who was reluctant to change. As I watched her sit and work, I realized I have not actually been in this situation for some time (all my other teammates and the interlocutors involved have been willing to humor me, smile). My ideas about how sitting (as the interpreter in an interactive group) stops the flow were completely confirmed, especially after having considered how the functions change from the mode of sitting close for backup and moving around to physically mirror the dynamics of the communication process.

I will need to do some focused research to confirm my hunch, but my mind jumped to what seems to me an inevitable conclusion: by fixing a stationary location for communication to be filtered through (sitting in one place to interpret many different voices), sign language interpreters establish a visual object of worship. The deaf gaze is restricted, confined to the narrow (sacred?) space established by the interpreter's management of the communication process.

This is power.

Posted by Steph at 11:39 AM | Comments (2)

April 2, 2007


I will be in Sydney!

Posted by Steph at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

February 8, 2007

a way to support flow?

I tweaked my thumb somehow - a possible overuse injury. Reports (I now see) go back at least to 2005. :-/

I began wearing a splint this week to immobilize the thumb joint. Of course it is my dominant hand, so my signing appears a bit backwards (or worse) as I attempt to switch dominance by fingerspelling with my left hand and using my right as base (except when I can't figure it out quickly enough, and revert back to dominant right, until it is clear my thumb is sticking out at an angle that obscures meaningfulness, when I switch back). I suppose it as if I suddenly became both aphasic and lispy at the same time: comprehensible, but with effort. sigh

Most of the conversations about 'what happened' occurred 'offline' - before or after an interpreting gig. Once, though, it happened during a small group discussion: one deaf and four non-deaf student completed their assignment with a few minutes to spare. Silence reigned for several seconds, with members looking around, shifting a bit in their chairs, waiting. One of the non-deaf students finally asked me, "What happened?"

I looked to the deaf student, hesitating. So many choices! "The rules" indicate I should ignore the direct query. Interpreters are not to be addressed directly by users (clients, consumers) during a job. We are working. The deaf student is gazing elsewhere....do I seek her attention? Ask permission to answer? "Interpret" the question so that the deaf student could answer on my behalf - since we had already discussed it?

I decided, instead of emphasizing the breach, to simply answer the question. For the next minute or so a round of teasing and questions went around with at least as much interactivity among all five of the students (and - yes - me too) as had occurred during the preceeding ten minutes. The deaf student was quite involved, possibly even more involved, than she had been previously. I was surprised at the change: perhaps the illicit nature of engaging the interpreter colluded with the illicit discussion of non-class related trivia? My involvement was on/off as I interpreted the interaction (sign-to-voice and voice-to-sign) and responded with answers/comments that only I (as the injured party) could provide; within thirty seconds I had fully returned to non-participatory status and was 'only' interpreting.

As most dynamics go, this all happened very quickly. In that blip of milliseconds when my instinct to check with the deaf person was thwarted, I considered that the entire group had functioned effectively, inclusively, and had in fact completed their assignment. There was no reason in that precise moment not to respond to the student's question - except for a literal application of an inflexible boundary standard.

Funny, huh? We (interpreters) respond to such side comments from deaf consumers frequently (often without giving it a second thought). But if the comment is from a non-deaf consumer....tsk tsk! See how much background and rationalization I have already provided to fend off premature judgment? The event was random, circumstantial: the group was done. The deaf person was looking elsewhere. The question was directed at me because of something unusual that invited curiosity. The topic felt safe because it was not about interpreting, how I got involved, what Deaf people are like. It was, I felt, an honest question asked at an appropriate time in a respectful way.

So I answered.

Posted by Steph at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2007

"our job"?

As always with the start of the semester, there are myriad new interpreting jobs, new groups, new group dynamics. I remain of the opinion that one strategy for creating the possibility of bilingual/bicultural interaction is to be more overt and open about issues and challenges we face - as interpreters - trying to maintain open flows of communication between two languages and across two different modes of perception (auditory and visual).

A common problem in groups that are mostly non-deaf (thus, communicating with spoken English) is creating "space" for the deaf person's vision-based interjections. While it is politically-correct for interpreters to talk of "process time" (while our brain is absorbing meaning, unpacking its linguistic wrapper, and rewrapping it in a new wrapper), the felt experience of people in the group is that of a delay, of waiting, of a lag between modes. To what extent can interpreters mediate this dimension of time, and to what extent can - should? - we encourage the group to figure out how to do inclusion considering the unalterable fact that these modes will sometimes come into conflict?

The most common way this "problem" shows up is when non-deaf people are talking and turn-taking at their usual pace, with anticipation of when someone's turn will end and someone else can begin - often leading to overlaps and/or simultaneous utterances from two or more speakers who negotiate (through volume, persistence, surrender) who will continue to speak and who will wait. When a deaf person wants to get in on the action, their signed comments often intersects with someone's speech - the deaf person has SEEN a pause in the interpretation indicating a turn-exchange and jumps in. If the interpreter voices naturally for the deaf person - asserting their right to participate in an unmonitored, spontaneous conversation - it could be taken as the deaf person (or the interpreter!) being rude, impolite, or inconsiderate.

I admit to being frustrated numerous times in my "early" career (!) with non-deaf people who simply would not make room for deaf people to participate. It isn't that I would LOOK for opportunities to break into voicing, but I thought of the act of "interrupting" a non-deaf speaker less as an interruption of an individual's talk and more as an intervention into an oppressive group dynamic. Ok, ok, I've gotten easier over the years and no longer consider these situations the best mode for cross-cultural instruction. But I do wonder, where is the line between the time and turn-taking boundary that we can manage to maintain as smooth a flow of communication as possible, and the responsibility of all the participants in a communication situation to make sure everyone can contribute?

Case-in-point: a deaf student asks (in sign) a question of a teacher. The interpreter voices it (in speech), interrupting the teacher's response to another student's question. The teacher responds to the deaf student's question.

De-brief: something about the interaction felt bad/wrong/off to the team interpreter, the interruption was too harsh or otherwise not positively representative of the deaf student.

Question: Do we interpreters solve this on our own?

Result: In this instance, the interpreters approached the teacher, who encouraged the interruptions because that is the style of all the students in the class. The teacher took the responsiblity to decide when to ask for a more formal turn-taking system (such as raising hands), and when to let the give-and-take continue.

Outcome? More questions. :-) Is this a concession to "the hearing way" of talking in overlaps, or is it an act of inclusion? As inclusion, the deaf student's voice is embraced as importantly as any other's - meaning the interpreters should be less concerned with finding "the right moment" and more concerned with getting the deaf voice "out there."

What do you think? :-)

Posted by Steph at 1:13 PM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2007

two group's dynamics

I've had a few interesting gigs lately. Each job was for a large "small group" - 20 or more persons but with the expectation of interaction, not just one person giving a presentation. One group had a minority of Deaf persons (roughly 20%) and the other group had equal numbers of Deaf and non-deaf participants. Both groups were composed almost entirely of people who knew sign language - even the non-deaf participants (varying degrees of fluency).

There were two noticeable differences between the two groups. In the former, with the minority of Deaf persons, the dominant language was ASL: interpreters were hired to provide access for the very few non-ASL users - essentially a "one-way" communicative arrangement. In the second group, which was half-and-half, interpreters were needed to provide communicative access both ways - from the visual/gestural to the auditory/spoken and from the spoken/auditory to the gestural/visual.

Several dynamics "flowed" from these distinct demographic and linguistic configurations. Maintaining a steady flow of communication back-and-forth "across" the language difference - the auditory and visual channels - was most challenging in the evenly divided group, however with strong facilitation a surprising amount of equity was established. The ironic part, from my vantage point, is that this group included non-deaf people with little knowledge or personal experience with the Deaf community and/or interpreted situations. "Typical" meetings like this, when non-deaf persons call upon the Deaf community to share information, do not often evolve into such lengthy and detailed discussion.

I say that the success of the half-Deaf/half-non-deaf group is ironic because it included non-deaf members with little to no prior experience. The irony is in contrast with the other group, where almost everyone signed and the participants are all familiar with interpreted situations. This is the second noticeable difference between the two groups. In the uneven group - uneven demographically by Deaf and non-deaf status and also uneven linguistically in that ASL was the dominant language and voicing into English was an event that occurred "on the side" (so to speak) - was the extent to which this experienced group failed to take into account the access needs of the persons requiring interpretation.

I've been observing this dynamic for some time, now. This group is not unique, rather, they are typical of groups who have functioned with interpreters for many years. Somehow, the (old) messages of interpreters to "ignore me", "do your own thing," "don't change anything, we'll take care of it" (and messages to this effect) have become ingrained in practice such that the habit of NOT "paying attention to the interpreter" is so deep as to be outside of awareness.

I've been playing with how to rephrase that kind of advice for non-deaf folks using interpreters for the first time (not to mention trying to find ways to talk about this with members of the Deaf community)....the thing is, it isn't that we interpreters need people to pay attention to us-in-ourselves. What we need people to pay attention to is if the communication is working, by which I mean (and possibly others would disagree): Are relationships being built across the language/culture difference?

Posted by Steph at 7:36 PM | Comments (2)

April in Australia :-)

I finally registered for Critical Link V, did I already say I get a whole half hour to present on the question of whether or not interpreters are Guardians of Social Justice? The Program looks amazing.

The main task of the presentation will be to summarize a critical discourse analysis of interviews with spoken language interpreters at the European Parliament.

Posted by Steph at 12:15 AM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2007

identity and "selves"

According to Diane M. Hoffman (working for the American Institutes for Research, Iranians conceive of an "inner self" and an "outer self" which "does not presuppose any necessary conformity between inside and outside; the two can, and in fact often do, coexist in mutually contradictory fashion, without leading to what many Westerners might experience as an uncomfortable dissonance" (1989, p. 36, Ethos).

The article, "Self and Culture Revisited: Culture Acquisition among Iranians in the United States," piqued my imagination regarding the "culture acquisition" of delegates, staff, and interpreters at the European Parliament (EP). Hoffman describes "a dual learning process, involving, on the one hand, knowledge acquisition - a learning about culture - and, on the other, a 'deeper' sort of learning that involves the internalization of another cultural set of values and meanings. This second form of learning involves the inner self and affects the individual's sense of cultural being; it is identity-impacting" (38-39).

It got me wondering if the discourse of EP interpreters shows any of these tensions? Hoffman distinguishes between "acquisition strategy - the patterning, conscious or unconscious, of choices and reaction an individual makes in response to life ... - and actual processes or outcomes of acquisition in terms of cultural identity" (38).

In the sample of Iranian immigrants to the US that Hoffman interviewed, she identifies three acquisition strategies: culture-as-being, and two forms of culture-as-action.

Culture-as-being, (cultural eclecticism) is an eclectic, adaptive strategy that relies on the separation between inner and outer selves. The outer self consciously chooses to be flexible and conform to the values and behaviors of the other culture, because what one is and does has not correspondence to who one is. (42)

Culture-as-action strives for more consistency between inner and outer selves. Its "costs" appear to be higher than those who adopt the culture-as-being strategy, because "self-identity is experienced as so much more permeable to experience" (45).

An extreme form of the culture-as-action adaptive strategy locates self in the ability to overcome and disengage from the culture of origin by adapting completely to the new environment: "the inner self 'becomes' the mirror of changes experienced by the 'outer' self" (46).

Hoffman observes that the eclectic mode is most common among Iranian immigrants to the US, adding "This response is based upon a mode of relation to self to culture in which the inner self remains relatively autonomous and impermeable to changes occurring in the social self. Thus cultural acquisition is largely instrumental, leading to successful and flexible situational adaptation, without deeper identity impacting learning" (emphasis added, 47). I wonder about this division between situational adaptation at the social level - interaction with people from another culture - and an intra-self where "home" culture and identity reside as a question to apply to the discourse of interpreters at the EP.

The asking of this question is possible in Hoffman's work because of the already-constituted dual-conception-of-self that is a cultural characteristic of Iranians. This double-ness comes more clearly into view through the experience of Iranians encountering another culture in the US which asks of them different behaviors than those to which they are accustomed. What Hoffman highlights, however, is not the doubleness per se: it is not the interplay of inner and outer selves that is of most interest in her view, rather, it is the way this interplay highlights "a notion of culture that, rather than locking individuals into fixed patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior, allows some freedom of choice, some freedom to learn, and some potential for self-transformation through culture acquistion process" (47).

Culture, says Hoffman, could be considered "a template...for learning itself" (47). [She poses this idea directly and overtly against Rosaldo (1984:140), that culture is a "template for all action, growth, and understanding" (47). In other words, she proposes learning as an activity of change, an action that exceeds the (deterministic?) boundaries implied by Rosaldo's conception.]

Posted by Steph at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

January 8, 2007


As I’m going about formulating a frame for my dissertation research, it becomes clearer that it matters where I draw the line between what will be “in” the project and what must remain “outside” of it. I always knew this, but the difference now, perhaps, is a better sense (?) of what is do-able, particularly in terms of promising an outcome. I don’t mean predicting a particular or specific result, because I do not know, now, the answers to my research problem. I do mean guaranteeing with some assurance that the problem is significant and the results of rigorous examination will be worthwhile and beneficial to the narrow field of language and interpretation studies as well as to (I hope) a broader social science. But I cannot say how the leap from the subfield of interpretation to larger fields will occur. Probably there are several possibilities. I don’t want to foreclose some by too close an interest in others. I cannot see any of them; I only intuit that the connections will become evident.

That penultimate goal must wait. I have been learning a different kind of trust the past few years and I must continue to exercise it. My mind is quick on a few things (sometimes too much so), medium with most, and just plain slow with others. Within my consciousness, a vague sense of understanding floats around definitive knowledge for a long time before it suddenly congeals into sharp coherency. Formulating the kernel of research into the institutionalization of interpretation and language processes has been like this: I've written nearly a dozen papers seeking clarity, all of them “promising” but insufficient. Then, last week, while taking notes of a lecture by my (!) cultural codes instructor, a foundational structure leapt into view. I apprehended what my intuition has been telling me lo-these-past three years.

My interest in epistemology (how we come to know what we know), cognition (more precisely, neuroscience), and perception (haphazardly categorized as “phenomenology”) suggests to me that understanding the productive effects of discourses might influence particular, relational communication choices. I’m going to have to wean myself away from the popular science literature elucidating what specializations have come to accept as knowledge. I resist, for just awhile longer. For now I relish the odd sensation of perceiving new synapses making new connections. There have been several specific time periods throughout doctoral coursework when I’ve experienced understanding snapping into view – ”Aha! – in a cascading sequence of minor revelations. ”No wonder,” I sometimes think, “some of my colleagues think I’m such a dweeb!” :-)

I’ve begun to read second nature: brain science and human knowledge by Gerald M. Edelman (critical review). He offers the assumption, right off the bat, that we do understand how consciousness is based in brain action. With this premise as foundation, Edelman argues “we can address the nature of consciousness itself” (ix) through “a line of thought leading to … brain-based epistemology” (2), a branch of neural darwinism. Edelman places the origin of this line of thinking with a philosopher, Willard van Orman Quine (never heard of him before), and situates himself as following the footsteps of William James (of whom I have heard), “who pointed out that consciousness is a process whose function is knowing” [Footnote 4] (p. 3).

I’m curious where Edelman juxtaposes thinking in this equation. The model I’m working with situates thinking somewhere in-between consciousness and knowing. The two reasons I can articulate right now are the arguments Gladwell makes about rapid cognition going wrong: he calls it temporary mind-blindness, citing the NY police killing of Amadou Diallo as his prime example. People still know things in situations when their judgment is impaired, faulty, or otherwise questionable, but the resources of consciousness that they are able to bring to the operation of knowing in such moments are severely reduced. Gladwell’s recommendation is to control the environment in order to control rapid cognition. He also cites the value of experience.

“…the gift of training and expertise – the ability to extract an enormous amount of meaningful information from the very thinnest slice of experience . . . . Every moment – every blink – is composed of a series of discrete moving parts, and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction” (241). The point Gladwell seeks to drive home is that “our unconscious thinking is, in one critical respect, no different from our conscious thinking: in both, we are able to develop our rapid decision making with training and experience” (237).

Interpreters must thin-slice all the time. That’s our job: to determine meaning in the blink of an eye and then to fix it for others.

The problem is that the more pressure and less time one has for rapid cognition, the more likely one is to make errors. Quoting psychologist Keith Payne: “When we make a split-second decision, we are really vulnerable to being guided by our stereotypes and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe” (emphasis added, 233). In these moments, our thinking mind is overruled or impaired by something else. What?

I’m taking a leap here – but I’m wondering about the enteric brain. Someone in the Communication Department – either Perry or David – gave me a copy of a Harper’s article some time ago. Yesterday I read it. “Debbie Does Salad: The Food Network at the frontiers of pornography” by Frederick Kaufman (interviewed by Peter Morris). It parallels (convincingly) the pleasure of viewers of cooking shows and pornography: both produce a visceral “wow” in another, second brain, “a brain in the gut” (October 2005:59). Sphincters, baby, that’s what it comes down to, “enteric attraction,” a bunch of autonomic openings and closings that either feel good or feel bad. Kaufman quotes a 1907 classic: “The abdominal brain can live without the cranial brain…[but] the cranial brain can not live without the abdominal brain” (The Abdominal and Pelvic Brain).

Here’s how I’m putting all this together. Once we become conscious of the enteric brain, meaning once we know “sphincter power” drives the wow factor, our tastes, and our biases, then we can start to think about whether or not (when, how, why) we want our decisions to be dictated by the gut. I would even go so far as to speculate that this is the tangible horizon of humanity’s evolution as a species. Language (and all those other symbols we wield) might be an entry point for illuminating this choice, even for detailing when and how interactions rife with gut-level reactions can be mediated. Not by rationality per se, but to the combination of intuition/rapid cognition and thoughtful consideration Gladwell articulates, so that we can begin to deliberately move our societies away from the perpetuation of destructive decision-making cycles (I’m thinking in particular of violence to persons and our planet) and toward new modes of creativity and alternative forms of aggressive expression that preserve life and its continuing possibility.

[random fyi: Mind, Language, and Epistemology: Toward a Language Socialization Paradigm for SLA]

Posted by Steph at 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

January 7, 2007


I wrote a while back about thin-slicing. I have nearly finished Gladwell’s book on rapid cognition. He spends a chapter discussing the face, linking the ability to discern emotional expression as akin to mind-reading: in his words, “the physiological basis of how we thin-slice other people” (213). Face recognition and object recognition are usually handled by two different parts of the brain, respectively the fusiform gyrus and inferior temporal gyrus (219), but more interesting to me are two things: the interplay between voluntary and involuntary facial muscle responses, and the evidence that simply making certain facial expressions generates corresponding physiological states.

All of us can control our expressions to varying degrees, but people exert this control only after our faces have involuntarily displayed our emotional reaction. He describes several examples, including a slow-motion microexpressions of Kato Kaelin looking like “a snarling dog” during the O.J. Simpson trial (211), the smirking double-agent, Harold “Kim” Philby (211-212), “I’m a bad guy” Bill Clinton (205-206), and a psychiatric patient, Mary (208-209), citing research from Paul Ekman, Silvan Tomkins, Wallace Friesen, and Robert Levenson (singly and in various combinations). “We can use our voluntary muscular system to try to suppress those involuntary responses. But, often, some little part of that suppressed emotion – such as the sense that I’m really unhappy even if I deny it – leaks out…Our voluntary expressive system is the way we intentionally signal our emotions. Bur our involuntary expressive system is in many ways even more important: it is the way we have been equipped by evolution to signal our authentic feelings” (210).

The above is based on a summary of research findings that there is a finite number of meaningful expressions and most, if not all, of these are intelligible – as in understood to express similar emotions – across cultures. These findings are gathered in a tool created by Ekman and Frisen called the Facial Action Coding System, now used by computer animators and applied in various kinds of psychological and social research (204-205).

The second point, more fascinating than the first (categorizing is cool, but inducing change is cooler), involves a claim by Ekman “that the information on our face is not just a signal of what is going on inside our mind. In a certain sense, it is what is going on inside our mind” (206, emphasis in original). They tested this claim rather ingeniously. Through some casual experimentation they discovered they could induce the physiological indicators of distress and anger: “As I do it [move specific facial muscles into particular facial expressions],” said Ekman, “I can’t disconnect from the [autonomic nervous] system. It’s very unpleasant, very unpleasant” (207). Two different teams of researchers documented that the pathway of internal emotion stimulus and facial emotional expression works both ways. “These findings may be hard to believe, because we take it as given that first we experience an emotion, and then we may – or may not – express that emotion on our face. We think of the face as the residue of emotion. What this research showed, though, is that the process works in the opposite direction as well. Emotion can also start on the face. The face is not a secondary billboard for our internal feelings. It is an equal partner in the emotional process” (208, emphasis in original).

Claims made by Gladwell are contested by Posner.

Posted by Steph at 6:39 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2006

Controversy and Communication

This conference on pedagogy next April is definitely a place I wish I could be, but instead I'll be in Australia at Critical Link 5: Quality in Interpreting: A Shared Responsibility. I suppose I should not complain? :-/ (But when they finally get transporter technology, Beam Me Over Scottie!)

I submitted two proposals, they accepted one called "Interpreters: Guardians of Social Justice?" Meanwhile, the selected papers from Critical Link IV (held in Stockholm, 2004) are actually being printed (finally!) I don't know where my piece is placed in the dang thing, but it is my first attempt at the kind of combination of theory-generating research and practical intervention that I hope might become "my thing." :-)

Posted by Steph at 11:59 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2006

blowing it :-/

It has been some time since I made an error in judgment (while interpreting) that sent a deaf and non-deaf person into a spin of communicative confusion. I hope I can explain this clearly, as I realized immediately what I had done ‘wrong’ but could not un-do. Perhaps, by putting this in writing, I’ll be able to catch myself before making this faux paux again. It is familiar, if not common.

It is a classroom setting with the typical many-to-one ratio: one deaf student, a non-deaf teacher, and several non-deaf students. This deaf student has solid verbalization and strong lipreading skills, so it is one of those situations where I only work from spoken English into American Sign Language; the deaf person speaks for herself and occasionally does not even watch my interpretation. The teacher was explaining the difference between compound and complex sentences. One of the non-deaf students asked how a complex sentence is different than a comma splice. The deaf student was taking notes when the question was asked, and by the time she looked up at me I was interpreting the middle of the teacher’s explanation.

Two different ‘realities’ co-occurred. The teacher saw the deaf student appear puzzled, and asked if she was confused. The deaf student asked a question by voice and lipread the teacher’s answer. As I listened to the teacher’s answer, I thought she was answering a different question than the deaf student had asked. I assumed this was because the question the deaf student asked did not make sense in relation to the previous student’s question about comma splices. I said directly to the teacher, “but I was just interpreting the conversation about comma splices.” I thought this would clarify the context for the deaf student’s question. For the next few minutes confusion reigned as each of them tried to figure out what the other one wanted to know.

Interestingly – perhaps you’ve noticed? – I do not recall the deaf student’s question, even though all the other details of the interaction are clear! This is because I was confused about the difference between grammatically incorrect comma splices and grammatically correct complex sentences! My attention was on the other student’s question and the teacher’s answer, hence, I did not make the mental shift to the fact that the deaf student’s question was on another topic altogether! The teacher, not aware of my need to process the distinction, heard the deaf student’s question accurately, and responded appropriately. My “intervention” un-did the meaning the two of them had mutually constructed without me.

Eventually, the student inquired, “What question did you ask me?” to which the teacher replied, “I didn’t ask you a question. I thought you looked confused and asked if you had a question.” “I’ll let you know if I’m confused,” responded the deaf student. What I realized is that when the teacher asked about the deaf student’s puzzled expression, the student was working over some issue in her mind. Whatever it was (since I don’t remember what the deaf student asked), it had nothing to do with the question about comma splices. Being assertive, the student accepted the teacher’s invitation to ask a question and did so – about what was important to her in that moment. It was my inability to let go of the other student’s question that inspired me to intervene.

I can rationalize my decision, as I did in the moment, that the other student’s question was important and the answer included information that the deaf student needed to know and might otherwise miss. However, the student is the one who is learning, and the student chose to pursue the question that was most immediate in her own mind in that moment instead of being curious about someone else’s issue. Normally, I would go with this flow, adapting to the deaf person’s change in topic instead of holding on to a non-deaf person’s topic. What got in the way of my judgment this time? I wanted to understand the differences among a comma splice, a complex sentence, and a compound sentence! Conveniently then (I am embarrassed to admit), the teacher’s invitation to the student to ask a question opened up a window for me to ask my question – all under the guise of clarification for the deaf student.

Yep. I have been in this situation before. This is the first time I have been able to perceive the subtleties so well. The ‘reality’ I acted from my ‘best instincts’ as an interpreter was actually a mask for my own desire in the communicative situation. The ‘reality’ that the two primary interlocutors experienced (the deaf student and non-deaf teacher) did not even include me. Based upon my role, however, and the expertise assumed to accompany it, the teacher tried to incorporate my intervention into her conversation with the student. She believed that my saying I had just been interpreting something different than what the deaf student asked was meaningful and responded accordingly. In other words, the teacher privileged my information as the communication professional over her own immediate experience of direct conversation.

Now this is power.

Posted by Steph at 7:28 AM | Comments (2)

December 10, 2006

Roving interpreters

I tried the non-stationary method again, with one of my favorite Wanda’s as my working team, in a new setting with thirty-one non-deaf individuals and one deaf person. I arrived early enough to meet one of the event’s coordinators in the assigned room and arrange the chairs in a double concentric circle with enough room for us to walk the periphery.

I met the primary facilitator and a few key participants and explained the communication scenario to them. They were good with it, and cooperated by asking people to please keep the circle tight. Some latecomers or others who weren’t paying attention (?) did not comply, so there were a few bottlenecks. The room was barely large enough to accommodate this plan, but it was really only tight at the points where the circle’s edges came closest to the square walls. There was plenty of space in the corners (maybe we could have arranged concentric squares instead of circles?) – although this fact did not register with the facilitator or group scribe.

The dynamics are so fascinating! I know, in large part, that most people interested in accessibility have been trained to ignore the interpreter: “just do what you always do,” “don’t address us directly, address the deaf person,” and “pretend we’re not here.” Challenging the legacy of these admonitions is difficult – change is always hard, especially when one believes one is doing it the “right/best/proper” way. “But this is how I was told to do it!” I know (sigh). Additionally, though, are issues of linguistic privilege and the cultural/perceptual biases of sound-based communication that complicate attempts to include persons who relate and connect through sight-based communication.

The root issue, I think, is one of attention. I tell people the key feature of creating communicative access for a deaf person is the line of sight. For a deaf person to have a realistic chance of equitable participation, both the interpreter and the non-deaf speaker need to be seen. Non-deaf folk hear and acknowledge that this dual visibility makes sense, but they struggle to translate momentary understanding into actual practice. “Hearingness” gets in the way. The easy assumption that one can look at one thing and still hear whatever is being said is a communicative habit with potentially ruinous consequences. “Ruinous” that is, if one desires to forge an actual relationship across the sight/sound perceptual boundary.

Actually, given the constraints of time (for training) and space (for movement and personal comfort zones), I think this particular group did exceptionally well. :-) In fact, as I write this account, I realize that I can only criticize so specifically because the overall dynamic progressed so well. Turn-taking was paced, pauses were allowed to linger. If the deaf participant had wished to contribute, there were opportunities to do so in-the-flow, without an awkward interruption. This relative smoothness made the glitch with the note-taking of the brainstorming activity obvious.

When the scribe moved directly behind me to begin the recording process, I didn’t realize a sheet of newsprint had been taped to the chalkboard. Since the chalkboard extended around the room, I asked if the writing could be done “where there is more space.” I was thinking of my ability to walk to where I needed to be to maintain the line-of-sight with the deaf participant. The facilitator responded that they needed to use the flipchart paper; as I absorbed this information the notetaker started to peel off the tape to move it. Situation solved, I resumed active interpretation. The interaction took less than five seconds, a fleeting disruption, if that. Imagine my dismay, a moment later, when I turned and realized that the notetaker had moved the newsprint not all the way to the corner (where there was enough room for three persons to maneuver comfortably around each other), but to the exact point where the edge of the seats came closest to the wall!

Ah, the rub! No one noticed. Or, if someone did notice, they kept the observation to themselves. For me to have said more at this point would have been too much: disruptive, “out of role,” an interference with the group’s natural developmental process. Me and my team managed. It really wasn’t that bad. A few times I could not move to where I needed to be to maintain the dual line-of-sight; the group’s discussion continued. They accomplished their assigned task and – I would guess – were satisfied with the process. Indeed, as far as open group discussions go, my opinion is everyone performed very well. It’s just this tiny additional crux of establishing a wholistic foundation on the basis of two languages, not just one.

Talk about minority-majority power relations! Why should 31 people accommodate to the mode of one? How much change is necessary? Might the development of bilingual norms enhance the communicative possibilities for everyone? I don’t think many people know. I do not know, myself. I intuit. I have not seen bilingual/bicultural norms in actual practice very often. Habits are deeply-entrenched; questioning them as hurdles to be overcome is usually challenged as a deviation from the immediate work. I know non-deaf people ‘pay attention’ to the interpreter, but this attention is generally limited to the display of American Sign Language, to ‘the signing.’ Somehow, if that attention could be expanded to include the function of the signing, it might become easier to negotiate communicative norms that enable professional alliances and friendships to develop as an intentional outcome of interpreted interaction.

Without bringing the habits, customs, assumptions, and easy privileges of sound-based communication into question, what tends to occur in interpreted interaction is that accessibility is generated for the limited time-window of that event. If this goal is adequate to the purposes of the group, then the usual way of providing communication access does not need to change. If, however, there is a goal of continuing interaction, doing business-as-usual ruins the chance for effective future relationship. The reality is that such opportunities for connecting are rare. Deaf and non-deaf persons do not often have the resources or structures to create these chances. From this basis stems my urgency to identify and name the moments in each and every interpreted interaction when the absence of a bilingual/bicultural ethic become apparent, as well as to recognize and laud the examples when equitable inclusion does occur.

Posted by Steph at 8:48 PM | Comments (2)

December 4, 2006


Uttered in at least five languages (Arabic, Spanish, English, Japanese Sign Language, and Japanese), this film plays with the stereotype that different languages are a problem. As we follow the stories of four families, one realizes the source of confusion is not "in" the language; rather, it is the challenge of interpreting language in the context of a given person's life story.

The relationships and connections among members of these families range from the incidental to the intimate. "May I speak with you, sir?" inquires a police officer? "There's been an incident." "I have raised these children, fed them breakfast, lunch, and dinner their entire lives, can't you tell me if they are alright?" "That's none of your concern," replies the immigration officer.

There are two threads linking these families, two factors that bind them together tight: violence and the law. More specifically, a rifle and the institution of law enforcement, with the manipulations of politics hovering in the background. Acts of innocence and practicality unfold in scenarios of accident and opportunism. Babel exposes the vise of circumstance and consequence: in Morocco suspects are brutalized by military police, in Japan interviews are civil and police officers humane, in the US physical violence is replaced by emotional and psychic violence: " I guarantee that if you pursue legal action you will simply postpone the inevitable."

The systematic (peaceful?) order of Japan and the US masks the random unpredictability of sudden death; the apparent chaos and wildness of Mexico and Morocco highlights the human urge to seek experience in order to feel alive. Help appears as a rare offering in either place.

Language difference has nothing to do with these dynamics. Indeed, in Babel, the fact of linguistic diversity enables core commonalities of human suffering and ambition to be revealed.

Posted by Steph at 7:23 AM | Comments (2)

November 27, 2006

RID gets spammed

This email is going around, strategically targeting interpreters by their town of residence.

The first one I received (November 18) read "I am Ben Woods . I saw your contact on (www.rid.org) Anyway, I am an English speaking man from Madagascar ." A few days ago, I received another. Besides the first line, the rest of the text is the same. What's the scam, I wonder? (But not enough to respond.)

I am Tobbie Smith . I saw your contact on (www.rid.org) Anyway, I am an English speaking man from Malta . I will be coming over to the USA(WDummerston) precisely, from 30th of Nov to 12th of Dec with my wife.

Susan my wife understands American sign language. She has never been to the USA before and so she will require the services of an Interpreter who can assist her in the course of our stay, for 10 days ( with the exception of weekends in between) and probably about 8 hours everyday because I will not always be with her on most occasions due to other functions which I must attend to.

I will want to know if you can offer your services at these dates if possible, then I will appreciate if I can get a price quotation As we want to make advance payments before our visit so she can be assured of an interpreter during her shopping and sightseeing because this is her first visit to the in USA. An early response will be appreciated.

I Hope to hear from you soon.
Mr Tobbie Smith

Posted by Steph at 7:23 PM | Comments (2)

October 24, 2006

Language and Me

Disability comes in all shapes, sizes, modes, and effects. There are legally-recognized versions and emotional varieties. These, or any number of indeterminate cognitive and psychiatric peculiarities, can interfere with intimate relationships and social interactions. For instance, people look at me and see a woman with a mullet who appears physically fit. What do they know? No, I don’t meet the federal criteria of “impairment of a major life function” (Americans with Disabilities Act 1990). I can breathe, walk, grasp, talk, feel, think, and otherwise function within the range of physicality deemed normal. Who decided to limit “normal” and impose such a measure for judging character or the potential worth of one’s contributions to society? Individuals will not claim responsibility, of course. Such boundaries and markers of difference are established ‘out there’ by impersonal forces of culture. The representations are propagated through the media, religion, and a disturbing range of incidental, informal taboos and negative sanctions. Questioning these norms is often considered problematic, disruptive, or unpleasant. When I do wonder about the so-called normal, people situate me clearly: I am deviant.

Fitting few standard stereotypes, I have learned to live through language. Sentiments not spoken affected me first. Often, the untold still wounds me. The silence of non-recognition echoes in words I hear and reverberates in perceptions left unsaid. The speech of my family was self-focused and therefore distancing, functional not relational, unaware and unreflective. My parents opposed each other on gender's fulcrum: mom never swore, dad often did. Anger was the palpable emotion of my formative years. I checked out, merely passing as present. When I woke up, twenty-seven years of my life were gone. How can one speak from pain without blame? I yearned for a language I did not know.

I needed words I could feel, a language that would bring me into my body. I sought belonging among lesbian communities and found that we were not much better at handling distinction than the dominant heterosexual society was at accepting us. Our bodies, full of longing, could not manage questions of dis/ability: our own aesthetics, potentials, possibilities. What is valuable if the body itself is constrained? I have never consistently been able. I fail much more frequently than I succeed. I celebrate small triumphs with all the gusto of athletic championships. Why not?! Yet I notice how the smallest movements can invoke urgency, feeding speed, haste, a rush to . . . where? Meaning constructed by assumption, cues missed, opportunities lost: wisdom becomes elusive. How much have I learned from friends' contemplating solitary visual horizons, or analyzing power’s most intimate nuances? Stillness inspires depth. I lament how long it has taken me to learn to enjoy listening for its own sake.

I cannot explain the random movement of the universe (or the privileges of being white and middle-class) that brought me into contact with Deaf people and American Sign Language. I spent years training to interpret others’ words, to translate their meanings into sensibility for those who could not see. Through signing, I discover my own emotions, investigating the boundaries of my expressive capacities. This practice, of sensing and conveying the intellectual and emotional meanings of others, prepared the ground for me to expand my range. Through this visual-gestural language I excavated buried wounds and static ambitions. The embodied kinesthetics of signing ASL allowed access to hidden and repressed parts of myself.

Through friendships, relationships, teaching and parenting I have observed the effect of words to inspire or deaden, enliven or thwart, create or sunder meaningful relationships. Uttered words (signed or spoken) leave their imprint yet vanish into insubstantial memory. Written down, words are a commitment. I mean this, right now. Writing was not, at first, something I felt called to do. It does not come easily, as signing usually does. The labor of compressing four-dimensional geometrical perception into one-dimensional linear text remains a challenge. I practice daily. When I write, I feel the energy of my being streaming out into the world. I am here. I matter. I want to make a difference. I care.

I sign to know myself. I write to live.

Posted by Steph at 11:04 AM | Comments (11)

October 14, 2006

"pointing" through talk

Language as action. Vernon carried on in his inimitable way about Dewey and Wittgenstein during yesterday's New England gathering of scholars in Language and Social Action: Meaning in LSI Research. I missed the morning sessions :-( but attended the presentations of Bob Sanders and Anita Pomerantz. Vernon missed the mild fireworks among Bob, Donal (who organized the event) and another member of the audience whose name I didn't catch.

It was entertaining and instructive to witness the negotiation of meaning - particularly agreement and disagreement - among these heavyweights in the field. Bob came under fire for his interpretive lens on the elaborate ceromonial ritual of how nobility treats "a guest" of the Queen. I'm not sure if it was his own framing of insider/outsider that created the opening for this particular critique, but a critique was engaged as if there is no relation between the outsider perspective (on extreme excess) and the insider perspective (of representation and proper treatment).

frost on grass by Ambarish a question of focus.jpg

Bob's point that there is no other way to accomplish the meaning enacted by this particular ritual conducted with painstakingly precise attention to ceremonial detail appeared to get lost in the argument concerning where to rest the analytical gaze and how to recognize the limits of perception invoked by any/every such focus.

I have to confess to drifting during Anita's presentation because her material - how patients frame hypotheses about medical causes of pain/illness/dis-ease - overlapped so much with questions and problems I encounter during ASL/English interpreting. She specifically addressed how patients offer explanations and then discount them. As an interpreter, the meaning I "take" and "re-make" from such ambiguous or even self-contradictory statements establishes a frame for the doctor-patient relationship (and, similarly, frames each and every potential relationship "across" the language/culture divide). I have to be hyperaware of my own 'weighting' of the relative value of the assertion (e.g., "here's an explanation") and the dismissal ("but it can't be correct").

Vernon spoke next, closing the day-long conference. I can't retrace the unfolding of distinctions among Benjamin, Vernon, and Bob Sanders. As a rough summary (based on recall and sketchy notes) it came down to some nuances regarding how one approaches joint action: do you assume (and therefore begin with) the social or do you assume (and therefore begin with) language? How does one reconcile the flexibility of meaningfulness-through-use with the fact that words carry histories of pre-established meaning?

Ultimately (?), to what extent does the identification/definition of a background stability matter? I think this is the question of "how do we [LSI theorists] go on from here" that Bob posed and Vernon agreed would be fruitful. They disagree, it seems, on the extent to which not knowing "how to go on" is itself "a problem" to be solved or a (the?) basic condition of living.

It seems to me that the stability of meaning and meaningfulness is something that also shifts, and here is where I take my point of departure from a general language and social interaction epistemology that holds power at a far remove from the microsocial interactions that compose its main corpus of study. This is also where I find Vernon's emphasis on the inherent quality of talk to point toward possible futures - to establish, maintain, and disrupt trajectories - so crucial. This capacity of "pointing toward" was "in" the discourse of these academics as they parsed, challenged, supported, invoked, refuted, and otherwise responded to each other's analyses. In this context, there wasn't much energy devoted to establishing "power over"; rather the goal was to clarify and distinguish among viewpoints, with some attention to correcting potential fallacies or (mis)perceptions.

There is no denying that the reason not to neglect the power dimension is as ideological as the reason to keep power out of focus. Here is where we find some semblance of the stability Bob was arguing must exist. If talk (among ourselves, among those we study, among people everywhere) always "points", then the pointing itself is the
zone where stability is reinforced or altered. I agree with Vernon that the least we can do is "teach people to point." I also think we can go further, if we choose, and teach (learn!) about the responsibilities and potentials of pointing. Necessarily, this will bring us face-to-face with our own desires for power and the challenges of mediating and negotiating the joint actions that limit or enhance the exercise of power, be it with friends or with others.

Posted by Steph at 9:23 AM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2006

Language as Motion

I wrote this piece, Language as Motion, as an example of the "Self-in-Contradiction" essay that is one of the options for the "personal/identity narrative" assigned to students in the introductory level writing course I'm currently teaching. There are a couple of friends who will recognize themselves in this piece (thank you), and I have to give some credit to Just-in-Time, who got us lost in traffic yesterday in Boston. While we were discussing writing as a craft, another part of my brain was mulling this attempt.

I am also conscious of the timing. Language set-in-motion through the last several semesters of blogging and constructing public writing environments for students is coming to some kind of turning point. The theory of language-as-action meets with (a) practical reality of language-in-use.

Posted by Steph at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

October 6, 2006

"Are you going to blog me?"

I wasn't planning on it, Wanda Toots BOSS, but then - after you showed up LATE to our job, and then became DISTRACTED and DIDN'T INTERPRET, I was still gonna let you off the hook. I mean, we're all human and it's not like I haven't been late once or twice, or gone to the wrong place, or (heaven forgive me) totally FORGOTTEN I was supposed to even work. But THEN I learned through the grapevine that you totally decomposed, with a student, in laughter, in front of an entire classroom of sleeping math students. What kind of a professional demeanor is this? Of course, the thing that weirds me out the most is how all the non-deafies ignored the event, as if Deaf folk and interpreters are operating in an alien dimension which cannot be comprehended and therefore shouldn't be disturbed.

Communication, anyone? :-/

Posted by Steph at 12:48 PM | Comments (9)

September 17, 2006

follow-up on 11 Sept 1906

This article, Mahatma Gandhi: A Century of Peaceful Protest complements and expands on the post I made on 9/11.

Chief Seattle was a leader of Gandhi's type. This dirge for his people makes me cry. The paddle sweep: quote of the day (copied from a bumpersticker in Earthfoods) comes from a revised version written as fiction some years later.

Interestingly - having filled out a questionnaire for non-Muslims who might be interested in reading the Qu'ran earlier this morning - I'm not sure the "fictional" quote is out of context. I suppose this could be just because I've heard it in this form so often.

Posted by Steph at 3:14 PM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2006

Scholarship Info: Turkish

Wow - Turkish has been identified as a "critical language" and Fulbright is offering scholarships to learn it in-country!

Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award

The Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award, sponsored by the Department of State through the Fulbright Program, is open to students who have been awarded a Fulbright U.S. student grant and intend to use one of the eligible languages in their Fulbright project. Application for a Critical Language Enhancement Award is made in conjunction with the Fulbright Program application.

The purpose of the Critical Language Enhancement Award is to cultivate language learning prior to and during the Fulbright grant period and beyond. Ultimately, critical language enhancement awardees will achieve a high level of proficiency in a targeted language and will go on to careers or further study which will incorporate the use of this and/or related languages.

In 2007-08, up to 150 Critical Language Enhancement Awards will be available for grantees to pursue in-country training for up to six months prior to beginning their Fulbright project.

The Critical Language Enhancement Award is part of the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI), designed to dramatically increase the number of Americans learning critical need foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi, and others through new and expanded programs from kindergarten through university and into the workforce. Foreign language skills are essential to engaging foreign governments and peoples, especially in critical world regions, to encourage reform, promote understanding and convey respect for other cultures. The NSLI initiative is a coordinated federal government effort that includes the Department of State, Department of Education, Department of Defense, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The languages available for the Critical Language Enhancement Award: Arabic, Azeri, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin only), Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Marathi, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Tajik, Turkish, Urdu, and Uzbek. For full of details of the award please see Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award.

Posted by Steph at 10:22 AM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2006

coming soon...

A pre-conference workshop for the Conference of Interpreter Trainers.

"'Interpreters of texts' [says Nietzsche via Yalom] 'are always dishonest - not intentionally of course - but they cannot step outside their own historical frame. Nor, for that matter, out of their autobiographical frame.'

'But does not an unwillingness' [responds Breuer via Yalom] 'to pay homage to interpreters make one unpopular in the academic philosophical community?' Breuer felt confident. This consultation was on course. He was well embarked on the process of convincing Nietzsche that he, his new physician, was a kindred spirit with kindred interests. It was not going to be difficult to seduce this Professor Nietzsche - and Breuer viewed it as seduction indeed, as enticing his patient into a relationship he had not sought in order to obtain help he had not requested.

'Unpopular? Without question! I had to resign my professorship three years ago because of illness - the very illness, yet undiagnosed, that brings me to you today. But even were I perfectly healthy I believe my distrust of interpreters would have ultimately made me an unwelcome guest at the academic table.'

'But, Professor Nietzsche, if all interpreters are limited by their autobiographical frame, how do you escape the same limitation in your own work?'

'First,' Nietzsche responded, 'one must identify the limitation. Next, one must learn to see oneself from afar - although sometimes, alas, the severity of my illness impairs my perspective.'"

When Nietzsche Wept, p. 52.

Posted by Steph at 12:34 AM | Comments (0)

September 6, 2006

object lesson

I had a goof this morning ~ somehow managed to hit "off" instead of "snooze" at 6:15. Didn't think I'd fallen back asleep but wondered at how long it was taking for the alarm to sound again. 7:38! Yikes! I missed my first interpreting job of the day, the first class of the semester, the beginning of this academic year and whatever knowledge the year's experiences will bring. What happens when the interpreter doesn't show up?

Posted by Steph at 2:34 PM | Comments (0)

September 1, 2006

the natural sciences

One of the excellent interpreter coordinators I work with recently inquired about my preparedness to teach a science course:

"We're checking in with the various parties (student, teacher, interpreters) for the science course to help ensure that things are set.... what is your experience with [this subject] and interpreting for this kind of course?"

I responded in detail, as I've got the upcoming Conference of Interpreter Trainers on my mind:

"I interpreted a [similar] course some years ago at a local private college; it was heavy. :-) I don't recall the content however, and will definitely ask for clarification if something isn't clear - the teacher ought to be made aware that science in ASL relies heavily on visualization - which means that I, as the interpreter, must be able to "see" in my own mind the process being discussed in order to represent it adequately to the deaf student. If I can't wrap my mind around the way whatever the subject is relates to its context then I'll need help.

Most teachers supply this information automatically - so she/he should not try to do anything different than usual, at least not until we come across some pattern of communication breakdowns. Sometimes style or language or sheer unfamiliarity makes it tough to grasp the knowledge instantaneously; if this occurs, I'd first check with my team interpreter to support me, then - if [Wanda] also didn't get it, or isn't sure which part I'm struggling with, I'll ask the teacher for clarification.

That's the language part. The other part the teacher should be aware of is the relationship she/he is developing with the deaf student and the relationships among the deaf student and other students in the class. It is my full intention NOT to be the deaf student's buddy, but instead to facilitate the student becoming buddies with peers and having a direct learning relationship with the teacher. One particular strategy for this is to move around a lot, instead of staying in one physical location. (Although this depends on whether the teacher moves or not, if s/he plants him/herself and lectures then I wouldn't move.) Ideally, I always put myself in a range of sight where the deaf student sees me AND the person speaking. Sometimes the size or layout of the room won't allow this, and folks are often a bit distracted at first, but I have been amazed at how readily everyone accommodates and what a significant difference it does make in the group dynamic - much more inclusive!!" [email correspondence]

Posted by Steph at 3:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2006

“Be hard by being tender!” [When Nietzsche Wept (part 2)]

So Dr. Breuer challenges Nietzsche. I wrote about the first six chapters a few days ago: my enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed. :-)

“We are each composed of many parts, each clamoring for expression. We can be held responsible only for the final compromise, not for the wayward impulses of each of the parts” (300).

“’One must have chaos and frenzy within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.’” (179-180). [oft-quoted, even by the Deaf community!]

“The key to living well is
first to will that which is necessary
and then to love that which is willed” (282).

“A tree requires stormy weather if it is to attain a proud height…creativity and discovery are begotten in pain” (179).

The notion of eternal recurrence (249-251) deserves its own post in the phenomenology thread (good section in wikipedia on Nietzsche's view, emphasizing the thought rather than the physical reality of an eternal return). There’s something of the dialectic/dialogic in there (see p. 84, too). It has convinced me that it is time to read the copy of Thus Spake Zarathurstra that I picked up in Berlin last summer.

More on interpretation (I extrapolate): “ a series of meanings folded into” [an object, fill in the blank] (247). “accommodating to [interlocturs’] rhythm[s]” (245), “a philosopher’s personal moral structure dictates the type of philosophy he creates…the counselor’s personality dictates his counseling approach…” (182),

On blogging (!): yearning for an audience, the loneliness of living an unobserved life.

On dreams: “’I wonder,’ Nietzsche mused, ‘whether our dreams are closer to who we are than either rationality or feelings’” (242).

On the unconscious: “Consciousness is only the translucent skin covering existence: the trained eye can see through it – to primitive forces, instincts, to the very engine of the will to power” (239).

On life: “Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death” (238). “Living means to be in danger” (199).

SAM: “Death loses its terror if one dies when one has consummated one’s life! If one does not live in the right time, then one can never die at the right time” (247).

“Live when you live!”
Did he ever! :-)

On memory: “Could there be such a thing as an active forgetting – forgetting something not because it is unimportant but because it is too important?” (231).

On good questions: They help one think differently. (223)

Dionysion passion: No need to live without magic, but you might ”have to change your conditions for passion” (222).

“…where philosophy falls short. Teaching philosophy and using it in life are very different undertakings” (209).

On volume: “If no one will listen, it’s only natural to shout!” (195).

On time and will: “The fact that the will cannot will backward does not mean the will is impotent! Because, thank God, God is dead – that does not mean existence has no purpose! Because death comes – that does not mean that life has no value” (190).

Nietzsche’s mission: “to save humankind from both nihilism and illusion” (140). [soon followed by this next, which I frame slightly out-of-context but what the hell]: “We’ll have to invent our procedure along the way” (141). :-)

“What matters
is what you will tell yourself
and what I will tell myself” (110).

Posted by Steph at 7:00 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2006

Coming soon to a library near you!

Ok folks, let me toot my own horn a little bit. The following email is about an article I submitted for (competitive!) publication two years ago. :-)

Dear Stephanie,

I am happy to finally let you know that the Critical Link 4 proceedings have been okayed for publication in John Benjamin's Translation Library series. At last it is time to prepare the final ms!

I enclose below a review comment, which is specifically on your paper. As you can see, it is very positive. Just thought I should let you know. The reviewer's view is shared also by us, the Stockholm editors. Your contribution is perfect as it is!

Very best regards,


Kent's paper is, to my mind, along with Turner's the most exciting paper in this volume: thought-provoking, stimulating, challenging and highly intelligent. She critically investigates the role of interpreters through clients' criticism - a truly novel approach which leads to some very interesting findings indeed. The paper is well-constructed and well-written - to start off with she defines professionalization and links it to the concept of insitiutionalization, which provides a historical and sociological framework for the study. The paper is really though provoking and challenging - she asks questions which many take for granted (e.g. standardization) and shows how the process of professonalization is linked also to complex ideological and social factors governing its immediate socio-cultural environs - linguistic and educational policies for example. She shows how interpreters are sometimes caught between their professional role and their cultural identity. She makes a distinction between the macro- and micro level of professional establishment and interaction and discusses the professionalization of Sign Language. In short, she is breaking new ground all over the place - an excellent paper!

Posted by Steph at 8:25 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2006

voices and home

“A voice belongs first to a body, then to a language” (52).

Negar told me about an Iranian saying, that learning another language adds a new person to your self. Yes, new capacities, new zones of expression and perception, yet what Berger says is also true, the voice – in its emotion-inducing physicality [my qualification] – remains the same. This use of the word “voice” is different than Blommaert’s conceptualization of “voice” as the operationalization of intersubjective, discursive power. The intersubjective part is the part between real individuals engaged in real time (face-to-face synchronic time or asynchronous technologically-mediated time – as in the turn-taking among myself, Yasser, Jeff, Amanda, and . . . you? wink! Why not?!!)

The discursive part is the larger framework of relationships in which each of us is embedded and all of us partake. Every time we speak (via our physically-embodied voice or through written text), each utterance spins forward along a dialectical trajectory as an outgrowth of previous exposure and knowledge. Simultaneously, each utterance opens onto a potential new vista, an unknown dark zone. “Dark” because not yet lived: unexperienced, and therefore unknown. (Thanks Negar; and original thanks to Chris Baxter, who played with calling me a "dark ally" during the 2005 Supporting Deaf People Online conference.)

sea reaches.JPG.jpg

I read Berger and translate his words into mine. “It is prudent to believe that the large is more real than the small. Yet it is false” (53). He is discussing the myth of scale, the myth that suggests that the macrosocial is more real (e.g., more powerful) than the microsocial. “If we are trapped, my heart, it is not within reality” (53). He writes to his love as I wish to write to mine. :-) The point, however, has wider application: let me attempt to articulate it precisely.

If we – for instance Muslims, Christians, Palestinians, Israelis – are trapped it is not exclusively because of impersonal institutional forces grinding out grim realities such as the devastation in Lebanon. We are “trapped” also within our own individual, personal and private (dialectical) trajectories. Our “hearts” (our loves, passions, dreams and visions) are constrained by “a vestige of the fear reflex to be found in all animals, in face of another creature larger than themselves” (53).

A major factor that feeds this fear is the loss of home. Berger ties the loss of home explicitly to emigration. More words about emigration are necessary, Berger claims, “to whisper for that which has been lost” (55). Emigration can be understood as the driving feature, the essential characteristic, of global transnationalism. Whether one chooses to move to another country temporarily or permanently, for purposes of education or work, or is forced to move for literal survival (to work or to seek asylum), what is threatened by this move is home. Edward Said discusses this too, in the extraordinary re-ordering of his conception of self that was required when he was sent to boarding school in the US.

“Originally,” Berger explains, “home meant the center of the world – not in a geographical, but in an ontological sense” (55). He continues, “To emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments” (57).

When the physical site of home is lost (left, taken away, inaccessible) one resorts to “the habit which protects” (64) and “the psychic level of turning in circles in order to preserve one’s identity” (63).

”Home is no longer a dwelling
the untold story of a life being lived” (64).

In the absence/loss of my own home, I turn in circles to preserve my identity as a lesbian (resisting being positioned by others as a heterosexual woman), and for some years now I have tried to tell the story of my life being lived. This is the other side of de-centering fragmentation: “Not out of nostalgia, but because it is on the site of loss that hopes are born” (55). “The very sense of loss keeps alive an expectation” (63). Berger argues romantic love is one of the things that can grow from this soil. Meanwhile, “we live not just our own lives but the longings of our century” (67): “the century of banishment” (67).

I embody these longings, as do many of my friends. It is evident in their/our words. What shall we together make of them? Berger is optimistic:

“Eventually perhaps the promise, of which Marx was the great prophet, will be fulfilled, and then the substitute for the shelter of a home will not just be our personal names, but our collective conscious presence in history, and we will live again at the heart of the real. Despite everything, I can imagine it” (67).

Posted by Steph at 6:37 AM | Comments (0)

August 8, 2006

Turkish-English translation

It hasn't been so easy finding good software for my Mac OS X (version 10.3.9).

Some online resources:

Seslisozluk, which also has a discussion forum.

Someone's list of word-phrase translations.

Hmm...this could be useful, an explanation of adding Turkish fonts to a Mac.

Some widgits for my dashboard:

Elmasuyunet [which does not seem to be available for download? :-( wah!] and Ligpuan, which shows the current weekly standings from the Turkish Premier Soccer League. (I'm interested, but it's not much help with the language!)

I can track the Turkish financial market but I can't translate to and from English! (Should I be frustrated?)

((nah. just keep looking.))

(((I found some Korean sites that look fun, but I may not be able to read them!)))

((((Too bad I can't read French!))))

Harumph! I'll look again later. :-/

Posted by Steph at 5:30 AM | Comments (0)

August 7, 2006

Vowel harmony

This concept scared me right away. Is the Turkish language like Mandarin (Chinese), which depends on tones? I am so bad with matching pitch. :-(

But no, it seems to do with pronunciation, with phonetics, but not tone. Whew/ (and if I’m wrong oy oy trouble on the way!) Turkish uses suffixes extensively, and has a flexible syntax, words are used in different positions resulting only in differences of style, not meaning. I’ll have to learn the difference between types of clauses better than I know them now. :-(

The author, Hikmet Sebüktekin, of the text I bought describes the content of words and utterances this way: “Turkish is tradition-bound. The mere mention of a single word referring to a cliché, a proverb, or an anecdote, of which there are thousands, often suffices to activate complex meanings stored in the mind of every Turkish speaker” (v).

This is one of the things Marie Gillespie discussed in her presentation at Crossroads 2006 on politics and translation, translating politics, although (I think) her examples were Arabic. It also reminds me very much of Lila Abu-Lughod's anthropological study of the Awlad ‘Ali, a Bedouin culture. Particularly the way women used language. She says the men do this as well but she had more access to the women and their ways of speaking.

Turkish is regular, its “forms are put together with almost mathematical precision and utmost economy” (v). Thank you Atatürk! At least, I’m guessing there is a relationship between the development of the orthographic system and the present-day phonetics – but perhaps I am mistaken. It could be that the language was already auditorily rhythmic and the writing developed (with nearly perfect correspondence, each sound having one specific letter) to match. I’ll require a native informant to straighten me out on this, ácaba?

Turkic languages have a wide distribution and minimal linguistic differences among dialects: 90 million speakers in the Balkans, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq…Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Kirghizstan, Tadzhikstan, Turmenistan, Uzbekistan…Afghanistan, China, Iran, and Russia. This on top of the 60 million native Turks.

two cats.jpg A painting, two cats in harmony, on diplay at Istavrit

Posted by Steph at 4:59 AM | Comments (1)

August 3, 2006


The title of the exhibition, "El/le", has many layers of meaning in Turkish, and it is for this reason that we have preferred to retain this title without translating it into another language. The word "el" refers to both "hand" and "stranger", but the phrase "el/le", its mirror image, can be interpreted as "by hand", "to touch" or "with a stranger"

(Quoted from the Exhibition Brochure.)

EL:LE.jpg Outline of a hand fingers down, blue

There were so many beautiful things in this exhibit, which is by the 2006 graduating class of Marmara University. I began my collection of hand images here (I had begun, already, but now I am in earnest). Most of the hands will find places in entries to come. :-) (Two have been posted previously; details ought to appear if you hold the cursor over the image and wait.)

Some of the artists used deaf themes.


This work is called "Silence," by Selen Sarikaya. It includes drawings of several letters in Turkish Sign Language (which uses the British Sign Language alphabet) and the sign for WORK.
It is beautiful but curious. Sign language is "loud" visually, and clear vision is crucial. The artist has covered each of the images with a scrim that blurs sight. Deaf people are also not all that quiet. :-)

The next exhibit is a bit creepy from a distance: "What is lack of communication"? asks Volkcan Dogan, whose hands suspended in mid-air barely touch at the fingertips.


Posted by Steph at 9:52 AM | Comments (2)

August 1, 2006

Geraldine Brooks on interpretation

As I tend to do, I noted all of the references to interpreting in Nine Parts of Desire.

“I wanted to ask her if she blamed the Iranian government for not showing her son some mercy, but Janet, who was translating, s hook her head slightly and didn’t put the question. Instead, I asked gently if she felt that all her sacrifices had been worth it” (100).

“Even Hamzah [King Hussein’s young son] wasn’t excluded. Although the boy’s command of English was perfect, he preferred to speak Arabic, and would force his father to act as translater” (136).

“One British doctor, on an eighteen-month posting to a Jeddah hospital, thought his interpreter had failed him during an ante-natal checkup on a twenty-eight year old Bedouin. ‘I asked her when she’d had her last period, and she said, “What’s a period?” It turned out she’d never had one. She’d been married at twelve, before her menarche, and had been pregnant or lactating ever since” (172).

“Official translators milled among the athletes, facilitating conversations. Each of them wore the usual Iranian attire – black hood and long tunic – but with a vivid, color-coded athletes’ warmup jacket pulled incongruously on top. Indigo and acid green meant the translator spoke English; pink and chrome yellow, Russian; lime and sky blue, Arabic. As conversations bounced from Farsi to Urdu to English, the hotel lobby filled with a pleasant, feminine buzz…But in one corner a group of men sat self-consciously, murmuring together in Russian, without the aid of the young women translators…” (208).

“When I decided to write a story about the controversy, Sahar looked at the floor and said nothing. ‘Do you want me to find someone else to translate?’ I asked. She nodded. She didn’t want to visit Cairo nightclubs or talk to dancers” (217).

I could add commentary to each of the preceding quotes, but today I will refrain. :-) Each reflects certain decisions that interpreters must make, constantly, during each and every interaction. These are all reminiscent of the examples Marie Gillespie shared in her talk on the politics of translation. Brooks characterizes

“the Arabic language [as being] as tribal as the desert culture which created it. Each word trails a host of relatives with the same three-letter cluster of consonants as its root. Use almost any word in Arabic, and a host of uninvited meanings barge into the conversation. I learned that one of the words for woman, hormah, comes from the same root as the words for both ‘holy, sacrosanct,’ and ‘sinful, forbidden.’ The word for mother, umm, is the root of the words for ‘source, nation, mercy, first principle, rich harvest; stupid, illiterate, parasite, weak of character, without opinion.’ In the beginning was the word, and the word, in Arabic, was magnificently ambiguous” (10-11).

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July 30, 2006

Interpretation and Linguistic Inequality (Crossroads Day 2)

My own presentation was scheduled for 5 pm on Friday (July 21). Two panelists didn’t show. This was disappointing as their topics seemed closely aligned, however it gave Inka and myself flexibility and allowed time for a rousing discussion within the group. We had a whopping audience of three (!) to begin, then two more wandered in late, another one later, and three more latest: a grand total of nine. Not bad at all. Two of the audience members turned out to be translators for the European Communities (bonus for me!!) and a third had friends who worked within the European Institutions.

Our panel was called “EU: Europe Beyond Geography?” (2.51). Inka’s presentation, “European Public Spheres: Uniting and Dividing,” explored how political subjectivity is constructed in time and space through media systems and by pro-European journalists. I won’t summarize her entire talk but rather will select the parts that (in my mind) led into my talk, or provided me with food for thought about my topic. For instance, Inka characterized the pro-European journalists as the new elite because they are so close to power. These journalists are also a new class because they’ve been able to escape their national landscape. Now they are trying to find a niche for their country in the media geography about the EU: what is our nation doing here? Inka described this as a “new type of instrumental journalism.”

I noted this for its parallels with interpreters, who are also elite by being close to power and have improved their class standing by being dually-situated in their home country and Brussels/Strausburg. The economics of interpretation are quite the battleground, however, and I don’t know how this compares with journalists. The European institutions are insisting on hiring staff interpreters (known as officials or functionnaires) only if they relocate to Brussels. They are also driving incomes down because younger people from newly-joined East European countries are willing to accept lower wages than their West European counterparts. There are still many individuals who work as freelancers – hired only on an as needed basis or for short-term contracts – but the bureaucratizing trend is squeezing out many of the most experienced interpreters and discouraging this independent form of labor.

Inka also listed several tendencies in contemporary EU journalism, including the news itself as a commodity and the challenge of covering processes instead of events. By the latter, Inka referred to the genre of news being event-based and relying on drama. It is a challenge to sustain audience interest in the long-term slow processes of the European Institutions. She didn’t expand much on the commodity aspect but it ties right in with language itself being a commodity and therefore “for sale” – as described above but also at a deeper structural level. Specificlly, in terms of how the European Parliament no longer designates funds specifically for interpreting but rather offers each nation the choice whether to spend a certain block of funds on interpreting or something else.

A hot tip for me is that the Financial Times receives leaks from Brussels some 24 hours in advance. Inka said, “as everyone knows.” :-)

Here are the overheads from my presentation. I don’t have a nice schemata yet of the interaction of levels and data; I’m still sorting my way up. Manuel said his friends have described the interpretation system as “a madhouse.” I disagree with the metaphor of a mental institution whose occupants are solipsistically engaged in their own dramas: there is a sensible and logical system at work in the European Parliament and it functions extraordinarily well. The problem, from my point-of-view, is overcoming the monolingualistic attitude that assumes communication is best when it occurs in – ostensibly - the same language.

I found a textbook example of this in a book I browsed at Robinson Crusoe on Taksim’s main drag, Istikilal Caddesi. Published in 2003, language is indexed once in The Enlargement of the EU. The author’s prejudice is plain, basically stating meaning cannot occur through interpretation.

"Owing to the fact that the increase of one-to-one relations between languages rises exponentially when the number of official languages grows, there will inevitably be considerable additional costs of translation and, even more worrying, a further decrease in the possibility of genuine dialogue taking place in major meetings of the EU institutions" (The Impact of Enlargement on the Constitution of the European Union by Bruno de Witte, emphasis added, p. 227. The introductions clarifies that "constitution" here means the actual relations between member and candidate states.)

While not a madhouse, the interpretation regime at the European Parliament is extraordinarily complex, involving more than 60 simultaneous interpreters working out of and in to more than twenty languages at the same time, sometimes including a third intermediary language if no interpreter has a direct source-target language combination. The gist of my research project is to


a) the official rhetoric that links “democracy,” “multilingualism,” and “the right to speak” in one’s national language with outcomes of efficiency and transparency in governance into conversation


b) the observed and felt experience of interpretation. At this point in the research, part b only includes the perspective of working interpreters; I hope to expand this with the perspectives of the users of interpretation services (officials, delegates, guests, etc).

In this regard I am working “up” from the interactional level to the institutional and structural levels, extrapolating from practices “on-the-ground” to longer-term possible outcomes on the basis of trends that this comparative discourse analysis (a public/political discourse and a private/professional discourse) brings into view.

The discussion following our presentations was animated. Inka’s presentation elicited questions regarding European identity: what it means “to be European” and also how “Europe” is defined. A generational difference was identified between those of (what I will call) middle-age and younger generations who “experience it differently.” The “it” refers to Europeanness as identity. Personally, I think the desire to fix identity is a bias of both academia in general (borrowed from the natural sciences empirical paradigm) and of middle and older generations of social scientists in particular. I believe it is a residue of modernism in social science.

I observe a similar strand of monologic in the desire for a lingua franca. (If it isn’t obvious, let me be explicit and state that I am using this post as a responsive engagement with the discourse that emerged as we discussed the presentations. In other words, I am not arguing with individuals per se, rather with the points-of-view raised which are representative of strands in the larger discourse I’ve been tracking through my research.)

Two distinct views were raised regarding interpretation within the EU as a whole (recall that my study is focused exclusively on the European Parliament, which maintains the largest official language regime. The European Commission and the Council of Ministers operate with reduced language regimes.) One view argues: “The [language] combinations that must be put into action are impossible. English is a tool that needs to be used - not as a form of domination but as one common language.” It was further argued that English as a lingua franca would “depoliticize English and would not conflict with a parallel system of programs for linguistic preservation.”

The other view argues: “what has happened within the [written] translation division will also happen with [spoken] interpretation.” The insider description of what is happening regarding written translation is that only fifteen percent of documents are actually translated into all the official languages; “only the important ones.” This has happened over the past five years. Most of the work therefore occurs “exclusively in English.”

From this perspective, the European Parliament is “a screen that hides the reality.”

As the discussion progressed, the jargon of the European Institutions was labeled, “Europish,” and a reference to “Generation E” was made: to younger people who do view Europe as a whole and travel comfortably using English as the lingua franca.

Overall, this was a tremendous opportunity for me to air some preliminary findings and speculations with knowledgeable and engaged peers. I’m still working with the mix of pessimism and pragmatism that characterizes the overall tone of this discourse of the (im)possibility of pluralingual governance. There were a few marked “silences” – gaps and hesitations in the conversation – where I wondered if my Americanness (the outsider) was being left unnamed, but my overall optimism was clearly identified. :-) It remains my hope that by articulating the benefits of interpretation – the maintenance of language difference and therefore of different cultural logics and worldviews – that an ideological key can be turned, bringing contemporary understandings of the philosophy of language into the practical, everyday realm of co-constructing the future to which we and our descendents hurtle.

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July 29, 2006

Multilingual Cosmopoliticians (Crossroads Day 3)

This panel was great – the closest of all I’ve attended to my own area of current investigation. Marie Gillespie introduced the panelists’ collaborative work as an outgrowth of two puzzles. One puzzle being “the limits of cosmopolitanism and the huge variations in how this term is used” (she listed multiculturalism and internationalism, among other contexts) and the second an imbalance within studies of transnationalism privileging “connectivity [as a] shared topic, interest, [and/or] emphasis,” with “less attention to disconnections, especially with language… [which is] not explored with enough depth.”

The overviews shared here grow out of work on two different research projects:

1) How different language communities interpreted news of 9/11 over the first three months. www.afterseptember11.tv It seems that people with multilingual competencies were mixing, matching, and comparing a variety of different sources of information and news with CNN, Al-Jazeera etc. Multilinguals seem to share a couple of distinct characteristics, such as a profound dissatisfaction with mainstream politics and politicians and a deep distrust of media, leading them to search – actively – for alternative sources.

2) www.mediatingsecurity.com is a collaborative ethnography between Marie and Ben, a 3-year study of transnational media discourses about security. (Which might be relevant to the polycentricity team from Dexus 3.0)

What the panelists have found are three types of cosmpolitanism, which generally “don’t talk to each other”:

1. demotic/elite cosmopolitanism (Marie)
2. normative cosmopolitanism (Ben)
3. aesthetic/literary cosmopolitanism (Tom)

What these three scholars are most interested in are the functions of these various cosmopolitanisms, particularly the ways in which they turn out to have compatibility with fascisistic discourses.

I probably have not got all these details quite right, I’m reconstructing from notes a week after the fact…as always I beg corrections if anyone feels inclined. I’ve inserted (?) question marks inside parentheses (as modeled) where my notes are sketchy and I’m providing an inference. In general, when I comment I’ll use [brackets] and italicize.

This particular three-person panel doesn’t actually detail the info from either of the aforementioned studies. It’s an amalgamation of the types of cosmopolitanisms listed above. First up is Marie and what she called demotic or elite cosmopolitanism. [I received a sophisticated definition from someone later about this term, demotic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in note-taking mode at that time. It has something to do, roughly, with a language of the people, the language that the people use.]

Marie Gillespie: “At Home with the World Service? The Politics of Translation and Translating Politics”

The BBC World Service (radio) has a peculiar status because of its funding source (Britain’s Foreign Office), many – if not most – of its employees are diasporic, its audience is global, it broadcasts in approximately 33 different languages, hires locals and English speaking employees who go out to work with the locals, and those who make programming (the center of media production) are also (?) drawn from these constituencies (?).

Because of this scope, the BBC World Service has been a vital lifeline for folks to get info in the wake of disasters, a kind of civil service….many of its stories (?) concern refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, and it is trying to be independent from the British foreign office, which has as one of its main agendas the promotion of British policies.

Now they (The Foreign Office or the BBC World Service?) want to challenge Al-Jazeera. The BBCWS has (?) cut ten language programs to make space for Arabic expansion. What they are constantly faced with is negotiating issues of fit between ____ and diasporic values. Which brings them right up against the politics of translation, particularly when they are translating politics.

There are daily debates at the foreign language desks around terms that are culturally sensitive – not only in terms of language but also cultural format. For instance, terminology: how to refer to Camilla Bowles-Parker before Prince Charles married her (while they were traveling together in Saudi Arabia). What about the term “democracy”? The term is problematic and some won’t even use it because it is associated with the attempt to impose pro-american, pro-israel policies. [Talk about a dilemma of language! The vast scope of what can be meant by “democracy” has been limited to one narrow sectarian version; we have no alternative terms for the rest of the range.]

Another example (also in an Middle Eastern language): “President” has three different terms (choices!). 1) popular “the head” or 2) populist/propagandist “the leader” or 3) an indigenous term which implies illegitimacy. Again, the closest term for “public”in Arabic is something akin to “town square” – which makes no distinction between top-down, bottom-up or apolitical/political inclinations. The Koranic term for “audience” could include a repressive ruler granting a meeting as well as the appointment of a commission via a group’s public process.

The decision as to which term is negotiated on a daily basis. [emphasis added. Meaning is never fixed! It is always contingent.]

Why is the BBCWS pursuing Arabic? Because of the hopeless and utter failure of American media to establish a public space for public affairs in the middle east. Representations greatly distorted (a reference is cited).

Drama is being increasingly used to support social and cultural change as part of development strategies. Dramas are used as vehicles for humanitarian and health education and have been very successful. For instance, a radio program during the time of the Taliban was too popular to be banned. These have become known as “Dramas for development.”

Open questions: How does translation across different genres work? How do the producers work together and what are the implications?

There are serious risks and dangers for/of the BBC. Propaganda establishes credibility through the telling of small stories that seem to be against the larger state. These small stories make it possible to avoid telling the larger stories. (For instance, a story was told ~ recalled from memory! ~ about an early (the first?) BBCWS broadcast in _____ that reported an atrocity by British soldiers. The BBCWS was chastised by the Foreign Office for making the broadcast, but by doing so they impressed upon their intended audience that they had a degree of freedom from their government. At some point Marie explicitly stated that such small “betrayals” (I’m not sure she used this term) make it possible to hide the larger, even more serious systematic abuses.)

The point?

Language competence is absolutely vital.

Ben O’Loughlin: “How CNN and BBC Use ‘Other Media’: The Re-Mediation of Arab Television and Citizen Journalists”

Ben presented a slightly different paper than was advertised. :-) You go, guy! “Sympathies to other’s ….”

After 9/11, Al-Jazeera had an emancipatory potential. They were a corrective to the misinformation or lacking information in the American/western media. Such was the hope! Muslim viewers hoped Al-Jazeera would make possible the construction of a broader shared world. Instead, Islam has now become a universal spectacle. [In the presentation how this occurred was detailed; now I ponder it as a sophisticated form of orientalism?] A religious inversality…. Quotes someone (citing a previous finding), also discovered in this data. There are two trends in responses (of whom I’m not sure): the media either privileges “our side” or it illustrates “the true reality.” In revealing a given reality – what’s at stake? Does one put together different realities or present the whole reality and let the viewer decide? The question of justice can sneak in….and there is no guarantee that sympathy brings about an alignment of values, political goals … [My notes are sketchy – I believe that the point was that a sympathetic production of news was received as fodder for more vicious uses. The dilemma remains: how ideologically does one focus news production to elicit desired effects and to what extent does one trust audience members to make informed decisions based on a wide array of sources?] [Maybe it’s not an issue of trust as much as it is access? If viewers/listeners can – and do – glean their news from a variety of sources then they have a basis for an informed decision. If, however, they rely on only one or two sources they are unable to generate a perspective on whatever bias is present.]

Tom Cheesman: “Community Arts and Cultural Diversity: (A) Changing Wales”

There are half-a-million people in Wales, which is grouped with Ireland & Scotland as part of Britain. 15-20 % of the population speaks Welsh, the rest speak English.

The term “cosmopolitan” was first used by Diogenes, founder of the school of skepticism. When he was asked where he was from, he replied that he was a citizen of the world. His point at the time was simply to deny any sense of alliance, allegiance, or obligation to his town of origin. He was not making a claim as an advocate of a one-world government. Thru 20th century, the term became somewhat more inflammatory (?). Now: a kind of rootless cosmopolitanism, as if we’re trying to make something out of the negative, the term/concept doesn’t have a positive ground.

Language policies in Wales are much more friendly than in England. Some reasons are because there is an amazing prestige and status attached to the Welsh language: it survived attempts at suppression, is now required as part of children’s education, and is valued by everyone – even non-Welsh speakers. This cosmo-polite attitude comes out of a bilingual cultural awareness of language difference, of the power relations between languages as laden with history. The actual [written, legislated?] policies aren’t necessarily better than elsewhere but the culture supports, even valorizes Welsh and therefore the needs to accommodate it, such as through interpretation.

Question and Answer session:

Greg Noble notices a strand of commonality across the panelists’ presentations regarding the thing that cosmopolitanness is attached to?
1) people and their attitudes
2) groups of people, e.g., a town or society
3) an institution, e.g., the BBC
He speculates about the uses of cosmopolitanism, how it is taken up, by who, among which different types of objects.

I’m not sure who responded, perhaps Marie (?), noting the international relations scholar George Nye, who talked about “soft power.” She says the BBC is “bringing people into the British way,” reminding us that everyone at Al-Jazeera used to work for the BBC.

Ien Ang also attended (both she and Greg from the cosmopolitan multiculturalism panel on Day 1), and Anthy from my workshop (Day 2, not yet posted).

It didn’t make it into the notes, but what Marie kept emphasizing was the way in which multilinguals draw their information from many media sources, not just one. I asked the panelists if they felt this was more than a difference from monolinguals who prefer their one language (and therefore the one logic implicated by that language) because it reflects the awareness of multiple logics, a knowledge that usually only becomes real to individuals in their own consciousness when they themselves have learned another language? I’ve expanded a bit here (!), I asked there if the search for information from more than one media outlet was a search for multiple logics moreso than the representations in different languages? Marie agreed, “people simply don’t have the interpretive frameworks, the media literacy, or the multingualism.”

Marie did respond by talking about codeswitching in multilingual households, the ways in which multilinguals move among and between various cultural and linguistic spaces, and how distrustful they are of the mainstream media. Tom also responded, although I’m not sure this statement is his, that views and political cultures are very interconnected. Perhaps this was to the aspect of my question regarding whether or not there is something done in Wales in the on-the-ground, face-to-face interpreted interactions. Interestingly, Tom clarified that this situation is relatively new, only since 2000 (2002?), leading us both to wonder if the novelty will wear off soon.

Another point Marie emphasized repeatedly was the failure of cultural studies to pay much heed to the points of disconnection. She argued that we privilege the connections but there is information in the disconnects too, for instance, “when you don’t speak Turkish, you know where the limits are.”

Greg raised another point about the translation politics, those daily struggles at the foreign desk about which term (when and why), that one has to balance between “sensitivity and censorship.” Absolutely! The eternal dilemma, do I use the more literal even though in the source language it’s relatively neutral while in the target language it’s explosive or do I find some sort of synonym that might somewhat alter (!) the context yet privileges the relationship?

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July 20, 2006


I was going to give her a hard time for only budgeting a half-hour with me – after I came all the way from the US! – but then I was the one at the wrong Starbucks. :-/ Besides, she gave me an hour. :-) And, I've read her excellent book: De-/Re-Contextualizing Conference Interpreting: Interpreters in the Ivory Tower?.

I should have been diligent about notes the entire conversation because she mentioned at least a half-dozen names of folks I ought to follow up on. Some were familier: Pochhacker, Toury, Seleskovitch. Others I recognized after she wrote them down: Vuorikoski (I have one article by her, I think), and Morven Beaton (I remember at least an hour with the librarian trying to track down her work). I’m not sure about Kaisa Koskinen . . . perhaps.

I pitched Blommaert to her, especially his work on voice, which he argues is the proper object of critique in critical discourse analysis: “Voice stands for the way in which people manage to make themselves understood or fail to do so. In doing so, they draw upon and deploy discursive means which they have at their disposal, and they have to use them in contexts that are specified as to conditions of use. Consequently, if these conditions are not met, people ‘don’t make sense’ – they fail to make themselves understood – and the actual reasons for this are manifold” (Blommaert 2005: 4-5).

We had quite the animated conversation (helped along, no doubt, by caffeine and chocolate).

Here’s as good a place as any to post these notes on language, interpreting, and meaning (since that is the gist of what we discussed):

From , fiction by Barry Unsworth:

The ten year old son sneaks out of the house in Beshiktash: “Henry thought suddenly about the little girl in the neighboring house, whom he had met that afternoon. They had had a kind of conversation without using any words at all . . . “ ( 1982: 70).

[regarding interpreter non-partiality] “The Turks bowed, unsmiling, then moved in a body to seat themselves at the far end of the table. With them went the interpreter, a man in a fez and long, buttoned tunic.
“Worsley-Jones began the proceedings, referring in general terms to ground already covered and to the great interest shown in the pacification of Macedonia by the late Ambassador. He spoke easily and well, looking from face to face along the table, pausing for the interpreter. The Turks listened impassively” (1982: 105). [regarding “invisibility” of the interpreter]

“Markham saw Nesbitt turn his head suddenly towards the speaker, sensed from that the unexpected nature of what was being said. He began to listen carefully, not waiting for the interpreter” (1982: 107). [regarding nonverbal communication and group dynamics]

Posted by Steph at 1:24 AM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2006

Comps (Question #4: "dissertaton area")

"Community interpreting," said one interpreter educator, "is a condensed form of all the communication problems that can happen between people. It can teach you a lot about what it means to be a human being."

Amitav Ghosh on interpreting (excerpts from The Hungry Tide).

four problems of interpreting ~ Seleskovitch 1978

“Bourdieu views zones of uncertainty as contradictory and potentially liberatory spaces within a social structure in which contradictions emerge from a convergence of conflicting worldviews that momentarily upset the relevant habitus” (Inghilleri, p. 72, 2005).

Exclusively at stake in translation is meaning; in interpretation meaning, understanding, and relationship intertwine. This is evident in “the constant overlap between target and source environment” (Wadensjo, p. 105, 2004). While the process of crafting a written translation can focus narrowly on the means by which linguistic meaning in one language can best be rendered in another language; live interpretation must equally consider the ways in which relationship is crafted through language. An interpreter cannot limit their attention to literal dictionary definitions (and neither will skilled translators) but must also consider the 1) functions and effects of particular language use (choices of diction, phrasing, restructuring) in a 2) specific situation shaped by a 3) particular context as well as the 4) possible aims and goals of each participant in the conversation.

particularly in regard to the role of the interpreter as a participant (group member) in this process. (cites – SL and Diriker) [quotes] Building upon Bourdeau’s notions of habitus, field, and capital, Inghilleri theorizes “interpreting as a norm-governed translational activity” in which meaning is generated through the interplay of microsocial and macrosocial factors (2003, p. 243) and further argues that “interpreting activity can be seen…as a concrete site for the recontextualization of inter-locking fields and their accompanying habitus” (emphasis in original, p. 72, 2005). This is another version of the same point: when languages (and language users) come into contact with each other, change, growth, and learning can occur. If there is a “problem of culture,” it will show up as a “problem of meaning.” Culture will appear in the language (discourse) of the group.

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June 22, 2006

no respect!

I've interpreted with Scott for ... about eight years? Now he's off to the wild wild west - Montana oh no no no that's WyOMing! oh heck, someplace where they have horses. :-)

Scott's Party 003.jpg
Ride 'em cowboy!

Posted by Steph at 1:56 PM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2006


is starting to make sense. I mean, as a language of space and spatial relationships. Who knows if I'll ever actually remember all the rules and how to do various kinds of problems (!), but the logic is finally getting through my thick, thick skull. It may be because I've developed enough depth in the visual/kinesthetic/spatial mode of ASL now for that to provide a cognitive bridge? Or it could be simple repetition. (I won't confess how many times I've taken and/or interpreted algebra, geometry, and other advanced math classes. No, no, I won't!

In Wanda's, mine, the deaf student and non-deaf teacher's on-going discussions about meaningfulness and sign choices, we landed upon the same sign (use of the "B" classifier, moved conceptually in space) for symmetry and reflection. The English definitions use the terms to define each other! I distinguished symmetry as a characteristic of shape (the teacher agreed it's static, not moving) and reflection as an action (the teacher embellished this a more but in general agreed).

In terms of interaction, the deaf student has - on a few occasions - asked us not to sign something as she wants to have a private conversation with us. I feel fine with this except/unless I'm otherwise formally "on" - for instance, standing in the front of the room as the teacher pauses between problems. Norms have developed around the table when the students are working on problems either on their own or in teams in which Wanda and I might chit-chat with non-deaf students or the deaf student depending. I think it's a necessary break from the intensity of the learning process. The teacher commented during one of the first sessions that it must be hard for a deaf student to work (think and learn!) while they're being watched (the interpreter's gaze, eh?).

Another thing I've become more conscious of is really putting myself into the role of the speaker. It's easier to do when the role is one I'm already familiar and comfortable with in other contexts - such as being a teacher. I know how "to do" that. It frees me from the literal, too, and enhances the product of interpretation. :-) The non-deaf students at the table often take on the role of teacher or encourager - or distractor, clown, etc - like normal students. :-) Those interactions are fun and build connection & relationship across the language/culture divide.

Part of fully taking on the teacher role is that it creates more time/space for me to utilize some ASL discourse features such as repetition and emphasis. The linearity of English (any spoken language?) conditions the non-deaf mind to follow thoughts in a linear manner, recognizing when tangents occur - although some folk tend to speak in tangents more than anything else! The simultaneity of ASL, as a visual language, means they perceive information in/on a broader plane - there is no automatic prioritization of 'a line' (theme, subject, topic) that is conditioned by language. The line-of-thinking has to be built, created constantly through direct reference that re-anchors the topic, subject, etc.

Now we're discussing functions. [Note: a positivistic way of knowing (there are other ways to know, smile).] No lexical equivalent here, only a code. :-(

Inverse is not exactly opposite, btw, and a regression - WOW - we were way off on that one! It is not a simple reduction or decrease (such as indicated by a "decline" down the arm).

"regression. A mathematical relationship between two variables (eg, the height and weight of women in Australia). For simplicity, the relationship is often taken to be a linear one (ie, a straight line when plotted), but it can also be a curve. When the regression relationship for the variables is known, we can predict the approximate value of one variable from the value of the other."

"Regression: A form of statistical modelling that attempts to evaluate the relationship between one variable (termed the dependent variable) and one or more other variables (termed the independent variables). It is a form of global analysis as it only produces a single equation for the relationship thus not allowing any variation across the study area. Geographically Weighted Regression is a local analysis form of regression."

Posted by Steph at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

June 9, 2006

"clear and ambiguous"

This was how the interpreter's role was described by the leader of a group responding to a direct curiousity about the interpreter's experience of interpreting in this particular setting. "Wanda" and I were given the amazing opportunity to, as she said, "discuss with a group that we're not members of how we aren't members of their group."

It was awesome. :-) It's the last day of a training seminar in which one of the themes is the on-going development of the group (yes, I have been in heaven!) As they are checking in, the last person to do so says that she'd be interested in the interpreters' experience. The leader runs with it. She summarizes a range of issues/questions using it as a teaching moment: are members of the group more attentive to individuals or the whole group, where is the boundary of the group, are we "in" or "out" of that boundary, what does it mean to notice/not notice us, etc. [I didn't even pay her to ask these questions!] [I'd have given some kind of bribe, though, to have been able to tape it!!!]

So then she asks me if I'll share. I said no. Ha! Of course I was thrilled! I too used it as a teachable moment, talking about sightlines, and the challenge of being there/not - how to manage the role of enabling relationships between the deaf and non-deaf without getting in the way of it. I did, also, share a wee bit personally, about my communication studies and that I'd also gone through the "stages of group development" along with the group, being affected in my own way according to my stuff (I didn't elaborate) except to say that my schedule (not being there every day) was probably just right for me and what I could manage without compromising the quality or integrity of interpretation.

TaWanda took her turn (in her spiffy suit) and reiterated the point about trying to decide how and when to make sure the deaf person receives instructional information intended for the whole group while not getting in the way of interpersonal interactions progressing without interpretation. She also said something about the challenge of taking on what other's are feeling and saying, which - if people are feeling something intense - can be quite intense!

Group discussion then ensued with several members discussing what they'd noticed or wondered about, and the leader summarizing key themes about the presence of two languages and how one remains aware of interpretation without overly tending to the interpreter (or something like that - how to acknowledge members who are/aren't members). There was also some cool discussion between and among the deaf and non-deaf members of the group about the relationships that were built across the language difference. :-)

THEN the group engaged in an activity where one of us interpreters needed to be seated centrally for all the sightlines to be clear and there was a bit of experimentation with our roles - were we now "more" a part of the group than we were before? Would we take up our roles differently? I would say the seduction (!) failed, me and Wanda are pros. {Big grin to Wanda!!} Perhaps our own personality inflections were somewhat heightened, or the way we mirrored (!) the group became more visible? The group did give us some very nice "belonging" kind of energy in acknowledgement of both our persons and our work, and I'd wager that our responsiveness in accepting the invitation to share demonstrated our "membership" in a satisfactory way.

On another note, parallel with the development of affection in the group is the way that Wanda and I have also become closer. We've had bonding experiences in the past (ahem) but we hugged each other several times throughout the day during breaks. It just felt right. :-) The reasons varied from happiness to empathy to celebration...I don't know what labels she'd use but overall I'd say warmly collegial and affectionate. It is So Nice to like your team!

Posted by Steph at 11:49 AM | Comments (3)

June 8, 2006

all kinds of neat stuff

One of the most amazing elements of being an interpreter is the way we get to peek in so many of society's windows. It is a somewhat voyeuristic job. Not that every job is exactly intimate, but one is trying to be "in" other people's internal space - to sense and convey their intentions and desires, their thoughts and their feelings. All without getting drawn in, of course!

I've interpreted in court, college math, mental health, various graduation events, a technology training, and a dance class all in one week. I see the workings of the legal, educational and medical systems as their employees interact with consumers of all ambitions - from those who just want the service to activists for social change. I experience individuals who take to the interpreted situation like they've been doing it their whole life, and others who are discombobulated to the point of dysfunction.

It's thrilling (you can choose whether or not to take this as a commentary on the rest of my life!) when a non-deaf person and a deaf person engage each other deeply around a subject. It's also cool when interpreters collaborate regarding meaning. The 20 minutes we spent coming up with the distinction between "variable" as a general concept, and "a specific variable" was well worth it; as was our revisiting the notion of symmetry repeatedly until we fell upon a sign (perhaps it fell upon us?!) that captures both the reflective, mirror qualities and the reverse parallelism.

[I know there are Deaf mathematicians, ASL scholars, and interpreters who have developed vocabularies for these technical terms. It seems many people revert to a code instead of doing the hard work of discovering an equivalent concept in the target language. Have I written about this already?!]

There's also the question of movement. There is the obvious interactional quality that is evoked when the Deaf person(s) actually have to turn their head (!) to locate the speaker/interpreter but more deeply than this is, I believe, something that happens with the language of the group. This time, when I say "language", I don't mean ASL or English, I mean the particular vocabulary and ways of talking that each group establishes over the course of group development. Do we tease or stay on topic always? Are asides allowed? Can we interrupt? Some folks call these norms. The issue with norms is how rigid or flexible they are; this varies from group to group, and within groups from time to time.

I have an opinion that if the interpreter physically moves to "follow the sound" of the English, the language is less restricted and norms can develop that are more inclusive and egalitarian. When the interpreter "plants" our butt in one spot, we essentially "force" all that moving, flowing interactive linguistic output to channel itself through us. This heightens our power in a nonproductive way - it grants us much more control but not necessarily in a way that generates more accessibility. I also don't think it does much for building relationships among deaf and non-deaf interlocutors because too often the non-deaf person is out of view.

[Note: I just did a google search to define interlocutor and it's a bad word in terms of diction: not the best choice because too many of the definitions emphasize speaking for someone and having no power....it's more of an interpreter's role.] Darn!

Linguistic puzzles in math persist:

"model" can refer to various things, including to ENVISION or IMAGINE;

in math, models are representations in the form of equations, including linear, quadratic, and exponential.

We had to distinguish between an equation and an expression (like a sentence fragment or phrase); among perpendicular, intersect (at any point) and intercept (specific to the x and y axis) ~ we did this by plane (using the vertical plane for perpendicular and the horizontal plane for intersect and intercept; distinguishing intercept by always specifying x/y).

Some shortcuts? "m" is always the variable of a slope; K is always the variable for a constant of proportionality. I invented (?!) a triangular type sign for DELTA (change).

At the interactional level, one must consider the function of particular comments. For instance, most teachers have a pedagogical intent even with comments that seem like asides or tangents. As interpreters, we need to glean this function and provide an interpretation that produces this effect (or at least allows the possibility of the effect). Some comments are irrelevant and may be dropped (gasp!) but only when doing so facilitates the contextual, communicative task.

We also have to coordinate timing in several dimensions. Most commonly interpreters bemoan the difficulty of "breaking in" to verbal (english) conversations where the turn-taking is rapid. The moment when a Deaf person begins to sign something is almost always "lost" on the non-deaf members of a group as the interpreters attempt to coordinate our speaking with an appropriate gap/silence between non-deaf speakers. Equally challenging, however, is coordinating eye contact with the deaf person(s). If they're not looking at us they're not receiving the information! This is why Deaf parents discipline their children by saying, "Watch me!" instead of "Listen to me!" ;-)

Finally, another element of the interpreting process is the layer of affect. Often, I think we are working so hard mentally to convey the meaning as best we can that the strain of this shows on our faces, masking the affect or personality of each particular speaker.

Hey - if you've got something to say (and you actually read this far!), please do! I'm studying for a "comprehensive" test question applying interpreting theory to a case study (which I won't know in advance) - so push me, baby! I'm gonna need all the nudges I can get!

Posted by Steph at 3:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 29, 2006

when hearies get it

I was all on with "Wanda" the other day. :-) New situation, first day of a summer course. The teacher was tuned in. Rare. Honestly! Most hearing (non-deaf) folk tend to assume/ignore the interpreter. Either we know what we're doing or we don't; but they're not going to get in the middle of it!

It's a math class. We're going along, no worries, then the teacher says something about a variable. Wanda asks the deaf student if she has a sign for it. I get drawn into the discussion and the teacher notices us (!) and asks, "Is there a question?"

Dynamics ensue! :-)

Wanda, who is the "on" interpreter, responds with a meta-answer: "Sometimes we have to discuss vocabulary, which sign to use for a particular term." I wanted to ask the teacher to explain "variable" so we could play with the concept, hear it in her words in English then consider how to convey it in ASL. I was hesitant though, just raised my hand. The teacher didn't notice this and moved on. I suggested the multiple question sign (when you use all four fingers to trace the shape of a question mark), and class moved on.

I, however, went into deep analysis mode. (Surprise!) I wondered about the function of a meta-answer in this instance, instead of a narrative translation (e.g., "we're discussing the sign for variable"). Wanda played along (thanks!), and told me that this was the second instance of the teacher appearing (to her) distracted by the interpreting process. [Note: I had arrived approx. 45 minutes late because of an overlap in job commitments.] So, there was already "history." As Wanda and I talked about this (while the student worked some problems), she came clean (bravely!) that - upon reflection - she had felt a bit frustrated by being interrupted (!) while she was in the midst of working. (Just like Deaf people often feel when we interrupt them to clarify something in the middle of their talking?!)

[Note: I write the following in strong language to make the point clear; in reality, there wasn't so much conscious intention, it "just happened."] So, the function of a meta-answer in this instance was to "shut down" the hearing person's interruptions into the interpreting process. By "function," I mean the immediate goal of the act. The "act" is the answer provided by the interpreter. I described the answer as "meta" because it described why we were talking but not what we were talking about.

I worried about the impact of this function, because of the long-term effect it could have on the unfolding of communication norms in this group. From my immediate perspective, there was already more cross-cultural, bilingual interaction than most groups ever accomplish! I did not want this to stop! The deaf student responded to many, many questions; and the teacher adapted very quickly to the situation: eye contact with the deaf student, only one experiential "lesson" in hearing the interpreter's voice and realizing it was the deaf student "speaking," in addition to her obvious attentiveness to the interpreting process.

I wasn't sure what to actually DO about all of this though, beyond making notes and engaging my teammate in discussion about it. Partly, my hesitation was due to team/power dynamics. Since I'd arrived late I considered her the Lead Interpreter. Also, she had more experience with this student than me; I had only just met the student the previous week. What norms were already in place? What was I potentially going to interfere with or even mess up? I certainly wasn't going to overrule her after she had satisfied the teacher with an answer and the teacher had moved on. So....the two of us had a cool talk and that might have been the end of it, except . . .

The teacher came over at the end of class to ask how things had gone and if there was anything we needed to address! I am so impressed with her! We spoke for 20 minutes about the problem of interpreting "variable" and other language issues. The teacher explained how the concept of "variable" is hard to explain in English, and sympathized with our struggle to not only understand "variable" for ourselves but also to find equivalent expressions in another language. It turned out my improvization was satisfactory because it captures the general principle of "an unknown number." The deaf student suggested (at first) a signed English "V", but agreed when we discussed the fact that such a sign is only a code - realizing that a code does not convey information about the meaning of "variable."

End result? We have a sign for variable that is conceptually accurate in/for this context. We have an agreement to pursue bilingual, cross-cultural conversations about meaning when such arises. I asked the teacher which she would prefer, now that she had the experience of conferring with us about conceptual accuracy. She said she doesn't mind taking the time, whenever we need to do so. Is that cool or what?! Very cool. :-)

And my teammate rocks. She not only humored me (!) but was curious herself and participated in both the practical discussion and through personal reflection. The deaf student, btw, was highly praised by the teacher, "I'm impressed," she said, by the student's recall of math concepts from study many years ago. All around, it's going to be one awesome job. :-)

Posted by Steph at 9:51 AM | Comments (0)

May 3, 2006

well-trained "hearing" people

Non-deaf persons, collectively labeled "the hearing" from the Deaf point-of-view, are occasionally a source of great amusement. Take today. I'm interpreting. The speaker has a tendency to become passionate, so my signing reflects this. I use a bit more energy, sign a bit quicker and with more emphasis.

The concept has to do with a sudden, steep decline. A serious one. Not happy. The non-manual facial grammar that adds the proper adjectival intonation is a somewhat tight pucker, lips not fully closed, but narrowed (like THIN). It is usually accompanied by an exhalation.

So there I am, interpreting away. Intense subject matter, emotions are involved. The speaker is energized; I'm right there. Here's the decline, I pucker. Wouldn't you know I generate a high-pitched whistle! The deaf consumer giggles for a solid minute. I have to work really hard not to crack up in hysterics. My smart aleck teammate, Wanda, writes me a note on our feedback sheet about my "inaudible whisper."

The speaker doesn't flinch. Literally! Doesn't miss a beat. Other non-deaf participants give no evidence of having heard a thing. Hello?!!! I'm not saying they should have. No, really. It might seem like I'm saying they should have but that isn't my point. It was an unexpected, unusual, obviously accidental, and actually amusing moment and the whole group ignored it as if it didn't happen. We're talking some serious control.

It could be that some of them did notice and might have snickered or given some other indication that they were actually alive. I didn't look at them. I was embarrassed. It shouldn't have happened. I'm not advocating that interpreters start whistling to get people to pay attention to us. But how hard are those folks working to ignore us if they inhibit normal reactions to natural human interaction? And then we wonder why it is so difficult to affect, let alone alter, group dynamics so that linguistic participation is shared and available to everyone, regardless of the language they happen to use.

Posted by Steph at 12:09 AM | Comments (0)

May 1, 2006

Forum with Deaf Interpreters

Upcoming, May 13, in Burlington, VT.

Posted by Steph at 7:53 AM | Comments (1)

April 28, 2006

why we need to work in teams

because working alone leads to bad decisions. :-( Al Franken was terrific and I really wanted to be interpreting. But I'm not an exhibitionist. Truly. It is not fun or fulfilling to interpret for an audience of non-deaf people. The feedback, the interaction that makes it communication doesn't happen. People like it, yes, but they don't understand it!

It didn't help that I was scheduled to work solo for 90 minutes. It's a long time, longer than I usually do since that good ol' repetitive motion injury, but I considered that the energy of the event would keep me going. However, not without an audience!

As it was, I stressed out the producer quite a bit worrying about the lighting situation. We got me placed decently, and without too much stress, but when I asked if the house lights were going to be dimmed and he said yes I knew we had a serious problem. It wasn't going to work for me to be in the dark. (Remember the advice from your ITP to always travel with a portable spotlight?)

Poor guy. He hadn't had time to think about lighting the interpreters in advance (a far too common experience) and 15 minutes before a live show it wasn't exactly where he wanted to direct his energies. I was firm, though, and he pulled in another guy to discuss the issue. It was another couple of minutes before I (again) said it only mattered if the house lights were going to be dimmed. Not! So that problem was resolved.

I stood in the front, guarding a few seats in the packed auditorium, peering anxiously to the back for a familiar face or someone who looked like they were looking.... Al came out and gave some directions, I kept surveying the crowd. After he departed, I took a brisk walk to locate anyone drifting...no one. The show began, I kept looking, scanning the faces, watching people enter, look around, talk with someone, sit down. At the first break, another walk....no one. Bummer! :-(

At the second break, someone came up and asked if the seats were empty. I said they were being held for Deaf folk but it didn't seem anyone had come. He said I could interpret for everyone else. I lamented that I really wanted to be interpreting; that it would be so much fun! But, it feels creepy to do it when there's no deaf audience. I don't know how to explain it, fully. There's the exhibitionist element. I know people watch but I tune them out. That's the only way (for me) to do the job. Eye contact with people who understand the language is what makes it language. Otherwise, it's something else. Not necessarily something less, but definitely not the professional purpose for which I've been trained and hired. Does anyone ever ask a spoken language interpreter to "just go ahead and interpret" so folks can listen to the sounds?

Anyway. All of this is to frame how hard my heart fell into my stomach when the producer came up to me after the third break and said he'd cancelled the other interpreter (scheduled to arrive for the last half of the show) and that, oh, btw, there was a deaf person here but they left when there was no interpreter.

I had thought, at one point, about signing a few minutes worth of the beginning talk and inserting my own question into the interpretation: are there any deaf people here? is there anyone who needs the interpretation? But, I had been there the entire time...from before the opening of the doors through everyone coming in, sitting down. I'd asked the ushers and producer whether any of the reserved tickets had been distributed, no one knew about the tickets, but they knew I was there! I thought I'd covered all the bases. :-( It didn't seem necessary to put myself on display....then stop, and have to deal with people's stuff about that.

Yeah, that's what I've continued to think about: why didn't the deaf person identify themself? Why didn't they come to the front, look for the interpreter in the usual/standard place? Maybe they wanted to be anonymous? But I needed to know who they were, where they were, to do a good job. :-( And I have been criticized in the past for interpreting a few minutes and stopping. The question of re-injury is always on my mind, so doing the labor for no practical purpose has become even less palatable than it ever was. I love the language, the feel of it, the way it works in my body, but not for just for my sake - I'm not a poet, I'm not even a particularly good storyteller. I'm an interpreter of others' words, and part of what inspires the interpretation are the watchers whose access to the story is the language they see. Without the feedback...ugh. I mean, it can be done. If I had known there was a deaf person in the audience I would have somehow managed to maintain the focus. But not knowing, in fact, being certain there wasn't - that strain is too much.

Anyway. If there had a been a team we could have been each other's audience (at the very least). We also would have supported each other in signing those first few minutes and then stopping if there was no response. If two of us decide, that always seems to quell complaints from voyeuristic "hearies" (non-deaf) who just want to oogle. As it was (and usually is), the general audience doesn't know that the negotiated agreement was not to interpret if there was no need.

Bottom line? I feel terrible. :-( It would have been a great thing on many levels for the interpretation to have been done. Beyond access for the individual, there would have been evidence in the larger community of Deaf political awareness and interest. Should I have interpreted anyway? I don't think so; I hold firm on that. The appearance of access and inclusion is not the same as actual presence. But I have been puzzling the right of a deaf person to remain anonymous if they choose. I think that should be ok, but some kind of communication mechanism ought to be in place to let the interpreters know...it really does matter if we have a real audience or not. Doesn't it?

Posted by Steph at 9:38 PM | Comments (2)

April 27, 2006

Air America

I probably won't get to meet him, but I'm sure I will enjoy interpreting Al Franken in Brattleboro today. Gotta love this job!

I also like interpreting public events, because I think the rules for talking about them are somewhat different than the intensive confidentiality that is absolutely vital for most other work. I would still regard any private/professional conversations as confidential (among stagehands, say, or members of the audience with staff or performers or other members of the audience, etc.), but those things that occur on stage, in public, and for the public open up a space for some commentary.

ps: the cows are on the march!

Posted by Steph at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2006

trust the universe

My interpreting teammate, "Wanda," kinda upset me today. There are object lessons all the way around! First, I should've spoken up but was in some kinda 'mood', so I didn't. Second, I could have trusted that the universe would 'get even' with or without my assistance, but by then I was fuming . Third, none of it mattered anyway - at least not in the grand scheme of things.

What happened? (Sounds kinda dramatic, doesn't it?!) I was waylaid en route to the job by one of the leaders (not deaf) telling me about a videotape to be shown that my team interpreter had suggested we could take turns viewing in advance (during the job). I inquired about some of the particulars. Audio challenges, of various sorts. Yeah, a preview would help, but was it necessary? Of course, she was just trying to be responsive to previous feedback that it is really helpful for interpreters to be able to preview uncaptioned videos.

Then I entered the room and Wanda told me the same thing. There was a video and we should take turns previewing it.

I was annoyed.

Why was I annoyed? Who knows. Maybe I thought they'd wrested control away from me, or made decisions without my input. Or maybe I was just in a grouchy mood and was looking for something to be pissy about? At any rate, I was disgruntled but tried to put a good face on things. After all, it was a gorgeous early spring day and everyone else seemed in fine spirits! Who was I to put a damper on things? "I'll just go along," I said to myself. "Don't make waves."

"Do you want watch it first or...", my voice trailed off. "You can," Wanda states (definitively, in my view. There goes my attitude up another notch!) I wheel the tv/video cart into the next room, plug in and settle down for 28 minutes of viewing pleasure. At least it is a good video. I won't mind watching it twice in short succession. I return to the meeting room and relieve Wanda. Who sits down with the obvious intention of not going to watch the video! "What the...?!???"

I sign an aside during a lull in the interpretation. "Are you going to watch the video?" "Yes, I will," Wanda says. Going nowhere. Do I have a bug up my butt or what?!!! Soon, the leaders discuss the course of events....finish this, watch the video, do something else. "Can you take over?" I ask, steaming. Because obviously now there's no time for equal prep and I'm going to have to do the whole thing. Hmmph!

And so it goes. Wanda interprets until the short break before the video, at which time she's ready to dash off to watch the first ten minutes or so. I told her not to bother. My attitude is s-h-o-w-i-n-g! and I know it, so I confess, I'm annoyed that you'd made this plan without consulting me to begin with and then changed it and I didn't know what the heck was going on....blah blah whine complain.

Turns out Wanda has had her own stress! I go out to view the video and the meeting begins with a dense exposition of material that is extremely challenging to understand without supplementary context. One of those we-all-know-what-we're-talking-about-and-you-don't kind of coded conversations. Wanda panicked because I'm not there to provide feeds and moral support. ("Serves her right," I mutter.) No, I didn't really. LATER we laughed about it together, but in the moment we had to just carry on. She suffered through mis/non/incomprehension while I scowled at a tv screen. (Vindication? Apparently the prep did improve the eventual interpretation of the video - and I guess my disgruntlement didn't show.)

The real rub? It wasn't even Wanda's idea to do the previewing! She went along with a suggestion by the group leader! So both of us were duped into a set-up that didn't work for either of us (and hence, not at peak efficiency for the group using our services).

Two lessons. REAL previewing of videos is still a way good idea. Which does require planning and coordination.

Noting those scritchy feelings when they come up is good professional practice. Better practice is being able to somehow figure out what the scritchiness is about and resolve the situation before it leads to ulcers and other communication debacles.

Posted by Steph at 11:21 PM | Comments (4)

March 26, 2006

powers of ten

Here's another item I'm sure I've posted before but obviously didn't catalog or code correctly for later retrieval. At any rate, I saw this short video on the powers of ten when I interpreted a science class some years back for upper elementary school students (possibly fifth-graders). I find it a useful metaphor for this notion of social metonymy that I keep trying to articulate as a means of linking the microsocial with the macrosocial and vice-versa.

Posted by Steph at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

March 8, 2006

intervening to clarify - when?

When my team, "Wanda" glanced at me uncertainly and signed what she thought she heard, I immediately cast my attention into short-term memory: what had I just heard? I thought I'd heard, "making the visible invisible" but what I saw signed was the other way around, making the invisible visible. Shoot! Did it matter? Was it a crucial concept? Could I ask to clarify? The speaker went on, so did Wanda. I perseverated. When and how could I ask? Should I ask or let it go?

Last week we'd had a moment where we had both misheard a term in the same way. "Kenyan" did not seem to fit the situation, but then again - this group regularly (several times a day) refered to a wide range of ethnicities and nationalities; it could have been a new example that interpreters weren't familiar with but members of the group knew. We'd let it go until after the meeting....and then the speaker couldn't remember the context (and neither could we, fixated only on what the single word might have sounded like instead of the context in which it was said).

So today I wondered actively about whether to seek clarification or not. The whole notion of making obvious things disappear is of immense interest to me, how is it that "the elephant in the living room" can't be seen? I was so busy attending first to what I'd heard and seen, and second to my own process about whether or not to ask, that I missed an important communicative exchange between Wanda and the Deaf interlocutor (participant), who indicated that the goof was no big deal. I didn't find out that the two of them had "resolved" this between themselves until we discussed it at break, after I had found a moment to ask for the clarification. (Oops.)

So, here I am, the back-up interpreter. My team has cast a look my way for help and I didn't have it to give in that moment. As happens almost always, the group carried on, either unaware or trained not to be too curious about what the interpreters are doing. The person speaking couldn't have seen the hesitation as Wanda was behind her, so she kept on talking. While she spoke, I pondered: is this my question or a legitimate question for the group? No one else is asking - but they all read the material being summarized. We hadn't. (Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we get away with not reading, sometimes we don't.) So the other non-deaf ("hearing") members of the group probably heard what they expected to hear, but if we heard and therefore interpreted differently than it was written, would that throw off the Deaf member of the group? Unless she knew what was written, recognized the goof, and - knowing what the speaker intended - just moved on with the overall discussion. Or, she could have not been clear on what was written and a misinterpretation here could lead her down a path of misunderstanding...

Wanda and I had both felt a pang of guilt for not clarifying the "Kenyan" comment the week before. It was probably just an adjective describing a case that was one particular example among a broad pattern. Not vital. But then again, "just an adjective" - whoa! What if that adjective clued a group with a unique experience that everyone knew about, except for the Deaf member who never got the reference because the interpreters were puzzling between ourselves....did she say "Kenyan"?

I mulled, what's the difference between asking in one instance and not the other?

In the "Kenyan" instance, it did seem like "just" a descriptor; not the main point. In the "visible/invisible" instance, it seemed more like a general concept that could be generalized and needed to be understood. So I justified to myself that I ought to ask. When the presenter finished speaking, there was a brief pause:

"Can I ask a clarification for the interpreters? It's been awhile back, but we're not sure we heard it correctly, was it the making the invisible visible or the visible invisible?"

The presenter clarified, it was making the visible (the obvious) invisible (unspeakable, hidden). She then went on to expand on what this meant, maintaining eye contact with me. I was, after all, the one who asked the question! Even though I'm not supposed to be part of the group. That ol' conundrum! When she was done, one of the instructors built upon this point, so it served as a segue (although probably a different one than would have occurred if I hadn't asked).

During the break a half-hour or so later, I asked the non-deaf speaker how it felt for me to ask. She was fine with it, and another non-deaf person added that if we (the interpreters) didn't get it, probably someone else didn't either. Ah yes, but then is it our responsibility to 'fix' that for the group or theirs? Oh gosh! If it's theirs, I should have kept my mouth shut! When I asked the deaf person her point-of-view, she said she had known, in that instance, what was meant, but that if she hadn't it could have been a problem not to have the clarification. So - my bad for missing the cue that all was good. However, the deaf person went on to say that a) she liked how I asked because I was very clear it was for the interpreters, and b) that the speaker's expansion (all that additional information) was quite good and useful.

Which brings me to my last point, that part of the judgment about whether to intervene or not may have to do with some expectation or assumption about what the person being clarified (an act usually experienced as a form of interruption) will provide in response.

Posted by Steph at 12:40 PM | Comments (0)

March 6, 2006

how to conclude?

I was asked (!) to write a summary of my ongoing interpreting research for a sign language interpreter's journal in the United Kingdom in which I would discuss similarities and differences between spoken and sign language interpreter's experiences. I've hammered out a first draft but am lost for a conclusion. I need help! I've written to an audience of "insiders" - but I hope it is understandable to non-interpreters as well. I would love any and all feedback regarding clarity. What will help the most, right now, is if you would share with me your thoughts and reactions to what I've written. Do you agree/disagree? Does it lead you to certain questions or help bring a particular dilemma into view? I'm honestly curious about whatever comes to your mind while considering about what I've written.

The framework I'm writing from - my research lens - is critical discourse analysis. I don't explain that here at all (that's for the dissertation).

Thanks. :-)

Dynamics of Simultaneous Interpreting in Speech and Sign

I was thrilled at how familiar it felt to talk with spoken language interpreters at the European Parliament last spring. I interviewed more than sixty professional conference interpreters, trying to get a feel for their view of the effectiveness of interpreting in the largest multilingual organization in the world. They complain about the same things that bother sign language interpreters: lack of prep materials, speeches read from written texts at blazing speed, inelegant and disorganized speakers - how many tangents can one squeeze into a single sentence? As a professional, I enjoyed their wit, finely honed intelligence, and broad knowledge of social, economic, and political issues. (I didn’t meet any of the dull ones, although I heard rumors of their existence. They lurk among us.) While I was there in the role of a researcher, my work as a sign language interpreter would often become part of the interview as we shared anecdotes, questions, and musings about similarities and differences in ‘the work’.

Most of the differences don’t matter much. Not that they are inconsequential, but they are specific to the languages, cultures, personalities, contexts, and agendas of each situation. Even the mode divide – the verbal/auditory mode of speech or the visual/gestural mode of sign – is, in and of itself, not particularly significant as a difference for the doing of interpretation. (None of the interpreters I interviewed hesitated to accept sign as real language, although I was surprised how many thought it might be universal.) The differences that stick in my mind have more to do with the ways these spoken language interpreters tended to discuss problems of meaningfulness more than problems of practice. It’s been over a decade since my interpreter training program in the US, so I don’t want my reflections here to be taken as a judgment on the state of the art – curriculum may have evolved quite a bit. But the kinds of workshops I see advertised and occasionally attend regarding sign language interpretation are usually skills-oriented. The discussions and conversations that occur in these settings are problems of practice: what would you do in this situation? How would you handle that kind of thing? What if such-and-so occurs?

Now, it could be that my memory is skewed, or that there’s some way I handled the interviews that brought questions of meaning into the foreground among the spoken language interpreters I was fortunate enough to meet. By problems of meaningfulness, I mean, “Is interpreting worth it?” Does interpreting have intrinsic value as a human talent? Does it offer something unique to intercultural communication or structures of cross-cultural social organization? Is the need for highly skilled professional interpreters an economic and political resource requiring protection and cultivation? Or, is interpreting a communicative choice of last resort? Should it be? Sign language interpreters do discuss concerns of collusion with oppression (audism) and how to avoid impeding Deaf empowerment, but there is little apparent concern over the demise of the field. There are concerns, centered in the Deaf community, that recent technological advances in video-relay telecommunications equipment will irrevocably alter the character of Deaf Culture by allowing an increasing percentage of communication to be conducted from the home instead of in person. The popularity of this service among people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing is to be expected, as the technology allows a wider range of options, giving access to privileges of privacy and convenience that non-deaf (“hearing”) persons have long enjoyed. Interpreters have, in general, embraced the new technology with equal enthusiasm, albeit with growing wariness about occupational hazards running the gamut from increased risk of repetitive motion injuries to basic exploitation by employers intent on maximizing their profit margin.

While the field of sign language interpreting grows and diversifies, at least a dozen spoken language interpreters informed me that they would not advise a young person to pursue professional spoken language interpreting as a career. Conference interpreting was characterized at least once as “a dying profession”, and those who don’t think it will fade completely believe the range of venues where it is used will continue to shrink. Few imagine the possibility that community interpreting could become a growing market (despite large populations of immigrants and refugees all over Europe), because maintaining linguistic and cultural integrity for non-European "others" is undervalued and drastically underpaid. Conference interpreters recognize the value and necessity of community interpreting – some even saying interpreting in the community is more vital to people’s lives than conference interpreting because at the governmental level there are so many checks and balances, while at the community level a real person is dealing with an immediate situation with actual, possibly dire, consequences. However, without a marked increase in status and remuneration very, very few conference interpreters perceive community interpreting as a viable option.

It is possible that the focus I’m highlighting here has to do with the radically different socioeconomic and institutional levels of work between spoken language conference interpreters and sign language community interpreters. The pool of interpreters I interviewed at the European Parliament are without question in the elite ranks of the profession. This does not necessarily imply a hierarchy of skill (I would argue that community interpreters can be just as talented in the doing of the job), but it is a reflection of the political environment and Parliament interpreters' proximity to power. Community sign language interpreters work in the every day world of (hopefully) routine appointments with doctors, lawyers, and therapists. We work in myriad social service and educational settings where deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals seek institutional support to live their lives and pursue their dreams. We also interpret for large corporations and small businesses, for political organizations and self-help groups, for weddings, funerals, parties, and protests. The commonality across these situations is that the minority language user is rarely the person in charge, is rarely the boss or the person with the power to decide how things will be.

Spoken language interpreters at the European Parliament, however, not only rub shoulders with national political figures and world-renowned leaders, but are integrally a part of negotiations that establish the rules for institutional structures that will dictate the life chances of millions. There are still issues of minority and majority languages, although these are typically described as “larger” and “smaller”, and spoken language interpreters are quite attuned to ways that smaller language users sacrifice their linguistic power by frequently choosing to use a larger language instead of their own. The pressures on Members of Parliament and the officials who administer the institutional apparatus to speak a lingua franca rather than use interpreters are subtle and overt, economic and political, and disquietingly pervasive. These are different manifestations of the same ethic of homogeneity that have plagued deaf persons and immigrants in the US for generations. Beginning with the banning of sign languages at residential schools for the deaf and proceeding through English-only movements and recent repeals of bilingual education laws, all of these moves presuppose monolingualism as a superior mode of communication. They assume understanding is unproblematic, or at least less so, if communicators use a common tongue.

Anyone who has experienced a relationship fall apart on the basis of misunderstanding knows differently. Anyone attending to political negotiations between entrenched parties knows each side is likely only to perceive what they already believe. “Understanding” is a concept mired in magical thinking and a facile faith that if one just uses “the right words” everything will go as one desires. Spoken and Sign language interpreters share the intimate awareness that the right words are a gift: never a guarantee. Words often are not right in the beginning, they grow into “rightness” over time, as situations unfold. Words are uttered and their rightness confirmed by how they are received. Sometimes words are “wrong” because of inaccurate diction, skewed perception, or incomplete information. What matters at this point is the choice made by communicators about how to address the misunderstanding – does one openly note that understanding has been missed or does one turn the error into a missile? How does one recognize something has been missed, and what does one do about the missing? Interpreters are trained – consciously or otherwise – to anticipate potential misses and attempt, if possible, to avert them. A difference between sign language and spoken language interpreters may be the relative degrees of power each has to mediate the misses that inevitably still occur.

While spoken language interpreters at the Parliamentary level have an enormous amount of prestige, they are tightly constrained by a bureaucratic system and traditional codes of professional behavior. Because they usually work in an environment with numerous colleagues, the work of spoken language interpreters is under constant evaluation and their conduct under steady surveillance. There is little room for innovation or creativity in the performance of the work for fear of community censure. Indeed, the spoken language interpreters I spoke with disagreed whether or not there is any creativity in interpreting at all, with some minimizing specific translation decisions and others lauding them as potentially art. Sign language interpreters, on the other hand, often work alone or – at most – in pairs. Occasionally there are more complicated venues that require larger teams (such as conferences with breakout sessions), or a large enough population of individuals with disparate communication needs that require specialized access services (for instance, persons who are deaf and blind require tactile interpretation). These events are usually cause for celebration – the chance to work with several peers on the same job is a treat for sign language interpreters. The trade-off in power to affect the actual communicative situation, however, is significant. Because sign language interpreters are often the only ones present who know both languages, their decisions are generally not questioned: this opens up a range of options for dealing with misunderstanding – including interrupting, asking for repetition or clarification, requesting time to work with a concept to be sure it’s clear, and sometimes even designating turn-taking.

Conference interpreters are under much tighter control. The boundaries of professional etiquette circumscribe the mediation or negotiation of a misunderstanding. Because they are constantly being watched and listened to, there is little room for experimentation, let alone actual deviation from the established norms. Indeed, spoken language interpreters are often physically prevented from intervening because they are stationed in a space apart from the direct communicators: they speak of being “behind the glass” and “in the booth”. Sign language interpreters have historically been in the room with communicators, and with no one to criticize their choices, can essentially act in whatever way they think is best for the situation. This can include switching between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting, clarifying confusing exchanges, providing salient background information, even asking communicators to rearrange seating, lighting, or the pace of interaction. In other words, sign language interpreters have more local or immediate power because of the freedom granted by working either alone or with only a few peers. Spoken language interpreters, by contrast, have hardly any power within the constraints of conference interpreting. It is almost a paradox, except that there is nothing that holds these limits in place besides convention.


And so . . . ! Therefore . . . ? help! :-)

Posted by Steph at 7:11 PM | Comments (2)

February 24, 2006

dealing with challenging content

"Wanda" and I have faced a couple of interpreting challenges recently. One is the perennial issue of not knowing the subject matter. "I feel like he's poured out a bag of multicolored M&M's with every sentence and I have to sort them."

It isn't that one has to know every subject in great depth and detail, but one does need to be conversant with the general types of thinking that go along with a particular setting. For instance, I think I was mistaken a while back when I said one shouldn't take a job involving "gay history" without knowing gay history...it isn't that the facts need to be known, but the general issues and concerns of the group should be familiar, as well as important terms commonly used in the community.

Similarly, interpreting for graduate level classes means one must be prepared for deep theoretical discussions. Of course we can't know each and every particular theory, but the larger framework of concerns about thought, thinking, research, the construction of knowledge and questions about what it means "to understand" span most coursework at that level. These broad concerns may not come up all the time, but we ought not be caught off guard when they do. My M&M-sorting colleague had a bad day (normally she handles this stuff with aplomb). But the event clarified for me a way of talking about what "minimum qualifications" mean in a given setting or for a particular assignment.

And - speaker's sentences can feel like multicolored M&Ms needing sorting for other reasons too: for instance, their own lack of organization! As Seleskovitch writes: "The message is naturally conditioned by the person who originates it". If a speaker doesn't provide a framework or fails to explain transitions from one topic/subject to the next, meaning is hard to grasp. In these instances, one has to wonder if the speaker themself knows what they mean or even has a point that they are trying to convey!

The worst situation is when both conditions collide.

Posted by Steph at 6:00 PM | Comments (0)

tracing interpreting theory

It's time for me to dive in to the literature on the theory of interpretation. The obvious starting point is with Danica Seleskovitch who published the first descriptive (explanatory) materials for training purposes in 1968 (blurb from a google search - the URL won't open). I've got Interpreting for International Conferences (1978) with me now. There are updates, expansions, digressions, and alternatives on the AIIC website, where I'll soon spend considerable time.

Daniel Giles has divided interpreting research in the West into four periods, with a particular emphasis on the "Paris School," which theorized interpreting as based on meaning (French sens) and renamed (when?) "La théorie interprétative de la traduction", the interpretative theory of translation." This is the primary theory informing the practice of professional simultaneous interpreters at the European Parliament.

What intrigues me is the way that interpreters phenomenologically constructed theories of language based on their work that parallel important philosophical conceptualizations arrived at by other intellectual processes: rationalism (?) and structuralism, most clearly. I've got a hunk of work to do to sort these out and make a coherent argument! Does anyone know of a biography of Seleskovitch's life and/or career? (There's a master's thesis for someone!) She "exists" in discourse, her own authored works, and the legacy of her training methods and style...but has anyone tied it all together?

Her concerns in 1978 (as reflected in her text) involve mechanization (the 'threat' of machines taking over the work of translation and interpretation) and of explaining the process of interpretation to laymen and trainees. Her purpose, she explains, is "to shed light on the mental processes which make possible the virtually instantaneous transmission of an oral message into another language" (9). There are four kinds of "problems" that complicate this transmission: "problems of comprehension, problems of knowledge, problems of communication and also problems of language" (10). She provides the metaphor of painting (instead of photography) to encapsulate these problems and the processes which resolve them. "Photography captures every detail and prefectly reproduces all that falls within the range of the camera's lens...Painting, on the other hand, seeks to discover a meaning, to convey a message and, of course, reflects the object as seen through the eyes of the painter. Just as painting is not copying, interpretation is not a word-for-word translation" (19).

Posted by Steph at 5:28 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2006

more experimentation (and success!)

Have had two more opportunities to practice moving instead of sitting as I interpret. Both of these were with Deaf persons who don't do lipreading (the other two so far tend to switch back and forth between lipreading and watching the interpretation). I was anxious how it would go....maybe this method is only good for those in that in-between position of being able to get by without interpreters one-on-one but not in groups?

But no (!), both of these Deaf consumers said they felt more attentive, that it was better to follow the interpreter with their gaze and be able to see who was speaking, and that they felt more engaged.

The movement did not, however, make it automatically easier to break into the non-deaf, spoken flow of conversation. These two particular groups are so used to interpretation that they basically ignore the whole process. (That's how they were trained, and how they've gotten used to it.) Even us doing something completely different like standing and walking around them the entire time (!) didn't ruffle their composure or cause more than a glance or two of mild curiousity. No one asked. That's a bit discouraging, but one of the non-deaf persons was involved in both groups and I was able to check and get their opinion - which was noncommittal, basically "no big deal" and "do whatever you want."

I explained how, at one point, the group had begun speaking of something internal to their operations that all of them knew but neither me nor my team did. Whatever their phrase was to refer to an entire complicated procedure involving several people and phrases was not transparent - after explanation we knew what it meant, but not without a reference point! Unfortunately, it took a good three minutes to break into the group's talking to get the clarification, by which point in time the Deaf person was pretty far behind on the concrete details of the discussion. Of course, we did our best to fill in the gaps, and he's quick-minded and familiar enough with the context that he could manage, but still.....how much was lost?

It felt like a risk to try this "new" method in this "old" group, and with culturally-grounded Deaf persons. I'm pleased it worked out as well as it did, even if it's not an instant cure for the problems of linguistic inequality.

Posted by Steph at 6:31 PM | Comments (6)

January 6, 2006

more experimentation

I tried that moving-around-the-group style again today in a different setting with a bunch of people who weren't part of the first experiment. I'd just barely had a chance to explain it to my team and the Deaf person when the event got underway, so we all took the plunge. At break I asked how it was going:

It feels more natural," said the Deaf person, going on to explain that it felt better to look at the speaker and know that no one was wondering about whether or not they were paying attention.

This is the first group I've done since I got "stuck" in the traditional model (of planting butt in one place and not moving). Overall, the whole event seemed to go very well. Early on, the facilitator made space for some discussion of the interpreting process by the whole group, which hardly ever happens but is such a blessing because it normalizes our presence and function. This made it easier for some inclusive discussions during break, and someone even made a parallel later in the day between the interpreting process and "translating" something from the individual/psychological level to the group/systemic level. The parallel opened up a natural opportunity for the Deaf person to explain the two levels on which interpretation occurs, via mode (from the auditory to the visual) and via language (from the grammar, syntax, semantics of English to the linguistic features of ASL). It was just simply way cool!

I did notice some issues, however (as I always do!). grin. The most glaring was my own error in not voicing a comment made by the Deaf person upon reentering the room, instead I answered the query. It was a bit tricky because this person has good speech skills and voiced for themself, so I responded to the "code" of signing as a private request. Of course, if this occurred between a working interpreter and a non-deaf person there would be serious upset! It was also complicated by the fact that there was a lull in the group's overall discussion because someone was sketching a diagram on the board and no one was speaking, so there was no conversation being interrupted. Which, duh!, "ought" to have made it even easier for me to voice the question and defer to someone in the group. I was conflicted between the "norm" of participating in privileged communication between interpreters and deaf persons and the "rule" of providing equal access to all.

The problem with the norm, as I see it, is especially apparent during breaks, when often interpreters and deaf interlocutors (the fancy word for those who are supposedly communicating directly with each other) chit chat about various and sundry things. For instance, during the first break today we had a conversation about who forgot to bring lunch. Nothing earth-shattering, but the non-deaf person watching was excluded. No big deal you say? Well, I think it could be, because while we (the interpreters) had a nice little bonding moment with the deaf person, we're not going to be back in that situation again, but the deaf and non-deaf persons ARE going to be interacting with each other for some indeterminate period of time into the future. Did we serve to promote their relationship or hinder it?

The other interesting thing I noticed, which is VERY common, is that the non-deaf members of the group simply didn't ask what was going on when there were signed conversations that weren't voiced. Why is that? My team says it may depend on context, even gender (men might ask what's going on more often than women?) and I'm wondering if age has something to do with it as well? Teens for instance, and very old people - both groups who may not feel as much need to conform to perceptions of social etiquette as those of us solidly in the "middle". But who knows? In my experience, it is quite rare for non-deaf persons to ask to be included in non-interpreted signed conversation. This could be taken as a demonstration of respect, and I'm not intending to be critical of it, but it begs questions of power and accountability. Who is "supposed" to decide when a non-deaf person should or should not be included? And what are the long-term (one could say systemic) consequences of these decisions?

Don't misread me; I'm not complaining about a single thing that happened today. It was one of the smoothest jobs I've had in a long time and I can't think of any specific thing that I think could have gone better - except for having captions (!). It's just that I've become more attuned over the years to certain group dynamics that repeat themselves over and over again in so many different variations of settings and with such diverse persons that I think it's worth opening up more discussion about whether or not these particular habits serve or inhibit bilingual communication and cross-cultural relationships.

Posted by Steph at 7:37 PM | Comments (2)

January 3, 2006

"the most heterogenous political entity"

So Dan described the European Parliament while asking me a bit about the research I'm trying to accomplish there. I felt a new level of clarity trying to explain what I'm looking at in the interpreting process, which I wanted to capture here....

First, all language use involves power - most obviously in political negotiations although also in interpersonal interactions. (We had a fun digression regarding couple's communication, grin.) There's a myth that people necessarily communicate better if they're using the same language, however people speaking the same language also miscommunicate and misunderstand each other. (Among some of us rather more frequently than others, frown.)

The job of the interpreter, more than anything else, is to mediate the power. It seems we're not supposed to admit this? Most of the discourse in interpreter talk about interpreting (in my overall experience) involves cultural equivalence, comparable effect, mutual understanding.... rarely (if ever?) does the term "power" come up. Interestingly, Deaf persons often challenge sign language interpreters around the use of power, but this discourse is quite tangled, with Deaf people wanting to use interpreters to weild their own cultural/linguistic/personal power, non-deaf people being generally oblivious to linguistic inequality, and interpreters dancing all over the place trying to find a comfortable position "to be" in the midst of all this.

We didn't get too much into the way I think the act of interpreting relates to democracy, but Dan deduced the general points that linguistic diversity preserves difference, and difference is essential to democracy.

Just as a point of coincidence, Burckhard commented within hours of that conversation (!) with a useful critique of my rhetoric. I know I'll have to find a way of presenting the case such that it doesn't just come across as polemical. At the same time, I do think there is something urgent in understanding the potentials of this historical moment, so perhaps I can be forgiven for letting some of that concern show? :-/

Posted by Steph at 9:17 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2005

Dropping Anchor, Setting Sail

This ethnography, subtitled Geographies of Race in Black Liverpool, is amazing. In addition to superb analysis that grounds complicated theory with real day-to-day living, there are bits that might relate to my study on interpreters in the European Parliament. An obvious connection is with RP, Received Pronounciation, also known as posh (p. 14).

The author, Jacqueline Nassy Brown (who will give a talk at UMass in Feb), is interviewed (briefly) on the BBC radio program Thinking Allowed (interview starts about 8 1/2 minutes in). In the book, she provides a two-page summary of phenomenology that's quite useful (p. 9-10). Interestingly, she distances herself from it as representative of her own epistemology, stating "my point is not to endorse ... but to lay the groundwork for one of the arguments that follows..." (p. 11).

Her argument is fascinating, involving the ways "people make sense of place-as-matter, a practice that includes reading landscapes and acting on the view that place acts, that it shapes human consciousness" (p. 11).

Broadly, Brown's argument is situated to engage the question of "how we might theorize the local in view of increased scholarly attention to transnational processes of racial formation" (p. 5).

Posted by Steph at 9:19 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2005

democratic theorizing (and the EU)

I think Bahktin and Benjamin are going to get me from the act of interpretation to the practice of democracy. Some folks to follow up on and/or revisit include:

Derrida, "On Democracy to Come", here's a critique, suggested by Briankle along with Jacques Ranciere and Etienne Balibar, who I was introduced to in the class on transnational citizenship last year. Here's a 1999 lecture, At the Borders of Europe.

Stephen also mentioned Balibar, and had us reading Chantal Mouffe. I've got to back up and read her work with Ernesto Laclau too.

Posted by Steph at 5:35 PM | Comments (0)

DG on Education and Training Language Info

More information on official languages, educational efforts, percentages of the population "speaking a language other than mother tongue well enough to take part in a conversation", etc.

Posted by Steph at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

Council of Europe Language Policy

This Council is not one of the official institutions of the European Union, if I remember correctly, however it too has an extensive document on Posted by Steph at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

December 5, 2005

Why are all those languages important?

"In many cases, the legal acts resulting from discussions will have an immediate and direct effect on people’s lives. There should be no obstacle to understanding and putting views in meetings. The citizens of Europe should not have to be represented in Brussels by their best linguists: they can send their best experts." from a pdf report released November

How much does interpreting cost? "The total annual cost of DG Interpretation in 2004, spread over the budgets of the institutions and bodies for which it provides interpretation, was 108 million euro, or € 0.23 per citizen of the enlarged Union. The separate interpreting services of the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, in the Commission’s best estimate, cost approx. 76 million euro in 2004. In other words, the total cost of interpretation in the European Union was equivalent to € 0,40 per citizen in 2004 and may reach, in 2007-2010, € 0.50 per citizen per year (238 million euro) All translation and interpretation in the European Union institutions cost € 2 per citizen in 2004 – the cost of a cup of coffee."

pdf: Interpretation: where do we stand one year after Enlargement? From the DG on Interpretation (SCIC).

Posted by Steph at 9:32 AM | Comments (0)

December 3, 2005

Communication Strategy: Enlargement

Buried in this 2003 public planning statement might be something about interpretation. There is an attachment, "Funds Per Delegation".

Posted by Steph at 3:13 PM | Comments (0)

regional languages in EU

Spanish regional languages are used for the first time in EU institutions: “it's a historic day for Europe”, say Spanish regional Presidents.

Galician, Catalan - indigenously known as Valencian, and Basque - billed as the oldest language in Europe - were made official languages of the European Union on 16 November, 2005.

Posted by Steph at 3:00 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2005

definitions & diagrams: interpreting

The EU's Directorate General for Interpretation has a site that defines and diagrams the various kinds of interpretation, including sign language.

Posted by Steph at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

official multilingualism

Europa is the "official portal to the European Union". It's section on languages asserts:

"Our policy of official multilingualism as a deliberate tool of government is unique in the world. The EU sees the use of its citizens’ languages as one of the factors which make it more transparent, more legitimate and more efficient."

Meanwhile, the "first ever Communication" on multilingualism was just released on 22 November 2005.

The Europa section on "interpreting" (under the languages portal) explains: "to some the extra work it creates for its institutions may seem, at first sight, to outweigh the advantages. But there are special reasons for it. The Union passes laws directly binding on its citizens and companies, and as a matter of simple natural justice, they and their courts must have a version of the laws they have to comply with or enforce in a language they can understand. Everyone in the Union is also entitled and encouraged to play a part in building it, and must be able to do it in his/her own language."

This passage emphasizes the textual element (translation) as "a matter of simple natural justice". The reference to the necessity of simultaneous interpreting is obscure: "Everyone ... is ... entitled ... to play a part in building [the Union? or the Unions's laws?], and must be able to do it in his/her own language" (emphasis added).

Being able to create laws using one's own language with others who are also using their own language requires interpreters, who "are there to help the meeting proceed as if everyone was speaking the same language," according to the official Directorate General for Interpretation's website. "It is the interpreters' job to make communication possible between delegates who do not share a language."

Ironically, the link above details how meeting participants can facilitate the communication process through their own attentiveness to the process of multilingual communication. Such advice is at odds, however, with the "as if" mandate of interpreters to create the illusion of monolingualism.

Now, maybe it doesn't strike you as odd, but it does me that the EU emphasizes the primacy of speech: "Speaking at meetings and at negotiations is at the core of Community decision-making"; and of linguistic diverstiy: “Multilingual communication when people speak…is at the core of [European] Community decision-making”; but speaks of interpreting in a kind of code, as if even the presence or necessity of the service must be kept in a liminal zone of dis-acknowledgement.

Posted by Steph at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2005

"to be sure" (!)

we're having a good time in Briankle's class, discussing Walter Benjamin, The Task of the Translator and On Language As Such. Thinking together, as it were. :-)

To be sure, we're not the only ones. Others have been thinking too. I disagree with Sarah Dudek's assertion that "Benjamin’s thoughts cannot be understood without having a closer look at his concept of language". I thought we did a good job of imagining such a separation - or was that just me in my own head? I realize as I'm invoking the royal we (!) that of course you were thinking differently than me, but I'm using the "we" in the sense of the shared discourse - what was said out loud among us during class. :-)

The rest of Dudek's thought: " -'pure language' seems a rather vague term. [Benjamin's] whole project is so remarkable because it has an all-embracing notion of language as its basis: the world is made of language and the final aim is to understand this “textus” of the world, to achieve harmony between the inadequate human languages and the language of God."

David was right on top of the mysticism, eh? :-) Cabbala more precisely than Sufi, although there does seem to be a convergence of mystical spirituality from various religious traditions.

Dudek: "Benjamin posited a universal sphere of concepts, which he called the “intellectual part”, totally self-sufficient and distinguished from the “linguistic part”. The two components of the human being are connected to some extent, but the linguistic part never covers the whole conceptual sphere."

Looks like Cartesian dualism to me. Or traditional Freudian psychology. Neither of these conceived of the degree of "interplay" (Chang) between any so-called 'self' and the communication processes that constitute "it" (fancy term = subjectivity). Elinor Ochs argues that research on the practices of language socialization link "poststructural sociological paradigms that portray social structures as outcomes of social practices ... and to psychological paradigms that portray cognitive structures as outcomes of speaking ... and of social interaction" (p. 407, citations deleted).

Dudek's interpretation of Benjamin downplays this interactivity, describing the connection minimalistically, as only "to some extent".

We've also argued the following point sans theology: "Translation is the decisive means to reach the final end: it completes languages, puts together the disintegrated “modes of intention”—as Benjamin calls the sphere in semiotics termed “signifier”—and works towards the perfection of the original, which can be considered incomplete, requiring translation: “Thus translation, ironically, transplants the original into a more definitive linguistic realm”, Benjamin states."

We would argue (wouldn't we?!), that "transplantation" is too definite, merely transmissional. Instead, we'd emphasize the in-betweenness where understanding occurs as the translation substantiates or fixes meaning in the original. Dudek (it turns out) is anti-Benjamin, but this doesn't become clear until the end of the essay. She denies any practical value of his thinking because of it's messianic motivations, yet they seem - to me - to be not so difficult to strip away. In making her case, however, Dudek misrepresents (or misreads) Benjamin.

For instance, I think Dudek is way off, here: "Thus the extraordinary task the translator receives in Benjamin’s theory tends to reverse to an exceedingly binding restriction imposed on the translator lacking any granted creativity." Did anyone else get the feeling that Benjamin's endmodel was extraordinarily limiting? I guess we didn't talk too much about the boundaries of a text, but don't you think it's constituted in the same way the boundaries for deconstruction are? Just as deconstruction seeks to identify the ways a text betrays itself, doesn't an interpretation seek to identify the ways in which a text is true to itself?

None of us commented upon Benjamin's neglect of the reader, but Dudek is surprised by it: "Benjamin does not consider the reader." Here is a point of distinction, I think, between written translation and spoken/signed interpretation: a translator simply can't - realistically - "consider the reader," because the reader could be anyone and everyone. An interpreter, however, does consider the receiver, the audience, in addition to being concerned with authorship.

In practice, I bet interpreters are not uniform in the balancing of authorship and receivership ... hmmmm!

”The end of any consideration for the reader of a translation provides freedom to the translator. The transmission of content is superfluous: if there is not receiver there is no demand for information. It is possible to focus only on aesthetics—as incomprehensible as the result might prove to be." First, did anyone get the sense that the information didn't matter at all? I thought the point was that it's not really worth going to the effort of translation if there is nothing in addition to "information" - call it aesthetics, intention, desire, culture. Did I get this wrong?

Second, just because one doesn't consider the reader doesn't mean there isn't one.

Here's something we didn't discuss, I thought I recalled we'd had some discussion about the title last year. Again quoting Dudek: "the German title “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers” could also be translated as “The Surrender of the Translator”."

Yes, this is the immersion in the text. The plunge, as it were, into the other language. To be sure, this is how one knows there are boundaries: one must submit.

Posted by Steph at 9:09 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2005

Nuremberg Procedures

Rules of Procedure

Rule 2. Notice to Defendants and Right to Assistance of Counsel.

(a) Each individual defendant in custody shall receive not less than 30 days before trial a copy, translated into a language which he understands, (1) of the Indictment, (2) of the Charter, (3) of any other documents lodged with the Indictment, and (4) of a statement of his right to the assistance of counsel as set forth in sub-paragraph (d) of this Rule, together with a list of counsel. He shall also receive copies of such rules of procedure as may be adopted by the Tribunal from time to time. "

Rule 9. Record, Exhibits, and Documents.

(a) A stenographic record shall be maintained of all oral proceedings. Exhibits will be suitably identified and marked with consecutive numbers. All exhibits and transcripts of the proceedings and all documents lodged with and produced to the Tribunal will be filed with the General Secretary of the Tribunal and will constitute part of the Record.

(b) The term "official documents" as used in Article 25 of the Charter includes the Indictment, rules, written motions, orders that are reduced to writing, findings, and judgments of the Tribunal. These shall be in the English, French, Russian, and German languages. Documentary evidence or exhibits may be received in the language of the document, but a translation thereof into German shall be made available to the defendants.

(check again - nothing about spoken interpretation?)

Posted by Steph at 10:02 PM | Comments (0)

Eyewitnesses at Nuremberg

"...doing an ordinary job in circumstances so extraordinary as to be unforgettable" ~ Hilary Gaskin, Eyewitnesses at Nuremberg (1990:178).

"There is no room for vengeance, there is no room for real justice in the world. You cannot revive the six million who were murdered; you cannot even do justice by reaching everybody who has committed a crime. What does that do? The thing to do is to learn what happened, and to make sure that it doesn't happen again, ever." (149-150)

"When the national government abdicates in time of crisis, and cedes its power and law-enforcement functions to organized mobs, then it is possible for Holocausts to occur, anywhere and at any time. It is all to do with the attitude that freedom can be taken instead of given." (150)

Peter Uiberall, interpreter at Nuremberg

"The trial was a landmark in my life, most emphatically. We have something here in western Europe and the United States which is absolutely einmalig, a one-time thing, namely Western civilization....What Nuremberg means to me, and meant to me really from the very beginning, was that I was a part of writing the final verdict, crossing the t's and dotting the i's, writing a final record which hopefully following generations will be wise enough to accept and understand." (156)

Alfred Steer, administrative head, language division

Fredonia hosted a conference, Sixty Years after the Nuremberg Trials: Crimes against Humanity and Peace this fall.

READ: "The Origins of Simultaneous Interpretation: The Nuremberg Trial" by Francesca Gaiba, 1998

Another review

Ingenta: Review

On a different note, a French translation may be required: Tout a commence a Nuremberg...

The Nuremberg Courtroom

Posted by Steph at 9:13 PM | Comments (0)

November 8, 2005

the shape of deaf discourse about interpreting

I don't leave for another chunk of hours, but the socializing has been one of the best parts of my time here at ASLTA. The presentation was fine (more or less) - we've got some tweaking to do in terms of organization and satisfying a wider range of learning styles earlier, but we received "plenty good feedback" (to play with a transliteration of ASL, smile). One participant said she liked "thinking about thinking", which sums up the approach, although I do hope there will be some practical outcomes, too. (Cindy kept teasing me and Eileen about our "meeting of minds" up in the ozone.) :-) Tom was trying to figure out how he could adapt a lesson for his own students (in interpreter training programs). A handful of other folk also commented on the usefulness of having a new way to think about familiar things. And someone commented that we were brave to get up and talk about this stuff at all...I think everyone who came to even listen is brave, too, given how explosive and painful trying to get past or through the tensions between the Deaf and sign language interpreters has been for many of us. I think what I personally feel best about is how well Eileen, Anne and I worked together as a team. They both are easy with the edges of my passion, which both supports and tempers my modes of perception and engagement. In other words, we make a nice but powerful kind of meaning together. :-)

Posted by Steph at 5:48 PM | Comments (0)

November 4, 2005

teaming and dialogue interpreting

I've often wondering about this too (sent by email): "A few months ago at a Betty Colonomos workshop I watched the dynamics involved when 2 interpreters worked together interpreting a dialogue, with each interpreting one of the 2 participants conversations. Seeing it interpreted that way made the dialogue easy to follow. What I'm wondering is, would that work in a situation where there were multiple participants? Would one interpreter sign the message of the first speaker, and the other terp sign all of the other respondents? or take a type of turn taking approach? This reminds me of interpreted plays. My experience is limited in this arena."

Seems like a bunch of stuff to sort out: primary might be finding some kind of balance between not turning interpreting into a show, whil still producing the most effective accessibility and participation. I know from the wee bit of theatre I've done that the timing there is really tricky...has to be coordinated with the other interpreter visually, as well as auditorily keeping up with the stream of incoming incoming! speech. I've also experienced, a very few times, divvying up the voicing when there are more than one Deaf person involved. As I'm remembering these experiences, there were still issues with temporality...

Posted by Steph at 7:17 PM | Comments (0)

November 2, 2005

the old-fashioned way

I guess it will really only become "old-fashioned" if the model actually changes, but I was struck by the normalcy with which a group today operated on auto-pilot.

I've been working in a setting where I move around constantly, putting my body (as the interpreter) where the speech (spoken language) is coming from. Sure, this means people notice me more often, but you know what? It means they're actually paying attention to the communication process! I had felt that some things were different, were going "better" somehow, but I wasn't sure why. Today, going into a different situation where folks are using the traditional model, I was able to identify some of the differences.

What do I mean by the traditional model? First and foremost, I mean the interpreters get planted in a chair, somewhere, which may or may not be close to most of the linguistic action but nonetheless is a stable place. I have no idea how this configuration began, but (brace yourselves, here I go!) I think it sucks!

Here's why: first of all, it makes us "less distracting." What this really means is, non-deaf people can ignore us - which means they can more easily ignore the presence of deaf persons in the situation. When I "make" myself more visible, by moving around the room, people remember why I'm there. What has happened in the situation where I am moving around all the time is that

a) non-deaf folks regularly notice if I'm stumped or missed something spoken and they help me out by providing a feed, repetition, or clarification and

b) non-deaf people notice when I'm following a signer but haven't quite put the concepts together yet in my head, and they wait.

There are other benefits too. Turn-taking is slowed down a bit; overlaps are less frequent; there are more opportunities for the Deaf person to break in to the temporal fast-pace of the spoken discourse, and - because the non-deaf participants are engaged visually (i.e., using their eyes to register a different kind of communicative input), there are fewer of those awkward moments when sign & speech co-occur and the interpreter has to choose, or let both pass unconveyed.

There were a few other odd things about this meeting, such as people waiting for the interpreter to designate the next speaker. That's not our job! On the one hand, this does show the group's sensitivity to the issue - they do know some things have to change, but it shouldn't be a "let's wait for the interpreter to catch up" dynamic, it should be a "let's all figure out how to modify our norms a wee bit so that there isn't an issue of the interpreter falling behind. On those occasions when it does take more speech to convey the gist of a signed comment, or vice-versa, this will simply blend into the flow.

Ok. Rant mode off. :-)

Posted by Steph at 5:47 PM | Comments (3)

November 1, 2005

"my" people!

You wouldn't know it by my frequent (cough, cough) appearances at meetings, but the Vermont Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is my professional "home". My roots are in Indiana . . .

I've had some exposure to "Demand-Control Schema" but have already put the workshop by Lynette into the calendar. Hope I can pull it off when the time draws near... If I'm still in the country in May I'll attend the community forum.

Posted by Steph at 8:47 PM | Comments (0)

October 30, 2005

Peace Village

Someone I met at David's presentation on "speech about hate speech" in Hungary suggested that this organization, the Brahma Kumaris routinely offer simultaneous interpreting in several languages. I can't find any evidence of such at the site in New York, but the one in at Mt. Abu in Indiaseems promising.

A lead for some day, maybe. :-)

Posted by Steph at 2:17 PM | Comments (0)

same name, different person?

Funny - googled myself (as if I have nothing better to do this morning), and found this poem by another "Stephanie Kent". Reinforces the importance of that middle "Jo"!

there's also an alias making loads of bucks (listed by Forbes). envy?

Here's one I hadn't come across before, about the disableism workshop Shemaya and I did at Mt Holyoke a few years back.

Then there's the good ol' activist days. Life was simpler then? Maybe I was just more clueless. :-/

Hey! Someone wrote about a presentation I gave on interpreting in a mainstream, elementary setting. It's attributed to the RID 2003 conference but just came out in the NCRID 2005 newsletter. wow - feels like that was ages ago, but I stand by what I said. :-) The author, Judith E. Labath, gives a nice summary (i.e., she made me look good, smile). Thanks!

Tom Atlee compiled some y2k stuff and posted it....one of my comments is floating around in there. I already posted links to one or two other y2k things before. (How'm I doing on the procrastion/avoiding my current life front?) *sigh* Better get busy...

But wait! James referenced me in this problematic moment paper from 2003. Dirty dawg! (I'm sure he told me and I spaced it.) Maybe this is a better link for my commgrad bio than the one that's there?)

Posted by Steph at 9:39 AM | Comments (0)

EP abstract

Well. I have two different full-length papers in mind, a couple of short "journalistic" pieces, and somehow I imagine the four of these will come together at some point in the future. In the meantime, this is my best attempt at encapsulating what the discursive data from my 100 hours (!) of interview data with interpreters at Parliament will enable me to say:

The European Union has wagered the future of democracy on linguistic diversity. Codified in the Rules of Parliament regarding the rights of Members of Parliament to rely upon simultaneous interpretation (Rule 138), economic pressures, monolinguist assumptions, and service reductions now threaten Parliament’s capacity to instantiate the dream of a multilingual community. Can a pan-European identity be constructed in alternity to the essentialized/izing monolingualism of the United States? A critical discourse analysis of spoken language interpreters’ reports of working for the European Parliament exposes linguistic inequalities and minimizations of voice that undermine the precise distinction posed as the measure of a better kind of democracy – the freedom to speak one’s mother tongue. A deconstructionist lens supports the argument that spoken language interpretation is the only institutional site where plurivocality is genuinely practiced and hence is the most vital and precious asset of any democratic EU political imaginary.

Posted by Steph at 12:01 AM | Comments (10)

October 29, 2005

EU Charter

There is a commonplace within the European Community that any citizen has the right to stand for office. It is codified in the (foundering?) EU Charter as such, however no explicit mention is made of the right/freedom to speak one's own language there...

That's to be found in Rule 138 of the European Parliament's Rules of Procedure, regarding General Rules for the Conduct of Sittings:


Rule 138 : Languages

1. All documents of Parliament shall be drawn up in the official languages.

2. All Members shall have the right to speak in Parliament in the official language of their choice. Speeches delivered in one of the official languages shall be simultaneously interpreted into the other official languages and into any other language the Bureau may consider necessary.

3. Interpretation shall be provided in committee and delegation meetings from and into the official languages used and requested by the members and substitutes of that committee or delegation.

4. At committee and delegation meetings away from the usual places of work interpretation shall be provided from and into the languages of those members who have confirmed that they will attend the meeting. These arrangements may exceptionally be made more flexible where the members of the committee or delegation so agree. In the event of disagreement, the Bureau shall decide.

Where it has been established after the result of a vote has been announced that there are discrepancies between different language versions, the President shall decide whether the result announced is valid pursuant to Rule 164(5). If he declares the result valid, he shall decide which version is to be regarded as having been adopted. However, the original version cannot be taken as the official text as a general rule, since a situation may arise in which all the other languages differ from the original text."

Posted by Steph at 9:48 PM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2005

"non-monologic unity"

This would be Mikhail Bakhtin, and somehow I'm going to make it clear that interpreters make this happen. Google could only find one reference to this idea, in a paper on the possibilities/problems of cybercommunity/ies, Digital Waco.

Here's what Morson & Emerson say in their intellectual biography, Creation of a Prosaics:

"Lives are not works of fiction. Meetings full of promise do not always ripen into friendships, and ideas rich in potential sometimes lead nowhere. Important people and concerns enter our lives and thought early and late, for various lengths of time, and then depart, never to return. Although in retrospect we may trace causal lines between events and see direct linkages between thoughts, in doing so, we may misrepresent the connections between them. The work we do to make events cohere in a sequence is easily underestimated. Overlooking the role of contingent factors that need not have happened, we imagine only the outcome realized to the exclusion of others equally possible. ideas that seem to anticipate others might in fact have led in another direction, and apparent resemblances across time may testify to little more than characteristic habits of thought. Memory and biographies tend to be obsessive in excluding accident and insisting on patterns, but lives and intellectual careers, as Bakhtin maintained, are not. Rather, they are wasteful, producing not only diverse achievements, but also unrealized or only partially realized potential" (p. 3).

Posted by Steph at 8:30 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2005

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!

Posted by Steph at 6:42 PM | Comments (5)

October 15, 2005

all about FLOW

Well, here's a conference customed designed for me and the Deaf/Interpreter stuff I've been working on for ages! Arresting the Flow is even in the neighborhood, at Northeastern this upcoming April.

thanks Barry for posting it to AoIR!

Posted by Steph at 4:45 PM | Comments (2)

October 5, 2005

I oughta go

to this conference in NY city on Human Rights and the Humanities. October 21 & 22. Friday and Saturday. All day. Bet it would help me a lot with the EuroParl interpreting project ...

Posted by Steph at 10:27 AM | Comments (1)

October 3, 2005

International Perspectives on Interpreting

Moving up from articles to an eBook, the paper Anne and I co-presented at the Supporting Deaf People Online conference last year has been published. :-)

International Perspectives on Interpreting: Selected proceedings from the Supporting Deaf People online conferences 2001 - 2005 is available from the Conference Host, Direct Learn. The article Anne and I wrote, "The Interpreter and Interrupting: Cultural and Group Dynamics", is followed by an excellent summary of the online discussion it inspired.

Posted by Steph at 6:55 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2005

communication guidelines

I had a cool job today. It was a balanced group, roughly even numbers of deaf and non-deaf participants, and a wonderful team. She fed me an incorrect number once, but also a vitally important concept that I'd missed emphasizing adequately. I backed her up on a few things too. Let her have a couple of nice long turns, too. :-) Such teamwork isn't an unusual element of interpreting - what made these examples stand out so much today is that they were the only things we had to worry about!

This was the group's third meeting. Prior to the beginning of the second meeting, one of the Deaf participants approached me, asking what I thought about how it went the first time. She had some concerns (having noticed some things), and so did I. She asked me to exaggerate the processing time when she addressed the group regarding turn-taking norms. I did - not 100% consecutive, but long enough that there was no way the non-deaf participants could ignore the fact of something being said that they couldn't understand.

The message was simple: use your eyes as much as your ears. When you see a Deaf person's hands moving, they are talking! You've got to give the interpreter a chance to catch the gist before they can start actually speaking an English interpretation. A few examples were given of particular times when deaf/non-deaf speakers had overlapped in the first meeting (putting the interpreter in the awkward position of having to choose among equally unpalatable options: blatantly 'interrupt' by speaking over the non-deaf person; wait - and make the deaf person wait - until a suitable pause to 'break in' (which may or may not happen, or if, when it does, might be so far removed from the content as to appear anachronistic); or continue interpreting from spoken English into sign whatever the non-deaf person is saying, thus 'interrupting' the Deaf person's thought process and - still! - 'making them wait.'

However, the beauty of this group was that this one detailed instruction, given plainly and with reference to situations that participants remembered, was all it took. Today there were no issues with turn-taking, only concern for meaning. And the meaning-making process was on display insofar as partipants were aware when the interpreters were negotiating something and could inquire or clarify as they saw fit. We were an acknowledged part of the process but not in control of it, because all participants had learned the bicultural framework and skills necessary to manage the technicalities of working between two languages.

Under what circumstances does the difference between 30 and 60 days matter? Today, it did matter because the context was the provisional extension of deadlines. How much does it matter whether physicians actually grasp the fact that being in the dark for a deaf person means that they cannot communicate (or, at least not well, unless they are already skilled with tactile signing such as the deaf/blind use)? This was crucial, and needed particular emphasis in the form of cultural mediation. A simple statement that "I can't communicate in the dark" is merely puzzling for someone who doesn't perceive the necessity of light in order to talk.

While the choice as to whether to provide a feed or not, correct an error or deem it minor enough to not affect overall meaning, or to read the situation as needing to have its flow maintained and mistakes fixed later are routinized, they often occur below the surface of consciousness because there are simply too many other things absorbing attention. Because all those typically competing factors were not requiring attention today, the basic choices at the heart of our job were made more plain, more visible, more open to observation and discussion: during the meeting if participants felt it necessary, and afterwards as a source of feedback and connection among deaf and non-deaf participants, and between all participants and the interpreters.

Sweet! :-)

Posted by Steph at 10:53 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2005

Creating a Bicultural Work Group

I presented on this topic to mental health care providers at the National Alliance on Mental Illness conference in Washington, DC a year ago. A one page summary of the presentation has been published online in a pdf file; scroll down to this piece directed to non-deaf professionals on pages 28-29.

Posted by Steph at 7:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 18, 2005

Anthony Pym vs interpreting

well, he's not totally against it, but he's definitely for curtailing it. His hard-hitting critique says much (blurring the terms translation and intepretation), including a call

"to go beyond the logic inscribed in the discourse of translation. If one is to believe in translation, in the people who support and live from translations, translation is always necessary and that's the end of the story. But if one begins by looking at interlingual space, the only real question is how we ever came to believe in translation so much. How did we ever get to this ideal "usage de toutes les langues" and the associated theories?

Several reasons:

First, there is a wide gap between the official discourse and what actually happens on the ground. Despite claims to respect multilingualism through translation, the European Commission deploys what is called a "real needs policy", which basically incorporates use of a lingua franca or the use of passive competences wherever possible, as happened in the French-English conference cited above. This tends to mean that the more specialized the meetings, the less there are interpreters present. The official discourse on translation is thus largely produced for external consumption, to keep the masses and academics happy.

Second, because the official discourse exists, many translations are carried out for purely symbolic purposes."

Further, he describes a recent situation and the regime operating there along with its social norms:

"In practice, European multilingualism in a specific domain meant a restriction to two languages, and two is often pragmatically reduced to one.

Don't get me wrong: I am not particularly upset that there were no interpreters feeding my words into a dozen or so languages at that conference. I simply wanted to point out that the practical alternative to translation was a local language policy, a restriction to two, and a supposition that the conference participants knew enough of two to make do. I spoke goddam awful French and trusted the French could follow me; others spoke English and hoped for the same; and communication proceeded, as much as it merited to do so, largely thanks to the preselection of participants willing and able to negotiate the vicissitudes of bilingual exchange. This was indeed a practical and effective regime, none the least because the added cost of interpreting services would have meant that I, along with any other unsubsidized soul, could not have afforded to attend. Translation is expensive and often unnecessary; nontranslation is cheap and can be effective. Yet this concerns more than efficiency."

Posted by Steph at 8:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MA thesis on EuroParl's language regime

from a google search on language regime European parliament:

a thesis on the EU language regime (addresses both translation and interpretation) Quotes follow from this thesis:

"The Interpreting Directorate of the European Parliament employs approximately 240 permanent staff interpreters and relies on a reserve of more than 1000 auxiliary conference interpreters, of whom between 200 and 500 must be recruited each day to cover its needs. In 2002, the total volume of activity represented 56000 interpreter days for the European Parliament organs alone. Staff interpreters accounted for ± 50% of these working days, the remainder being provided by auxiliary conference interpreters. (Europa: Gateway to the European Union)"

"According to the official website of the European Commission, in 2004, the twenty official languages of the European Union are: Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish (Europa: Gateway to the European Union). The website provides elaborate information and detailed figures on the official languages in 199815, indicating the weight and importance of each language according to various data and inquiries."

Somewhere, this person got the idea that Esperanto is being used by many people within the EU institutions. Maybe I was in the wrong places or talking to the wrong people to find this out? People whom I met that were completely unassociated with the EU and interpreting would sometimes ask me about Esperanto when they found out what I was doing, but the word never arose in any of the fieldwork.

a few other tidbits:

recognition of all languages with official status in Spain

community patent got several hits regarding translation (not interpretation)




Posted by Steph at 8:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

abduction (more on method)

Because part of my funding for the EuroParl interpreter research came from anthropology, there's been a big push to do ethnography. I've really only collected discourse at this stage, which I will look at through a critical discourse lens because I'm interested in language hierarchies and linguistic inequality. There is plenty of evidence of these things in EuroParl interpreters' talk about their work and working conditions. Rather than deduction (coming up with an hypothesis based on theory) or induction (making what I find fit some theory), abduction is about invention. It requires applying imagination to generate theory, to come up with categories based on the combination of characteristics discovered (the expected and the unexpected). My next task is to distinguish between what Agar calls rich points (the surprises) and those things that meshed with my expectations.

The piece on abduction linked above focuses on the element of surprise in epismetic production. Peirce formulated this into a logic equation:

The surprising fact, C, is observed.
But if A were true, C would be a matter of course.
Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true.

The inventive, imaginative part of this formulation is coming up with A. What A could be possible that consistently explains C? This is the generation of hypotheses, which can be evaluated for their potential utility on the basis of being "explanatory, testable, and economic." As a (phenonmenological?) process, abduction occurs "as a flash" and has two elements: intuitive and rational (Anderson 1986; critiqued). It is apparently a big concept in artificial intelligence.

"In Peirce's epistemology, thought is a dynamic process, essentially an action between two states of mind: doubt and belief." In this view, "belief is a habit, doubt is its privation" and the term "knowledge" does not come into play. Atocha Aliseda, the author of all these quotes (unless otherwise credited), says Peirce argued that "genuine doubt is necessary to break up a habit" and doubt is generated by the experience of surprise. I'd say surprise doesn't always lead to doubt (which might be unfortunate), and I wonder what other triggers might instigate doubt? Surprise may be a blanket term for a continuum of bio-emotional responses...nausea, sweating, insecurity, puzzlement, etc. Aliseda discusses Peirce's two varieties of (what she calls) abductive triggers: novelty and anomaly.

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September 17, 2005

critical or applied ethnography?

As I've been reading the new chapter, Ethnography Reconstructed, that Michael Agar added to the new edition of his text, The Professional Stranger, I was reminded of the discussions I had with some EuroParl interpreters regarding journalism and research. The question, as I'm revisiting it now, was clearly about concerns regarding what I would actually do with the data. Several interpreters were concerned with misrepresentation, having what they said taken out of context. A few had had bad experiences with the press and were even more wary. Some just wanted to be clear that I was not a journalist because interpreters are professionally proscribed from speaking to journalists about their work.

The question of what I am 'going to do' with all those hours of audiotaped interviews and notes is serious. I don't know if the question of journalism/research was a mirror or parallel for the question of critical or applied, but it is obvious to me now that I've been a bit confused about the differences between these two modes and need to gain clarity and make some decisions pretty darn fast.

It's probably not a surprise to anyone that I lean to a critical mode, always interested in the presence and application of power, asking the question not only what is, but "what could be" (Thomas, Doing Critical Ethnography, 1993:4, in Agar, p. 27). BUT, I think there are serious problems with a critical approach that is premised on an automatic assumption that, as Agar succinctly puts it, "Capital - especially 'transnational' capitalism - is evil, period" (23). I like how he describes his own conflicted take: "it's partly true most of the time, and completely true some of the time" (23). Yet, there are also times, places, and spaces when capitalism isn't evil - when it serves 'the people' broadly-construed, and not just (always and only) the elite.

So perhaps my views have matured. I certainly have usually approached hierarchical situations with suspicion and a tendency to distrust persons in positions of authority. I'm much more interested now in what is probably characterizable as a pragmatic approach. How can what is learnable from interpreter discourse be applied in constructive ways to further both the larger macrosocial aims of the European Union and improve conditions and communication in the daily activities of delegates, staff, and interpreters trying to do their work? Agar argues that applied ethnographers accept a wider range of ideologies than critical ethnographers, contrasting them in this way: "Critical ethnographers . . . take as their focus the way affluent interests oppress ordinary folks. An applied ethnographer . . . might work with those affluent interests with the goal of introducing folks' voices into the pool of officially sanctioned 'knowledge.'" (29).

This latter is my agenda. While I don't want to pull any punches on the ways power perpetuates itself at the expense of those with less, I'm not interested in any kind of knock-out blow. I'd like to get some attention focused on the insights, suggestions, and critiques that interpreters have of communication processes within the EU legislative structure so that weaknesses and inequities can be addressed. I believe this will improve working conditions for everyone, enhance multilingual communication systems and decision-making, and therefore generate some foundational preconditions that can help yield a stronger European Union. By stronger, I mean one that operates in practice according to its stated vision of multilingual democracy.

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September 13, 2005

compilation - EU and Turkish-German fieldwork

These are links to most of the entries I made about the fieldwork. NOT included are posts specific to methodology and analytical theory.

EFSLI and the EU: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000284.html

EU Directorate General for Interpreting: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000581.html

Professionalization: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000620.html

It's Getting Good: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000827.html

anti-discrimination: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000832.html

conference interpreters: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000843.html

SCIC-DG on Interpreting: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000844.html

Cool People: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000854.html

It's Looking for Real! http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000911.html

Respect :-) http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/000937.html

"We usually talk about food and sex" http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001463.html

"The language is faster and more superficial" http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001475.html

"The biggest professional community in the world" http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001487.html

Reactions to 'No': http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001489.html

Next round of questions - Strasbourg Week 2: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001493.html

Discursive density: How many directions can I follow? http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001496.html

Hot Tips! http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001498.html

Self-authorization and expectations of role: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001516.html

Shifting Gears: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001516.html

Watchword? Competition: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001602.html

Jackpot! http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001605.html

Kanak Attack: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001612.html

Lack of Institutional Resources: http://www.reflexivity.us/blog/archives/001613.html

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September 8, 2005

Will I get to WASLI?

The airport code for Cape Town International Airport is CPT. This is the closest and is where transport is arranged from.

The code for Johannesburg International is JNB. Might be cheaper. Transport?

American doesn't offer Awards to Africa. :-( They also take 30-45 hours! British Airways has the best times so far...and they don't appear to have credited my last batch o' miles - although it says the don't within the last two weeks, so I'm just barely over that hump.

Northwest's timing is decent, and I have more miles with them...but not enough. :-(


And from there I need to go direct to ASLTA. :-/ $$OUCH$$

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August 31, 2005


Gosh - Eileen, Anne, and I going to be in good company!

Don't get nervous.....

at least not yet!

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August 29, 2005

did someone say "rusty"?

The good thing about being among friends when one begins to interpret after a long absence is that they tend to just be entertained by one's mistakes. The best one was "poop" instead of "gas" but I thought "elevator" instead of "emergency" was also amusing. %-/

My team was great. She caught me using 'abuse' instead of 'discipline' and that was an error that could have slipped by in context. And I don't recall the sentence but there was something she helped me clarify at the end - I asked her, was I not clear? She said, "You signed exactly what the presenter said but what she said wasn't all that clear." Ah yes, now there/s an interpreter decision that matters!

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August 22, 2005

N.E. Mentoring Conference

One of these years I'll get to attend this conference. I hear great things about it every time.

In the meantime, I'll catch up with Eileen there.

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ASLTA - Here We Come!

Eileen's and my proposal for ASLTA's conference this fall was accepted. Hopefully Anne is gonna be able to join us because it's time. :-)

Here's what we said we were gonna do:

Language-in-Action: The Shape of Deaf Discourse about Interpreters

We will consider some patterns in Deaf talk about interpreters and interpreters’ talk about the Deaf in order to learn the difference between linguistic inequality and bilingual/bicultural communication dynamics. Our participatory discussion will try to distinguish among culture, discourse, and dynamics. We know these things are all braided together, but it may be useful to teachers to be able to recognize certain patterns of talk between Deaf and non-deaf people concerned with interpreting and understand how these patterns perpetuate misunderstandings, distrust, and unequal power relations.

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international family of interpreters

From a European Parliament interpreter (via email):

"I'm happy that "we" behaved decently towards you and that you've been
able to see for yourself that Europeans still don't eat innocent
Americans with hot milk for breakfast....one more "homo Bushiens"
elected to become US-president, and who knows, though....;-))

Actually you did bring home to me again that we interpreters are still
this one big international family."

I also got a hot tip on a new film about interpreters, called The Whisperers, will premiere in Berlin soon.

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August 18, 2005

check out

A free MA program for refugees to become interpreters at Cardiff University! (Still have to hunt for the specifics.)

Nikolas Rose (1999), Powers of Freedom.

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August 12, 2005

lack of institutional resources

The most obvious factor in Turkish language acquisition and maintenance in Germany is that the original guestworkers were not intended to stay, and if they did, they were supposed to learn German, period. It is a very recent phenomenon for persons of Turkish descent to realize that they have the right to speak Turkish (using interpreters), and the general German population (even in education!) has not yet realized that this is a multilingual asset.

Teachers in the German schools here don't even know the basic structures of Turkish - they make assumptions that bilingual students are struggling with the same kind of issues as monolingual students when this is simply not the case.

There is a similar ethic about speaking German here as with speaking English in the European Parliament, as an attempt to prove something. Again, these speakers are apparently unaware that their attempts can have the unintended OPPOSITE effect, making them appear less intelligent than they really are. It's a thing of beauty, according to many interpreters, when a speaker suddenly switches to their mother tongue and suddenly everyone realizes that the communication is much smoother and more effective. :-)

There are many people being taken advantage of by their employers for using their bilingual language skills to facilitate communication in the workplace without being recognized or compensated for this work. So-called "natural interpreters" are commonplace, and for the most part it seems their presence and activities have been unquestioned. “It’s interesting for us for you to reflect. Sometimes I think, yeah, she’s right. Other times I think, why does she think that? Yes, it’s a hard life, but it’s my life. I never thought about it.” ~ a self-described “family” interpreter.

Institutionally there has been no support for maintaining Turkish as a mother tongue. Classes are offered for others, mostly Germans, to learn Turkish as a second language, but these classes don't meet the needs of first-language speakers who want to improve their own grammar, vocabulary, range of expression, and knowledge of technical fields. A degree for written translation has been available for awhile, but not interpreting. Even today, with pressures building from the EU, there are no Turkish-German interpreting programs: at Interpreter Training Resources (Andy Gilles' excellent site), which includes links to the premiere interpreter training programs at FASK, University of Mainz, or its affiliate, Germersheim.

I understand some efforts are underway, but the precedents are a lot to overcome. "They didn't do anything to help Turkish people [the first generation] learn German, and now they expect us to know it." Reactions to my questions about the provision of interpreting services for every day business bordered on boredom. "This is all very well known [how we translate and interpret for each other]. What is so interesting?" "Community interpreting," said one interpreter educator, "is a condensed form of all the communication problems that can happen between people. It can teach you a lot about what it means to be a human being." this is at least part of the reason why Hans J. Vermeer argued that community interpreting should be taught first in all interpreter training programs, and perhaps also why another interpreter insisted that "community and consecutive interpreting are the same thing."

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Kanak Attack

I'm not sure if/how this youth protest movement might intersect with interpreting, but I it's definitely worth checking out. the movement was apparently tiggered by the book, Kanak Sprak, which doesn't seem to have been translated into English. YEt? :-( by Feridun Zaimoglu. More on Zaimoglu.

There's a film, an album, participation in a conference (sorry I missed it!), Fadaiat 2005:

"Fadaiat - which means "through spaces" in arabic - is a political, technological and artistic laboratory that takes place from 17th to 26th of June 2005 in Tanger (Spain) & Tarifa (Morocco) on both sides of the tense frontier dividing Europe from Africa.

What for? To advance in the construction of social, collaborative networks, local and transnational, connecting cognitarians, migrants and precarious, to research and develop tools, to exchange and share knowledge, to discuss common strategies and projects... within the reference framework of the new borders."

Some other articles I found loosely relating to second-generation persons of turkish descent in Germany ("Turks" is apparently politically-incorrect, due to a basic factual inaccuracy...):

Youth Culture as Practical Innovation: Turkish German Youth, `Time Out' and the...

Structural Assimilation of Second Generation Immigrants in Germany

Germany's Second Doubts About Its Turkish Immigrants

three migrant youth groups of Turkish origin in Mannheim

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August 9, 2005


Mannheim is the place to be!!!

I've already had two interviews and more are on the horizon. Last night friends of the friends I'm staying with invited us to their restaurant (where a family birthday party was in progress!) - I learned a great deal about "family interpreting" in a very short time. The experiences of Turkish children growing up here seems quite similar, in some respects, to that of non-deaf children raised by Deaf parents. In this conversation, I realized an important assumption that I think has been operative in interviews I've had with other interpreters who have criticized the Turkisch language competence of so-called community and even officially "sworn" court interpreters.

I think (someone please correct me if I'm wrong!) that there may have been an assumption that Turkish-German interpreters themselves are unaware that their Turkisch isn't as fully developed as it could be. In fact, the folks I spoke with last night were very aware of this, and from an early age. Also, the sworn interpreter I spoke with this morning also described Turkisch as her mother language and yet acknowledged that she knew "more details in German." There are, of course, deep structural reasons for this inequality, of which I already have substantial hints.

Here are a few quick links that may be of general interest (background, context) at some point:

"a rough outline of the Turkish migrant community in Mannheim, Germany" (only in Deutsch?)

The research project deals with the question why immigrants participate in ethnically segregated voluntary associations. The participation of foreigners is considered as a means of getting access to goods that immigrants as a structurally disadvantaged group cannot obtain elsewhere.

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August 7, 2005


Several things fell into place this afternoon - right as I'm getting ready to leave the city. The vagaries of un-institutional fieldwork!

Most importantly, I got access to the Court's list of "sworn interpreters" [a pdf] via a city link that provides official and touristic info.

Some important terms:

landgericht = highest court of Berlin
dolmetscher = interpreter
tempelhof = district
beeidigt = sworn

Meanwhile - there are a few different organizations/agencies for interpreters, providing trainings and a bit of publicity. Members are listed on the website.

Some I had found before, others I hadn't. A new one is the VUD: Verband der Übersetzer und Dolmetscher. The Mitgliederverzeichnis provides a means of getting in contact with members. Perhaps the VUD has some connection with a French interpreting association?

Then there's the BDU: Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer, which I had located before, and their Datenbank. This administration of this organization simply referred me to members listed here. Only speaking English is definitely more of a barrier here (than at the EP) - as was anticipated. The other complicating factor is that it's AUGUST - which are 'the holidays'. Folks are on vacation.

This agency, Eubylon, referred work to a DGS interpreter in compliance (?) with a law requiring the provision of interpreting in hospitals. They promise all language combinations.

Another agency, ECHOO: ECHOO-Konferenzdolmetschen, apparently caters more to the East side of Berlin. Yes, the city is still known by East/West - especially among older generations (at least my age - 42 - and up). It's less marked by the younger generations, who tend to go all over the city, no matter.

Apparently historical divisions continue to play out between all kinds of folk, including interpreters, many of whom apparently refused (and may still?) to work with interpreters from the other side of The Wall.

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August 2, 2005

critical feedback from my good friend

One of my ex/outlaw's read the most recent paper on interpreter-deaf discourse(s) and made some crucial observations. Of course, she was struck by the assumption that just because someone is "out" of their own culture that this automatically means you're "in" another one. She also felt there was a contradiction between interrupting a few times being "ok" but too much is "offensive" (these are her terms). Yes, on the one hand it seems like a double standard, but on the other the motivation or cause for the interruption is different. We need to work on making this distinction more clear. It's not the interrupting, per se, but the the frequency of it indicates something else, and that "something else" is what Deaf folk are upset about.

I have a note here too about an "incompatibility of frames" - that this increases under certain conditions. Hopefully I can resurrect what that was about when I revisit the feedback inserted into the draft. :-) At any rate, I was able to fix a few important things before sending it off for publication....and that feels great!

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survey of sign language interpreters (US)

I participated in an online survey some months ago, and the results show me in the most common range in almost everything. Some highlights:

46% feel highly valued and appreciated (4 on a scale of 1-5)

53% worked fewer than 20 billable jobs in the three months preceding this survey (makes me wonder if it's parttime work for most - like me?)

90% worked for up to 40 different organizations in the previous 3 month period (I wonder how many only work for a small handful? This is obscured.)

Pay is broadly distributed, but the largest percentage, 36%, earns between $30.00 and 39.99/hour.

Finally, while experience in the field varied widely, the largest percentage of respondents to this survey, 35%, had more than 16 years.

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July 29, 2005

a schizophrenic's blog

I will be following up on comments made by several Parliament interpreters that the act of interpreting well puts on on the mental borderzone just before schizophrenia. To do the topic justice, of course, I need to be more familiar with schizophrenia itself. Peter posted the link to his blog to the AIR listserv, giving new meaning (for me) to his tag line: "Just trying to stay linear".

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July 27, 2005

Deutsch Gebärdensprache

Deutsch Gebärdensprache – German Sign Language – DGS

I’m hearing hints and rumors (!) of folks here interested in the Deaf-Interpreter relationship/interaction. It sounds like they are approaching it from different angles than me, but we’re still interested in the same basic thing, or at least in various aspects of the same thing. Making these contacts and having these conversations is completely bonus to the intention of fieldwork here, but it contributes to my thinking, of course. :-)

There are four interpreting schools in Germany and a cadre of other professionals who work with the Deaf community (as in the US). The language underwent similar historical repression and was salvaged by use on the playgrounds and in the dormitories of residential schools. An additional measure here was a wave of sterilization, which seriously reduced a generation of children who could have been raised by Deaf parents.

Sign language interpreting is institutionalized and paid through a fund collected by a particular agency (not exactly government, but not private either). The source of the funds is a penalty tax on businesses who don’t hire a certain percentage of persons with disabilities. The law says every 16th employee must be disabled or the company must pay a fixed amount per month per each unhired disabled person. These funds are then used to pay for a wide range of services for access and accommodations. Much of the work is in the form of what we’d call living assistance or personal care, and includes things like readers for persons with visual disabilities and interpreters for the deaf. There was an institutional battle about pay – interpreters were originally lumped in to be paid the same as all workers regardless of education, skill, and specialized requirements of the work. They successfully fought for adequate remuneration, but didn’t realize (at least, so it seems in retrospect) that the label of “work assistant” also needed to be resisted.

What has occurred is that the Deaf person becomes the employer (deciding how to use their allotted number of hours of interpreting services) and – because of the job description of “work assistant” – can ask the interpreter to perform all manner of other tasks! Sounds a bit similar to the dilemmas faced by educational interpreters in the States, except here we’re talking about adults asking for things like babysitting! Talk about power dynamics, eh?

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July 25, 2005

Shifting Gears

Today I begin the community interpreting phase of fieldwork. It’s already been radically different than the fieldwork with European Parliament interpreters due to the absence of an overarching institutional structure such as granted me access to the Parliament buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg – where clusters of conference interpreters were readily available. I meet with a Turkish-German court interpreter this afternoon and we’ll go from there. I’ve a few other tentative contacts; I’m hoping that one will simply lead to another. We shall see. :-)

Conference interpreters’ perceptions of community interpreting was one of the questions I investigated with most of the EP interpreters.

There was a roughly even split (as I experienced it subjectively, without verifying this against the ‘hard data’ of the audiotapes yet) between those who considered the job essentially the same albeit under altered circumstances and those who considered the job to be completely different. Of those who thought it is very different to do the face-to-face, small group, interactive interpreting, the differences were identified variably as consecutive vs simultaneous, low/poor/inadequate skills, inequitable pay, and having more stressful boundary and accuracy conditions because of the relevance of these situations to people’s actual lives.
This latter point had to do with the challenges of not becoming emotionally affected or otherwise drawn into some degree of involvement through pathos, and the critical nature of here-and-now situations with immediate effects as opposed to the more abstract level of application within the European Institutions, where there are multiple layers of redundancy for clarification purposes and redress.

I anticipate that I will find complementary views on these matters from community interpreters themselves, and perhaps more frustration with the limits of practical support for professional development. At least, I hope to discover such evidence. :-) Precedent for these expectations on my part is from the Critical Link 4 conference in Stockholm (May, 2004) – for which the Proceedings will be published sometime in the next several months (by the John Benjamins Company). I will also seek evidence of similarities and differences in conceptions of job delivery – here is where I am most curious and least sure of what I will discover. I was pleasantly surprised at how much overlap there was between my experiences in the US doing community interpreting within the American Deaf community and the conference interpreting done by EP interpreters. By overlap, I mean that the issues we tend to think and talk about are, at core, very much the same, despite differences in modality, perception, subjectivity, and culture contingent upon the specific language combinations.

What I seek to bring into view in this phase of the fieldwork with this population of interpreters are distinctions that can be traced to the degree of institutionalization. This is a commonality between sign language interpreters (via the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf – RID, in the US) and conference interpreters (via the International Association of Conference Interpreters – AIIC, internationally). What organizational structures link and bind community interpreters in and among the nations of the EU? To what degree are these formalized? How do they interact with legislative bodies and advocacy groups? And, how does the presence/absence of these mechanisms influence the delivery of services at the level of practical, actual enactment?

There are more questions, but this is enough to articulate for now. Wish me luck! :-)

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July 21, 2005

degrees of realism and consistency

I’m more than halfway through Goffman’s Frame Analysis, subtitled “An Essay on the Organization of Experience” (described by Brian as “not an essay, that’s a f*cking tome!”). Robin’s recommendation was right on target. (As was the other text by Deborah Tannen, Framing in Discourse.)

Goffman uses the obvious changes in stage props over time as evidence to “alert us to the expectation that framing does not so much introduce restrictions on what can be meaningful as it … open[s] up variability” (emphasis added, 238). Here I am chafing against the limits when the natural capacity to adjust to all manner of framings and transformations indicates possibility! “Differently put, persons seem to have a very fundamental capacity to accept changes in organizational premises which, once made, render a whole strip of activity different from what it is modeled on and yet somehow meaningful . . .” (238). To wit, teaching “experientially” instead of traditionally, and the capacity of Jeff at UNH to apply communication theory in practice vs the inability of others to recognize the possibility of recasting teaching in an as yet meaningful way. Others (going unnamed to protect the innocent and the guilty) mistrust: “. . . that these systematic differences can be corrected for and kept from disorganizing perception, while at the same time involvement in the story line is maintained” (238). Right? Goffman is saying that the differences between the model and its reorganization are systematic and therefore sensible. “Correcting for” doesn’t indicate “fixing”, rather it indicates the ability to adjust to a different logic without losing one’s perceptive connectivity to the situation and persons in it.

I’m thinking of the degrees of realism and consistency imposed as standards for interpreting practice. In the enactment of interpreting, there seems to be a quite narrow range of acceptability (a tight frame?): EP interpreters and SL interpreters both talk about realism (as measured by the disappearance of the interpreter). To become visible, to appear as one’s own person (or even as the character of the interpreter?), is a violation of consistency, marked in SL interpreting by natural criticism of INTERRUPTING and TAKING OVER.

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July 18, 2005


I don't want to forget that this was the reason a few people mentioned for choosing to come to the Why Bother? workshop. The concept of impartiality is not spoken of in professional sign language interpreter discourse, or - as far as I know - in the Deaf discourse about interpreting. Indeed, the opposite seems to be the case - a distinct preference for partiality through what people talk about as "being an ally".

The piece from Gutmann & Thompson contrasted impartiality with prudence and reciprocity.

The link above on reciprocity refers to mass media, but I think it illuminates face-to-face communication as well. Interpreting is not limited to a two-way interaction: most simply it is TWO 2-way communications. A question may be the "heat" or "coolness" of the medium of the interpreter - does the audience (the intended receiver) disappear or not? To what extent? Is it the same in both directions?

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July 17, 2005

debriefing RID presentation

Why Bother” didn’t seem to be as attractive a title as “Breaking Role.” We had well over a hundred people attend, but this was nowhere near the amount of people that came two years ago in Chicago. Was the title a turn-off? Did it imply that interpreters shouldn’t “bother” – even to come? Just curious. :-) Nonetheless, our discussion was rich, and the Deaf participants added a lot that we didn’t have in the Breaking Role discussion. The feedback Eileen and I received was similar to that which I’ve received in the past; those who do come continue to affirm the value of continuing this discussion. (At least, these are the folks who give us direct feedback; no doubt (?) there are others who don’t find it helpful or interesting – or aren’t ready? - to tease out the mechanics of communication breakdown between interpreters and the Deaf.)

We know of a handful of folks weren’t prepared for some aspects of the conversation: for some it was the depth of discussion, others the concept(s), some the theory, some the empirical evidence. This is something I think we’ll always need to keep in mind: no matter how “obvious” we may think the history and evidence is, we need to provide an overview that brings everyone up to speed. I realized, after the fact, that I had taken it for granted that “everyone knows” there are particular and specific tensions around the ASL/English interpreting process. That’s my big post-workshop “aha!”

I had several aha’s as I was preparing the videotape clips. The one that hit deepest is that I find it easier and easier (relatively speaking) to notice evidence of a particular discourse in others and harder and harder to see it in myself. :-/ This may just be the way of things – that as humans we’re only able to be aware of a certain amount of our own behavior while we’re actually doing the behavior. It reminds of being a goalie in soccer. My best saves were ones I literally cannot remember making. I can recall the approach of the opposing player, but I rarely recall the moment of the shot. It’s as if all my mind could record was the moment of preparation and then the physical sensation of my hands on the ball – my fingers deflecting it just enough to knock it wide of the goal. The “in-between” of diving and stretching is gone – not recorded, not within consciousness. Pure reflex.

So, when I was debating with Anne (shown on video)– pushing her to get MY point (!), Anne was also trying to explain HER point. The only way I could orient to her (my position, my footing, was to receive her message as a refutation of my point. I was unable to interpret that she was arguing something else; instead, I took her argument to be against mine, rather than on a different topic! I didn’t realize this (didn’t see myself in it) until…six months later! I did notice it in an interpreter during the workshop (it could have been any interpreter, and I honestly believe if it wasn’t her it would have been someone else, saying something similar)…and, I think I only was able to notice it because I had finally realized it in myself.

There was a moment when I noticed Eileen in the Deaf discourse; her response to my noticing (not to engage at that moment) gave me pause to become aware of another aspect of my own communication – when I want to continue anyway. I didn’t (!), and this reminds me of a lesson I’ve had a few times but often forget: the thing with discourses is that they keep coming back. Now, this is discouraging on the one hand (because they are so resistant to change), and yet encouraging on the other hand (there’s always going to be another chance). :-)

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July 15, 2005

Legal Interpreting

This was good prep for interviews I hope to do conducting soon with German-Turkish (spoken language) interpreters. So far the only place I know this service is provided is in the courts.

Caroline Thomas’ workshop on legal interpreting is worth attending for the humor alone. :-) I particularly liked WAG – “Wild-Assed Guess.” Her distinction between “street” and “legal” interpreting was instructive, along with the exercise we did on “black hole questions”. (See me grin!) There was a lot of general knowledge embedded throughout the workshop that all interpreters would benefit from, whether or not they ever do legal interpreting or not.

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at Angela's table

If I'm not mistaken, the consensus was that Angela's invitation was intended as a spur to good behavior...it sure kept me in line all conference long! ;-) (I could have been in worse company; I remember Carolyn flexing her triceps for us at CIT last year...)

She's a good prez, that chick - bringing in non-signing stakeholders to share in the inner workings of RID and bask in the glow of our professional camaraderie. The whole Board received acknowledgement throughout the conference, but I think what many of us are wondering is whether Glenace shaved off that purple hair or not?!

Apparently there was no way to count, but there was a deliberate effort to expand Deaf attendance and certainly some folk noticed it. It's a positive trend in the organization, but I also noticed a lot of folk missing: people who've been advocates and activists for many years. There's definite growth in ways that deepen the institutional clout of the organization as a professional lobby (which helps in advocating access and equality issues with other institutions), and . . . maybe I'm just unused (!) to such a large meeting occurring with only one major, public rift (the VRS/VRI debate yesterday in the business meeting) and that rift not rippling out to affect most members of the organization. I'm impressed. :-)

And, I wonder - is this because of a certain maturing of the most active elements of the membership as a whole, a closure around the limits of dissent, some other factors that I'm completely unaware of, or a combination of these? Was the issue around the Video Interpreting Committee a kind of holdover "protest" transferred from other historical issues? I don't know the people involved at all, so my speculation is just that - speculation at the most general level of macro-organizational dynamics.

At any rate, the conference felt calm, overall, and I think that may be healthy for us. A period of re-grounding, re-grouping, re-evaluating....as Angela listed, there has been an impressive list of accomplishments and new initiatives that are the culmination of years of discussion. Maybe there's a bit of "wait-and-see"? I would say that we have a lot of which to be proud, and there's still a long way to go.

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July 14, 2005

inside the RID business meeting

If you didn't attend the business meeting yesterday you missed:

covert communication typed into the meeting from the computer operator;
Mount Rushmore (four past RID Presidents);
regional and state rivalries;
a challenge to beat the Europeans in donations to WASLI, through RID's "A Day's Pay" program;
and customized (albiet unscripted) martini and fan service.

Perhaps other organizations have as much fun and intercollegiality as we do; but I'm not sure!

There was some drama concerning the now-delayed position paper (Standard Practice Paper) on Video Relay Interpreting and Video Relay Service.

Some of the concerns put forth by those opposed to putting out a position paper now seemed legitimate to me, however the Video Interpreting Committee had thought they responded to these concerns adequately by providing for an on-going updating process (the first in Standard Practice Paper (SPP) history). The committee was outmaneuvered in the Robert's Rules debate and the costs of thier defeat will now become something we observe play out. Will it ultimately be to the detriment of the profession or not?

The institutional processes of governmental legislation and business profit-motivation have already completely swallowed the delivery system (VRS) into the rules of the FCC. According to the opposed group, one thing missing in the proposed document is a clear distinction between the VRS and the VRI. If I understand this correcly (and I'm just now learning) - the VRS is the technological end - the telecommunications aspect. VRI is the actual interpreting service, the part that we professional interpreters actually perform via the technology. The committee's concern is that the on-going grind of institutional processes will now churn on without RID having any kind of legitimated entry at all to that process. We have no institutional point of entry.

The other point those opposed made that seemed compelling to me is to use the SPP not just to describe the current best practices, but to envision and map out the ideal of where we'd like to see field evolve and use the SPP as a point of leverage for that future. It strikes me now, in retrospect, that both groups have the same ultimate goal, but brought different understandings (fears, concerns?) to the process of deciding to take action now. There was a fear that whatever got put out now would become the definitive statement for an indefinite period of time (as has occurred previously) or that it would set precedent in ways that are actually undesirable (which has also occurred before). I think both groups shared concern for the future ramifications...those opposed may have been coming from a stance that was more critical based upon a view of RIDs internal history of mistakes, whereas those in support might have been coming from a stance in which they were looking more at factors external, where RID is simply one voice in a much larger process. I write "simply" only to indicate that that larger process continues with or without us; and at this point, it will continue without us.

This means the next step will need to include specific strategizing about the clarity of vision and prescriptions for the implementation of this vision, but also a specific marketing and lobbying strategy to create space for a now absent voice. Otherwise, it won't matter much that we have a vision upon which we now agree because the institutional processes will have already sedimented to make us a minority and disempowered lone voice.

The way this gets taken up and acted upon now is going to matter quite a lot. You can read up on the process (including linking to the current draft) here.

An aside - Sharon Neumann-Solow won the President's Award. She's the one who told me after the workshop on Breaking Role in Chicago that I'd got folks "knickers in a twist." I was assured that was actually a compliment. ;-/

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July 11, 2005


It feels like a small miracle, but we're ready for tomorrow's show. :-) There are 22 clips of video in the first part, another dozen in the second part, for 35 minutes total. I've never included so much before. I knew it was going to be time-consuming...but it is all so fascinating! I've had a handful of revelations as Anne's arguments with me finally started to sink in. Let's see, that's only several months later after three re-viewings of our conversation! No wonder I've never been accused of having a quick learning curve! ;-)

I'd hoped to send out an update/wrap-up for the European Parliament interpreters who participated in interviews with me over the past two months, but that'll have to get done in the next week or so. I do know for sure that this presentation for sign language interpreters is much improved because of what I've learned in the past two months from international (spoken language) colleagues. Thanks!

I've sent Anne a few emails already lauding her for hanging in with (against?!) me while I argued my points. :-) She's one tough cookie and I'm really glad we're friends.

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July 10, 2005

axles, hubs, spokes, and rims

Looking for a metaphor.....Eileen uses the notion of a wheel to teach about culture, and we've been discussing the relationship between culture and discourse - how we can distinguish between them, and also separating out dynamics too, even though we know all three are braided together.

I found this diagram of the parts of a bicycle which identifies the center of the wheel as a hub. I didn't know she had a bicycle in mind when she brought up the notion of a wheel; what I envisioned was a covered wagon's wooden wheel, the center of which is also called a hub. But we were also talking about axles. There are different kinds, from passive connecting rods to split, driven axles that actually transfer power from an engine to the wheels.

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July 1, 2005

Worcester, South Africa

will be the site of the first ever World Association of Sign Language Intepreters. It's a gorgeous place, going by internet pictures. The town is situated between Jo-berg and K-town in the Breede River Valley. They make wine.

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June 30, 2005


David Krueger forwarded info on health care interpreting to the VermontDeaf listserv.

This comes right as I get ready to wind up the final week of research with European Parliament interpreters and - after RID - gear up for the plunge into community interpreting for the Turkish community in Germany.

Did someone say, segue? :-)

Some findings of author Marjory Bancroft's review of standards of practice globally:

"* Codes of ethics or standards-of-practice documents were most commonly found in industrialized nations with high levels of immigration, such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and
European countries.
* In most industrialized countries, conference, legal, and/or sign language interpreting are far more developed than community or
health care interpreting.
* Community and health care interpreting appears to be driven by
the presence and promotion of "language access laws."

Some examples from the field and trends, perspectives, and disparities.

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June 29, 2005

Rhein Wein

I finally found a bottle of Reisling to belatedly celebrate my birthday.

Had a nice chat with the salesclerk in the wine shop in Ghent, who also recommended a fab place for lunch. I'm stuffed to the gills! My mind is also still full to the brim from another confab with Prof Blommaert. We've got hypotheses and research questions out the wazoo! :-)

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June 25, 2005


Found the reference I was looking for after emailing for help. I still need help, but at least I can be more specific now!

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June 18, 2005

Self-authorization and expectations of role

It’s taken me this long to see it, but I do think there is a generational difference that is identifiable roughly along lines of experience as an interpreter. It’s more clear between those who’ve maintained a long career at the Parliament and those who are near the beginning, but there’s also overlap between the more experienced interpreters who worked for many years within their own countries before coming to Parliament and those who are EP veterans. The most basic way it’s shown up is in their explanations about getting here, to work at the Parliament. Older interpreters tend to describe a happenstance series of events, while younger interpreters describe academic and career trajectories. I’ll have to revisit the transcripts to see if this holds, but I think that few of the younger/newer interpreters describe their relationship to language, whereas almost all of the older/experienced interpreters bring it up spontaneously. At the least, my cumulative impression is that the language element receives varying degrees of emphasis. This orientation to/relationship with language might be a condition of possibility for certain kinds of subjectivity…hmm, it also may be an effect of globalization trends – particularly the spread of capitalism. In the cyclical way institutionalization works, these may be two sides of the same coin, and that “coin” may be a particular process of professionalization.

The challenge, then, is to identify the nodes of autonomy in these positions: where they overlap and diverge from each other as coherent perceptions (if not actually worldviews).

Obviously another readily drawn distinction is between the nine “new language countries” and the eleven “old languages.” Interpreters for both the so-called ‘old’ and ‘new’ languages generally regard each other’s work with respect, allowing for individual levels of expertise (some interpreters are excellent, some are good, and some are not). Every interpreter I’ve talked with expresses their own ambitions toward perfectionism and they all find inadequate source material to be the primary difficulty of the job – whether it’s the original produced by the speaker or a pivot interpretation produced by a colleague. They seem to all recognize limits placed upon the pivot interpreter if the original source material is badly organized, spoken with a heavy accent, or with a non-native language (unless the speaker is exceptionally fluent – a not completely uncommon possibility and yet definitely not the norm among MEPs). Of course, if one doesn’t know the language of the original message then one can’t always determine whether it’s the source or the interpretation that is inadequate. However, many interpreters are able to identify when their colleagues are struggling—the struggle itself often being indicative of difficulties within the source material (most frequently cited is the use of ‘bad English’).

When an interpreter is struggling, it seems the first thing to go is any kind of nuance, particularly implicit content that indicates irony, humor, or subtle hints of changes in stance or indicators of openings for negotiation. (These things are also usually – even originally - lost when an MEP chooses not to use their mother tongue.) A generational difference may be the relative importance assigned to the implicit elements of a message: newer/younger interpreters who’ve been officially trained might indicate a preference to focus exclusively upon the overt and explicit elements of a message. This is a very tentative hypothesis as I’ve only just become aware of the clues that may point toward this kind of orientation. Older/experienced interpreters seem more highly attuned to the necessity of the implicit as an integral component of the message – and may perhaps be willing to take more intellectual and linguistic risks to convey it. Again – don’t quote me on this!! But the evidence may be there in the 50+ hours of recorded talk. :-) We’ll see.

That kind of risk-taking, of being creative (a term variously defined, not to mention rejected by some and embraced by others as a characteristic of the work itself), of utilizing (stretching, expanding) the full range of language capacity is sometimes questioned by those who do it. Some older/experienced interpreters express some (not much, smile) self-doubt: speculating (via comparison to their younger colleagues) that perhaps their interpretations are somehow “less,” “not,” or otherwise “unprofessional”. Here is where I see the self-authorizing elements of the job (regarding language choice – diction, register, structure, use of analogy, adaptive strategies and techniques, etc.) being challenged by a definition of role that may be becoming more and more restricted and contained. By this I mean not only physically, as in “behind the glass” or in the talk of trying to establish remote interpreting through videoconferencing (horrors!), but also conceptually in terms of what interpreters are ‘allowed’ or ‘enabled’ to do with the languages (and - lest we forget - the interlocutors!) they are working between. In other words, what can be witnessed in the discourse of Parliament interpreters are ways that the possibilities of/for communication are being pre-shaped and pre-configured by changes in the way interpreters conceptualize and therefore approach the work.

Younger/newer interpreters are potentially more pragmatic about interpreting as a job, that is, as a specific role in an economic and political system which dictates the job’s limits and capacities. Some older/experienced interpreters also describe themselves as pragmatic – certainly in political terms but also in professional work-role terms. The qualitative difference, I suspect, comes down to orientations toward the use of language and interpreting as a means of communication rather than as a predominately symbolic service function in a large, essentially anonymous organization. I don’t mean to imply that younger/newer interpreters disbelieve in interpreting as a mode of actual communication, but it could be that their lack of experience (simply by virtue of age and historicity), and the conditions of their training within the present EU/world-system, prepares them to accept limits which older/experienced interpreters recognize as restricted, curtailed, and reduced.

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June 17, 2005


This must be one of the most medieval towns in existence.

It was the right thing for me to do after meeting with Prof. Blommaert (dare I be all-familiar-like and call him Jan?!) yesterday. It let my brain cool (!) after so many pieces and intuitions of this research project were validated....it felt ... penultimate? It's not the peak, but it gave me the sense I am really "on" to something (not just my imagination!), and encouraged me to keep the faith. :-) Anyway, my brain was basically blank so it's just as well I didn't need to do anything particularly intellectual. :-)

Take the boat tour when you go! Best way to see a big chunk of the town.

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did i remember

that Professor Blommaert is going to be at DeXus 3.0? No, of course not! I'm thinking I should retract the "Why Bother" (Deaf - ASL/English interpreter) poster proposal and re-submit something about European Parliament interpreters. The question is if I can pull it together by then, but of course it would be ridiculous not to figure it out and take advantage of that opportunity.

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June 14, 2005

a "new" methodology?

Unlikely. :-) But my prof thinks I'm up to something (this has happened before, btw!) She was "struck by the approach" of "involving your informants by sharing your analyses/engaging in participatory methods...so early."

The question is, does sharing my thoughts on the blog "help" or "hinder" the research effort?

Some of her questions and my responses:

“Are these summaries of the clusters of interactions/observations and interviews?” Yes. I think of them as a continuation of the interview, showing my thinking more substantially as it occurs in (or near) the moment, as patterns come into my perception.

“What kind of information do you purposefully leave out of them?

I purposely leave out information that I think might link a participant with particular content. Even though the interviews are (for the most part) conducted one-on-one, they occur within the Parliament building and we are often seen by others. I don’t want anyone’s particular statements to be identified, so if I think something might give a person away I don’t include it here. These posts are too close in time to the actual interviews and some savvy person might put two-and-two together, as it were.

“What is your purpose in sharing so soon?”

Well. This is the question that matters the most, yes? First, it is to disrupt the power position of the outside observer who collects knowledge and holds it close in order to package it “properly”. Second (although I’m not sure the ranking is an actual prioritization), it is to generate energy around the research – its object, aim, and goals. I had the most affirming conversation recently with an interpreter who said she’d finally taken the time to read the blog. She said she just kept going and going and going. :-) She was “amazed” that I had gotten so much, and represented it so well. She appreciated the comparison with journalism and explained how, no matter how well-intentioned journalists are, they always get something wrong. She felt I had gotten nothing wrong. Maybe that’s because I am also an interpreter and I can “live” in this world? I don’t know. But she was so enthusiastic and emotive that I was not only gratified, but also validated.

Third….this is harder to explain. It has to do with theories of language and the social construction of reality, and my own conviction that discourse is the way to social justice. I think we must "talk it into being." Monologues won't cut it; private conversations aren't enough. We need a public sphere.

“A question: would these folks otherwise be in dialogue? Or are you creating a new forum?”

This, I didn’t know. I’ve received some feedback that my questions are bringing to the surface things interpreters have thought but typically don’t discuss with each other. There is some relief (?), or validation (?) that colleagues think similarly about certain things. Many interpreters have asked me at some point during the interview if others have given similar or different responses. It seems to feel good (to those who have asked) to find their perceptions and concerns are to varying extents in sync with their colleagues. A comment that's been said more than a few times is that I’m asking questions that gets them thinking about things that are “there” but not usually said or explored. I’ve been appreciated for being an “outsider” coming in. I don't think I'm "creating" anything, because the knowledge and perceptions have always been there. I'd say I've only been a stimulus for pre-existing impulses to emerge.

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June 13, 2005

Ghosh on Interpreting

“…there’s no one else who knows how to speak to both of them – to her and to him. It’s you who stands between them: whatever they say to each other will go through your ears and your lips. But for you neither of them will know what is in the mind of the other. Their words will be in your hands you can make them mean what you will” (257).

“...the insider’s indispensability; every new peril was proof of his importance; each new threat evidence of his worth. These temptations were all too readily available to every guide and translator – not to succumb was to make yourself dispensible; to give in was to destroy the value of your word, and thus your work” (321).

a nightmare about a language examination. “In the small hours he sat up suddenly, in a sweat of anxiety: he could not remember the language he was dreaming in, but the word pariksha, ‘examination’, was ringing in his head and he was trying to explain why he had translated the word in the archaic sense of ‘trial by ordeal’” (316).

the spell of the interpreter…”vanished, creating the illusion that she was speaking directly to” (308)

“…the vistas he had been looking at lay deep within the interior of other languages. Those horizons had filled him with the desire to learn of the ways in which other realities were conjugated. And he remembered too the obstacles, the frustration, the sense that he would never be able to bend his mouth around those words, produce those sounds, put sentences together in the required way, a way that seemed to call for a recasting of the usual order of things. It was pure desire that had quickened his mind…” (269).

“…the mudbanks of the tide country are shaped not only by rivers of silt, but also by rivers of language: Bengali, English, Arabic, Hindi, Arakanese and who knows what else? Flowing into one another they create a proliferation of small worlds that hang suspended in the flow. And so it dawned on me: the tide country’s faith is something like of its great mohonas, a meeting not just of many rivers, but a roundabout people can use to pass in many directions – from country to country and even between faiths and religions” (247).

“’I’m an interpreter and translator by profession…businessman…started a company some years ago when I discovered a shortage of language professionals…Now I provide translators for all kinds of organizations…in short, anyone who can pay’” (198).

p. 258 and 335. An example - Moyna’s words, interpreted by Kanii.

The Hungry Tide, by Amitav Ghosh

326 – the target of rage

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hot tips!

I've been given a number of leads on publications regarding interpreting:

Andy Gilles' site, especially the reading list and particularly CIRIN. This is a treasure trove of academic articles on conference interpreting, listed in biennial bulletins.

Some recent professional publications of interest:

How Should We Interpret;

Babels and Nomad – Observations on the barbarising of communication at the 2005 World Social Forum (might be interesting to those who went to the presentation on this at the World Systems Conference at UMass this spring);

Does an interpreter know a little about a lot, but a lot about nothing?;

La voix de Madame,

Also I was encouraged to find works by Pat Longley.

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June 10, 2005

discursive density: how many directions can I follow?!!

What am I going to say about Strasbourg Week 2? I may be too earnest for my own good! Interpreters use humor in many ways – to discharge stress, express cynicism, and enact intimacy. I’m not sure of the extent to which interpreters from each nationality do this – it is a characteristic of co-interpreter banter (from the same booth, especially) more than the one-on-one interviews with me, but most interpreters have used humor during the interviews to varying degrees.

The plenaries are a whirlwind (it wasn’t just my precipitous arrival from the U.S. last month). I rode the train to/from Brussels, so I’ve added that aspect of the scene to my short-term immersion in the swirl of EU organizational life. Perhaps someone has already done some work on the geographic terrain of “the organization” of the EU? I now imagine Brussels as the hub, with spokes extending to Luxembourg and Strasbourg. Then there is the distribution of tasks to the various extant organizations – the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Court of Justice, and no doubt others which haven’t emerged yet in the discourse. I’m still sorting out which are fully autonomous, which contributed directly to the emergence of the European Union, and which are spin-offs of the EU process. The sense I have now is of a few distinct endeavors initiated under separate and disconnected conditions and aims, which over time discovered (or constructed?) convergence in motivation and overall vision.

As frustrated as many Parliament interpreters are with a variety of aspects of the job (e.g., working conditions, bad English, the stress – mental and physical, the lack of comprehension among other EU staff - especially administration and accounting – concerning the actual work of interpreting, etc.), there is an incredible amount of passion for the job. The challenge of interpreting meaning in one language/culture to another language/culture, of contributing to “understanding” generates an on-going “kick.” This sensation compensates for (?), or, better (?) – is the reward for developing the strenuous levels of concentration necessary to operate “on the edge of consciousness just before schizophrenia.” Imagine taking on two (or more) roles, which must be acted spontaneously, in immediate succession, alternating and changing, following their particular thought and enunciation rhythms - not your own! – for extended periods of time on topics which you may or may not be prepared for (no documents, for instance, or not all of them), which are discussed in depth with reference to technicalities and/or presented against a political backdrop which one may or may not be aware of (such as an emerging salient national issue, a hot debate in a recent committee meeting or the enactment of a political group’s strategy concocted elsewhere than in your presence).

The theme of acting arose often – the notion of needing “to become” another person, to “get inside their head,” to understand and anticipate their thought process. When this happens, there is a ‘click’, the brain just ‘switches’ into a particular mode. This happens most readily when speakers use their mother tongue. The known linguistic structure of the language allows interpreters to comprehend and even anticipate the rhetorical moves a speaker may make. How one uses their mother tongue embodies clues as to their own logical processes. Interpreters use all these cues to read the intended meaning and repackage it for delivery in another language. The complaints against “globish,” “bad English,” “bad French” and (more rarely) “bad German,” are consistent across the board: speakers using “the English they think they know” structure their sentences in the grammar of their own mother tongue range> Unless one also knows the speaker’s mother tongue extremely well, it ranges from the difficult to the impossible to understand. Without combing through the @40 interviews to date for confirmation, I think every interpreter I’ve spoken with identified “globish” as a problem at one point or another.

I also began to learn about some historical moments in the history of conference interpreting. The profession counts its birth from the trials at Nuremberg, where interpreters’ were moved from immediate, face-to- face contact in the room “behind the glass” - into “the booth.” Of course there are all the moments of adding new languages, but many also note the impact of technology on the types and range of social interaction among interpreters and between Members of Parliament. I’ll have to pay attention when I do the transcriptions later, but I realized today that many interpreters describe themselves as “linguists”. This suggests that their intellectual identity revolves around languages - specifically their knowledge of languages, and interpreting is just (?) the material or tangible job that manifests the “intellectual achievement” of learning and working with multiple languages.

Something I definitely want to pursue is an evolution (some might say devolution) in the way “confidentiality” is understood. Historically, in the early days when the Parliament was smaller and new, people who worked there were able to exist and interact (at appropriate times) in both the specialized professional identity of “the interpreter” and the general and shared identity of being “a European citizen.” This wasn’t done irresponsibly – one only talked about the content of a meeting with 1) others who had been there and 2) after it was public (by being broadcast or otherwise made available to the press and the public). These days it’s hard to imagine an interpreter engaging directly with a politician about political views, strategy, language use, and/or any other kind of critical dialogue about the issue(s) of the day (except perhaps in private with a colleague or MEP who happened to be an intimate).

A crucial point that someone raised which I hadn’t considered yet is the personality typing of what I’ll roughly gloss as ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert,’ He said interpreters are really shy people (others have said this as well), and that those I see socializing at The Swan Bar or otherwise hanging around the Parliament building are only part of the overall working team. I realize this division lends itself to a potential skewing of the discourse and hence the overall findings, because the interview pool has been almost exclusively drawn from those who do hang around Parliament. Those interpreters who leave the Parliament environs when they are between assignments may or may not generate the same general discursive shape in their musings about the work.

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June 9, 2005


OHMYGOSH Jan Blommaert is only a short train ride away at Ghent University!

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June 5, 2005

Next round of questions - Strasbourg Week 2

These are the questions which previous interviews suggest. They may yield empirical evidence for the kinds of issues raised by Blommaert about mobility, resources, indexicality, pretextualization, and entextualization (or variations thereof):

1. Where – which settings/contexts – do you interpret the most?
2. Which do you like the least/most?
3. Which are most/least challenging and how does this correlate with your enjoyment of the work?

Delegates’ use of language:
4. Statements said – empirical
5. Discontinuities – gaps, disjunctures, breakdowns
6. Aims (engagement here vs media coverage at home)
a. Intended
b. Actual
7. Changes over time?
a. past
b. present
c. what is missing/what do you miss (in interlocutors’ language production)
8. Changes because of context?
a. Groups
b. Committees
c. Plenaries
d. Missions
e. Audience
9. Evidence of inequality
a. choice (freedom, free will)
b. constraints (system, context, role…)
c. place, space, role of creativity? (MEPs, delegates, officials…)
d. accepted, embraced or rejected, denied?
e. Ways of speaking that counter the institution’s norms? [hidden transcripts]
f. Range of stances – affect, epistemic, (88) [“rational”, “emotive”]
10. Orientations to (production of) knowledge
11. “Iconicity” – expectations/models delegates etc are “supposed” to meet/satisfy
12. What consequences when expectations/models are not met?

Interpreters’ parameters:
13. Choice – omissions, inclusions, creatitivity
14. Variables (type of meeting, personality of speaker, sentiment in the booth/among the team…)
15. Range of stances – clues, latitude to adjust (e.g., toward perception of intended aims)
16. Techniques – patterns in your interpretations (features, style…)
17. Regime(s)
18. Interpreting as pivot, how does this affect/influence your production? (What would it be like if interlocutors considered the interpreter as part of their audience?)

In sum:

19. When is linguistic difference difference, and when is it inequality?

20. How does language actually work here (EP)? What does it do (function)? What does it accomplish (effectivity, efficacy)?

21. How much influence does the language regime at Parliament have on
a. other EU institutions?
b. notion of “Europe”; identifying as “European”?

It may also be of interest to ask interpreters to read and think out loud about this statement by Blommaert:

“The functions of which particular ways of speaking will perform, and the functions of the particular linguistic resources by means of which they are accomplished, become less and less a matter of surface inspection in terms of commonsense linguistic categories (e.g., ‘is this English?’), and some of the biggest errors (and injustices) may be committed by simply projecting locally valid functions onto the ways of speaking of people who are involved in transnational flows” (72).

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June 4, 2005

“How do you move your thinking?”

I told my host family last night that I’d been able to move my thinking forward in terms of the kinds of questions to ask interpreters going into the week in Strasbourg. Helena asked how. It’s actually still a bit vague in my own mind, so perhaps I can write out loud and gain clarity. I’ll use Van Manen as my reference point, because the notion of phenomenology - interpreter’s consciousness and their awareness of self/other consciousness - is a move that the discourse enables. (This reflective writing doubles as a note-taking exercise clarifying my phenomenological research methodology.)

Van Manen’s object is pedagogy – teaching and parenting; so whenever I quote or paraphrase one of his ideas, I’m either substituting interpreting for pedagogy or generalizing. In pursuing knowledge, he says we should always refer questions back to the lifeworld “where knowledge speaks through our lived experiences” (46). One way I’m moving my thinking then, is being responsive to the knowledge(s) evident in the experiences interpreters tell – which (type of?) stories, what (kind of?) examples, which adjectives, as well as how they seem to relate to the experience of talking with me and responding to my questions. Van Manen talks about the iconicity of questions – such that the question itself serves as an example of it seeks to clarify (46). My questions are not yet this honed. I am struggling with the asking, but what is exciting is the sense of my interlocutors struggling with me – there are many close-to-the-surface responses, but as the conversation goes on it often deepens and some interpreters begin to articulate less formed, more-or-less “new” thoughts, generating their own questions. The extent to which I can facilitate this kind of reflection will enrich the whole process – at the immediate level of the face-to-face conversation, the discourse’s trajectory, and any results or findings that come out of it.

Of course, this shows how deeply involved I am with the entire process, which many might criticize as “un-scientific” on the basis of “not being objective.” But this is the essence of phenomenological inquiry. I have not posed a static question to carry forth and ask in the same way of every interlocutor in order to demonstrate some kind of proof. I’ve posed, instead, a living question which interlocutors and I experience together. The methodological challenge, then, is not “how consistently I hold to the original formulation of the question.” Rather, it is, “how attentive and responsive can I be to the nuances and shades of relevance in the things interpreters actually say?” This is an issue of my flexibility and skill at allowing myself to be subjected to the discourse, instead of seeking to guide or direct it, while not losing focus on the core question: what do interpreters know about the world and the place of language in it?

Van Manen refers to Gadamer (1975:266) who said the essence of the question is the opening of possibilities – opening them up and keeping them open. “To truly question something is to interrogate something from the heart of our existence, from the center of our being…. research [is] going back again and again to the things themselves until that which is put to question begins to reveal something of its essential nature” (43). As I continue to return, I live the questioning and it lives in and through me. To discover what it’s “really like” to be an interpreter, I must stay attuned to what it’s “really like” for me to investigate interpreting (40).
In this regard, there is “a distinction between appearance and essence, between the things of our experience and that which grounds the things of our experience…phenomenological research consists of reflectively bringing into nearness that which tends to be obscure, that which tends to evade the intelligibility of our natural attitude of everyday life” (32). Movement in thinking, therefore, is the effect of reflection. Such movement responds to the dialectic between appearance (particular words, phrases, descriptions) and essence (the feelings accompanying such).

Perceiving this dialectic is, I think, a function of esoteric epistemology. In contrast with poetry and literature, which leaves its wisdom implicit and particular, Van Manen argues that “phenomenology aims at making explicit and seeking universal meaning” albeit in still evocative and animating ways (italics in original, 19). A qualification on universality is necessary: “The object of a phenomenological interest is [according to Merleau-Ponty, 1964a] “neither eternal and without roots in the present nor a mere event destined to be replaced by another event tomorrow, and consequently deprived of any intrinsic value (p. 92)…phenomenology [continues Van Manen] consists in mediating in a personal way the antinomy of particularity (being interested in concreteness, difference, and what is unique) and universality (being interested in the essential, in difference that makes a difference)” (emphasis mine, 23).

[Note: return to the phenomenology/hermeneutic debate on p. 25-26.]

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June 3, 2005

reactions to "no"

Dutch sign on Europe’s wall is posted on openDemocracy.net. Reactions to the French no last weekend were mixed among interpreters, ranging from barely suppressed glee to outright disappointment. Only a few, however, had truly dire predictions for the future of the EU, and none felt it would affect their working conditions in any way. Most expressed varying degrees of optimism that the "no" would trigger some serious reflection among officials and MEPs away from pure economics toward the social, and only a few felt it would be nearly impossible to forge agreement again. Those who were close to the negotiating process say they already saw how difficult it was and how many compromises were made on many sides...

Did I say all this before?! I feel that I did, but if so I can't locate it right now. Was talking with someone earlier today about brain stretching and overload - clearly my sense of having adjusted was premature! :-)

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“the biggest professional community in the world”

“Even if language forms are similar or identical, the way in which they get inserted in social actions may differ significantly and, consequently, there may be huge differences in what these (similar or identical) forms do in real societies” (italics in original, Blommaert, 71).

I think interpreters know this. It may be intuitive knowledge, esoteric rather than empirical. Occasionally there is a story told as a heuristic, but more often it is something interpreters describe as a feeling: when they know they’ve done a good job for instance, because they’ve elicited the same response in the receivers of the interpreted message as those who received in the same language as the speaker. In other words, the function of the message has been delivered, as measured by its effect...?...or by the internal (subjective) self-assessment of equivalence? (And would the latter be necessarily "less" than the former?)

The rest is a melange -

All of the critiques of “globish,” “broken English,” and even “crap French,” refer to the reduced vocabulary and limited range of forms that people reproduce because it’s what they know how to say (the form), rather than necessarily what they mean to say or intend to convey. The interpreters who have worked here for 20 or 30 years notice a difference in the kind of speech produced and delivered by the MEPs (Members of Parliament). Most obviously, many of the speeches are now read rather than delivered spontaneously. This creates logistical problems, as the human mind can only process meaning, decode, recode, and redeliver it, within the constraints of consciousness. Speeches in plenary are often delivered to national audiences instead of to each other, so there may or may not be people present who are actually listening – although interpreters serve the press as well as the interlocutors and these sessions are televised and recorded: the interpreted word is no longer ephemeral. However, there is another, deeper change to language production that they were lamenting - a deadening, narrowing, flattening...this will be quite fascinating to parse out. (Note: I have a contradictory post on the relevance of form.)

There seems to be a general sense of surprise at how well the integration of the ten new languages has gone. There are critiques and concerns, of course, but few have expressed dismay, disappointment, or discouragement with how it’s working. Indeed, almost everyone says it is working, recognizing this as quite an achievement. Many attribute this directly to the skill of the new interpreters working with the new languages. It doesn’t mean that the system is “fuss free”, or that every interpreter is without fault, but that overall – with latitude for the inevitable “bad day” and relative inexperience (whether younger in age/experience or new to the Parliament setting) – simultaneous interpreting into twenty-plus languages is occurring on a near daily basis!

Language combinations matter a great deal. Typically, one needs five languages to be considered seriously for work here. The criteria are less strict for the new languages because not so many people know them yet; these are an active (and competitive) area of recruitment. Language combinations are “usual” or “cool”; French terms regularly are used in otherwise English discourse (for instance, with me), and occasionally phrases in other languages arise as exemplars of a particular point or simply the best way to express a desired meaning.

I have noticed, several times, how focused and ‘on task’ the “interviewees” have been – very often after an illustration or tangent they will recall the original question and refer back to it, wrapping up the point of their story with an explicit reference to the question or comment that initiated the story. It is a rather amazing demonstration of conscious concentration, of mental discipline and the honed ability to concentrate on meaning and intention. Talk about phenomenology!

Other patterns: at least half the interpreters I’ve spoken with describe themselves as atypical.

Many are visibly puzzled by the phrase “community interpreting”; some admit they’ve never even thought about it – usually due to lack of exposure.

Almost everyone I’ve spoken with finds genuine pleasure in the job itself, despite its stresses and the difficulties of the system. There is a great deal of consistency in the descriptions of the work as “a service”, accompanied by expansions on how it is to be done – such as unobtrusively with the goal of invisibility.

Trust comes up quite often: among colleagues, and from the clients in terms of their perception of the quality of work provided.

Contrasts are drawn between missions and work in the institutional buildings proper, with varying preferences and identified pros/cons of each type.

Political views vary considerably, although I have yet to speak with anyone who seems very far right. Many express some level of disapproval or distaste for forms of xenophobia. (Although these speakers may be fun to interpret because they articulate well and powerfully; or something to be endured as an inevitable part of the job.)

Being curious is the top generalized interpreter characteristic, followed closely by being talkative and having a love for/interest in languages.

The freelance:functionairre preference seems to boil down to one’s personal desire for freedom or security.

There is are two oppositional patterns in perceptions of the kind of work done in the Parliament compared with that done other places. I’ll need to pore over the data carefully to discern any ‘sense’ of this. Some regard Parliament as the hardest and most challenging venue because of the range of topics and issues that are addressed; others see that these conversations happen within certain confines, hence simplifying the job in comparison with work in the private market.

The ‘technical/political’ distinction between the work at the European Commission compared to Parliament continues to hold up, with people preferring one type over the other for reasons that appear similar and different on the surface.

One surprising area of agreement has to do with relative importance of the job of interpreting in which particular contexts. Most have stated outright that interpreting is probably more important in the community than in the EU institutions! The reason is fairly consistent – community interpreting touches peoples’ lives directly, it “has to do with survival.” In the Parliament, it is largely symbolic (which most have argued has tremendous meaning in and of itself), and most obviously contributes efficiency: interpreting aids communication and decision-making by being quicker than direct second or third language interactions and by reducing misunderstanding.

It will take some time to organize the list of intrinsic values identified regarding mother tongue usage, but it is extensive. So too is the list of criteria distinguishing when interpreting is preferable to direct communication via a lingua franca.

Pragmatically, many perceive a trend toward language loss over time (as in the reduction of mother tongue use in various arenas of human endeavor and subsequent reductions in vocabularies and distinct worldviews). Almost everyone expresses sadness about this. “It’s a pity,” and “It would be a pity,” are common reactions. At the same time, few admit to concern regarding the continuation of their own mother tongue, regardless of whether it is a “smaller” or “larger” language (determined by number of native speakers).

A last tidbit: older members of the EU refer to “enlargement”, and newer members refer to “ascension.”

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May 31, 2005

More on methodology and theory

I´m quite enamored of Blommaert; I hope I can locate him and make direct contact. The notes on "Text and Context" I´ve generated include ruminations on tentative "findings" of the conference interpreter discourse to date and more sharply defined research questions. Also, Van Manen is being extremely useful and timely with his explanation of a phenomenological approach to research - NOT the usual social scientific mode (and who would I be if I did anything in the "usual" way?!!

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May 30, 2005

“A language that sings the world”

I was asked by one interpreter if there was a difference between what I’m trying to do with my research and what journalists do when they research and publish stories. Many of the points I considered possible distinctions were persuasively argued as not that different, but the one point which seemed most different is the notion of participation in the writing/publication process.

I started reading this book Leda loaned me, Researching Lived Experience by Max Van Manen, which describes the phenomenological angle in terms that reflect my ontology. Van Manen says, “phenomenology attempts to explicate the meanings as we live them in our everyday existence, our lifeworld” (11).

Phenomenology is a focus on consciousness, broadly conceived: “anything that presents itself to consciousness…whether…real or imagined, empirically measured or subjectively felt. Consciousness is the only access human beings have to the world” (9). Necessarily, then, it is through consciousness that we are related to the world; hence a phenomenological approach is always concerned with the dialectic between consciousness and things of the world. Van Manen adds the term hermeneutics to capture the continuous, cyclical nature of phenomenological experience: “We might say that hermeneutic phenomenology is a philosophy of the personal, the individual, which we pursue against the background of an understanding of the evasive character of the logos of other, the whole, the communal, or the social (italics in original, 7).

One key distinction, I believe, between a phenomenological approach and a journalistic approach is that phenomenology is not concerned solely with the so-called rational. “Knowing is not a purely cognitive act” (6). Because phenomenology is inherently dialogical, “to do research is always to question the way we experience the world, to want to know the world in which we live as human beings. And since to know the world is profoundly to be in the world in a certain way, the act of researching – questioning – theorizing is the intentional act of attaching ourselves to the world, to become more fully part of it, or better, to become the world” (italics in original, 5).

Van Manen continues: “Hermeneutic phenomenological research reintegrates part and whole, the contingent and the essential, value and desire. It encourages a certain attentive awareness to the details and seemingly trivial dimensions of our everyday…lives. It makes us thoughtfully aware of the consequential in the inconsequential, the significant in the taken-for-granted” (8). As a science, phenomenology “attempts to articulate, through the content and form of text, the structures of meaning embedded in lived experience (rather than leaving the meaning implicit as for example in poetry or literary texts)…it is self-critical in the sense that it continually examines its own goals and methods in an attempt to come to terms with the strengths and shortcomings of its approach and achievements. It is intersubjective in that the human science researcher needs the other (for example, the reader) in order to develop a dialogic relation with the phenomenon, and thus validate the phenomenon as described” (italics in original, 11).
Consciousness can only be studied in retrospection: “Reflection on lived experience is always recollective; it is reflection on experience that is already passed or lived through” (10) and as such (here’s the unnerving part!), “does not offer us the possibility of effective theory with which we can now explain and/or control the world, but rather it offers us the possibility of plausible insights that bring us in more direct contact with the world” (9). In this regard, phenomenology views “the experiential situation as the topos of real pedagogic acting” (7), and the “textual reflection on the lived experiences and practical actions of everyday life with the intent to increase one’s thoughtfulness and practical resourcefulness or tact” (4). Van Manen refers back to the trickster Diogenes, who believed “a human being is not just something you automatically are, it is also something you must try to be” (italics in original, 5).

In sum, “phenomenological research has, as its ultimate aim, the fulfillment of our human nature: to become more fully who we are” (12). “Phenomenology…is a poetizing project; it tries an incantative, evocative speaking, a primal telling, wherein we aim to involve the voice in an original singing of the world (Merleau-Ponty, 1973). But poetizing is not ‘merely’ a type of poetry, a making of verses. Poetizing is thinking on original experience and is thus speaking in a more primal sense. Language that authentically speaks the world rather than abstractly speaking of it is a language reverberates the world, as Merleau-Ponty says, a language that sings the world” (italics in original, 13).

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May 27, 2005

"the language is faster and more superficial"

In my quest for themes among interpreters for the European Parliament, one I hope to pursue some more is the perspective of the longer-term interpreters of changes in the way MEPs talk. Thirty years ago, Parliament was solely a political body, designed for debate. Now, with the accrual of legislative power, it’s become “a technocratic body”. It seems to me that this, in and of itself, doesn’t have to necessarily lead to changes in the presentation or style of discourse, but according to a few people it has. They’ve noticed a certain amount of homogeneity emerging over the past years. On the one hand, this is attributed to a reduction in MEPs speaking extemporaneously; almost everyone speaks from prepared statements (which they read very fast, the bane of simultaneous interpretation). This homogeneity is described as a social process, of people becoming more “americanized” and seeking some amount of conformity to the structure – perhaps it is a parallel process with that of the structure of interpreters as the number of languages has increased?

For instance, the historical experience of the interpreters here was characterized as being rather like “a family.” Everyone pretty much had the chance to get to know everyone else, and there was a sense of trust in people’s individual judgments about (for instance) how to put teams together in the booth for particular meetings/topics/speakers. This was enabled because there was enough time to consider who would be the best match for primary speakers not just in terms of the required language profile, but in terms of content knowledge and experience in the setting (e.g., with that particular group or committee). Now, with the large jump in number of languages and consequently, number of interpreters (almost doubled!), there is much less space for careful decision-making of this kind and more reliance on “rules.” So if an individual interpreter fits the language profile needed they are assigned, period.

The effects of this ‘rule-induced efficiency’ are worrisome: reduced quality of interpretation is at the top of the list. And this isn’t just a simple equation of language source – language output as if in a dyad: what is becoming more frequent is the use of pivot. A pivot is what I’m used to calling (in sign language interpretation) a relay interpreter. We use this most frequently working with Certified Deaf Interpreters – Deaf individuals who take the non-deaf interpreters’ interpretation of a spoken text as “source” and rework it into a target language that is accessible to Deaf individuals whose language use is not standard (of which there are a number of varieties).

What is happening with the pivot in the EP is that a speaker’s original text is in a language that few interpreters know. (Most interpreters here know at least three languages, most know more and are learning more.) For instance, if a Czech speaker makes a statement, and there are only three booths with someone who has Czech has a passive language (meaning a language that they understand well enough to interpret into their working language), then every other booth (I counted 19 in the Brussels hemicycle on Wednesday) has to “tune in” to one of these three interpretations as their “source”. If it so happens that the three interpreters (in this hypothetical example) who know Czech are unfamiliar with the topic, or the particular MEP, or the context/history of the issue and personalities involved, or perhaps is a “medium” or relatively inexperienced interpreter instead of a “topnotch” interpreter – then any unfortunate reduction in quality of their interpretation sets the limit on what the rest of the interpreters can produce. This ripple effect can permeate not just the particular meeting, but, a) as the pivot continues to be used and b) discretion in job placements is discouraged by strict adherence to “rules” and c) the institution attempts to streamline working conditions to bring interpreters’ role into more alignment with other roles of EP employees…the entire capacity of the institution to serve as a venue for genuine debate on issues of political import declines.

Not everyone is pessimistic about this change, to some it seems inevitable and simply a reflection of the times. Some don’t see it as a cause for concern – as in a fear for individual job security, or for the persistence of the full language regime. In general, there seems to be a high degree of personal satisfaction in the job itself – which arguably ‘hasn’t changed at all” over the years. It is still about providing a service, of transmitting meaning, of occasionally “contributing to communication by giving people something that they would not otherwise have.” An example of this was a story about a Japanese-French interpreter who “changed the register” from their culturally appropriate flowery and elaborate greeting of respect (“On this day we bow before you….”) to the simple yet culturally appropriate and respect-equivalent target form of “Mr. Chairman…” The interpreter here doesn’t change the sense, but does change the register, “because the output matters so much.”

At any rate, where these musings began was with a sense that MEPs "vocabulary is getting smaller," that passion is reduced, what people are going to say is becoming "more and more predictable," and overall a diminishment of difference to fuel quality debate. This "impoverishment" is seen not just as a loss of interest in the task of interpreting per se, however there are times when the interpreter can [mentally] "go to sleep" and rely on "stock phrases" until something is said that is unpredictable and out-of-the-norm, causing one to "prick up one´s ears." That level of attention used to be the norm; it´s decrease in frequency is being noted with a mix of nostalgia and regret.

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May 13, 2005

“We usually talk about food and sex.”

It may have been quite the sacrifice – not to mention my loss! – for my informants to agree to converse with me during their down time about their experiences as interpreters at the European Parliament. I am grateful, and have I ever learned a lot! It feels a bit odd to use that phrase, “my informants”, as there is certainly no possessive component except for the individual willingness to join an investigation of interpreter’s worldviews: “to get inside interpreters’ heads”, as one participant put it. :-) And “informants” is so technical (down with technicality!) . . . in social scientific terms it is accurate (for this initial stage), but it isn’t the kind of research model I wish to invoke. I hope several of the interpreters who spoke with me over the past three days (and any who choose to join this conversation, publicly here, or by private email to me) will become participating researchers and engage proactively with me/us in not only interpreting (!) the discursive data but also in formulating questions and desirable outcomes of this particularly situated study. In other words, to deliberately and dialogically co-construct knowledge regarding the role, values, paradoxes, pleasures, ambitions, frustrations, etcetera of the job (it IS a job).

I hope no one is "put off" by the informality here. Of course some of my academic-ese comes through, but ideally this is just another venue for chat. :-)

Since I’ve been in school the past several years I haven’t been able to attend as many sign language interpreter’s professional development seminars and workshops, but I find myself immersed in a similar environment here – that kind of collegial comfort which emerges under the “fire” of this profession. Many basic elements are exactly the same – inarticulate speakers (those who mumble, tangentialize incessantly, choose to use their typically inadequate second or third language rather than their mother tongue, read from previously written text at extraordinarily rapid rates, etc); periodic lack of proper preparatory materials and adequate working conditions (“I craved a chair!”); in-house jargon such as “in the booth”, “on this side of the glass”, “on the other side of the glass”; and the personal satisfactions of a job well-done.

The broadest categories that became immediately apprehendable to me as an outsider, (“We don’t get many Americans around here”), are three types of interpreting: conference, community, and whispering. Whispering? It may be literal “whispering into the ear” of a delegate or MEP (Member of Parliament), but it encompasses any interpreting done without augmentive equipment – in other words, the kind of interpreting sign language interpreters utilize most often. This type of interpreting is usually done “on missions” – when delegates (MEPs) travel for various purposes.

Conference interpreters are either functionnaires - staff interpreters, or freelancers who also work on the private (free, open) market. Hardly anyone who works at the European Parliament works in the community proper – not for social service/welfare agencies or hospitals/medical settings. (Note: “the community” is a phrase which is locally used to denote the (political) "European community" – the institutionalized and imagined entity more so than a neighborhood or group of people who interact during everyday living.) A few have worked for the legal system, but not many. There are historical in-house divisions among the European institutions (some of this is now changing, albeit slowly). Functionnaires are employed specifically by one institution; freelancers are more likely to work in multiple venues. Of course, some interpreters were previously freelancers and are now staff, and vice-versa.

The term community interpreting was used spontaneously by some, and understood by others when I used it, but most commonly the primary distinction was between conference interpreters and those who work in the free market. The free market has its pros and cons, and it is here that the “grey market” exists. The grey market is a form of competitive provision of interpreting services that undercuts the professional ranks by charging lower fees and working in sub-optimal conditions. Interpreters are pushed into the grey market primarily by the need to gain experience. Clients include NGOs, corporations, academic (?) and political conferences … potentially anyone who needs to provide interpreting services on a very tight budget.

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May 8, 2005

Critical Discourse Analysis

Jan Blommeart is an Africanist, ethnographer, and synergistic critical discourse analyst. Taking the terms in reverse:

Discourse – “language in society”, not just language use but also the sum of communicative acts, and these acts situated in context.

Critical – the performance of analyses that “expose and critique existing wrongs in one’s society – analyses that should be ‘brought home’” (4).

Synergistic – drawing from multiple sources, e.g., Hymes, Fairclough, Bauman, Bernstein, Bourdieu, Wallerstein, Bahktin, Foucault, Habermas, Hall, Hanks, Scollon. He particularly notes Norman Fairclough, British Cultural Studies (the Birmingham School), and French poststructuralism (23).

Ethnography – “an approach in which the analysis of small phenomena is set against an analysis of big phenomena . . . and both . . . can only be understood in terms of one another” (16).

An Africanist perspective: “in the age of globalization, it is worth having a look at materials from the peripheries of the world system” (20).

The central problem of this approach is to locate the relationship between a text (the microsocial) and its context (the macrosocial).

Blommaert asserts: “an event becomes ‘a problem’ as soon as it is being recognized as such” (4). The epistemology is that discourse “can become a site of meaningful social differences, of conflict and struggle . . . result[ing] in all kinds of socio-structural effects” (4). There is an assumption that discourse is both socially constitutive and socially conditioned – it must be studied as an ecology of cultural forms in which culture and language are firmly set “in the whole of the system in which a group operates” (8). In sum, critical discourse analysis explores “the intersection of language/discourse/speech and social structure” (25) with the goal of identifying and illustrating a position from which to analyze the social facts of globalization (17).

Core assumptions relate power, inequality, and difference.

The main target of analysis is inequality: its nature, dynamics, and modes. Thus, it engages notions of choice and determination. Constraints on choice must be taken seriously. Determination via the world system indicates that people are not becoming more free. [Hence, by default, perhaps raising the need for and stakes of control in those few venues where we feel we do have some choices?] Globalization is the highest level of context determining language usage in any interaction at any time in any situation within any society (18). In other words, what is determinative are “the historical conditions under which particular forms of communication become meaningful or not” (18).

In sum, critical discourse analysis is less a school than a network of scholars who integrate various linguistic methods with social theory, conduct empirical studies of objects of analysis within a set of paradigms, and maintain overt political commitments to social action (24). Institutional settings are arguably one of the best sites in which to apply CDA, education being a primary (perhaps even preferred?) example.

A condition of possibility and a caveat:

For CDA to be utilized as a methodology one must have access to “real, and often extended, instances of social interaction” (25).

Additionally, “it may subvert the practices it analyzes” (25).

[Notes written on the flight; temporally posted on May 13 and backdated.]

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April 25, 2005

translucent opaqueness of difference

Interpreting is akin to translation. Translators work with written texts, and have time with which to consider structure, meaning, flow. Interpreters work in the moment, utlizing judgment, mediating relationships as much as any information transfer in the communicative process.

"Translation produces out of seeming 'incommensurabilitiess...neither an absence of relationship between dominant and dominating forms of knowledge nor equivalents that successfully mediate between differences, but precisely the opague relationship we call 'difference'" (Chakrabarty, 2000: 17).

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April 24, 2005

a let down :-(

I went to the opening of The Interpreter tonight with my favorite odd couple...great acting but the story was, well, just a story.

There was hardly any interpreting: a few flawlessly delivered scenes from the booth, and one short small group meeting. Obviously the interpreter has to manage her emotions in the face-to-face setting, which she does (of course). Then hesitates only slightly before breaking confidentiality with UN Security.

It's a quick scene, but certainly raises every ethical red flag one can imagine. Is she beholden to her employer (the UN) or the interlocutors? Does (or should) she have national loyalties, or is an internationalist stance the only appropriate one, given the context? Sure, supposedly it's life and death. That's always the litmus test, right? Perhaps overtly political situations are demarcated by different boundaries than the social service, medical, and educational situations in which community interpreters face our ethical dilemmas?

It was interesting to watch this just before I head overseas to talk with interpreters for the European Parliament. Sans the suspense of an assassination attempt, there was a view of the milieu.

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April 4, 2005

looks like they did it :-(

The revised code of ethics includes:

Tenet 4.2

“Interpreters recognize the right of consumers to make informed decisions. Choices could include but are not limited to, selection of interpreter, seating arrangements, and interpreting dynamics.”

I know the committee has worked extraordinarily hard, and gone to tremendous effort to include as much feedback as possible. I must have been in the minority with mine. :-/

Overall, I think the revisions look fantastic (although the name change doesn't do anything for me). But this one tenet really scares me. It's going to cement in place some power dynamics and power struggles for a long time - 10 years? 20? Until the next time the Code is revised? Politically, maybe NAD believes they simply must have this in order to empower more deaf individuals to stand up against interpreters who are incompetent or underqualified - I just think there has to be a better way than by perpetuating the ambiguity of role implied in the phrase "interpreting dynamics".

I'm all good with selection of interpreter (of course!), seating arrangements (whatever). But "interpreting dynamics"? I know - this is where Deaf people say if they want to be interrupted or not, how, when, etc. That is important and having this kind of discussion should be automatic preparation for any assignment. But! What a set up to continue the power struggle on the smallest scale possible - between the deaf individual and the interpreter - instead of focusing on developing and disseminating bicultural communication norms.

I'm sad.

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March 20, 2005

after SDP online

Well. Anne and I debriefed yesterday. It was quite a ride! We've got our action plan and to do lists. We did decide its worth going back next year and trying again, but would like to recruit more Deaf to be involved. And I know I need to pay attention to register - academic jargon is not accessible!

Stuart Hall is good for many things. :-) It's hard to imagine what would have been different if I had read him earlier (besides everything!) - but I'm content. My epistemological path (how I learn and continue to come "to know" things) has been what it has been. Just fine. :-) Lots of opportunity, growth, development, fun and challenging people . . . wishing it were different would be a waste of time and energy. And, in truth, it's really ok.

So, check out what Hall says about discourse. This may well tie in to the RID presentation this summer which is starting to percolate in my mind...

Discourses are

- different ideological frameworks that use
- different 'systems of representation' each of which
- produces different definitions of the (any) system and
- locates us (as subjects) differently thus
- "situat[ing] us as social actors or as members of a social group in a particular relation to the process [whatever it is] and
- prescrib[ing] certain social identities for us" (italics in original, bold mine, 1986, p. 39-40).

So, when I try to explain that I'm looking at the interaction between

1) an interpreter discourse about interpreting (which might include key symbols like "being in role" or "out of role" and other common metaphors and imagery)


2) a deaf discourse about interpreting (which might include key symbols such as INTERRUPTING, TAKING OVER, and FLOW)

I'm trying to describe the effects and functions of the actual discourses (how people talk naturally) in terms of

a) ideolog(ies), representation(s), and definitions of the system of interpreting, and

b) the ways in which these first three things locate and situate us (deaf and non-deaf) as social actors (e.g., empowered, privileged) in relation to interpreting, with which operational identities.

While I/we get this somewhat sorted out (assuming such might occur within a standard lifetime!), I hope that the very process of trying to sort it out will generate new terms and practices that relieves some frustration and provides tangible information for Deaf advocates and interpreter educators (and language policy planners, but hey, that might be a stretch). :-)

Posted by Steph at 5:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Dang. Have I had metonymy all wrong? Hall describes is a linguistic term in which a part is substituted for the whole inadequately because, as a one-sided or single moment it can never provide or capture a process (or object or event or . . . ) holistically, in all its dimensions, moments, and aspects.

I've been considering it alternatively as a representation or symbol in which the whole enacts itself within the part.

". . . it is not attempting to classify something by placing it as a species within a genus.

Worth a serious follow-up while I'm there this summer: The Metaphor and Metonymy Group.

Wikipedia has multiple links and at least part of explanation that seems more in keeping with where my head's been: "... is the use of a single characteristic to identify a more complex entity." And there's this, which is contexted as a rhetorical use: "Metonymy works by contiguity rather than similarity. Typically, when someone uses metonymy, they don't wish to transfer qualities (as you do with metaphor); rather they transfer associations which may not be integral to the meaning." I have to think on this more, because I like the continguity but need to be clear on the difference between "associations" and "qualities." And how associations might not be "integral to meaning."

Ah - this looks even closer: "In cognitive linguistics, metonymy is one of the basic characteristics of cognition. It is extremely common for people to take one well-understood or easy-to-perceive aspect of something and use that aspect to stand either for the thing as a whole or for some other aspect or part of it." The Wiki site (link above) includes links to cognitive linguistics and cognition. Do follow up! (There are several more leads there - gesture, sign language, perhaps links to consciousness...)

ps. Don't forget Hall's contrast of metonymy with fetishism (37). First time THAT's made sense (too?)! ;-) "

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March 16, 2005


The conference was fantabulous. But I am toast! The hosts, Direct Learn Online Conferencing did a tremendous job. So did all of the presenters and participants.

Some links:

Center for Excellence for the Study of Sign Language Interpreting at RIT.

International Congress on Education of the Deaf

There are more that were posted in the actual papers, I'll dig 'em all out and post them here soon.

Now, I'm off to the gym and then a yummy Mexican dinner - my reward!

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March 15, 2005

online conference

Supporting Deaf People Online has been pretty much taking up my entire life the last three days, but it's pretty cool. Anne and I have a lot of fascinating discourse to think about.

One downside is fewer deaf participants than I remember from last year. :-( Really thought there would be more.

BUT - the collegial environment and quality of discussion has been, I think, phenomenal. I'm really pleased we were able to present, and quite satisfied with the result. I think I even made some new friends! Always a happy thing. :-)

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March 1, 2005

respect :-)

A spoken language interpreter in the European Union, Miguel Gomes, wrote about his experience working with sign language interpreters at the 2003 European Disabilities Forum.

He does a nice job of using himself as the foil to provide some education. It does seem like the working conditions of even conference-level sign language interpreters is in need of some support. Working solo all day? Wait until the rash of repetitive motion injuries hits! It'll happen eventually, don't you think?

Posted by Steph at 8:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

watch out! :-)

Oh, don't mind me, I'm just excited. RID has put up the website with info about this summer's biennial conference in San Antonio. Of course, I wouldn't mind being there now (not that a snow day is such a bad thing), but it'll be gorgeous in July, too. :-)

Eileen's and my workshop is the very last one (alphabetical order, go figure!) on p. 19 of the pdf. But you can read it here...

Why Bother? The Interpreter, Impartiality, and Group Dynamics
- Stephanie Jo Kent and Eileen Forestal Extended Workshop

This interactive workshop will involve interpreters in deep reflection and discussion about the influence of our on-the-job performance upon group dynamics and power relations among a) deaf and hearing interlocutors, b) among all interlocutors and the interpreter(s), and c) between deaf interlocutors and the interpreter(s). Two different video stimuli will be shown. One set of video clips will be actual performances of interpreting that highlight decisions made on-the-spot and in-the-moment. These will be complemented with interview data from participating interpreters and both deaf and hearing interlocutors. The second set of video clips is a meta-dialogue constructed from a series of on-going interviews with deaf persons and interpreters. Information from both sets of video clips will be combined to explore notions of impartiality and decisionmaking about group/communication dynamics.

Posted by Steph at 3:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 26, 2005

seeing and looking

Briankle assigned us a terrific book: Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us From Seeing, by Darian Leader. (Another pro and a con critique are posted here, scroll down.)

I'm interested in the way Leader describes the difference between looking and seeing. One may look and not see. Simply, this is perceptually similar to hearing but not listening, however Leader is really dealing with consciousness and what it means to know that one is being looked at without ever knowing for sure what (who?) is being seen.

And what if seeing is the primary receptive sense? Of course I'm thinking about the Deaf, and of my involvement with ASL. Of knowing that one is being watched. I wonder if one of the factors in the differential success of varying ASL students has to do with the willingness to be seen? Because one certainly is! I recall many instances of horror when I was in my beginning and intermediate ASL courses. The self-consciousness of attempting production, the discomfort of generating inadequate performances. And the pleasure of adequacy. :-)

As I think about it, there was (is!) satisfaction on two levels: the achievement of linguistic meaningfulness and of relational acceptance. If I can be looked at when operating at what often feels like my most vulnerable (as in, most exposed) mode, and accepted as a person doing a good job at her profession, that carries a lot of validation. Note: I'm not talking about the adulation that is sometimes expressed by people who do not know the language (which I consider generally superficial), but with Deaf persons and colleages.

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February 19, 2005

Interpreters and INTERRUPTING

Anne Potter and I will present soon, at the internet conference Supporting Deaf People Online, about a hypothesis we've been developing over the last three years. Our paper, The Interpreter and INTERRUPTING: Cultural and Group Dynamics, introduces some distinctions that we think are important, but we might be the only ones who think so! So, the discussion at this conference will really be a "test" of the hypothesis. Do others agree or disagree? Is this conversation worthwhile and useful?

Hypothesis: There is a pattern in the way interpreters and Deaf people talk about interruptions that shows a bias toward INTERRUPTING as an outcome of cultural difference, instead of as a typical feature of intercultural interaction.

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February 17, 2005

deaf do radio

~ David sends this gem along:

Interview with Carol Padden and Tom Humphries.

They've got a new book out, and their old one is still a classic, Deaf in America. Tom is credited with coining the term, audism, to describe systemic discrimination and prejudice against deaf people.

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February 14, 2005

anti-video interpreting

David Kreuger sent this article, Deaf patients challenge hospital interpreter system, to the DeafVermont list.

Problems with the video relay interpreting have lead to community organizing and a legal challenge. Some hospitals using VRI have been reluctant or refused to hire live interpreters when needed.

Article By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer for The Capital, Annapolis, MD

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It's looking for real...!

I'm still crossing my fingers for the second half of the funding, but it's kinda looking like a "go". :-) The abstract posted on the Anthropology webpage has an outdated title but the gist of the study is the same. (It's a downloadable pdf, not a link.) I've got housing arranged in Brussels, my roundtrip ticket is purchased, and if I can just get the final permission to get into "the booth" at the European Parliament all will be golden. (Oh, did I mention hoping I get that grant?) THEN it will be ... isn't there some rare metal more precious than gold?

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January 28, 2005

discourses in tension?

I had a great day working today. My teammate was (is!) awesome. :-) We had the best conversation at lunch, about her workshop on discretion (which gets as much of a plug as I can give it), and a quasi-update on where I am with the research on role.

Our conversation was fascinating because it was going along just fine, full of investigatory questions and comments, and then it got tense! Why? It was right before we had to get back to work.....and then didn't come up again....but was really on my mind. Why? Was I presenting my hypotheses and tentative findings in an ethnocentric or oppressive way? It worked out that we walked to our cars together, and the moment arose for me to ask if she'd felt the conversation get tense. (Maybe it was just me?) Yes, she had noticed! And she thought it was about something she was doing! Being too questioning or too .... something (I can't recall her word - persistent, maybe).

Fascinating! We both sensed the tension, and both of us thought we were the cause of it! I thought I must be doing something "wrong," and she thought she must have been doing something "wrong"!

Hmmm. That really got me thinking. I have a partial/quasi/VERY tentative hypothesis - that it wasn't about "us" as individual persons at all (although we don't know each other well even though we've known OF each other ever since I moved to VT....twelve years ago) - but rather, about the discourses each of us was invoking/enacting. Really, I am just plumb guessing, but as we "de-briefed" the tension, what seemed to be the point of most affect was (what I can only describe as) a "contest" between the current/contemporary most "fashionable" discourse about the interpreter's "role(s)" (term used advisedly) and responsibilities, and a .... oy, how to characterize this ....

A "new" discourse that seeks to question some of the hitherto unquestioned assumptions about the interpreter's role. Such as whether or not the reproduction of a "monocultural" environment for Deaf interlocutors is really "the best" or most ideal Vision for what we ought to produce.

AND - this is the key (I think!), it didn't seem to be the whole discourse or even the specific question itself (might a bicultural model of/for interpreting be a more appropriate and/or effective model than the monocultural one?) but the fact that there's no answer for what this "alternative" might look and feel like!

I think what this means (based on my huge sample of one, grin) is that it is the unknown itself that is scary (and not the notion that maybe the current "ally/cultural mediator" model isn't the full or ultimate answer).

Gosh. I'd LOVE it if my team would like to respond (!) and of course if anyone else wants to chime in.....

Posted by Steph at 9:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 22, 2005


Received some info in preparation for a job:

"This link has a nice picture that shows how wobble pairing occurs

And, we might as well cover the copolymer conundrum as part of PS2, which will be posted on blackboard within the next 24 hrs."

"The nematode genetics lab exercise"

Ah, the life! Never a dull moment!

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January 19, 2005

cool people

I have received so many responses from interpreters in AIIC that I am overwhelmed!! Some folk without leads for me are writing just to say good luck (thanks!), others are writing to let me know they're trying to hook me up with someone, and others are directly involved in the specific sites where I'll be doing the research.

I believe its really going to happen!

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January 17, 2005

SCIC - DG on Interpreting

Back to the official chain-of-command. I was thinking I'd already sent emails to them, but perhaps it was to other places? And, my request is obviously a miniscule detail amid a vast range of priorities.

Here's what's new: March 4 broadcast of "A First Review", an all-day conference on interpreting in the EU which will be webcast.

And, I have just learned that the SCIC does NOT arrange for interpreting at the Parliament's Plenaries. sigh Back to the drawing board!

Ok. I sucked it in. Emailed Jan Figel himself. He's the Commissioner responsible for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism.

And I sent another (?) direct email to the Directorate General for Interpretation, even though apparently they are not responsible for Parliament.

Posted by Steph at 12:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

conference interpreters

Another lead trickles in. :-) This, from Elvira:

International Association of Conference Interpreters

A Chief Interpreter's View is an address from 1996 about interpreting within the UN system.

AIIC lists 61 member interpreters in Berlin and 46 in Strasbourg. Three are specifically listed with the Council of Europe! Oh. Just got back a quick reply:

"I am sorry to disappoint you, but I do not work at the European Commission,
I work at the Council of Europe, a much bigger organisation with 46 member
States.Many people mix both organisations ! " Silly me. I knew they were different but I also guessed that interpreters might overlap. %-/

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January 15, 2005

RID 2005

I just received acceptance to present at the next national American Sign Language interpreters convention in San Antonio!

Eileen Forestal will join me. Yippee yahooooooo!

Here's what the proposal looks like:

"Why Bother? The Interpreter, Impartiality, and Group Dynamics" - Stephanie
Jo Kent and Eileen Forestal - Extended Workshop

This interactive workshop will involve interpreters in deep reflection and
discussion about the influence of our on-the-job performance upon group
dynamics and power relations among a) Deaf and hearing interlocutors, b)
among all interlocutors and the interpreter(s), and c) between Deaf
interlocutors and the interpreter(s). Two different video stimuli will be
shown. One set of video clips will be actual performances of interpreting
that highlight decisions made on-the-spot and in-the-moment; these will be
complemented with interview data from participating interpreters and both
deaf and hearing interlocutors. The second set of video clips is a
meta-dialogue constructed from a series of on-going interviews with Deaf
persons and interpreters. Information from both sets of video clips will be
combined to explore notions of impartiality and decision-making about
group/communication dynamics.

Eileen Forestal, M.Ed., RSC, is in her 26th year as coordinator and
professor of ASL and Deaf Studies and ASL-English Interpreting Programs at
Union County College in New Jersey. She holds a BA degree in Sociology from
the University of Missouri, a M.Ed. degree in Deaf Education from Western
Maryland College, and a Certificate in Teaching ASL/Interpreting from the
University of Colorado. Eileen completed the Project TIEM.Online Master
Mentor Program during the Fall of 2003. Eileen is a national consultant,
trainer, and performer on ASL and interpreting-related topics. Her research
project, "The Emerging Professionals: Deaf Interpreters, Their Views and
Experiences On Training," is published in Interpreting and Interpreter
Education: Directions for Research and Practice, Oxford University Press,

Stephanie Jo Kent, M.Ed, CI, has been interpreting for a decade. She has an
Associate's degree in ASL Studies, a BS in Interpreting, and earned a Master
's degree in Social Justice Education in 1996. She hopes to have completed
her doctoral coursework in communication by the time of the conference.
'Steph' has worked at two residential deaf schools, was a member of the
planning team for the Allies Conferences from 1997-1999, and has presented
at the international, national and state levels on interpreting practices
and intergroup relations. She focuses primarily on the dynamics that occur
between cultural groups and among individuals during interpreted events.

Posted by Steph at 11:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

interpreters in Berlin

Making progress! Mechtild is coming through for me!!! :-)

The sites are all in German, but Norbert Znker is head of the German national interpreting association (BD). He does conference interpreting, as does another woman who's name and email Mechtild provided.

This yellow pages link is for German-Turkish interpreting. Isn't this awesome?!!!

Also: the German sign language association and its Berlin chapter.

Posted by Steph at 10:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 12, 2005


I just picked up Tove Skutnabb-Kangas' co-edited book on linguistic human rights...

I like her opening to her homepage, "I am what I write?" :-) There are many links to follow. (go there again!) Many Deaf education and interpreter training programs use her work.

a sociolinguistic perspective on linguistic human rights

bibliography with links re linguistic human rights

Youthstart: employment training for youth, in Germany, vocational for young women and migrants...

Posted by Steph at 7:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

it's getting good!

Tom Cheesman turned me on to Marilyn Martin-Jones. :-) I've yet to actually land a specific person in the Berlin area but the list of names and network of contacts keeps growing. Very exciting!

She and Tom were in contact about asylum issues with (lack of) interpreting. Tom wrote that he's been "getting heavily involved in local voluntary work with refugees (see www.hafan.org). This brings me up against the realities very sharply (sheer lack of interpreters / translators, lack of funding for such services in legal, medical and other critical contexts, huge harm done by unethical and incompetent practitioners and lack of understanding of translationissues among service providers, reliance on children, friends... Also growing reliance by organisations on telephone services which are rarely satisfactory from clients' p.o.v.). "

This mirrors some of the concerns I heard at Critical Link 4, and parallels development of ASL/English interpreting here in the U.S. I was reminded, though, also, of concerns with imposing a culturally western form of "professionalism" on other cultures who may organize and make sense of their organization differently. So I want to stay attentive to possibilities that these issues may have different resolutions in different cultures. For instance, I have no idea how "collectivist" or "intra-family interdependent" Turkish culture is, or about the influence of Islam on notions of proper ways to deal with issues like incompetence, misrepresentation, access, etc.

On another note, this review of Heller and Martin-Jones' work in bilingual classrooms mentions inequities in turn-taking and code-switching. I'm not sure its the same kind of thing that is my "opening" into group dynamics with sign language interpreting and the Deaf/non-deaf dynamics, but it looks quite interesting. Doesn't seem to involve interpreting, but there may still be parallels to be drawn.

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December 27, 2004

NU newletter

These folks are usually up to some good stuff.

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December 16, 2004

nice things and hard ones

Yesterday was a mixed day. The highlight was a breakthrough for a mental health patient who's treatment sessions I've been interpreting for over five years. WOW! The department party was enjoyable, but severely tainted by my memories of last year, when I was accompanied by my family. Alas.

Maybe it was the juxtaposition that was so intense? A spillover effect from the incredible joy of witnessing improvement in someone with chronic mental illness (which doesn't happen too often, that's why the disease is described as chronic), and the long road of patience required just to even hope for "improvement" in the family's transition process? Indeed, there was a major shift in that I actually was able to see my daughter for the first time in....two months or so. It was awkward, but went well overall and (I hope) bodes well for a shift in energies that will make it increasingly easier for us to spend time together.

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December 1, 2004

Ukraine media rebel

Ukraine media rebel against official line

By Steven Lee Myers

KIEV, Ukraine -- The most striking, and potentially significant,
public rebellion against President Leonid D. Kuchma and his chosen
successor in Nov. 21's contested election began silently.

On the morning of Nov. 25, Natalia Dimitruk, an interpreter for the
deaf on Ukraine's official state UT-1 television, disregarded the
anchor's report on Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovych's victory and,
in her small inset on the screen, began to sign something else

"The results announced by the Central Electoral Commission are
rigged," she said in the sign language used in the former Soviet
states. "Do not believe them."
She went on to declare that Viktor A. Yushchenko, the opposition
leader, was the country's new president. "I am very disappointed by
the fact that I had to interpret lies," she went on. "I will not do
it any more. I do not know if you will see me again."
Dimitruk's act of defiance -- which she described in an interview
Sunday as an agonized one -- became part of a growing revolt by a
source of Kuchma's political power as important as any other: state
In Ukraine, as in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union,
state ownership or control over the media, especially television,
exerts immense control over political debate, shoring up public
attitudes not only about the state -- but also about the opposition.
State manipulation of coverage was among the reasons observers from
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the
Nov. 21 vote fundamentally unfair.
But in the tumultuous week since the runoff between Yanukovych and
Yushchenko ended in accusations of fraud, Kuchma's control over
television has shown signs of cracking, raising questions about
whether his government can maintain public support behind
Yanukovych's election.
More than 200 journalists at UT-1 went on strike Nov. 25 to demand
the right to present an objective account of the extraordinary events
that have unfolded since the vote, forcing the channel to broadcast a
feed from another network before capitulating. Dimitruk walked out of
the studio and joined them, protesting coverage that was skewed
almost entirely on behalf of Yanukovych's campaign before and after
the runoff election.
Journalists at One Plus One -- a private station, but one that hewed
closely to Kuchma's point of view -- also rebelled. After its news
editor resigned, the channel's director, Oleksandr Rodnyansky,
appeared on the air and admitted the station had been biased on
Kuchma's behalf.
"We understand our responsibility for the biased news that the
channel has so far been broadcasting under pressure and on orders
from various political forces," he said, adding that the station
would from that point on guarantee full and impartial coverage of the
events roiling Ukraine.
Since then, the two channels have begun to show what until last week
seemed unthinkable: the enormous protests in Kiev that have paralyzed
the capital, as well as Yushchenko himself. More important, the
images reach across the country, including the east, where
Yanukovych's support is strongest, in large part because his is the
only view given significant time on state-owned or controlled
networks. Channel 5, an independent channel that has become, in
effect, the opposition's champion, does not broadcast in most of the
Oleksandr M. Savenko, president of UT-1, denied in an interview that
the channel's election coverage had been biased. He said journalists
had always been free to report on all aspects of Ukrainian politics,
though he suggested that if they favored one candidate over the
other, they should work elsewhere. He said Yanukovych's overwhelming
presence on the channel reflected the fact he was prime minister.
He disputed that the station's agreement to the journalists' demands
after their strike amounted to a change in news policy.
"There is no such thing as honest news."

The New York Times
November 30, 2004

~ DeafVermont listserv

Posted by Steph at 2:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ultimate ethical risk

from Mosnews.com, reported last Friday:

"Natalia Dmitruk, a sign language presenter with the Ukrainian TV channel UT-1 has ignored the text read by the news presenter and instead transmitted the message that the results of the elections were rigged, Russias NTV television reports."

She's concerned that the station might drop sign language interpreting altogether, but explained (in Ukrainian Sign Language as part of her protest): " I am very disappointed by the fact that I had to interpret lies." She then joined a strike called by journalists of the TV station.

A Nov 26, 2004 story by the BBC on the Ukraine's television media against censorship includes this bit: "the sign-language presenter said that in an earlier bulletin, she had rejected the pro-government script and informed her viewers instead of the allegations of vote-rigging."

~ thanks, Cole, for sending on this news! so many questions it raises - which ethic is "higher" - interpreter's impartiality and "faithfulness to the message" or freedom of political expression? It's unclear from the reporting whether anyone "caught" what the interpreter did, or if she revealed it herself - which is also interesting. An open admission of "breaking role"!

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November 15, 2004

"with a little help from my friends"

Two bits of happy news:

I got referenced! ;-) It's the first (and only, smile) time that I know about, but Deborah M. Davidson, author of the cover article for the current VIEWS, cites me! Whoopee yahoooooo! Somebody reads me! :-)

And, a different piece that I wrote for the VIEWS will be republished in the UK Interpreters' Magazine, Newsli. It's a much better piece now, slightly revised, because Austin W. Andrews went to all the trouble of hunting me down after it was first published because part of it was decidedly unclear to someone who wasn't "there" at the event I wrote about. With his questions and comments, it's all spruced-up and ready to go. This, I like. :-)

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October 31, 2004

World Sign Language Conference

Where I want to be next Halloween, the first conference for the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters!

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October 25, 2004


Benjamin sucked me right into that trick question at his presentation today! Of course I assumed that if he was showing us a certain example it had to mean something. :-)

A couple of the new cohorters got right in there - but what was up with all y'all marching in late and disrupting the whole show, eh?! And did anyone besides me notice the faculty member dozing off and on throughout?

Overall, though, it was cool. I like having monolingual thinking pointed out to me - that we have these base assumptions that people "ought" to speak "one" language and not codeswitch. That its often the observer who "makes" meaning out of it when bilinguals are just using a tool at their disposal to do the same kinds of things monolinguals do with the tools at their disposal. Nifty!

That bit about identities being "dimensions of ongoing processes of differentiation" really caught my attention. Sounds like interpellation to me! And I didn't quite catch the whole statement, but Benjamin also said something about the meaning of language use (such as codeswitching) between individuals being "a phenomenological question that is ideologically mediated." While "meanings are tethered to structures", histories, specific social scenes and situations....the person who says something (the author) may arguable be the author of the text but quite possibly - and most likely! - not the author of the meaning. Benjamin shared that last idea with us from an obituary for Derrida.

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October 16, 2004

a kiss and the finger

Some of the reasons I love my job:

Vermont State Poet Grace Paley kissed me on the check tonight after I interpreted her poem (and was introduced as Stephanie Van Kent, has a nice ring to it, don'tcha think?!) :-) She did two of the most common things that non-deaf people do when they meet Deaf folk - show off the sign language they know and comment on learning the language. But I must say that she added quite a unique twist to both of these - such that she bridged the crosscultural distance and made interpersonal contact with the Deaf members of her audience in a heartbeat.

What I will say, is that her "sign language" wasn't exactly ASL, and her reason for thinking she ought to learn it wasn't uttered in the Queen's English. She's a hoot!

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October 4, 2004


This piece by Burton J. Bledstein, The Culture of Professionalism, is amazing. My mind was spinning with thoughts about Critical Link 4 and Mette Rudvin's presentation and paper (that I referenced in my submission to the Proceedings). (Many links cite him; here's one of interest.)

He says professionalization is the penultimate triumph of the "Mid-Victorians" exerting control over personal and social life, by circumscribing specific areas of knowledge which bestowed the knowers with a kind of magical power in a vertically-oriented society, always looking up for self-advancement. "The autonomy of a professional person derived from a claim upon powers existing beyond the reach or understanding of ordinary humans" (p. 93-94).

It's a challenge not to see this attitude among sign language interpreters - including myself when I argued (just a few days ago!) against the credibilty of a principle in the proposed code of ethics stating that consumers can make "informed decisions" about "interpreting dynamics." And of course Deaf folk or any other so-called minority language user should never simply cede control to an interpreter - but I think there is a distinction between "control" and "responsibility", and particularly between the attempt to exert control over others, and the attempt to exercise self-responsibility and be "in charge" of one's communicative input and output and the relationships these make possible.

While that's a specific, "live" debate which will require discussion among interpreters and all of our "consumers" (I prefer the sociolinguistic term, interlocutors), the thing that got hammered home to me in this piece is how truly colonized I am within this ideology of conceiving of a career as "the entire coherence of an intellectually defined and goal-oriented life" (p. 111-112). Bledstein describes "the promise of becoming" (p. 113) and the valorization of character: "the internal and psychological symbol of continuity that corresponded to the sociological course a person ran in a career" (p. 112). The results of professionalization? Overwhelming "conservative" (p. 92). "The professional transformed administration into an instrument of opportunity for the middle class and an instrument of regulation for the society" (p. 122).

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October 2, 2004

"A Native Place"

I needed to escape the CIT conference for awhile and recharge my soul. I went to the new American Indian Museum, which includes/covers all the Nations of South, Central, and North America. On my way there, I was sitting outside waiting for the subway, and a freight train rumbled by on the other side of the tracks. I guess because I was anticipating where I was going, I was attentive to the sensation of the train. Before I heard it's arrival, I had been listening to the birds and the breeze rustling the leaves in the trees. Then a disturbance in the air, which grew louder and Louder and LOUDER until the earth started to vibrate. The train wasn't even in view yet! It came around a curve and the roar was, while not deafening, louder than anything natural except perhaps an avalanche or a tornado. It lingered too...fading slowly, as if its passing had left an indelible mark in the atmosphere. I could imagine, for a moment, what it must have been like for those first trains to careen across the continent, rending the rhythm of the world.

When I got to the Museum, I walked around outside it first. The building itself is beautiful: you can feel its presence, the sense of calm reverence that it projects. There's a small waterfall, reflecting pools, plants, several stones.

I had already decided I only had the time/energy to take in one floor. I chose Our Universes and Our Peoples. The concept of survivance (closest dictionary definition is persistence) was used to encapsulate three dualities, three tools of dispossession that First Peoples turned to their own advantage: guns (used for resistance), "God's word" (used for resilience), and treaties (used for survival).

I learned so many things about nations I didn't know anything about, and those whom I had heard of before still were presented in refreshing ways. The choices of the curators are instigation, I think, for what they must hope will be a resurgence of interest in the present-day conditions of living American Indian Nations. There was a very interesting exhibit on the history of "Native American history" that critiqued the ways others, even with the best of intentions, have presented the so-called "Indian story". I have to say it was done with a great deal of tact, respect, and honor for the good intended by most of those folks, yet, it was emphasized clearly that this is the first time American Indians have had the chance to tell their own story to the world at large.

Did you know:

The Seminole, in what we now call Florida, never surrendered?
The Hupa heaven is a place where everyone dances forever?
The Day of the Dead commemorates a continuation of life?
John Bennett Herrington, Chickasaw, was the first American Indian in space?
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the only American Indian to serve in the U.S. Senate, might be retiring this year? :-(

The Ka'apor, in what we now call Brazil, say: "If you listen, I will strengthen you."

Posted by Steph at 11:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

overheard on the Metro

"Teaching people how to create is the antidote to oppression."

After I eavesdropped on a long conversation about knitting (!) I gave my card to these folk because I knew I was going to blog about them. :-)

Mr. Wallace Boyd was sitting there knitting away when a family across the aisle engaged him. He shared, in addition to the quote above, all kinds of experience and wisdom about knitting: how meditative it is, calming, that doing it well is a state-of-mind, one simply needs to be patient enough to make mistakes and learn from them, persevere. One stitch at a time is a metaphor for life, for community-building. Wallace is part of a network of knitting support groups across the DC area, "Knit and Crochet in the City." They reached out to crocheters for the diversity; folks who can do both Wallace calls "bifibrous." :-) They have a yarn swap every year, and many people have "UFO's" - UnFinished Objects.

The family had a bunch of knitters in it, it seemed - but the daughter (?) seemed most into it....she knits items for her family which they actually wear - even-edged or not. :-) Wallace told a story about a sweater he was making once in which something early on didn't seem quite right, but he thought it would probably turn out alright so he didn't recheck the gauge (something to do with measuring how long the eventual product would be). Turns out, after hours of labor, that he realized he was going to end up 3 inches short. Moral of the story?

"If its wrong now, it'll be wrong later. It'll always be wrong. Go ahead and take the time to fix it now."

I'm not a knitter (can you imagine?!), but I know folks who are. It wasn't the content that initially drew me to pay attention to the conversation, it was the people themselves. Do you have a mental picture in your head of who these folks are? What they look like?

Coming from dang near lilywhite Vermont, I always get a visual and psychic rush interacting with people of a wide variety of shades, ethnicities, and backgrounds. And, being concerned with social justice, I always notice the visible characteristics of folks, and think (depending upon what transpires) about whether or not those characteristics are having any kind of impact on the interaction itself. Do they matter?

Today, they didn't matter at all, and it was so refreshing. :-)

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Breaking news!

Carolyn Ball ends her tenure as CIT President, replaced by Annette Miner at the business meeting this afternoon. I don't know either one of them so I can't say much, except that when Carolyn flexed her muscles during the Opening on Wednesday night...well, I stayed out of her way. ;-)

Marian Yoder won the Mary Stotler Award, and the audience was disappointed she wasn't here to receive the honor in person. :-(

Many others were recognized for the contributions, and winners of all the raffles were announced. Kellie Clark stuffed the ballot boxes winning two sets of Carol Patrie's jewelry and having her name drawn four times in a row! She disqualified herself after the 3rd consecutive "win" (but she hung on to that jewelry!) Eileen, I am so curious what you're going to do with that Flip Flop Faces game?!

I missed Anna's title (and last name), but she's from Sweden and addressed us about her involvement with CIT over the years. She noted some cultural differences between Swedish and U.S. culture - how "very supportive" we tend to be and how much that meant to her. In Sweden, one apparently offers much in the way of overt verbal support or praise: "oh" is common, "good" is meaningful, and "very good" quite rare. She elicited a lot of laughter talking about her time in an interpreter training program in 1979, here at Gallaudet, under Betty Colonomos. (Most of us know Betty - and her reputation - fairly well.) So, it was amusing to hear someone admit to the intimidation factor, and explain that her strategy for dealing with an interview was to bring along a Swedish Deaf guy who happened also to be gay. "I think that was important at the time," she said. :-) Then, "Why are you all laughing?" This is when we got the cultural lesson; she understand that our laughter was itself a form of support - the kind of acknowledgement/acceptance we give each other when we're known, know we are, and know that it's ok. :-)

Mark Morales was fantastic. :-) There were a number of skits I really enjoyed, the UFO, the football story embedded in a staid interpretation, #TGIF #SHIT. His number story was interesting....I wondered if it had a bit of a double-edged barb to it? Number 11 was the sign "UNDERSTAND?" And I just have the sense there was a double-entendre there - one could take it positively at face value, or one could read a bit deeper and discover a Deaf criticism of a common interpreter behavior.....hmmmm!

Anyway, the FOOD at the Closing Banquet was terrific. Indeed, the food for the entire conference was outstanding. It was wonderfully relaxing to have food here, and not be running out for breakfast, snacks, lunch, and more snacks. And the break for dinner was quite long enough; one could actually pace and enjoy themselves, and easily get back in time for the evening events.

All in all, a terrific experience. (It seems there was some stress during the business meeting, but I wasn't there...it's just a lingering vibe. Maybe business meetings are always like that? Some of RID's have been hot, no doubt. Probably shouldn't be surprised that this could be the case here too. I did learn that they had a hard time getting a quorum....a rough beginning might have influenced the unfolding of the whole event).

Posted by Steph at 10:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Table 17

Was quite an entertaining group at the Closing Banquet tonight. Let me just say, on my way down in the elevator, I met Carol Patrie (dressed to the nine's), without her nametag because "that would spoil the look." So said Sharon Neumann-Solow, who apparently wasn't the one who told me my workshop at RID last year had got everyone's "knickers in a twist" - but she was ready to take credit for it! (I'll remember who it was, one of these days.)

Table 17 had some symmetry going on from the get-go.

We had two Kim's sitting opposite each other, and two Kathy's sitting opposite each other: a mirrored pair of Kim-Kathy's. The "Kim's" checked in to see if they shared the full name of "Kimberly" (they do), which reminded me of Bob in the process mediation workshop proudly telling everyone his name "really is Bob, not Robert." He went on to tell us that being called something other than "Bob" was kindof refereshing. :-)

Half the table was from Kansas, and lo-and-behold, Kathy graduated from Mid-America Nazarene College in...well, I don't remember what year it was. ;-) Before my time there. Which got us into my life story.....most of my memories of MANC are not fond, I must say. Reconciling my sexual orientation in a fundamentalist Christian environment is definitely not the easy way to go about it! (But then, when I have I ever done things the easy way?!) It did give me the opportunity to recall the woman (who I won't name) who kissed me on the cheek one early morning when she thought I was still asleep. sigh!

Betti made sure to correct my signing of COLORADO. Fingerspell folks, lest you be waylaid! Heather, what did we talk about? (See what happens if I don't take notes!) I remember the act of talking.....shoot! Paula and I talked politics a bit, I also checked in with Patrice about the Lebanese-American community in Wichita. I had a good friend there once, and wonder if there's been an increase in xenophobia since 9-11. Not that she knew about.

Ann Reifel stopped by to say hello. For some reason I remembered one of my ASL classes with her, must have been back in '90 or '91? She'd just returned from a conference, I think it might have been Deaf Women United. She was So Pumped Up! She announced that she'd had an identity transformation, and we should call her "Rambette" forevermore. :-)

Trix came over too, snapped a photo. We talked about her upcoming workshop in Vermont. I'll miss it, but hope everyone enjoys themselves with her. We had a good time in Alaska. ;-)

I'll write about the official entertainment in another post, but Patrice wins the quote of the evening contest: "I know how to get what I want." And I'm here to testify, she does!

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CIT Bulletin Board!

Folks, this is such an awesome technology! Kellie, you deserve a medal for getting this all set up. I hope people get jazzed about it, because its potential to promote professional development and enhance the field is incredible. :-)

Of course, I had to go to the practice session to figure out how the heck to Get In! The main trick is to Login (Member's Login, 2nd link left-hand side), which takes you through the membership database. Select "Bulletin Board" and then register (yes, again). After one registers for the Bulletin Board, then you can login (yes, again!)

Kellie had a small but energetic audience. Possibly because people (like me) didn't realize that lunch was provided separately in the presentation room. At any rate, Vic, Trudy, Cindy, Eva and a few others got our feet wet. I just completed my registration and posted my first message.

There are a few interesting conversations I'd like to join, and several suggestions as to "where" and "what else" people could discuss. Potential potential potential!

Posted by Steph at 10:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

demand-control theory

I attended part of Robyn's workshop on observation supervision, and can see immediately why so many people have told me to check out her work. There are definitely many overlaps. :-)

Demands are, simply, those tasks required of the job itself. Controls are the decisions one takes/makes to manage the delivery of these tasks.

Controls sound a lot like regulation in the Vygotskian sense (see previous post). Robyn described them as "decisions, actions, and attitudes - even recognizing a demand is a control" (not necessarily an exact quote, smile). There seems to be an implication that these controls are conscious? Since I don't know the whole theory, I may be speculating way "out of turn" (surprise!), but it seems like putting the two approaches into dialogue with each other might be really productive. For instance, does demand-control theory itself recognize that some controls are unconscious (meaning habitual or reactive)?

I definitely appreciate the breakdown of job components to EIPI: the Environmental, Interpersonal, Paralinguistic, and Intrapersonal. (The intrapersonal part would be where the conscious/unconscious dynamic comes into play.) This breakdown is somewhat reminiscent of Hymes (by the way, I loved the way Jeff mentioned Hymes in the "Still Working Together" workshop without using the dreaded (audist) acronym!)

The "environment" corresponds to the setting, scene, participants, ends; the "interpersonal" corresponds (or encompasses) the participants, acts, instruments, norms, and key (or tone); the paralinguistic could include the acts, key, instrument (mode), norms, and genre; and the intrapersonal would be the ends, acts, and key. (Roughly, anyway, with overlaps!)

What demand-control theory accomplishes is to shift focus onto the job itself and the accomplishment of the job. I think this is a cognitive model or framework that an interpreter can use to understand the necessity of separating one's self-identity from the performance of the work, and then process mediation and peer mentoring practices provide the concrete skill development to actually enact this distinction in our practical education and discourses about the work. I guess what I'm saying is that I didn't hear any reference in the part of the demand-control theory presentation that I witnessed as to what it is we're supposed to shifting our focus from. There's an implication that we're not doing something "right," i.e., that we're doing something "wrong". Basically, I agree. :-) But it's a weakness, I think, if we're not able to articulate the factors and features of what isn't working, is debilitating, or even counterproductive. This is where I see a natural complement between the discourses of process mediation, peer mentoring, and demand-control theory. In other words, demand-control theory articulates why and process mediation and peer mentoring articulate how.

Any comments? :-)

Posted by Steph at 10:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Between the process mediation workshop and Betty's poster session on self-regulation, I finally have a conceptual understanding of inhibiting) one's own desires.

What I'm still struggling with is the notion of identifying, through dialogue, the insight markers (a place where the individual can grow), and yet this being somehow distinct or separate from my 'desire' that an individual self-identify these markers and work them through for whatever learning they're worth. !

There's a dialogic benefit to both parties in this kind of discourse, because the mediator is ALSO engaged in a process of self-insight about the ways their own desires (or filters, or fears, or habitual responses - all of the things that are defined by Vygotsky as "objects") mediate their interpersonal communication with others.

Process mediation distinguishes between prompts and Billig calls dialogic repression.)

I had to leave the workshop at break because of my poster session :-(, and I also bailed on Betty's poster last night after an hour and a half (brain overload). It's clear though, that the community Betty is building around this notion of process mediation is establishing itself as a discursive center for social change within the field of interpreting. I think it is working hand-in-glove with the peer mentoring project Laurie and Wendy shared in their workshop (some of the same characters are involved in both initiatives). Very exciting!

Posted by Steph at 9:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"I want to dress like you!"

When Patty N. said this to me yesterday, I knew it was a joke (no one has ever known me for my fashion-sense)! It suppose it might have been a reflection of her official role interpreting for the conference: if she was dressed down, like me, then she would have been a participant. (Anyone have other possible interpretations?) ;-)

Patty G. has been a great roommate. She comes in each evening and regales me with the humorous anecdote of the day. First it was Lynn's debacle with the subway on the way to Mongolian barbeque (which I understand was yummy), and then it was a friend's kid, a firstgrader who reads at the graduate level. Can you imagine having a kid that reads better than you? I had to wonder what that means.....in my 3rd year of grad school I'm realizing that even though I thought I understood what I've been reading for the past two years, there were more layers and dimensions to it of which I had no awareness at all! How can someone with so little life experience comprehend reading at that level? Personally, I think it makes the case for reincarnation.

Posted by Steph at 8:59 AM | Comments (0)

silence & time

I have collected more data on my hypothesis that the silence factor is only a symptom of a deeper, phenomenological difference between Deaf and non-deaf (a.k.a. "hearing") people. I say phenomenological because I think it goes deeper even than culture, it is a constitutive mode of perception that shapes cognition.

During the process mediation workshop yesterday, Bob talked about his processing time, using phrases like, "Hurry up, it's been 10 seconds", and that he felt "frantic". These statements refer not to the silence itself, but to the sensation, knowledge, or awareness of time passing. Later, during my poster session, I asked Eileen if Deaf people feel time passing like that, and she laughed, "No! We don't feel that way!" My read of her reaction was that it was almost inconceivable.

Posted by Steph at 8:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 1, 2004


I am worn out from the stimulation. ;-) Got some clarity tonight in Betty's session on Vygotsky. Lots to mull over and refine in my interpersonal class. Also, the notion of scaffolding groups....that's more where I see myself in relation to what(ever) my "contribution" might be to the profession. That's the work on group dynamics and group discourses that I presented today at my poster session. So many things happening here! I got to attend 1/2 of Laurie and Wendy's session on peer mentoring, and half of Betty and Company's session on process mediation. I love interpreters! We are so committed to self-knowledge and the development of interpersonal communication skills. ;-)

What struck me today was that the peer mentoring stuff going on in Boston might be where the productive energy of the Allies movement has gone. Just a hypothesis. I noticed the very upbeat and optimistic tone, the belief that we can collectively work things out (if at the pace of a pair at a time) and the care to meet each other "where they're at." I appreciated Janis talking about the need for Deaf folk to trust the interpreter - I know it's hard! - and what a relief it has been for her to let go of the worry and energy that goes towards trying to control (regulate?) the interpreter/interpreting scene.

Betty's process mediation folk are also modeling a new way of talking about interpreting. I dunno, being as this is my first CIT conference, but it seems to me that the discourse of interpreters talking about interpreting IS changing. Or perhaps I'm seeing the evidence of a change that's been in process for awhile?Lots of hope and optimism, huge emphasis on the interpreter as a decision-maker, increasing clarification of the sheer complexity of the task we try to accomplish.

New language, new ways of talking will come....and these will change interpreting practice.....oh dear, I'm starting to babble...

Posted by Steph at 8:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Code of Ethics: on "respect"

"Interpreters demonstrate respect for all consumers and their diversity."

I understand that the term respect is intended to convey obligation to all consumers, but I was hoping that the committee working on this revision would address clearly the notions of impartiality, fairness, and/or reciprocity as an ethical stance on behalf of the organization as a whole. I suggest that it really matters that we use one of these terms problematic as they are! in order to move the practice of interpreting away from being a testing ground for deaf empowerment and toward a more consistently enacted relational event among the interlocutors. Without a clear institutional stance from RID/NAD, the issues of power, oppression and empowerment are locked in to the microsocial dynamic between deaf interlocutors and non-deaf interpreters.

In my mind, this is the single most pressing issue that this revision can, should, and needs to address; instead, the current draft exacerbates the problem with principle 4.2:

"Interpreters recognize the rights of consumers to make informed decisions. Choices could include but are not limited to, selection of interpreter, seating arrangements, and interpreting dynamics."

I think this principle should be deleted, period. First of all, lets take the notion of informed decisions. The plain truth is that neither the deaf nor the non-deaf interlocutors have the information. Thats our job! Im not suggesting we dont respect preferences when possible, but principle 4.3 takes care of this quite nicely: Interpreters work closely with consumers to ensure that interpreting services are delivered in a manner that is mutually satisfying. As Don said, delegating this decision-making ignores our qualifications and training as interpreters. His example: no patient gives a doctor their opinion about how to do surgery! It goes to the heart of trust and competence issues. I know that these are genuine concerns, but if we codify them we guarantee that they will continue!

Heres where Im really going to get in trouble (!), if Im not already. :-) The habit that has developed in the field, is when a problematic dynamic occurs, the interpreter is supposed to inform the deaf interlocutor(s) and let them decide what, if anything, to do about it. This brings me to the experience of time that I wrote about in a another post. TRAIN GONE SORRY! Its a nice sentiment, a friendly gesture that demonstrates the desire to improve or mediate conditions for deaf interlocutors, but it shifts the agenda from whatever the communicative/relational task is that the group is supposed to be doing to larger macrosocial issues of social justice. Dont get me wrong! The larger issues must be addressed! But during an interpreted event, between the deaf interlocutor(s) and the interpreter(s), is not the time or place!

Oh boy. Oh grrl. Is my head going to roll? If not for my comments here, its definitely on the chopping block with Angela, because in my desire to warn her that Id teased her in the blog, she whacked her knee (probably requiring stitches or even a cast) in approaching me and its All My Fault! I can only plead for mercy. Not only that, but turns out David was the rude guy who tried to cut in front of me at the registration desk the other night, except that he felt the vibe of my near-psychotic rage as my impatience manifested totally inappropriately. (sigh - I am doomed.)

Posted by Steph at 10:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 30, 2004

cultural experiences of time

I got some confirmation from one of Eileen's examples that time is perceived and experienced differently by the Deaf than the hearing. It actually came up a couple times, in a couple of different ways. Betty talked about it in terms of "silence" in an example she gave in the Discussion part of the workshop about what it means to be an ally. She said, "Hearing people hate silence!" I think the emphasis on silence might be ... not mistaken, but confused with the experience of time. When there IS a "silence," hearing people experience the passage of time. This is what makes them nuts, not the silence itself. (Which is not to say that Hearing people like or are comfortable with silence; most Americans are not.) Deaf people, however, are used to experiencing the passage of time during "visual silences" when they are waiting for eye contact to resume. This is what is happening when an audience member comes to stage to make a comment, and the presenter (and the rest of the audience) waits until that person returns to their seat before responding. It's a form of turn-taking. It shows respect. It is not experienced (I don't think) as "wasting time."

Eileen's example had to do with an experience she had of giving expert testimony during a trial. The court had hired a Deaf interpreter, and this interpreter "managed" the flow of time, so that Eileen felt "great relief" and was able to "have time to think." Eileen demonstrated how the Deaf interpreter worked consecutively, taking in the information from the team (hearing interpreter, not visible to Eileen), showing with non-verbal communication that s/he was watching and thinking, then conveying the message with a clear and measured delivery and stopped, indicating (again, with non-verbal body language) that there was no rush for Eileen to respond.

In my imagination of this scene, as I try to visualize it, I can sense impatience on the part of hearing people in the courtroom (unless they're really well adapted already). What's cool is how the interpreter took the responsibility to produce cultural conditions that enabled Eileen (in this case) to perform at her intellectual best.

A court is different from other situations though, because no one there would voice their impatience, except the judge. (So if the judge is on your side, you're golden!) In most other situations, there is no such constraint and interpreters (hearing ones at least) sense this impatience and usually hearing interlocutors will communicate their impatience through a variety of different strategies (not giving the Deaf person a turn, talking rapidly and/or several at a time, interrupting, etc.) I think Betty's example of an ally (hearing) interpreter in this situation is less to "fill" the silence, than it is to quell the impatience at the perceived amount of time. In practical terms, maybe the reason doesn't matter? If you manage hearing people's impatience, what Betty accurately called "THEIR culture", by filling the silence, then you've accomplished the necessary task of providing "room" for the Deaf interpreter to communicate with the Deaf interlocutor.

Yet, I wonder if there are other things we might be able to figure out if we were more focused on the aspect of time aspect rather than (or in addition to) "silence"?

Posted by Steph at 5:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Legacy of "Allies"

Confusion was the main emotion at most of the Allies conferences (spilling out sometimes as rage, sometimes as grief). I strongly believe that the Allies conferences were an important attempt to try and address some of the deep sociopolitical differences among and between Deaf folk and interpreters. I do believe that many individuals benefitted personally from the experience, but overall, the conferences did not move us toward any kind of collective understanding. Why they failed, given the good intentions and positive desires of the founders, participants, and later planners, has been a puzzle that I continue to think about.

First, let me record what happened today.

Eileen used the term "ally" as the most recent service model of interpreting for hearing interpreters. Someone asked for a definition, and there was a pause. Eileen said she was asked what it means. There were some chuckles. She said, "It's still not explained." And, "I'm not prepared to discuss this today." "It's an East Coast phenomenon." She asked if anyone else wanted to volunteer to explain it? Then she offered an example that Charlotte Baker-Shenk (I think?) used: of a doctor-patient relationship. In which the patient is clearly "lower" in status than the doctor, and a Deaf patient is even lower than a hearing patient, so an interpreter who is an "ally" will try to "raise" the status of the Deaf patient at least to the level of a hearing patient, "if not more." She added that Teresa Smith (I really hope someone will correct me by using the comment feature if I'm getting any of the names or other details wrong) had explained to her that the notion of an ally involved a sociopolitical view that included advocacy and trying to deal with power. At this point we moved on.

During break, Wendy and I recognized each other vaguely and realized that where we'd seen each other was at Allies. She said she almost started laughing when that person asked Eileen what "ally" meant. :-) Wendy attended the first three conferences in NH before she "got fed up". I told her I was a glutton for punishment and had gone to all of them, including Connecticutt and New York, but I'd missed the very first one in Pennsylvania. She made a really good point, she said we're stuck "using old language to discuss new concepts". As my brain was buzzing through the rest of the workshop, I thought I landed on another reason why the Allies conferences didn't work out so well.

At some point I learned from systems theorists and people who do large group consulting that you have to include all parts of a system to really understand it. So, one problem was that there were no hearing interlocutors at the Allies conferences: one third of the main players in the event were absent from the discussion - not just missing-in-action, but not even considered. Today, I realized something else. Deaf people (in the Allies conferences) were not (in general) engaging hearing interpreters from a position of status equality - they were addressing the concept and practices of interpreters being "allies" from the position of being users or consumers of interpreting services. This means the CONDITIONS of the conferences were SET UP (not on purpose, of course) to replicate the structure of oppression that puts the interpreter into a hierarchical position "above" the Deaf interlocutor.

How did I get this idea? Because Eileen had me thinking about what if Deaf interpreters and hearing interpreters had an "allies" type of discussion? What if they meet as peers, as professional colleagues, as individuals coming from the same status position? Blow my mind AGAIN! ;-) Of course, there are a lot of barriers and problems between deaf and hearing interpreters working as teams, as Eileen pointed out quite clearly. Yet, that fact could make such a conversation a perfect site to work out some of the deeply embedded issues (history, dynamics, cultural differences) that happen repeatedly (and painfully) during interpretation.

Posted by Steph at 5:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Since I think the ways we talk about things have a great deal to do with dynamics, I was fascinated by some of the anecdotes and jokes about certain terms. For instance:

RSC - originally known as the "reverse skills certificate" was renamed the "relay skills certificate" at least partially because RID wanted to maintain the same initials. (Thanks to Betty Colonomos for sharing this historicial tidbit with us.) Eileen made a joke about driving in reverse as an example of the kind of metaphor, or implied meaning, might have been "hidden" in the original term. (Now the certification for Deaf persons who are trained as interpreters is CDI - Certified Deaf Interpreter, which Betty also let us know has its problems: the linguistic construction in English indicates that it is the "deafness" that is being "certified"; not the interpretation skills!) Betty suggested, when one is trying to explain to hearing interlocutors why a Deaf interpreter is needed, describing them as a "specialist."

Non-language specific mediation - Wow. This one blew my mind. Eileen used this as a way to talk about people that are often (usually?) described as having "minimal language skills" or "low verbal" skills. What a great way to get around the oppressive stereotypes that MLS or LV tends to signify! In the Discussion part of the workshop at the end someone asked Eileen about the term, and I think she said she got it from someone else but I missed who it was. :-( Anyway, she suggested a way of the interpreter taking responsibility for the sometimes lengthy interactions that are necessary to ensure understanding is to say something like, "I don't know their dialect." :-) I really like that. It conveys authority (I know the language, but there are some variations I'm not familiar with), and it doesn't demean the deaf interlocutor at all.

Models of Interpreting: I noticed that Eileen added a qualifier to her list of the chronological list of models for hearing interpreters and models for Deaf interpreters. She called them "service models." I don't remember that emphasis before:maybe it's always been there and I just didn't notice? I think there are some implications that it might be useful to identify. Anyway, the last one on the list was "Ally," and this one is going to get it's own post! Someone asked for an example, and Eileen said, "I'm not prepared to discuss this now." We did, though, a little. :-)

Posted by Steph at 4:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Eileen Forestal ROCKS!

I was (am still) overwhelmed by the amount of stimulation I received from Eileen's presentation, "Teaching Deaf Interpreting Processes." She and I are looking at a very similar subject - what I usually call dynamics - but in different ways from our different experiences and positions. I'm going to try and organize some of my thoughts in a few separate posts...

Posted by Steph at 4:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2004

virgin experience

Its been a long time since Ive been in an all-signing environment; my eyes are rusty! We had a characteristically Deaf start at my first ever Interpreter Trainers convention, the keynote began only 50 minutes past the scheduled time. I, in my introvert fashion, found a seat to plant myself while most folks schmoozed. Anna R. knows how to work a crowd! I exchanged greetings with lots of people from Allies that feels like a very long time ago. Saw Trix and recalled juggling in Alaska. (I was hiding from Angela.) And Rhonda said hi; I had to confess to choosing to share a hotel room with Patty because of my age (i.e., the need for comfort.) Once we got underway, there were a few of those moments when someone went up to the stage to say something, and we all waited while they returned to their seat and turned around to watch the response. There is just no doubt that time passes differently in Deaf. ;-)

I especially enjoyed the institutional history that Anna Witter-Merithew and Becky Carlson shared.

Since its my first time here, it was nice to get a feel for whos been around and involved. Lot of names I recognized. A few people I actually know. I hope they write it up for the Proceedings, because it would be a great heuristic tool for the folks from Critical Link who are trying to professionalize in various countries around the world. Not that theyd do it the same as it was done here in the U.S., but just to see what the process was here, and to know that there are deviations from the path. For instance, I thought it was cool to see the prioritization of issues/tasks for the early members, and the objectives of the first working groups, and then think about how those initiatives turned out, were accomplished, stayed the same or changed over time.

I also appreciated that they offered some critique along the way, questioning whether the original vision was adequate, if the desired standards have been achieved, if the philosophy and mission statement are clearly connected, and if Deaf people are satisfied with the quality of interpreting services or not. Then, the crowd got a bit restless. Folks started fidgeting a bit, some got up to go to the bathroom, others started snacking. Brenda told me I was someone she'd want in her audience, still paying attention! Obviously lots of people were still paying attention; there was laughter at jokes and other cues of engagement. And, there were distractions, for instance a woman chomped some kind of nut mix next to me; after a while the Deaf woman in front of me asked a neighbor, Do you smell something funny? It reminded me of the Deaf cultural joke about why farts smell. :-) (It didnt smell bad; just odd and a bit out of place.) I know I was hungry, too.

Afterwards, I had a few conversations while snarfing cheese & crackers, fruit, and veggies. Of course, there was Angela. (gulp) Ive been hiding from you, I said. Because you havent responded to my email? (Do you think people burn in h*ll for not answering email from the RID President?) I'm pretty sure she was teasing. Of course, then I wanted her to send something to me. At least she now has bargaining leverage. :-)

I was approached by someone who was at my presentation in Chicago at the last RID convention. Christine said she was a first year student when she attended, and that it really helped her to see that experienced interpreters mess up too. :-0 It was a great relief to me that the information didnt seem too much to her. One of the puzzles about introducing concepts (issues & problems) of group dynamics is that its Another Thing for interpreters to be aware of, and Im not sure when, developmentally, is the right or best time to do it. Ive deliberately designed the workshops Ive done so far to engage people with a fair amount of experience, because then theyve lived through many of the tensions for themselves. My question is, should this be something interpreting students are prepared to think about before it happens? Or is it something that can only begin to be grappled with after the fact?

The worst part of the evening, though, was during the keynote, and I recalled asking Anna to be part of the panel at my workshop in Chicago. It was a last minute thing I really prefer using random volunteers from the audience but shed just presented and I could see so many connections between what she was doing and where I thought wed go in the workshop..anyway, I got the sense that shes more invested in prior planning. ;-) But THAT wasnt the horrifying thing; it was the fact that I wrote my proposal for next years RID conference a whole month early and realized I havent sent it yet and its due FRIDAY. (Panic ensues.)

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September 25, 2004

EU directorate general

David has located a wonderful site for me! The EU Directorate General for Interpretation! I'm gonna have to peruse this site thoroughly. :-) It's a great site and the timing couldn't be better! How do you say thank you in Hungarian? ;-)

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September 15, 2004

Andy Warhol in Brattleboro!

The town's agog with a special exhibit at our (fairly small!) museum which includes items from a private collection apparently not shown in public before.

The opening gala was covered by the local paper this past Monday: Wild About Warhol. (I often have trouble with the links to the local paper; they seem to take 2-3 tries to get through. If you want the article via email, let me know - I sent a copy to myself.)

I was contacted about interpreting this event but couldn't manage to squeeze it in. Besides, what would I have worn? I'd have looked like I was slumming!

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September 11, 2004

Gutmann & Thompson

They make no bones about being prescriptive and laying out the principles and values that "should" inform deliberation. I agree with many, if not all of them, but doubt everyone does, or would, or even should. My agreement is probably based upon (emanates from?) a subjectivity similar to theirs, but I don't think I want everyone I interact with to be boilerplated along "my" lines (! Horrors!)

While I am attracted to the idealism and possibility in Habermas (as I understand the distillation of his views, having not yet squeezed him in ~ even via Bryan's audio link), what a bland, dull, and monotonous mode of production.

I am intrigued, however, by the chart G&T have put together on p. 53, contrasting prudence, reciprocity, and impartiality as principled (philosophical?) bases for approaching moral disagreement. The notable absence in sign language interpreter's code of ethics (in the US) of any mention of "impartiality" has been a gap that has drawn my attention for a variety of reasons, but this reading has me wondering if there is an even deeper debate between/among members of the Deaf community and sign language interpreters - one which challenges the basic assumptions embodied in an "impartial" base. Deaf people have overtly questioned this as a different cultural value, but I hadn't yet come across an alternative. I think the notion of reciprocity might do it ~ being as it already is a noted and notable intra-group value of American Deaf Culture. The premises and assumptions that accompany these three foundational bases (as laid out by G&T) open up terms for deliberation (!) that might actually move the institutionalizing forces of the RID (national certifying body) and NAD (nat'l advocacy organization for the Deaf) toward a mutually-satisfactory outcome.

So, I'm wondering if deliberation based on reciprocity is a contingent strategy or mode that needs to be responsive to the conditions and environment of a particular issue? It may, in fact, be quite well suited to some contexts, and inappropriate for others. G&T seem to propose it as the rubric for all political decisions. I think this is much too broad.

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technical difficulties

Well, almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong yesterday, except that I got a hug from a very sweet cabbie from Cameroon who tried to teach me some French. :-)

Actually, the workshop was well-received by the 20-some folk, mostly Deaf, who attended. I'd targeted it towards hearing folk, so had to do some adjusting (mostly that means I signed about half of it). The sucky Washington Hilton didn't have a cable for my Mac and no one informed me I needed my own cable (despite two months notice) so THAT just about put me over the edge, thank the spirits I finally found the videotape I had misplaced the night before because I was at least able to show the clips, even though no one got to see my pretty powerpoint that I spent (sigh!) hours developing. Interpersonally (notes for COM250!), my stress came through and Randy felt the need to reassure me that it was worth my time to be there and make this presentation. :-)

I do believe that and am glad I went. I will add some explanatory notes to the powerpoint slides ~ Randy wants them for the Proceedings and the slides by themselves probably won't convey much to anyone not at the workshop. He also encouraged me to get in touch with Robyn Dean, the driving force behind demand-control theory. Others have recommended her too, and I think I actually did email with her 3+ years ago....but we haven't really connected. She has a similar premise that interpreters need to be much more assertive in our management of the "environment" (that's the term Randy used).

My thoughts were clarified by my reading (on the plane) for the Democracy, Rhetoric, and Performance class.....I think defining mutually acceptable boundaries for the interpreter's role and performance is a suitable topic for deliberation guided by the principle of reciprocity. More on that soon.

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September 7, 2004

"published" on the web!

The Pennsylvania Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf has posted my articles on Sign Language Interpreters and the Practical Management of the Communication Process on their conference website. The papers will be prep for their professional discussion on the interpreter's role. :-) (No direct link, click Conference then "Kent article".)

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September 6, 2004

modality the only difference?

This article, Sign and spoken language interpreting: a componential approach to skills development by Carol J. Patrie is in the September-October issue of Communicate!. It emphasizes similarities between signed and spoken language interpreting, and provides detailed information on the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT).

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from ideologies to civilizations?

In her article on Critical Link (previous post), Maria Rosaria BURI references Samuel P. Huntington's book, Who Are We? The Challenges to American National Identity. The book seems to be an exploration of the changing geopolitical situation in which Huntington argues that "'civilizations' are replacing ideologies in international relations and politics" (Buri).

Buri recommends this book for community interpreters.

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report: Critical Link 4

"The Critical Link is a network established in 1992 at the University of Ottawa, Canada when a group of interpreters gathered together with people providing services in legal, health and social settings to clients with whom they did not share a common language. That first group became the think tank..."

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August 31, 2004


Ruth detected that I "sound better" even via pager this morning. :-) You know - I got that paper done and submitted, just got plane tickets to DC for both upcoming trips - NAMI/Breakout and Conference of Interpreter Trainers.

My roomies have arrived, are settling in, and all is "go" for us to hang tonight and start sorting out details. My room's still a bit of a disaster, but it is taking shape. I need to get the small dresser and bedside table from VT, then I should be set.

I'm going to give a group dynamics workshop on how to use an interpreter at the NAMI/Breakout VIII. It's the largest annual conference for Deaf social services providers, and getting it combined with the National Alliance for Mental Health was brilliant. :-) At CIT I'm gonna be soaking things up, but will present my "Why Bother?" poster (same one I did in Stockholm for Critical Link 4).

"The Breakout Conference is a national, interdisciplinary event that brings together professionals who provide culturally competent community mental health services, particularly psychosocial and psychiatric rehabilitation, to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened, and deafblind. Breakout provides information on treatment, research, best practice models, resources, and networking for consumers and providers of mental health and addiction services to the deaf community.

Breakout VIII will be held in partnership with NAMIs 25th Anniversary Convention, September 8-12, 2004, at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC. Two main themes guide presentations at NAMI/Breakout: Best Practices and Consumer and Family Involvement:

Best Practices: Unique approaches or best practices in community-based or statewide programs that have shown to be particularly effective in serving people who are deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened, or deafblind.

Consumer and Family Involvement: Consumers and family members can get involved in providing mental health and substance abuse services. Presenters will share experiences involving deaf/hard of hearing consumers and family members in treatment, peer support, and policy initiatives.

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CL4 paper and RID proposal

Well. I actually finished the paper to submit to the proceedings for Critical Link 4, held in Stockholm last spring, a whole day EARLY! Gee! Somehow, the universe smiled on me with the blessing of time. Time-wise, I'd spent 3-4 half days on it earlier this summer, and three 5-6 hour days on it as the deadline neared. Scheduling the time to write, amidst and among everything else, has to be the single toughest thing for an aspiring academic/researcher to figure out.

The grand thing is, though, that the work I'd done earlier percolated long enough that I actually generated a few brand new connections (!), and these are what will now drive my proposal to present at RID's conference next summer. Deadline upcoming.

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August 24, 2004


The Alaska folk posted some pics and workshop descriptions from the conference last spring.

Meanwhile, I worked with someone recently who busted my chops for voicing and "walking all over" a hearing person who was already speaking. Actually, my team was very kind and indirect with the feedback (I could do better in this regard!), but I caught myself at least three times, twice with the same interlocutors (a definite "dynamic") and know that it happens other times too. I need to do a better job taking in the visual message and finding the proper auditory moment to convey it.

We had a vigorous debate throughout the assignment on a variety of issues - quite exhilerating, actually. :-) One of the things I'm trying to explore the limits of is how much accommodating and adjusting the interpreter must, should, ought (?) to do to make the communication appear seamless, when the "reality" is that there's a hearing norm/timeframe and a deaf norm/timeframe that are not in sync. I've a feeling that the more we (interpreters) adjust for this, the less likely the group-as-a-whole is to develop actual bicultural norms and connected relationships across the language divide. But how to leave the juxtapositions unmasked without feeding misperceptions and stereotypes is the precise point I think my team was trying to make.

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August 10, 2004

life studies

Interesting stuff at The International Network for Life Studies. The author (?), Morioka Masahiro, is interested in consciousness, communication, disability, death (and dying process?), philosophy, desire, bioethics, feminism, religion...hmmm!

I like that he thinks beyond the surface of things, as evidenced in this debate about succession within the Japanese Imperial Family. This is what I'm trying to do in the Critical Link article on professionalization.

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August 3, 2004

upcoming movie

The Interpreter, directed by Sydney Pollack, will be filmed on location at the United Nations (article from NYTimes posted in the extended entry). Might be a fine opportunity for some media analysis of representations of interpreters. Useful for training purposes, I bet.

And I never watched the West Wing, but James and Vangie recently started plowing through all the episodes, and have been amused by the interpreter's antics conveying romantic exchanges between Marlee Matlin's character and a non-deaf co-worker who wants to be beau. (If I understood James' summary of the situation correctly.)

A Coup de Hollywood at the United Nations

August 2, 2004

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 1 - When it comes to the movies, the
United Nations has long played hard to get.

Filmmakers hoping to wrap their lenses around the
cathedral-like spaces of this icon of midcentury aesthetic
were always turned down, and that included Alfred
Hitchcock, whose request to shoot "North by Northwest" on
location in 1959 was rejected. Officials were not even
swayed by the presence of Cary Grant, a leading man who
could fill a pair of striped trousers more smartly than

When the director Sydney Pollack came calling last year
with his new $80 million film, "The Interpreter," starring
Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, he too got the traditional
veto. So he began work in Toronto on a soundstage lookalike
of the grand meeting halls and the stylishly appointed
lobbies, lounges and corridors, but it was a half-hearted -
and ultimately unnecessary - effort.

"I got really upset at the whole thing because I would have
had to use a partial set and do the rest with computer
graphics," he said. "And it sure wouldn't have looked like

Eyes alight, he extended his arm in a possessive sweep
across the modernist splendor of the General Assembly
chamber with its green marble speaker's podium and giant
golden screen bearing the United Nations seal, its
horseshoe-shaped rows of desks in blond wood and canted
walls with gilt fluting, and above, a powder-blue dome -
all gleaming in the blaze of a dozen 20-kilowatt lamps.

"You know, they do a beautiful job with computer graphics -
go see the tidal waves in `The Day After Tomorrow' - they
do it very well, but in the end people aren't fooled," he
said. "They know when you're really there."

To get there himself, Mr. Pollack had to go to the top.

"I was finally able to get an appointment with Kofi Annan
right after the first of the year," he said, referring to
the secretary general, "and I was careful to be honest with
him and say that this is not a commercial for the United
Nations, it is a thriller, it is a Hollywood movie, but
also there is nothing in this picture that will be
embarrassing to the U.N., and in fact the story is an
argument in favor of diplomacy over violence, of words over

Ms. Kidman plays a United Nations interpreter who overhears
a death threat against an African head of state about to
address the General Assembly, and Mr. Penn plays a federal
agent assigned to protect her while harboring suspicions
about her ideals and motives.

"She believes very much in the power and sanctity of words
and thinks if they are used properly, they can be as
powerful as bullets or weapons," Mr. Pollack said. "Sean's
character has the mentality of a cop, and he has a contempt
for words, and that argument is at the center of their

Mr. Annan was persuaded, but there remained the need to
obtain unanimous agreement from a famously quarrelsome and
self-regarding group - the ambassadors of the 15 member
states of the Security Council.

They turned into pushovers, however, when they learned that
they might be able to play themselves. "Inocencio Arias of
Spain even sent me his reel," Mr. Pollack said.

In the end, work rules came between the envoys and their
cameos, but Mr. Pollack got his wish to make the first
feature movie shot at the United Nations. The only
restriction was that filming at the building be done on

To get around any impression that the United Nations was
for hire, the producers contracted to pay all expenses
incurred in keeping the building functioning and staffed
during what are normally down hours. In addition, Mr.
Pollack said, they would be making a "good will gesture"
donation to the organization.

One recent Sunday Mr. Pollack, in jeans, a white T-shirt
and sneakers, hurried up and down the terraced aisles of
the General Assembly chamber, firing off directions to the
600 extras in dark business suits and colorful robes and
headdresses in keeping with the wardrobe department's
request for "native dress."

"Where's China? Oh, there you are. Please, all of you, go
wait in Ireland. What are those people doing in Kiribati?
Get me the U.N. protocol woman. I don't believe people in
Kiribati are black, are they?"

It was the sound of Hollywood merrily cascading into Turtle

Mr. Pollack encouraged kibitzing because he wanted to make
sure he got things right. "People came running up to me
saying, `You have a woman in that delegation, and that
country doesn't have any women in its delegation,' " he

"Then we had the scene of an emergency evacuation, and we
were told that the only way the delegates would leave was
if the General Assembly president told them to, so we had
to write a quick speech for him."

When it was pointed out that the actor playing the Spanish
ambassador actually spoke with a Latin American accent, the
script was adjusted to make him the Chilean ambassador.

The sign identifying the delegation from Matobo, the
fictional African country in the movie, was placed between
those of the Marshall Islands and Mauritius in keeping with
the assembly's strict adherence to alphabetical order.

In one unintended touch of authenticity, some of the extras
playing diplomats fell asleep at their seats.

Except for final scenes filmed this past weekend in
Mozambique without principals, the entire 16-week shoot was
in New York.

"The Interpreter" is scheduled to open in February, and
judging by the comments on the set, the United Nations has
earned star billing.

"The juxtaposition of this architecture against New York
City, the orderliness of this place and the thought that
went into it that you see and then the sort of random
roughness of the streets of New York - it's part of the
feel of the picture, if not part of the story," Mr. Pollack

"I don't think you can be in this room without it affecting
you, and I can tell you that Nic went crazy the first time
she saw it full. She was on the earphones from up in the
interpreter's booth saying, `My God, it looks so real.' "

Taking a break from a session with her dialogue coach in a
side conference room, Ms. Kidman confirmed the account.
"Yes, Sydney's right, I went `Wow' because seeing the room
with all the people in their seats, it had all the drama it
did when I was doing my research when the General Assembly
was in session, and I thought it was uncanny how real it

She said that she had never been in the United Nations
before making the film, but that now she found herself
hawking the public tour to her friends. She said she was
also reminded that it was a welcome address for foreigners.

"As a backdrop for a thriller, it's fantastic, but also
since I'm Australian and I've always worked internationally
and this is an international place in New York, I really
like the kind of communication it represents," she said. "I
know I sound very much like my character now, but I do
believe in this place."

Even the extras, many of them United Nations employees,
came in for praise. "Usually, when you put extras through a
very long and boring day, at least 50 percent don't show up
the next day, but all of these people came back," said Tim
Bevan, one of the film's producers.

"Of course," he added, "I don't know what that says about
what normally goes on in the General Assembly."

Another producer, Kevin Misher, pronounced them "the best
behaved set of extras we have ever seen." He added,
"They're dressed to the nines, and they seem to respect the
space they're in."

One of them, Michele Antaki of Syria, a real-life
interpreter, agreed, though, in true United Nations
fashion, with qualifications. "We were excited to be in the
room, but it would be an exaggeration if I told you we were
in awe of stepping into a kind of sanctuary," she said.
"What we did feel was a responsibility to let outsiders
really see what happens here."

Excitement of another kind lured Carmen Holmstrom of
Douglaston, Queens. "I've been doing this for 15 years and
it's never boring," she said. "You do suffer, but you get
hooked. It's very hard to say no. The payoff is seeing
yourself on the screen."

She said that she was still hoping for a role with the five
lines of dialogue that would entitle her to a union card,
but that did not keep her from treasuring the high point in
her movie career so far. "In `Prizzi's Honor,' " she said,
"John Huston put me in the balcony scene with Kathleen

The General Assembly hall, which has so delighted Mr.
Pollack and the others making "The Interpreter," was not an
instant hit with the architectural community when it opened
in 1952, and it is interesting in light of this latest
chapter in its history to see how its detractors chose to
put it down.

"As a home for a great institution," the critic Lewis
Mumford wrote, "it is a painful simulacrum, the kind of
thing Hollywood might have faked."


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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July 28, 2004

first convention bloggers

some people really are earning some income from blogs! I doubt I've got quite the public persona - too dry and "objective" :-) - to make the cut, but what I have been trying to do is provide access to live events (like the mentoring project). This is a key variation on what most bloggers do, as described by Jennifer 8. Lee in the NY Times:

"The question facing many of the bloggers, who do most of their work without venturing from their desks, is how exactly they will cover a live convention. Most built their followings by ferreting out interesting but obscure information or by providing commentary on events and on news coverage of those events.

"What we don't usually do is talk to primary sources," said Tom Burka, a lawyer in New York City, who maintains a satirical blog at TomBurka.com. "We've never been put in this position as bloggers to have this kind of access."

I've been playing with this in terms of interpreter education and research as well.

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July 25, 2004

research & funding

Came across a beauty of a clip getting ready for the next round of research! Improves my mood considerably on that front, especially since the most recent person to contact me about a possible presentation vanished from cyberspace. :-( I suck at this online negotiation thing. I think I'm "worth" a certain (considerable) amount because a) no one else is doing this topic and b) I use video from real situations which means hours upon hours of prep work. BUT, I need to start from a different stance, somehow. The strategy I used for Alaska was effective, but I can't rely on a cookie-cutter approach. I need to ask more questions first....seems to me that my contact in Alaska and I spent more time on the content/delivery before we got to talking about money....and I need to have a better sense of the context of the requesting party and their resources.

:-( hate to lose the opportunity to take the next step.

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July 15, 2004

some gigs are just fun!

What a blast! I was the solo interpreter at a mixed (deaf/hearing) community event and spent most of the time with three ASL-users and one non-signing deaf person, simultaneously encouraging and interpreting their interaction. It'd get tricky when I had to also interpret for hearing people - going back and forth among spoken English, ASL, and mouthed English for lipreading. One can't work in any kind of formal interpreter role in this setting - lots of facilitating and group management. I probably wouldn't be so bold in a setting where I didn't know the people so well, but these are people who LOOK at each other practically every day and never get to converse. So the social scene allowed for connections that never become possible any other way. So I deliberately interpreted all those comments directed at me and got them talking with each other. When I noticed one or another of them watching hearing people, I'd pop over to the hearies and ask if they minded, then I'd interpret and get the hearies and deafies talking with each other. I have to say there was a fair amount of actual interaction! Lots of teasing, too. :-)

Social events are among the hardest to work, I think, because even in same-language groups folks are often awkward and uncomfortable. In a mixed language setting, no one is "in charge" or telling folks what they ought to do or whom they should speak with, so the inevitable drifting into segregated groups occurs usually quite rapidly. The unique demographic tonight was the oral deaf with the signing deaf and their curiousity about each other which is rarely (if ever) bridged. Once they were talking with each other, I was working, and it was much easier to extend that work to include the hearies. I had plenty of the 1:1 stuff that feels so good, but not at the expense of cross-cultural interaction.

Anyway, I laughed A LOT, and that is always a good thing. :-)

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July 14, 2004


I articulated something today that has been on my mind a lot but I hadn't quite put into words. I've been doing this thing where, while I'm interpreting, I mirror the instructor's movement in the class - sit when she sits, stand when she stands - and I think it is actually helping the flow of the interaction.

Here's my idea. When we (interpreters) sit down and establish a position, we become an anchor for the talk. Whatever people are saying - in all its flexibility and inherent movement - is "rigiditized" (yes, I just invented this term!) because it has to come to the interpreter in order to go through us. In other words, our stationary position actually impedes the flow instead of facilitating it. Our training (to be unobtrusive) is counterproductive in this way, because in our effort not to be "too present" we establish a physical presence that requires the communication flow to accommodate to us.

What's been happening as I move with the instructor now, is that the students are hardly aware of me and yet I'm So there! But they've adjusted to my physical movement as part-and-parcel of the communicative movement and it is unremarkable. Instead, they focus on the issue under discussion, and everyone is included. The Deaf student comments freely and openly, the hearing students look at the Deaf student regularly, and the instructor always notices when he wants to say something. In fact, today one student started speaking at the same time that the Deaf student rustled some papers and the hearing student stopped himself instantly, "Am I interrupting?" No, he wasn't - but he was so sensitive to the fact that he might have been! There is a really quite nice flow going on here. :-)

I think its not only attributable to my physically moving around. (I also move to a different location when the instructor sets up "debates." Her intention is to get the students interacting with each other, so I move to the "side" opposite whichever "side" the Deaf student is on, so that the focal point is no longer the front of the classroom and the instructor, but the discursive action taking place among the students and the two sides of the debate.) Another factor is that I was highly "visible" by being directive - just once! - in the very beginning of the class. Folks might suggest that I acted without tact, but I reminded the instructor - in front of the students! - that she needed to look at the Deaf student when speaking with them. Not only has she never forgotten since, but all the students also know to look at the Deaf student - and they do! My hypothesis is that my degree of involvement in the beginning (which made my presence so palpably obvious) contributed to some clarity about the communication process which has lead to more inclusive dynamics. And now, even though I am doing my thing in full view/plain sight, I'm not the center of attention because everyone's clear on what part it is that I am doing.

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Berdahl (again!)

"[Informant] Thomas Speigal['s] warning about judging the past from the perspective of the present, about the simultaneous solidification of boundaries and blurring of distinctions between victims and perpetrators" (p. 217).

This quote continues her analysis of the commemoration parade, in a chapter she calls "Dis-membered Border". This seems (to me, smile) to parallel my relational struggle - we are contesting who was/is "victim" and who was/is "perpetrator." I see the ways in which both of us did both, AND my "20/20 hindsight" perceives the discursive evidence (what was said and what was not said) in much sharper relief than I heard at the time. I need to learn to hear/interpret differently (or at least with other possibilities in mind) and I think this is the crux of acting into a new discursive future when one recognizes a PM.

Berdahl's work doesn't ground the discursive "collision" in any specific microsocial instant of real interaction - she juxtaposes what people said in one context with what they say in another context. This is what I hope to do with the critical discourse analysis paper that I intend to write analysing the key new finding (a discovery!) from the workshop in Alaska. At any rate, I'm also wondering if there is something here that might lend itself to James' and my history paper. I've been struggling with the Churchill/Bush examples and need to work out more clearly why I don't think they will work....or at least, that they represent a very different strategy/approach than anything we've done previously.

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July 1, 2004

undergrad class

Well, I arrived for the second day of a class, having missed the introductory stuff of the first day because I'd already booked another job when this one came around. Didn't take but 5 minutes for me to stir things up. It's a small class, five students, the instructor, two interpreters, and I realized I ought to know people's names - so I asked right then and there. I also used the same "interruption" to remind the instructor to look at the deaf student (not the interpreter) when addressing him. There was some tension, yes....but everyone now looks at the deaf student when speaking to him, so my action seemed to set a certain normative behavior into motion.

There's a definite mood of ignoring the interpreters (or at least attempting to do so), but so far clarifications have gone fine and we've been free to move around and situate ourselves for the best possible visual angles, so that part is working well. There's a definite disparity in communication - the hearing students are more participatory, but it might be personality and amount of background in the subject matter moreso than exclusionary communication practices (at least at this point). So far, the deaf student has made comments and interacted when he's felt he had something to say (at least, as far as I can tell). There have been a few side comments between the deaf student and the interpreters...some of these I interpreted, including his teasing me about my attire. [Background: Yesterday we spoke about the possibility of me using the class as a site for my research and got into a conversation about professional norms and his preferences, what he thinks is important or insignificant. One of the things he brought up was the wearing of solid colors, he explained that it didn't matter to him, that whatever people wore was everyday and his interactions with deaf people wearing wild clothes didn't make a difference so why should it matter with an interpreter? The only situation he thought attire (in terms of simplicity and color) would matter is a large lecture or audience situation in which the interpreter might be further away in distance.] So...today I wore a patterned shirt. He teased me about it and when I responded in kind I also noticed that several students were looking at us. So I said, "Ralph (a pseudonym) is teasing the interpreter about my shirt, he thinks it's too loud." The instructor laughed and said, "I like it." Class went on.

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June 16, 2004

The "msu" model

Doing all these graduations (that most Deaf folk are only marginally interested in) inspired one of my teammates to share this new model of interpreting with me:

Make Stuff Up.


Of course we joke about it with hearing people who compliment us (and have no idea whether we really did "do a good job" or not), and Deaf folk complain about it (aka "fill-in-the-blank interpreting"), and occasionally there is no doubt it really happens....I'd suggest it is a very compelling site for the study of dynamics and discourses about these dynamics. Why do we "make stuff up" instead of asking for clarification? Could be to save face. Could be to avoid Deaf criticism. Could be an appropriate decision about some other communicative issue taking precedence over what was 'missed' and filled in for the sake of continuity. Hmmmmm. !

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June 15, 2004

1,558 names

Graduations are the fingerspelling curse of the world (unless one is into the Rochester Method).

Since the lone deaf audience member that my team and I were there for was only interested in his friend's actual reception of her diploma, we spent the time talking about cultural differences, whiteness, and science fiction. :-) He recommended Wilbur Smith; I recommended Octavia Butler, particularly the Xenogenesis series. He recommended George R.R. Martin; I recommended Alastair Reynolds.

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June 5, 2004

World Symposium's 1st meeting

I attended the first official meeting of the World Symposium of the Deaf before DeafWay II in DC...two years ago? Hannah and her Oma came for a couple of days too and had a grand time. The three of us had a fun day at the Zoo, too. Anyway, there was a second meeting at the World Congress for the Deaf in Montreal last summer, which I missed. The next event is in South Africa. I'm considering...!

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Swedish Sign Language

I talked with a couple of Deaf Swedes while I was at the Critical Link conference. I have to admit they made most of the accommodations - adjusting their signing to fit my level of comprehension. Both of them knew some ASL, but not tons. I did get to experiment with a fair bit of gesturing. My first real cross-cultural sign language encounter! :-)

Here's a website in Swedish(!) about SSL. It shows some interpreters at work, at near the end of the clip are the fancy new-fangled cellphones that transmit visual imagery of sign clearly enough to be easily understood! I saw one in action, pretty nifty!

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EFSLI and the EU

What constitutes "Europe" these days? Especially in light of the continued, yet not yet all-encompassing growth of the European Union? Members of the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters are trying to come to some agreement on boundaries. To wit:

"As I read the EFSLI aims and objectives, one of the short comings is not in relation to what it is setting out to achieve. It is clear and laudable. What does not seem to be so clear what constitutes Europe, at least geographically. It is 2.2.1. (a) of the objectives that seems to come closest when it specifies European countries as a boundary but this is still somewhat vague. There is a need to a bit more precise especially given the decision made at the AGM last year to set up a fund to assist interpreters from Eastern European Countries to attend the EFSLI conference. It is important because before deciding which countries are the most needy, it is necessary to decide which countries constitute Eastern Europe. It is nice to know that a group of individuals are working on this as they develop the policy and procedures for operating the fund.

But perhaps the enlargement can assist EFSLI in agreeing the boundary. Starting north at Finland and then down to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and then here perhaps in anticipation of some new additions in 2007, go to Romania and Bulgaria to Greece and Cyprus. Perhaps this can be our boundary. What do you think?

Of the 10 new countries that joined on 1 May 2004, some are already members of EFSLI. This includes Czech Republic, Hungary Slovenia and Estonia. EFSLI is already in contact with people from Cyprus, Malta and Lithuania and is working to establish links with Slovakia, Latvia and Poland."

From the newsletter, EFSLI in Brief, 4 June, 2004.

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May 5, 2004

Alaska data - Day 1

I read all the Day 1 surveys today and started to identify illustrative quotes, figure out patterns, and basically get started on the analysis. I present in my Comparitive Inquiry coure tomorrow, so that is pushing me to at least get started. I'm also mailing back the copies tomorrow - I noticed that only half of the participants wanted copies back - that means something. What? That the process was "enough" and the writing was really "extra" for folks - they would have learned/benefitted as much without the writing? Or that the kinds of questions I asked didn't generate responses that they were interested in reviewing again? I'm just wondering if there is a way to make it feel more useful to individuals - so its not a matter of doing it "just" for the research process, but also for personal/professional benefit. If any of you want to post a comment explaining your experience of the writing and suggestions for how I could improve on that, I'd be grateful!

Here's the raw numbers I'm working with:

Day 1 Intermediate
Informed consent forms 16
Surveys turned in 13
Surveys copied/returned 6
Evaluations 12

Day 2 Advanced
Informed consent forms 31
Surveys turned in 23
Surveys copied/returned 11
Evaluations 23

Now, I'm worried because I had 18 surveys to return, but when Hannah helped me address them this evening there were only 17. I am hoping to all the good spirits that I just overlooked one when I gathered them up this morning and when I get back to Carolyn's, it'll be there. I have no idea whose it is, as I've already done the separation of name from survey (and didn't pay attention to who wanted it back and who didn't anyway). Oh no... :-(

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May 2, 2004


Those Alaskans know how to pull off a conference! Not only was everyone psyched to be doing professional development together, we also got to play around and practice juggling. Cathi really tried to get me to shift wide so my bean bags wouldn't collide but....old habits die hard. :-) Isn't that the way it is with everything? Maybe its only with the things we don't want to give up. Hmmm......

I've been "juggling" up a storm since returning. I'm not sure if I quite match Angela's list, but EVERY day there is a huge school project due and/or something with Ms. Hannah Mae and/or work (imagine!). Just interpreted Northampton's PrideFest, which was a blast. Big turnout as folks are energized about everyone who's going to start getting married on May 17th. It'll be interesting to see not only if, but how in the world the Massachusetts legislature thinks they'll be able to turn back the tide over the next couple of years. Of course they are going to try (sigh). I interpreted some of the political speeches (wicked fun) and a singer, Susan Bassett. She was fun, her own stuff and a couple of cover tunes, including one by the Indigo Girls. She was the very last performer so most of the crowd had dwindled, but me and my "audience" of about a dozen enjoyed the show quite a bit. :-) How much group dynamics can one do from stage? I pulled off a few....!

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April 23, 2004


Here I am - Alaska! ;-)
Slept well, despite the fact that the touchpad on my laptop stopped working. I don"t have a backup plan for no powerpoint!

I'm giving myself credit for arriving early - have all day today to get it fixed. Might be a hint that it is time to upgrad he ol" pzmo to a newbie with OSX> (Not today! But soon. Bill wil be happy for me.)

Meanwhile - am getting nervous about the presentations. I hope the design works!

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April 19, 2004

Going to Alaska!

We are going to rock the house! :-) Spent today refining the design; I'm feeling quite good about it.

I'm building on success from Boston's PM/WAD workshop at the CGO, where we really nailed a problematic moment with a sophisticated group of organizational diversity consultants. Exhausting (I'll need good rest!), but gives me a great sense of optimism for the large group activity in the workshop. Had a fun flurry of emails today from the organizers - always love to pick up the jazz via cyberspace!

Also building on all the recent paper-writing on problematic moments (and aren't I glad THAT's done for awhile!) and the CGO workshop, I did something new while interpreting last week that I've never done before and don't recall seeing anyone else do. There was a moment of din - when literally everyone in the group burst out with something at the same time. Instead of trying to continue with the thread of the primary speaker's comment I represented the verbal action of the din. It felt...right, somehow. :-) The Deaf interlocutor was with the group's outburst, not informed of it after the fact.

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April 4, 2004

Conference of Interpreter Trainers

CIT has just opened a new website full of goodies. :-) Looks like they will run regular discussions too. Neat! Funny timing too, as I just wrote the check for this fall's conference a few hours ago.

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February 11, 2004


Hmmm, its been awhile now, but I was thinking about a conversation I had after a job with a new Deaf person...she was telling me she had "a bad habit of teasing the interpreters" and I said I had "a bad habit of interpreting so that the hearing people know what's going on." My team interpreter raised her eyebrows at me, but since then we've both been voicing those comments and the Deaf person is being more integrated into the class as others get to experience her sense of humor.

Then, there was the time a student was waiting to talk to a professor and right when it was her turn another hearing student walked up and even though I was already voicing her comments this guy just started talking right over me! And the teacher turned to him! It could have been a gender thing in addition to the Deaf/hearing thing...at any rate, I wasn't very graceful: I immediately said, "Excuse me, its her turn" and resumed the interpretation. The student apologized but the instructor didn't. Unfortunately, I was just subbing that day, so the intervention probably didn't "stick." :-(

More positively, the interpreter confidentiality bill is making progress in the Vermont House and looks like it will get passed on to the State Senate in time for a vote to happen this year. Yeah!

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February 5, 2004


It's really true! Check this out (from their promotional materials) :-)

The Art of Juggling Conference
April 23rd, 24th, 25th, 2004
At the Anchorage Hilton Downtown
Deaf Interpreter Presenters: Julie Simon & Steve Walker
ASL Language Presenter: Trix Bruce
Interpreting Presenter: Stephanie Jo Kent

Stephanie Jo Kent, CI, MS, has been interpreting for a decade. She earned a masters degree in social justice education in 1996 and is in her second year of doctoral studies in communication.

Steph has worked at two residential deaf schools, was a member of the planning team for the Allies conferences from 1997-1999, and co-presented Daring to Depathologize, a keynote presentation with Laurene Gallimore for the National Association of Multicultural Education in 1998.

Steph will teach the same material to both groups. One day to advanced interpreters, and the other to beginner/intermediate interpreters. Her workshop is Interpreting as Interaction: The Interpreter and Group Dynamics. The focus will be on the practical management of the communication process for example, when, how, and why interpreters seek to manage the turn-taking process, and what are the outcomes of intervening or not when several people start talking at the same time. Video of an actual interpreted meeting will illustrate these challenging group dynamics and serve as the starting point of our discussion. We will also watch some interviews with Deaf people talking about why they criticize interpreters management of the communication process. These will serve as context for deeply self-reflective analysis of how our own needs and desires may actually interfere with the communication and relational process among Deaf and hearing consumers.

At the end of the workshop, each participant will have a better understanding of their own individual (personal) contribution to group dynamics while interpreting as well as how their responses to Deaf criticism may interfere with effective interpreting practice.

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January 11, 2004

edited letter to the editor

The Reformer printed my letter in the Weekend issue yesterday with an interesting insertion. They deleted "your coverage" and added the words "Associated Press article", apparently to distance themselves from it? The author is unidentified on the website and it seems we've already recycled the paper...

Here's my original text - apparently they posted all the letters EXCEPT for mine from that day!

Dear Editor,

I was disappointed to read the bias in your coverage of the trial requiring the use of sign language interpreters. By presenting non-deaf peoples experience of adjusting to the cultural differences and linguistic issues involved in interpreting as a snarl, you have privileged the difficulties and challenges instead of the possibilities, opportunities, relationships, connections, and solutions that can be reached when language barriers are bridged. Instead of highlighting the challenges as problematic, this (very sad and unfortunate) situation could be framed and utilized as an incredible educational experience in cultural diversity. While Deaf advocates have engaged in numerous attempts to educate law enforcement and the criminal justice system (among other service providers) about the process of interpreting, sometimes that kind of learning is most effective in hands-on situations. I hope that all those involved will turn their energies toward understanding the complexity of the process and work to facilitate their own, and each others, effective participation in it - despite, or perhaps because of the inherently adversarial nature of a trial.

Stephanie Jo Kent, CI (nationally certified ASL/English interpreter)

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January 8, 2004

legal interpreting

This story, Language issues snarl ex-Austine staffer's trial was published in this morning's paper. If I could squeeze it in I should go observe...

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