Introduction to Communication Theory for Simultaneous


Introduction to Communication Theory for Simultaneous Interpreters

iCORE innovative & creative opportunities for research and education
Conference of Interpreter Trainers Annual Conference, Pre-Conference Workshop

Simultaneous interpretation is co-constructed activity with consequences for human society in the dimensions of culture (time) and equality (control). This workshop explores the possibilities and limits of paradigm shift from information-based to relationship-centered professional practices of interpreting, using a combination of critical lecture and experiential conversation.

More details are available here.


Introduction to Inter-Role Dialogue

Leaving an Impression, Region II Conference
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

Dialogue in DUO: Future Change Through Language and Interaction

Dialogue Under Occupation VI
Beirut, Lebanon
May 2012

Blogentries (Dynamic Diagnosis):

  1. stumbling into spirit
  2. Presupposing Salmon: Ready DUO Players?
  3. Fantasia
  4. A Temporal Turn?
  5. Back from Beirut: Fear and Normal Courage
  6. stay awhile, and go easy

Proposal (Prelude):

Dialogue at the Dialogue Under Occupation conferences is contested territory. Participants in this workshop will analyze the language use and social interaction among a roundtable of participants from a previous DUO conference discussing the academic boycott of Israeli universities. Specifically, two “problematic moments” will be presented for collective analysis. Dr James Cumming theorizes, “Problematic moments are unlike other moments because they mark a brief point in time when the conditions of possibility for the group to have new, more productive and deeper conversations can be realized.”

For the purposes of this workshop, to dialogue is theorized as collectively changing the meanings of the past in order to collaboratively invoke new meanings for the future. The goal of re-visiting problematic moments is to proactively engage the question of re-calibration in the Bakhtinian sense of orienting to a chronotope. Can we learn how to generate alternative timespaces with revised identifications and altered relationships? Workshop participants will explore and evaluate the language use and interaction among roundtable participants from DUO IV, with an eye upon ourselves as human subjects contributing to the persistence or alteration of existing social realities.


Social Justice in Education Initiative: Let’s dream of an approach to social justice that enables students and teachers to bring their multiple selves to learning

with Evangelina Holvino and James Cumming of Chaos Management, LTD

Expanding Conversations about Social Justice in Education: Exploring Possibilities and Tensions
2nd Forum of the Social Justice in Education Initiative
University of Massachusetts Amherst
April 20, 2012

Our poster presents a summary of our thinking applying the concept of simultaneity to help students and teachers bring their multiple selves to enhance the learning task. Holvino’s theory of simultaneity (2010) views identities as multiple, interacting and continuously shaped by the simultaneous organizational and societal processes of race, gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity and nation, among other social differences.

Having multiple selves means learning how to accept the resulting ambiguities and contradictions in learning together. It means that interactions are frequently marked by something we call “problematic moments.” These are rich sites for understanding how people are impeded or enabled to enact simultaneity. They are also moments when an intervention has the most potential for engaging justly with differences, changing the conversation and its outcomes. We will explore how to enhance such outcomes.

Mini-Bakhtinian conference in education: Promises and Challenges of Dialogic Pedagogy

with James Cumming of Chaos Management LTD

School of Education, University of Delaware
March 26-April 2, 2011

Blog entries about the experience and our learnings:

  1. Is Dialogue Possible? posted 2 April 02012


We dream of a dialogic pedagogy practice that helps learners access and apply the total fabric of their multiple selves to the current situation and context when appropriate. In order to study how to do this, we would like to try actually doing dialogic pedagogy during the conference. Our focus is on learning about the impact of identity in heteroglossic interactions. Our project has three components:

1.     Collecting and providing data on notable incidents of language use meaningful to our study by taking on the role of action researchers during the conference. The observations and data collection will focus on identifying challenging moments where identities surface as relevant in particular interactions.

2.     Conducting a workshop (preferably in the middle of the conference) where the data we have gathered is analyzed by us and other conference participants in order to explore the transactional processes by which the social is collectively generated. Our workshop will be a setting for discovery and diagnosis of a potential shared chronotope of the conference membership. We will share two frameworks – Holvino’s simultaneity theory (2010) and Cumming & Holvino’s problematic moment approach (2003). We will take the lead in our role as action researchers and workshop attendees are invited to collaborate with us in a “fishbowl” type setting.

3.     Contribute to a twitter stream (hashtag #bakhtin) and write a few blogposts in order to create a strand of meta-commentary about what conference participants are learning from and with each other while we are in the process of experiencing the conference together.

By bringing a backchannel into active use we immediately display the fact of heteroglossia and we can explore together, dialogically, what meanings, learnings and promises may be in the data. We will use Freire’s notion of dialogic pedagogy which involves developing the skills of recognizing and working with language as both a symbol of and a container for social realities (1970). In order to access the communicative resources embedded in their/our multiple social identities, learners need to:

  • Understand the impulse and resist the pressure to conform to one-dimensionality in our own and towards others’ identities. Amartya Sen calls this process “miniaturization” (2006). It refers to the ways in which we make our own and others’ complex and multiple identities singular and one-dimensional.
  • Become skillful at acknowledging and communicating our own matrix of identities as well as exploring and accepting others’ complex social identities.

Informed consent for participating in human subjects research will be provided to all conference participants.

CIBER Business Language Conference: Building Bridges from Business Languages to Business Communities

UNC Center for International Business Education & Research and UNC-Chapel Hill
March 21-23, 2012

“ESL and Innovation”  (Business Language Research and Teaching 2011 Award Presentation)

Feedback from the conference evaluations:

Dear Ms. Kent,

As you may know, the post-conference evaluation survey for the Business Language Conference includes a section where we ask people to tell us if there were any specific sessions they particularly liked. I hope you’ll be pleased to know that your presentation was one of the most often mentioned.

(via email, April 2, 2012)

Description: Executives and employees negotiate misunderstandings arising from thinking in different languages as well as having different levels of English fluency. Moments of repair and explanation after so-called ‘communication breakdowns’ or ‘odd’ or ‘funny-sounding’ instances of English usage can serve many functional uses within workgroups, providing the basis for valuing intercultural differences as an intra-organizational social norm and cultivating innovative thinking.

The European Public Sphere: From critical thinking to responsible action

Committee of the Regions
Brussels. February 2012.

Beyond Homolingualism: A Participatory Model of Simultaneous Interpretation.

The strategy to communicate Europe is guided by an emphasis on information and technology that neglects social interaction. Discourse among the EU institutions in official documents about Plan-D, the White Paper, and multilingualism perpetuate an interaction taboo in which “the tricky question” of an exclusionary language policy is avoided, minimized, or preemptively defended. This is particularly evident in regard to simultaneous interpretation. In the European Parliament, the regime of “controlled multilingualism” has resulted in a communication system that is perceived as most successful when it provides Members with an illusion of communicating in the same language. As in the policy discourse, the measures of evaluation are based in a separation of meaning (in language) from use (by people). The desire to control meaning plays out in contested relationships as Members manipulate the human bias for homolingualism as a tool for individual voice, dis-preferring the cooperative mediation of power implied by participating in simultaneous interpretation. An alternative construction of simultaneous interpretation in community interpreting for the Deaf illustrates another regime in which generating equal voice is the task of the interpreter and language difference (heteroglossia) is preserved and embraced as the goal of the social interaction. Ritualizing community-based simultaneous interpretation as an intracultural social activity is proposed as a means to communicate a new European imagined community.

2011 Summer Workshop on Integrated Weather Studies

Societal Impacts Program, National Center on Atmospheric Research
Boulder CO, August 4-12, 2011

The Societal Impacts Program (SIP) of the National Center for Atmospheric Research hosts this professional practice workshop on “changing from what WAS to what IS the future of integrated weather studies.”

WAS*IS aims to better integrate weather and social science to empower practitioners, researchers, and stakeholders, in all sectors of the weather enterprise, to forge new relationships and to use new tools for more effective socio-economic applications and evaluations of weather products.

I am looking forward to joining the group of 250+ participants chosen to contribute to this growing movement!

RID: Growing Globally

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Biennial National Conference
especially the Business Meeting, Atlanta GA July 17-22, 2011

Previous blog entries about interpreting are posted in chronological order under Series: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

Quality Interpreting in a Push-Button World

2nd North American Summit on Interpreting
Washington DC June 17-18, 2011

I will be presenting a poster, Interpreters and the Mechanical Reproduction of Inequality, summarizing some key findings from my Fulbright-sponsored dissertation research about the system of simultaneous interpretation at the European Parliament.

2nd Annual Science of Team Science Conference

Clinical and Translational Sciences Unit, Northwestern University
Chicago, April 4-11, 2011

Resilience, Innovation, and Sustainability: Navigating the Complexities of Global Change

Arizona State University
Tempe AZ,
March 11-16, 2011

Slideshows and other materials from the conference are available here.

27-30 October, 2010
Conference of Interpreter Trainers 2010
San Antonio, TX

I actually was not able to attend the annual Conference of Interpreter Trainers. Darn.

The Reflexivity Series: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, chronicles my blogposts about ASL/English simultaneous interpretation.

The last three posts are from the RID Region 1 Conference: TEAM2010, in Albany, NY. TEAM is an acronym for Together, Empower and Motivate!

Previous to these is a blog and embedded ten-minute video of a keynote presentation I gave to the New England Deaf Studies Conference in April, 2010: That’s So #DEAF!

24-25 September, 2010
New York City

Leadership. Entrepreneurship. Innovation. Sustainability. These are the themes of this third Global Summit of a young, exciting initiative linking powerful women from different positions across the globe. I learned of this collaborative endeavor through participation in the University of Massachusetts’ Entrepreneurship Initiative, which I blogged about in this entry: “Innovation Happens at the Intersections.”

That blog entry is tucked into the Series on the Science of Team Science.


RID Region 1 Conference: TEAM 2010
Albany, NY

Representative Jackie Emmart’s youtube video, Top Ten Reasons To Attend TEAM 2010, had 202 views as of 29 July. A week ago I learned there are 383 registered participants! Definitely a good showing for the northeast region of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. I’ll be at the conference participating and blogging, following up on the National RID Conference one year ago:

I’ve added tweeting to my repertoire: feel free to follow me @stephjoke, and add to the twitterverse yourself! Please use hashtag #si3 (it stands for the initials SI cubed (raised to the third power). It is a shorthand for one of the main points in my dissertation (to be completed someday).

26-30 July, 2010
The Critical Link 6: Interpreting in a Changing Landscape
Aston University, Birmingham UK

The interpreter-ethnographer today has to
take a stance and develop a consciousness for the
political and ethical dilemma between the
domesticating of the Other and leaving the Other as foreign.

~ Sebnem Bahadir (2004, p. 815)

This pre-conference workshop is designed to introduce interpreters to contemporary notions concerning the co-construction of meanings, identities, relationships and social-political dynamics through processes of interpreted interaction. The conceptual framework distinguishes interpretation (simultaneous or consecutive) as intercultural communication systems that are separate and apart from the activities of written translation.

Educational Objectives: the workshop is appropriate to all levels and types of practicing interpreters, interpreter trainers, and researchers of interpreting.

Upon successful completion of this workshop, participants will be able

  1. To identify space- and time-based elements of interpretation
  2. To recognize emphasis on space-based elements as means of asserting control
  3. To understand the time-based elements as constitutive of culture, and
  4. To debate the situated professional norms of interpreting in the context of a much larger culture of control

If we accept the premise that interpreters are never fully neutral, then the responsible professional will begin to investigate how our non-neutrality influences the interactive outcomes of communication among interlocutors. Two stark possibilities are obvious: either our work in systems of simultaneous interpretation contributes to the maintenance of the status quo, or our work introduces possibilities for questioning the way things are usually done, enabling opportunities for individual growth and social change.

Most often, our work is situated somewhere in-between these two poles. The substantive material of this pre-conference workshop will equip the working interpreter to recognize the outcomes and effects of interpreting choices, habits, and decisions on the present and future relationships of interlocutors.

June 9 – 13, 2010

2010 Summer Doctoral Seminar at Wayne State University


Disaster is non-discriminatory; it does not care whether the people affected speak the same language or not. Recruiting and retaining qualified language interpreters and learning to utilize rudimentary machine translation are first steps in a comprehensive systemic solution, involving training of all members of rescue and support teams, their supervisors, funders, policy-makers, the media and the public to understand how to cooperate in highly-charged intercultural communication requiring simultaneous interpretation.

The desire for instantaneous and unproblematic use of language is culturally conditioned. Most people’s experience of social interaction occurs in a language that is mutually understood. The desire for fast and fluid communication in a shared language is a common human experience. In the rapid flow of responding to an emergency, who will pause to focus on the skills of patience and attention needed to navigate non-shared meaning structures? Not knowing another’s language stymies the onward rush of establishing security and problematizes efficiency, upending reasonable assumptions of easy understandings.

A certain level of skill and commitment is required to investigate the orientations of culture and language-based meaning systems in order to gauge whether words and concepts describe the same referent or different realities. For instance the work of the United Nations Security Needs Assessment Protocol (SNAP) demonstrated conclusively that what the UN means by “security” and what villagers in affected areas in different countries mean by “security” are entirely different. The practice of ethnographers and interpreters tests and validates the limits of theory. This seminar will allow me to explore the relevance of interpreting theory to practices of thinking clearly in dangerous situations.

Rapid response is a necessary characteristic of dealing with emergency situations. Well-trained teams can both integrate interpreted interaction seamlessly into their operations and participate in generating a new kind of cultural bond. Interpreters are certified, as it were, not only to transmit information, but also to build relationships. The intercultural experience of being in each other’s presence without knowing what is going on is a natural setting for the facilitation of the exact skills of tolerating difference that are required in situations of crisis.

My dissertation research, which was funded by a Fulbright Grant in 2008-2009, explored the bases of shared identity among Members of the European Parliament, who routinely use interpreters among 23 different languages. That “total institution” (in the sociological sense) is contrasted with my professional experience as an American Sign Language interpreter for the Deaf community in the US.  What is common to each setting is the need to learn how to orient differently to time in order to co-create an effective process of intercultural communication. The necessary adaptation suggests that learning how to use an interpreter well is a single skill with profound implications for conflict resolution, disaster management, peacekeeping, and any other situation in which safety is under threat.

1-4 June, 2010
Dialogue Under Occupation IV
American University, Washington DC


You are invited to participate in an open conversation about the involvement of academics in political activity, specifically the academic boycott of Israeli universities. The facilitator takes no stance pro or con. The question of the roundtable regards the possibility of re-calibration in the Bakhtinian sense of orienting to a chronotope, of co-constructing through language use a timespace (in this instance) beyond the boycott. For the purposes of this roundtable, to dialogue is theorized as collectively changing the meanings of the past in order to collaboratively invoke new meanings for the future. An assumption is that the discourses that emerge during the roundtable will represent a reasonable microcosm of the overall cultural, macrosocial, and institutional dynamics. The roundtable is not intended to critique the fact of the boycott: the presence of the boycott is accepted as social reality. Instead, the intent will be to investigate conference participant wisdom about the aims of this instance of political activity, explore potential conditions for the emergence of dialogue, and imagine how involved parties can move ahead. The methodology of the roundtable will be to facilitate a conversation among participants with varying knowledge, diverse interests, and some degree of curiosity about the situation. With informed consent of those present, the conversation will be video-recorded in order for a transcription to be made and utilized in further analysis. Anonymity is guaranteed. Additionally, if a special case of communicative social interaction theorized as a Problematic Moment occurs, participants may be invited to participate in a follow-up activity to investigate the range of awareness and attention to this rare and powerful group-level event. A second level of informed consent will be sought if warranted. No special knowledge or criteria is required for participation.

16-18 April 2010
Voices from the In-Between: Aporias, Reverberations, and Audiences
Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
University of Massachusetts Amherst

The Call for Papers:

The conference seeks to foster a space to discuss, problematize, and rethink ways of approaching the elusive concept of the in-between as it relates to various modes of cultural production and global phenomena. With the aim of engaging in transdisciplinary dialogues,pParticipants question how specific objects of study resist clear-cut categorization or placement in genres or domains, reconsider definitions and theories of the in-between, and present case studies that investigate the diverse manifestations of “in-between-ness.”

Presentation proposal:

The job of simultaneous interpreting between languages for individuals who do not share a common tongue but must interact to order to accomplish a particular task is becoming understood as a practice profession.[1]As a field of professional practice, the domain has traditionally been split by venue and modality, as “conference” or “community” interpreting and involving either exclusively spoken or a combination of spoken and signed languages. The role of the interpreter in interpreted interactions is tightly constrained, ostensibly so as not to influence the communication process among direct interlocutors. The presence of the interpreter problematizes the very act of communication itself, specifically the definition of meaning. As an object of study, meaning defies constancy – it morphs and changes on every timescale, and has the potential to shift in each and every application, contingent upon the relationship constituting use. There is no guaranteed location of meaning, only the promise of meaningfulness that is predicated on a past trajectory or presumed in an imagined future.

It is common, however, for people involved in an interpreted interaction to avow that meaning is fixed within words. This attitude reflects a desire for control of the communication process, which is – by virtue of being a process – particularly difficult to obtain. In fact, communication is essentially impossible to control because there is rarely (if ever) the guarantee that reception will match delivery. Friends and lovers misunderstand, enemies take offense when none was intended, creative and scientific representations get warped out of all proportion, sometimes to the point of unrecognizability. Pressures exerted upon interpreters “to render the message faithfully”[2] are loaded with the cumulative force of industrial era thinking: that it is possible to operate in a smooth, invisible, functional manner such that your presence can be momentarily forgotten. This is what interlocutors seem to want, to be convinced (or at least be able to believe, without interference) that the method of transmission is irrelevant. In other words, people seem to seek an escape from awareness of process by immersing attention in particular content.

Simultaneous interpreters are in a unique position within interpreted interaction. Despite the constraints placed upon independent interpreter action, in fact – within these very constraints – lies a zone of permanent liminality, a way of being, of understanding a different kind of meaning that is not fixed in definitions but flows from the essential nature of all interaction: “It’s the relationship, stupid!” Interpreters thus occupy positions of potential power – not the negative microsocial concern of screwing up conversations! Rather, interpreters wield a kind of institutional leverage for bringing interlocutors, one at a time, ever so incrementally, closer to shifting their energy from seeking to exert static control over one another through fixed meanings to caring about the meaningful outcomes of their identifications with each other in the mutual timespace of in-between.

[1] Dean, R. K. & Pollard, R. Q (2005). Consumers and service effectiveness in interpreting work: A practice profession perspective. In M. Marschark, R. Peterson, & E. Winston (Eds.), Interpreting and interpreter education: Directions for research and practice (pp. 259-282). New York: Oxford University Press.

[2] Code of Professional Conduct, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. This is a common clause in statements of professional ethics.

Saturday, 3 April 2010
New England Deaf Studies Conference
Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill MA

A review of lessons Deaf people have taught ASL interpreters and others, which sign language interpreters can now use to challenge/educate spoken language interpreters. Deaf people have the opportunity to be role models and allies to people from other linguistic minority groups – even those who use spoken languages….

Educational Objectives:

  1. Participants will recognize attitudes toward criticizing interpreters.
  2. Participants will be able to distinguish different types of challenges for interpreters.
  3. On the basis of objectives 1 & 2, participants will be able to classify themselves in terms of standard identity development models.
  4. Participants will compare their levels of identity development with the observable empowerment behavior (in interpreted interaction) of users of minority spoken languages.
  5. Participants will evaluate and score the proposal of the presenter that the Deaf Community’s history of criticizing sign language interpreters presents a challenge to interpreters of spoken languages, too.
  6. Participants will analyze the potential of the Deaf Community becoming role models to other minority language communities.

with James Cumming, Chaos Management, Ltd

***Ethnographic, participant-observation data was recorded, and

the conversation continues on Twitter at #teamsci10***

21-24 April 2010
The Science of Team Science Conference
Northwestern University: Clinical and Translational Sciences Unit
Chicago, IL

Poster Session Proposal
Despite decades of leadership from the health sciences, progress in resolving barriers to interdisciplinary research appears static. One reason stems from the failure to engage knowledge developed from a social perspective (Fiore, 2008). We aim to bring the social to team science by imagining all of the participants, presenters, organizers, and sponsors of this conference as “a team” – as a group of scientists engaged in a common task: to understand and improve the practice of team science. By imposing the model of team science on the group, we create boundary conditions for analysis of the conference discourse and dynamics about team science. This maneuver invites all those in the conference who wish to do so to engage with us in an active and collaborative process of learning. We will challenge these self-selected conference participants to identify the substance of social intelligence required in the applied practice of team science through voluntary monitoring, self-evaluation and self-reflection, Paying dual attention to the processes of 1) talking about team science and 2) doing team science will generate a snapshot of the current state of the field, provide insight into the norm-governed behaviors, attitudes, and cognitions that promote or inhibit productive team science, and highlight the specific skills, strategies, and synergies of effective leaders and team players.

We propose to conduct a running (“live”) discourse analysis of participants’ interactions during the Science of Team Science Conference, in order to explore relationships between a) the structures and processes of generating knowledge about working in teams with b) the content of knowledge shared during the conference. An “ad” in the conference program would alert participants to the study and initiate a consent/dissent procedure for human subjects research. Steph and James will observe the discourse and dynamics beginning at the Wednesday evening reception through the Saturday workshop, collect additional discursive and dynamic data from volunteers, and reflect impressions back to participants via a weblog dedicated to the conference and/or at Our poster will contain information about the theories we use and our data collection tools. In addition, we will pose a hypothesis derived from our observations of the conference about the relationship of the social to science in order to help us engage in dialogue with participants.

Summaries, discussions and questions raised by observations and feedback will be posted daily through a weblog (possibly stimulating on-going conversation and remaining as a permanent resource). We hope to identify potential partners for future research in Team Science and to contribute conceptual material of substantive value to the field. An article will be written for publication in the conference proceedings (or some other outlet if no proceedings are planned). This article may include suggestions regarding how the conference structure facilitates or counteracts the interdisciplinary development of team science.

We will need to have some coordination with the Program Committee regarding informed consent procedures and possibilities for survey-type data collection. It will be ideal if conference organizers are open to announcing and promoting participation in the study.

REFERENCE: Fiore, Stephen M. 2008. Interdisciplinarity as Teamwork: How the Science of Teams can Inform Team Science. Small Group Research. Vol. 39. pp. 251-277. Sage.

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