Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

What meanings are we making?

by • April 26th, 2009

two talks at Heriot Watt
by Stephanie Jo Kent

In addition to the transmission of information, the larger and deepest purpose of simultaneous interpretation is to generate and maintain common culture among people from different cultures.

As hoped, the opportunity to present on my dissertation fieldwork in-progress forced my brain to synthesize the trends and patterns that I have been noticing during this year of research at the European Parliament, as well as find words to express what I think these trends and patterns suggest about mono- and multilingualism. The effort to explain my perceptions moved me far along the analytical path; since returning to fieldwork many of the findings have crystallized further.
A few weeks ago, after more backbrain simmering, I finally uttered the statement highlighted above, distilling the years of talking with interested colleagues (and anyone else who would listen, thanks Arne!) into a single, comprehensible idea.
Purposes are human creations, not physical facts, so there is plenty of room to disagree. I am anticipating a conversation that will take place in Philadelphia in August (“Interpreting as Culture“), and other conversations that I hope grow from there and link from/with other sources (such as Ryan Commerson’s brilliant master’s thesis applying the work of

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Iraqi Interpreter Series by Deborah Haynes

by • January 3rd, 2009

Thanks for the lead, James!

BBC correspondent Andrew Marr presented the first inaugural Tony Bevins Prize for investigative journalism, also called “Rat Up A Drainpipe Award” to Deborah Haynes, a journalist who reported on interpreters in Iraq. Marr told the Society of Editors [on 11 November] that the newspaper industry needs to do more to “market itself” and explain “why newspapers matter”.
Of course, my mission is to explain why interpreters matter, and expand the marketing on our behalf. All of the following links are to articles by Deborah Haynes (either solo or in a team), below are additional articles by others.

Deborah Haynes on Iraqi Interpreters:

US, British Firms Win Iraqi Contracts (13 March 2004), first mention of the death of a interpreter in Iraq

Letter from Interpreters working in Language Support (3 March 2007) and Denial of Refugee Status (22 June 2007) [resource provided by Deborah Haynes]

Abandoned – the 91 Iraqis who risked all (7 August 2007)

‘If we stay when the British troops pull out, then the militia will kill us’ (7 August 2007)

Interpreters beg for asylum as militants show them no mercy: Britain has rebuffed appeals from Iraqis who risked their lives helping the Army (7 August 2007)

Britain employs 600

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“it must be unforgettable!”

by • December 12th, 2008

frost in LUX2.JPG.jpg

on the train from Luxembourg-Brussels
9 December 2008

Fog shrouded my arrival in Luxembourg, persisting through the first day. The second morning dawned grey but sparkling.

What a treat to listen through headphones to an interpretation into English of Professor Joanna Nowicki‘s talk on intercultural communication, or – as she prefers to label it – intercultural mediation. Her critique of ‘the American way [of teaching about] intercultural communication” was quite sharp: it “becomes one dimensional very fast.” She generalized about management programs that simply direct their students: “with people of this nationality, do that, with people of that nationality, do this.” I am not convinced that my friends in the School of Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are receiving so stark a reduction, but I am familiar with trends in my department (Communication) that could lend themselves to such simplistic categorizations. No doubt Professor Nowicki’s critique applies in general, if not to every case. She also describes “the American way” as “very pragmatic,” explaining that, for Americans, the results of research must be useful.

Research and the real world
Personally, I am inclined to agree with the goal of research needing to have practical use: theory alone is dancing

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“Dare to Know” (Kant)

by • October 25th, 2008

This post distills a series of thoughts from reading three different texts: The Heroic Model of Science (Chapter 1, Telling the Truth about History by Appleby, Hunt & Jacob, 1991); The Talmud and the Internet by Jonathan Rosen (2000), and an Interview with Ilan Stavans by Richard Birnbaum (@ 2003).
Three threads are primary: language, interaction, and science. “Language” is engaged theoretically and in practice, particularly the practices of interpretation. Although the references in the three selected texts refer mainly to written translations, I extrapolate ‘down’ to in-the-moment generation of understanding in everyday talking with each other, based on cooperation or agreement between people about meaning. I also extrapolate ‘up’ – or at least ‘over’ – to the interlinguistic skills that are most obviously evident in simultaneous interpretation. As to interaction, there are numerous levels from the microsocial to the macrosocial and the temporal to the ephemeral. The history of science is significant because of its influence on how people in western countries learn.
Why these three texts, beyond the coincidence of reading them more-or-less at the same time? Appleby, Hunt & Jacob (hereafter AH&J) investigate “what sorts of political circumstances foster critical inquiry” (p. 9). They

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by • July 28th, 2008

There are concerns being raised about translating the research invitation to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). My friends and colleagues composing the Translation Team (!) are encountering the challenges of linguistic rotation. I am borrowing the technical term, rotation, from matrix algebra. (Disclaimer: four decades later I begin to learn math!)
Which should I write first: the metaphor (a three–by-three matrix) or the data (the questions and concerns)? Let’s go with the data.
Immediately the question was raised, “Why translate at all?” Alongside the deep philosophical implications (which I need another few decades to work out) are practical concerns. Isn’t the effort to generate a “single” invitation in twenty-three languages rather absurd?

the production of more work?
just a nice gesture?

Possibly. Depending upon one’s logic, certainly so; given an alternative reference frame, however, perhaps the benefit, in the end, will be worth the trouble. Crafting the translations has, actually, been a bit of trouble – not just time and effort, but a source of some consternation. Three versions have been completed to date: Bulgarian, Romanian, and Polish. A few potential translators have dropped out because of the terminology: as much as I

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by • June 10th, 2008

free will?.jpg

Most of what happened cannot be blogged.

There was The Biggest Salad Ever and a Bison Burger. Margaritas and Honey Pilsner.
Laughter looping across periodic boundary conditions. My blushing. (!) A handshake for the chinese zodiac. (Do you know what they say about Virgos?)

The Italian mafia. A Columbian cartel. Romanian espionage and disruption services. A South African escapee. Bhutanese royalty. Some Americans and a Turk.
Seriously, one language or many? Interpreted (essential heterogeneity) or lingua franca (reduced homogeneity)? 🙂 Our debate draws forth a distinction: what do we value most and when – the depth and strength of relational connection or the collaborative effort to generate joint action toward a desired goal? I propose that

we are always interpreting – the interactive presence of a simultaneous interpreter only makes the fact more evident, and
more attention to this fact (of always and inevitable interpretation) could enable deepened collaborations to redress the critical needs of our time.

I am cautioned, again (and with great humor!), to be gentle with those who agree to talk with me: sensitivities about language skill can open vulnerabilities that could undermine the research endeavor. Refinements to the research problem have been percolating

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visual perceptions

by • May 14th, 2008

Work on optical illusions show how the distance from which one views a face alters the expression you think you’re seeing. Some constructions are creepy!
I’m intrigued with the function of distance. Part of what me and my committee need to sketch out is the scope of the lens I’ll use in exploring the practice of simultaneous interpretation at the European Parliament. Since each of our relative distances from the object of study differ, establishing a reasonable range might be a challenge.

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