Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

two talks at Heriot Watt

by • March 10th, 2009

for the
Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies in Scotland, Heriot Watt University & the Translation Studies Graduate Programme, University of Edinburgh

Fishing for Culture and Missing Language:
Interpretation and Organizational Creativity

Culture(s) and discourse(s) are among the most unmanageable elements of international business. “You can’t model panic.” Patterns of cultural interaction and, especially, the range of interpretations of these patterns, have profound effects on the design and implementation of business plans. For instance, are differences of language a problem or a benefit? Do the homogenizing effects of using English as the language of international management outweigh the constant adaptation required by working multilingually? Discourses about simultaneous interpretation (SI) at the European Parliament (with its 23 working languages) pit danger and loss against loss and resignation. “Loss” of fluency and clarity worries professional interpreters at the European Parliament (EP) and “loss” of direct contact between interlocutors (users of interpreting services, in this case Members of the EP) seem – counterintuitively – to express anxieties about multilingualism and the possibilities for control. Understood as a practice of intercultural communication, the tensions made evident when simultaneous interpretation is used are a vital source of creativity typically overlooked because of conditioned (monolingual) preferences for using a

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Push of Chang, Pull of Cronen

by • March 29th, 2008

A vigorous debate between two faculty members dominated conversation about Marc Crépon‘s “What We Demand of Languages,” an extended footnote to Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other.

I had been worried about arriving late to the Center for Communication Studies event, however Briankle Chang and Vernon Cronen were deep in discourse, ranging from the mistake of theology (not a feature of all religions), the influence of the Platonic opening, Aquinas’ linkage of physics with the New Testament, to structuralism as the antidote to transcendentalism, and whether “topos” is a place that contains all topoi and all vocabularies or a place that can be talked about in infinitely many ways.
I always learn more from faculty interactions with each other than from monologistic pedagogy!
A colleague translated Crépon’s article from French. Srinivas Lankala explains:

“Crépon summarizes Derrida’s argument, provides references to the argument that Derrida did not provide, and extends the argument to new areas:

the question between what language is and what language means in terms of politics of nationalism or politics of identity
the definition of identity
the definition of the self

“One important thing called into question is the notion of a singular cultural identity: identity is formed in advance by language &emdash; the whole question of

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Catalan, not French

by • October 8th, 2007

I made a faux paux the other day, responding to Martí Cabré. S/he (as I plunge headlong into another one!) copied a photo I took of an art installation in Istanbul last summer. I was curious. The photo is evocative and in fact reminded me of the struggle some of my juniors are having letting go of being told in order to risk reaching out on their own terms. When I clicked through to see Martí’s post, I discovered text in a foreign language and – for some reason – assumed the language was French. I am not sure why, as I do have a passing familiarity with Spanish; had I looked I would probably have made that (just as egregious an) error. At least, my good friend the Wanokip tells me, French and Catalan are both Latin languages.
What I realized, heart-in-mouth, was that I did not “look.” My eyes glanced over the unfamiliar script and bounced off, catching no friction. What would have held me was not (in this instance) any quality inherent to the language or the medium (internet computer screen). I was in a hurry. My mind

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Enough Already!

by • June 19th, 2007

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

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dynamics (physics and Interpersonal Communication)

by • June 6th, 2007

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

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Controversy and Communication

by • December 17th, 2006

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.” 🙂

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blowing it :-/

by • December 11th, 2006

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

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Language and Me

by • October 24th, 2006

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.

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“pointing” through talk

by • October 14th, 2006

frost on grass by Ambarish a question of focus.jpg

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).

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Language as Motion

by • October 10th, 2006

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.

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