Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

cultural experiences of time

September 30th, 2004

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”?

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Categories: Deaf stuff, Interpreting, PM dynamics
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