Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Ethics of Interpreting

by • June 1st, 2010

Damage from a spring thunderstorm in New England

professional development workshop
certification maintenance, RID
Lebanon, NH (31 October 2009)

Real World Ethics

One thing I love about the sign language interpreting community is how seriously we take the matter of professional ethics. We have no choice, actually, because the Deaf community holds our feet to the fire on a regular basis. It is an extraordinary dynamic. The effects of participating in simultaneously-interpreted communication may appear to be concentrated in the interaction between the interpreter and the signer, but the significance of using interpreters extends as well to the entire group and among all languages. Patty Azzarello writes of a team-building activity without an interpreter, detailing the embarrassing lessons learned by the team that discounted the member who was not fluent in English.

He was the smartest guy in the room.

He tried to share his good ideas with us – over and over again.

We basically threw him overboard.

I cannot speculate as to how the dynamics in Patty’s team would have been changed if there had been an interpreter included, but I can say that interpreters witness Deaf people being “thrown overboard” on a far too regular basis.  Michael Harvey

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reading the demon: simultaneous interpretation and the in-between

by • April 28th, 2010


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

“When I saw you with the laptop,” Cecilia said to me, “I thought you must be really far behind on your presentation.”  More or less! I was in my “live” discourse and dynamics mode, self-interestedly collecting connections with other presenters (or at least with their topics). I wanted to show as well as tell about my findings and speculations based on the research I’ve done concerning language, meaning, and simultaneous interpretation.  The conference would have gone by in a blur for me, otherwise. As it was, I had a handful of heartfelt conversations with fascinating human beings, beginning at the banquet, smuggled into the quiet of rehearsal/prep space in presentation rooms, and during breaks over the abundance of food.

Warning! Relationship implied!

Huda did not believe that I really wanted to quote her presentation. “You really are dangerous!” exclaimed Nimmi, before vanishing back to Texas. Jiwei questioned the possibility of as fluid an identity as I propose – that I am ‘called into being’ by the interactions I have with others, especially those that are overtly communicative. (I’m not

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Yes, but can you interpret?

by • May 29th, 2009

Conference: Aptitude for Interpreting

Imagine my surprise upon entering the lobby at Lessius University and witnessing a conversation in American Sign Language! My brain has been so otherwise-occupied that it never once crossed my mind that

a) anyone other than European spoken language trainers/researchers would attend or that

b) I might actually know people!

It was absolutely delightful to re-encounter respected colleagues, meet some of the luminaries whose work is required reading, and make new friends (although one always wonders whether they’ll claim me, and/or for how long!) 😉

We started quite seriously, with the keynoter, Mariachiara, setting the context with a superb history of the tension between innate talent and built skill. Are interpreters born or made? Perhaps it is a both/and kind of question, with challenges of re-molding/re-training those with “the aptitude to perform” and fresh cultivation of those with “the aptitude to learn.”

At the end of the day, Miriam reflected that we (interpreter researchers) have learned that we’re asking the right questions, but we don’t seem any closer to clear answers! One needs only hark back to the presentations of Her Majesty of No Results and the Princess of No Significance to find evidence supporting Miriam’s perception. Are we

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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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potential downside to anticipation?!!

by • April 10th, 2008

Ok ok, anticipate, but don’t judge too quickly!

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It just ain’t the same!

by • April 7th, 2008

Weird how certain things come up in bursts, isn’t it? In the past month I’ve encountered three situations involving some combination of Deaf people, American Sign Language, and Koko, the “signing” gorilla.
To be fair, as I consider this, I would probably have to converse with Koko myself to know whether I thought there was actual language happening – you know, the kind of communication that we consider the particularly special feature of language. My understanding is that Koko knows some “signs,” responding “appropriately” to some of them and and generating some “signs” herself (is Koko a she?) Please don’t misunderstand me, I think it is awesome that there is such strong evidence of high-order cognition from other animals besides ourselves, and I want gorillas to persist on the planet. In fact, I would be stunned and amazed and thrilled, actually, if humans could develop languages or other means of communication that enabled us to learn from the other animals what they know about living on earth. Maybe signed language is one of those modes – just like human babies can learn to project meaning with signs sooner than they can project meaning with spoken words

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“2 hours talking about poop”

by • March 21st, 2008

2 bouquets, combined SMALL.jpg

Pete said it, summing up the party.

We started at the UMass Sunwheel circa 6:15 pm. The clouds cooperated, beginning to clear an hour in advance of sunset. The wind was bitter, though: fortitude was required to make it through until the moon cleared the 7 degrees of forest obscuring the horizon in the East.

Dr. Judith Young from the Astronomy Department at UMass regaled the crowd (52 brave souls who stayed) with enlarged photos, anecdotes, history, and education. I was struck by the range of nuance embedded in the careful alignment of static stone with the motions of our solar system. In particular, I learned of the Callanish Stones for the first time. Dr. Young showed some pictures and explained the presence of an “extra” stone that – if one stands just right – creates a visual notch with the stone next to it that outlines the precise location on the horizon where the summer solstice sunrise occurs. “They found,” she said, “a way to let us know.”

Hmmm, a way to know – what? If there is a message in these stone circles, what might it be? Was there an active intent to leave a sign

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parallel science and other illusions

by • March 7th, 2008

I’m excused from interpreting this talk, Nanometers, Femtoseconds, and Yoctomoles: Molecular-Dynamics Simulations of Diffusion in Garnet, which means I can take notes and play!
The professor is highly billed: Dr. Bill Carlson from UT at Austin. You think I’m kidding about “play”? No way, Jose!
Scale: plates, rocks in the field, mineral grains, atoms….
Geologic Time:
Sizes from macro to nano…..
Diffusion gives direct qualitative information on rates and duration of metamorphic processes. Garnet is present in a wide range of bulk compositions, is stable, and has a wide array of diffusive behaviors that can be monitored to help us understand rates of diffusion and the mechanisms behind them. You know my parallel? Groups (of people) and knowledge/understanding (disseminated via language).
Main topic: Molecular dynamics simulations…. (microdynamic intergroup relations?)
Problem: existing theories for diffusion at atomic scale don’t explain the phenomena we observe…(sounds like social science to me!)
Novel systematics emerge from recent synthesis…
Elastic Strain Theory (EST) – diffusion by vacancy mechanism: work is required to move atoms apart and squeeze this atom in-between them….larger atom = more strain which slows down diffusion. Like all theory (!) “sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t.”
There’s a “misfit parameter” (!) = “how badly an atom

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Homage to a Mentor

by • February 12th, 2008

Evelyn 2.jpg

Others will speak of her love for her sons, her steadfastness as a friend, and her unwavering loyalty to the Deaf community.
I can best describe Evelyn Thompson as a mentor.
College degrees were being offered in American Sign Languages Studies and Interpretation.
Evelyn had been signing since she came out of the womb; she certainly didn’t need anyone to verify her fluency.
Humility ran deep in Evelyn, as deep and serious as her compassion for the Deaf community. She never hid her rage against the injustices piled upon those whose eyes mean more than their ears, whose gestures and bodily expressions convey so much more than the tongue and voice usually do. Being a professional interpreter meant seeking out every bit of linguistic and cultural resource imaginable – even the theory of formal school and practical training from individuals who may or may not have known as much as she.
I was new: a sign language learner, idealistic, naive. I wanted the best, and Evelyn was it. Still relatively young herself, Evelyn had been interpreting for decades when we met. She was already “an institution” in her own right. We met in an introductory level interpreting class and soon enough I’d written her a

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researching the edges

by • October 1st, 2007

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

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