Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

EU promotions for interpretation

by • April 7th, 2009

online public relations
youtube videos

Someone tipped me off that the European Parliament has hired someone to make a film on the process of simultaneous interpretation (SI) from an elected Member’s point-of-view. I imagine they were carefully vetted in order to give the perspective that the Parliament wishes people to have regarding the purposes, uses, and effectiveness of interpretation. I agree that more people need to understand the value of SI, although I’m skeptical of the vision promoted by the official public relations and policy organs of the European Union. I think their view is unfortunately limited by an inherited and ingrained one-dimensional conception of what SI can do, as well as what it actually does do.
Nonetheless, all of their previous efforts do a nice job of creating desire to become a professional interpreter working at this highest of the high, most elite level of SI.

Interpreting for Europe – Into English.

Interpreting is “all about listening to ideas…”
“English native speaker interpreters . . . needed for an exciting career at the very heart of European decision-making.”
(17 Feb 2009)

Promoting multilingualism: a shared commitment
“…conclusions of the ministerial meeting by Commissioner Leonard Orban.”

(18 Feb 2008)

Interpreting for Europe (EN)
“A 10-minute history of interpretation at the

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beyond this crisis there will be more

by • March 13th, 2009

and how will we cope?

All quotations are from
Capitalism Beyond the Crisis by Amartya Sen
The New York Review of Books
Volume 56, Number 5 &emdash; March 26, 2009

“Ideas about changing the organization of society in the long run are clearly needed, quite apart from strategies for dealing with an immediate crisis. I would separate out three questions from the many that can be raised. First, do we really need some kind of “new capitalism” rather than an economic system that is not monolithic, draws on a variety of institutions chosen pragmatically, and is based on social values that we can defend ethically? Should we search for a new capitalism or for a “new world”–to use the other term mentioned at the Paris meeting–that would take a different form?”

“The most immediate failure of the market mechanism lies in the things that the market leaves undone. Smith’s economic analysis went well beyond leaving everything to the invisible hand of the market mechanism. He was not only a defender of the role of the state in providing public services, such as education, and in poverty relief (along with demanding greater freedom for the indigents who received support than the Poor Laws of his day provided),

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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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Communication Dynamics in a Coordinator’s Meeting at the European Parliament

by • February 21st, 2009


I was introduced in this Coordinator’s Meeting as a researcher looking at “how we can cope with our language system.” This is the first time I’ve heard someone here characterize my research: that statement boils it down quite nicely!
Coordinator’s meetings occur just prior to Committee Meetings with the goal of delineating in advance the lines of engagement from each political group in the imminent debate. Every political group selects an individual to become the group expert on work being done in each of the Parliament’s permanent or temporary working committees. Someone (an MEP not present in this meeting) likened the role of a Coordinator to the position of a political commissar in the old Soviet system.
In this particular Coordinator’s meeting there were six men and eleven women from various countries, no simultaneous interpretation. The Chair (a position that rotates among the Coordinators – at least in this case) provided an overview of the agenda and invited questions and input. Not everyone spoke, but of those who did their English was readily understandable despite accents, except for one person whose accent became more prominent for a few phrases. In my notes, I recorded this incident as “lapsed into thicker

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Communication dynamics in a political group at the European Parliament

by • February 5th, 2009


“We are European! We have patience.”

My sense of urgency about coming to grips with transformations within the field of possibilities for professional interpretation is promoted by various factors, some of which I hope are transient while others are reaffirmed on nearly a daily basis.
One of these days a chapter will be published concerning a dominant theme of interpreter discourse four years ago at the European Parliament, “A Discourse of Danger and Loss: Interpreters on Interpreting for the European Parliament.” This year, Members of the European Parliament also refer to “bad English,” but few of the Members seem actually upset by it. The neutral label is “Brussels English.” The growth of a new argot arising from the interaction of various “Englishes” is inevitable; arguing against it is an outlet for frustration that does little to stop the erosive effect on conference interpreting in this exceptional house.
An announcement about interpretation was included in the “buro telegram” distributed within political group meetings last night:

In order not to prolong the chaos surrounding the 23 different official languages (largely underused) at ACP/EU meetings, a compromise has been reached between the General Secretariat and members of the assembly: translation will be carried out in

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How does interpreting make the European Parliament special?

by • January 29th, 2009


There has never been as much peaceful cooperation among the governments and peoples of Europe as occurs within the structure of the European Union. “It is not so long ago,” I have been reminded regularly, “that we were killing each other.” Professional, simultaneous interpreters enact a cornerstone of the EU project innumerous times every single day, but the tangible outcomes of using interpreters are lost in rhetoric about multilingualism and the political nature of language use. The basic truth that everyone communicates best in his or her mother tongue is suppressed by extensive promotion of language learning and various regimes of “controlled multilingualism” administered by the European Institutions. The human desire for direct communication enables critique of interpreter errors, diluting focus on the long-term positive effects of sustaining linguistic diversity through the consistent, proactive use of simultaneous interpretation.
I spend a lot of time with professional interpreters, working as one myself between American Sign Language and English for communication among deaf and non-deaf people in the U.S., as well as attending international conferences and mingling with interpreters while conducting research. Much of my worldview has been shaped by my academic interpreter training program and professional continuing education. Most particularly, however, I

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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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Rosa Lee: got it going on!

by • January 2nd, 2009

Grrl is rocking, there’s no doubt! 🙂

I wrote about another music video that she has interpreted in her wonderful style, from artificial code to organic language. In Cry Me A River, she has adapted the lyrics about a heterosexual (male/female) relationship to apply to the cross-cultural interaction of Deaf and “hearing” (non-deaf).

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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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