Thursday, September 22, 2011

A very complex interpreting situation

In a post on June 11 with the title The Other Visual Language Interpreters, I described a very complex situation that arose when sign language interpreters and voice interpreters were both in action at the same meeting. Here’s the description of another such event which was perhaps even more complex. It comes from a book by Andrew Owen (see References). Andrew is a Communication Support Worker, supporting Deaf students in secondary schools, colleges and Universities in London UK. He’s is the founder and Vice Chair of the Association of Communication Support Workers. He believes in practical solutions to fit situations irrespective of professional dogmas – or mantras as he calls them.
“An interesting event happened at a church meeting for deaf people in England. A group of Japanese Deaf people was visiting (Japanese sign language is completely different to British Sign Language). A Deaf Japanese pastor was asked to address the meeting. His son was there, a Japanese sign language interpreter, who knew little spoken English. There was another pastor in their party, a hearing man who knew both spoken English and Japanese. The interaction was as follows: when the Japanese Deaf pastor signed, the Japanese interpreter voiced into spoken Japanese; the hearing pastor then interpreted into spoken English; a British interpreter then signed into BSL for the British Deaf people. The story doesn’t end there, because unfortunately some hearing people at the back of the meeting could not hear the spoken English interpretation, so a lady sitting with them who knew BSL voiced over (chuchotage) from the BSL interpretation for their benefit. Also at the meeting was a Deaf man from Ghana. He didn’t understand BSL, so a member of the church (a Deaf man) interpreted from BSL into ASL, the sign language of Ghana. Interestingly, a hearing man in the meeting was taking notes so he was asked for a copy of his notes for clarification. He replied it would be of no benefit, because he had written the notes in his native language, Romanian.”
There’s an important difference between the setup that I witnessed and the one Andrew describes. In my case, all the interpreters were Professional Experts. Whereas at the Japanese-English event there seems to have been a mixture. The Japanese sign language interpreter was no doubt an Expert, and likewise the English to BSL interpreter. The hearing pastor who interpreted from spoken Japanese to spoken English, and the lady at the back of the meeting who shadowed the English interpretation from the BSL interpretation, were probably not. The BSL to Ghanaian ASL was probably not an Expert either. Work it out! The non-Experts were probably Advanced Native Interpreters who happened to be members of the church. I’ll come back some other time to the Romanian.

Chuchotage. A borrowing from French. Used by Expert Interpreters to mean whispering, which is also used as a synonym for it. The interpreter sits or stands next to or right behind the listener or listeners and ’whispers’ the interpretation to them. The interpreting mode may be simultaneous or short consecutive. In practice the ‘whispering’ may be true whispering or may mean speaking sotto voce.
Pros: It needs no equipment and is a natural process, though it requires experience or training to do it well. Unfortunately it’s largely ignored in interpretation courses in spite of its usefulness.
Cons: (a) It must be done quietly enough not to disturb the other people present who don’t want it, and (b) This limits its audience to a maximum of about four persons and an optimum of one.

Andrew Owen. Not Hearers Only: A Practical Ministry for Deaf People in the Local Church. London UK and Oberlin OH: Wakeman, 2007. 135 pages, paperback. UK £9.95.


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