What to Do-Do?
Thursday, March 12th, 2020
In an interpreting assignment, there is always a possibility of not knowing who you will be interpreting for or the individual’s language preference. Therefore, it is vital to communicate with the deaf client to know his/her signing style and how to handle it throughout the interpretation. In some scenarios, there will not be time to pre-conference or formally meet the deaf client. Regardless of the situation, it is important to embody “Semper Gumby” and be accommodating.
I know you may be familiar with team interpreting, but just in case you are not, here is a bit of background! In a team, there is an active interpreter and a support interpreter. In the active role, the interpreter is interpreting the message and culturally mediating. The support interpreter is not actively interpreting, but is instead monitoring the source and target language for message skewing or missing information and providing support to the active interpreter when needed or requested. Typically, when working with an interpreter who you do not work with on a consistent basis, you would need to have a conversation about how the interpretation will be managed before starting the assignment. For example, the team will discuss approximately how long each will interpret (usually 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off), interpreting strengths, weaknesses, and general assignment concerns.
In American Sign Language there is a continuum that describes the variants of signed language ranging from more English structure/signs to pure ASL. Along this continuum from ASL- English:
(ASL-CASE-Pidgin Signed English/PSE (PSE)-Manually Coded English (MCE)- English)
American Sign Language is the only natural language through this continuum. Manually Coded English is not a language, but is a code system with the intent for teaching English to children who are deaf. I have attached a photo to provide clarity to this concept.
Within the past couple of weeks, I have had two observation experiences where I noticed the deaf clients had different needs and language preferences. In these cases, one deaf client preferred to speak for himself/herself and preferred signed English/PSE, whereas the other person preferred ASL. How is an interpreting team supposed to handle that situation not to mention other demands in the setting? I’ve observed this predicament twice during my internship:
I observed an educational assignment where the two deaf clients had different needs from each other. One deaf client needed to receive information receptively in ASL and the other in signed English/PSE. I observed how this situation was handled by the lead interpreters. In this scenario, the lead interpreters know one another and have worked together frequently. Because of this, the interpreters did not need to pre-conference. But the question remains, how do the interpreters match both the ASL and signed English/PSE needs of both deaf clients?
At the beginning of a conference assignment, the interpreters I observed were told that there was only one deaf client and, therefore, they mentally prepared for such. Upon arrival, there were a total of three deaf clients, and each had different linguistic needs. I also observed most of the people in this meeting were bi-lingual and used ASL. To provide a visual, the meeting was held at an oval conference table where everyone faced each other. There was a large screen at the front of the room with a power point projected on it.
Before the assignment began, the interpreters asked the deaf clients where they would like the interpreters to stand in order to maximize the deaf client’s involvement in the meeting. Luckily, the deaf clients were sitting next to each other, so the interpreters stood on the opposite side of the table behind other members. I noticed this placement was challenging. For example, if a person started to sign facing away from the interpreters, the interpreter would need to bend in an awkward position so he/she could interpret what each person was saying.
Now you are familiar with the two scenarios, I am going to circle back to the language aspect of the assignment. The demands for the two assignments described are different from others I have encountered because typically an assignment has one deaf client and the interpreter can adjust to that deaf client’s language preference and match his/her preferred signs. When there are two or more deaf clients with very different language preferences, the interpreters may choose to interpret using language from the center of the continuum in an effort to render an interpretation that is understood by all. Some concepts were clearer in ASL than signed English/PSE so when the interpreters found it fit, they moved through the continuum.
“The goal for signed language interpreters must be the development of control over their interpreting process, so that the product, or target message, will be an appropriate match for the Deaf consumer. No matter what her political beliefs and alignment to the ASL-using Deaf community may be, the interpreter needs to respect the language choices of every Deaf individual for whom she interprets, and it is clear that there are Deaf people who prefer or require a contact variety of signed language.” (Jazen, 123)
Observing these experiences made me realize how vital it is to understand the ASL linguistic continuum and use that as a guide while interpreting. In my ITP, we are instructed that these situations will arise, but experiencing it for myself made it very real. From my personal experience I find it easier to provide my thoughts in ASL than interpret in ASL. As you know, there is a huge difference between interpreting a language and knowing a language. When I am interpreting, I have noticed I fall more along the lines of signed English/PSE because I am processing the audible English words in my head. I am working to be able to move through the ASL continuum and have the tools to be able to navigate assignments, like I described above, and do so in a way like the interpreters I observed. To relate back to the statement I made earlier about not knowing the linguistic preferences of the deaf client until arriving at an assignment, I realize it is invaluable to own the complexity of the range of American Sign Language. Having the knowledge of how to navigate along the continuum effortlessly makes for a highly skilled interpreter. That is my goal.