Chapter One of Sign Language Interpreting continued...
The goal of neutrality is a topic that has pervaded much of the research and discussion of translation and interpreting. In part, this is the result of professionalization. It is also partly due to the "third party" status of interpreters and the resulting perception of interpreters as mediators. The desire for neutrality (i.e., equivalence ) in translation has been shown to be an underlying factor for both sides of the traditional "literal versus free" translation controversy. Furthermore, notions of neutrality seem to be linked to assumptions implicit in early research on interpreting that followed information- processing paradigms. However, the advent of sociolinguistics has provided tools that allow for more systematic investigation of interpreting within the social and cultural contexts in which it occurs. Sociolinguistic investigations of interpreted encounters have raised serious questions regarding the notion of interpreters as neutral conduits. If interpreters have the goal of remaining neutral, this research suggests a contradiction between the goal and the reality of interpreted encounters.
Over time, ASL-English interpreters have attempted to cope with this issue in different ways. Witter-Merithew (1986) describes four models of the interpreters' role that seem to have emerged as a result of the contradiction between interpreters' goals and reality: helper, conduit, communication facilitator, and bilingual, bicultural specialist. The helper model refers to a time when there was no professional organization for interpreters, and most people doing the interpreting were hearing friends and relatives of Deaf people who had some fluency in both languages. The conduit model projects the interpreter as machinelike and came about during early stages of professionalization. As interpreters attempted to fulfill this machine model, problems arose with regard to responsibility for the quality of interpretations and negative consumer perceptions of interpreters. These problems led to the emergence of the communication facilitator model. According to Roy (1989a, 1993), despite minor changes in terms of language attitudes (for example, increasing respect for ASL) and expectations of interpreters' linguistic expertise, the communication facilitator model is very similar to the conduit model. In keeping with the historical progression discussed earlier, the most recent model, the interpreter as bilingual, bicultural specialist, considers situational and cultural factors as relevant to the interpreting task.
While this question clearly has ramifications regarding an interpreter's relative partiality in an interpreted encounter, it is important to remember that the aforementioned stories are merely anecdotal illustrations of the fact that interpreters contribute in a variety of ways to interactive discourse. As Gile (1990) points out, after many years of theorizing about interpretation on the basis of informal observation, it is necessary to pursue empirical studies of interpretation in order to engage in "a serious discussion of basic issues" (38).
For thousands of years, controversy has centered around the ways in which translators and interpreters can render source messages into target messages in as neutral a manner as possible. Some have argued that literal translations are truer to the original, while others suggest that free translations provide more appropriate renditions. However, until relatively recently, few have examined the utterances of interpreters in order to examine interpreters' contributions to the discourse of interpreted