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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Interpreting in Multilingual, Multicultural Contexts
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In Chapter 2, Quinto-Pozos, Casanova de Canales, and Treviño describe an innovative trilingual (ASL, English, Spanish) Video Relay Service (VRS). Their chapter reviews the history of the trilingual VRS, discusses some of the linguistic challenges presented by the consumer cultures and the medium, analyzes evaluation data from practitioners and stakeholders in the service, and considers implications of this data.

Although the need to provide proficient interpreters qualified to work between ASL, English, and Spanish is well established, only recently has a formal trilingual interpreter certification process been successfully developed. In Chapter 3, González, Gatto, and Bichsel review the development and testing of a recently implemented trilingual (ASL, English, Spanish) interpreter certification process; they explain the processes of ensuring standardization, fairness, and psychometric validity of the test in measuring appropriateness and accuracy with respect to linguistic and cultural elements of candidates’ interpretation.


Acknowledging cultural diversity in Deaf communities highlights that the voice of some minorities is marginalized within the Deaf world and doubly so in hearing society (Anderson & Bowe, 1972; Dively, 2001; James & Woll, 2004; Padden & Humphries, 2005; Smiler, 2004). As witnesses to the inequities arising from differences in hearing status, class, ethnicity, and language, interpreters are often intrinsically concerned with empowering the voice of these Deaf consumers. In practice, interpreters sometimes agonize about how to respond ethically to underlying issues of social disadvantage in situations (particularly crises) involving minority group consumers who are culturally marginal in any community; they may struggle to reconcile their responses to these challenges with the textbook interpreter role. In a slightly different vein, interpreters of minority identity may choose to align themselves with the goals of indigenous and ethnic minority Deaf people to access their hearing community’s sphere of cultural and political activities. The goal of interpreted transactions for Deaf participants in such contexts may be principally negotiating ethnic identity and solidarity, and gaining access to heritage cultural capital. Accordingly, the interpreter’s ability to codeswitch between three languages or varieties is critical to enabling Deaf participants “to opt for a language that would symbolize the rights and obligations they wish to enforce in the exchange in question and index the appropriate identities” (Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004, p. 8).

We agree with Dean and Pollard’s (2005) assertion that “revealing situated practice” is a vital source of evidence for refining models of professional practice that are based in particular, and diverse, realities rather than universal idealisations. In situated practice, how does an interpreter’s personal alignment with cultural norms and power relations shape their ethical framework and their manner of working? How do the cultural positions and agendas of ethnic minority Deaf and hearing people shape their expectations of an interpreter in situations of contact? These issues have been somewhat explored in relation to African American Deaf and interpreters in the United States (e.g., Jones, 1986; Mathers & White, 1986) but remain relatively under-researched.

The need to stimulate and disseminate further practice-based evidence prompted our invitation for contributions on the theme of interpreting in indigenous and minority language community contexts. This second group of chapters focuses on interpreters working with people of indigenous origin, addressing issues of role and responsibilities, the challenges of bridging wide gaps in cultural competencies and discourse norms, and the use of indigenous sign varieties. In Chapter 4, McKee and Awheto examine the way in which a trilingual Māori interpreter in New Zealand negotiates a role in response to the divergent schemas of participants, her own cultural alignment, and the sociocultural conditions framing the event. This chapter highlights that the role and ethics considered normative for a professional interpreter are not culturally neutral, and that contextualized practice in culturally diverse situations may be differently motivated and manifested.

Davis and McKay-Cody, Chapter 5, report on ethnographic fieldwork and observations from over two decades of collaborating, interpreting, and participating in multicultural and multilingual North American Indian communities. They describe the traditional and contemporary varieties of sign language used among North American Indian communities, and suggest strategies, best practices, and links to resources for interpreters working with Deaf people in these communities.

Indigenous Deaf people in legal settings can be doubly disadvantaged by their distance from the cultural parameters of “the system”; this is a context in which facilitating understanding about cultural-linguistic background is critical to the process of interpreting and achieving fair outcomes. In Chapter 6, Fayd’herbe and Teuma bring their professional experience in interpreting and forensic psychology to a discussion of issues in affording due process to Indigenous Deaf people of Far North Queensland, Australia. They discuss cultural differences and language competencies of these clients, outline practical interpreter strategies for working in a forensic team, and illustrate the risks of denial of due process by reference to relevant cases.


International exchange between members of different sign language communities has increased rapidly due to factors including improved Deaf access to higher education (leading to professionalization and international academic exchange), greater mobility, and the formalization of global Deaf advocacy activities. Increasing trans-national exchange between Deaf people over the last 20 years has presented sign language interpreters with challenges akin to those of spoken language interpreters who have traditionally worked in elite, multilingual domains such as conferences, business, and politics. Furthermore, borderless technologies such as video relay and remote interpreting services have changed the boundaries of when, where, and how Deaf and hearing parties can use their respective languages to interact via interpreters.

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