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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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An emerging area of expertise is interpreting across multiple signed and spoken languages at international conferences. In Chapter 7, Supalla, Clark, Neumann Solow, and Muller de Quadros address the requirements of ensuring quality of interpreted access for Deaf and hearing academics participating in a conference. The authors describe the development, implementation, and outcomes of a protocol for conference interpreting designed to bring Deaf participants, including minority sign language participants, from the margins of the conference into full involvement. Finally, in Chapter 8, de Wit discusses challenges and skills relevant to interpreting in multilingual, multimodal European conference settings, and suggests practical strategies for furthering these, such as the acquisition of additional languages, teamwork, and mentoring into the specialist skill-set required.

Most of the chapters in this book draw strongly upon practitioner and consumer insight as a source of data. In each instance, authors describe a localized situation and explore its implications for interpreting practice in the wider field. We believe this is a valuable contribution to an emerging area in the research literature. Commenting upon methods of sociolinguistic research, Coupland (2007, p. 28) states that “Single-case analyses are more likely to allow adequate sensitivity to context and contextualization” and may allow generalization to the possibilities in a given situation rather than to “what people typically do.” Since the practices of interpreters in culturally and linguistically complex situations are as yet little-documented, this volume aims to highlight the state of current practice and perspectives via case studies of practice from various contexts, in order to stimulate directions for further research and dialogue.

Collaborative authorship of all but one of the chapters seems to reflect an intuition that alliances between culturally and academically diverse professionals, consumers, and researchers are important in constructing new knowledge about interpreting, and in re-balancing power relations. All chapters emphasize the importance of dialogue and cooperative initiatives, and reflect an orientation towards the practitioner as researcher. We would like to think that the collaborative nature of the work in this volume enacts the following advice from the National Multicultural Interpreting Project (2000):

Without true and authentic multicultural partnerships with both Deaf and Hearing interpreters from a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and cultural competencies, we will not be able to effectively meet these challenges. With the development of increased access to technology, transportation, and organizational networking, we no longer have to function as “Super Interpreters” who must understand all languages, know all cultures and be all things to all communities. With the development of multicultural partnerships, agencies, teams, and training programs, we can develop the true respect and appreciation for our colleagues in this dynamic field. (p. 4)
In many respects the fundamental challenge of interpreting in multiethnic contexts is like that in any interpreting situation: to bridge a gap of linguistic and cultural expression between hearing and Deaf people who need to communicate with each other, while managing the logistics of bimodal communication. At the same time, there are particular contextual issues for interpreters in multilingual/multiethnic situations relating to cultural assumptions about relationships and roles within the interaction, differences in power, the impact of participants’ social identities and alliances, interpreter training and competence, and negotiating teamwork. The degree of distance between the languages and thought-worlds of participants in such situations sometimes requires interpreters to span very wide gulfs or to build multiple bridges between a diverse set of participants.

This volume particularly addresses the experience of interpreters in those “wide gap” situations, in order to identify challenges, strategies and consequences, and to stimulate consideration of how this kind of work abides with more “mainstream” models of practice.


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