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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Signed Language Interpreting in Brazil
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Regarding the complexity of skills involved in sign language interpretation, whether as source or as target language, Quadros (2004, p. 27) states the following:
The act of interpretation involves highly complex processes. S/he [the interpreter] processes the given information in the source language and makes lexical, structural, semantic and pragmatic choices which have to be as close and adequate as possible to the information provided in the source language.
Sign language interpretation requires visual and spatial skills because it involves the use of hands, as well as facial and corporal expressions, which are visually perceived. Furthermore, the interpreter needs to have a well-developed auditive memory, powers of concentration, attention span, and knowledge of the topic being interpreted and to be able to retrieve received information. These skills are necessary because interpreters are committed to being successful in their interpretation in both languages involved, that is, from spoken language to sign language and vice versa. Sign language interpreters also need to be familiar with the present-day discussions on Deaf communities, understand the discursive practices within these communities, and actively participate in them.

Sign language interpreters are situated in a hybrid space between deaf and nondeaf—at the cultural and linguistic frontier, so to speak—in the act of interpretation. Thus, these professionals not only need to develop visual skills, as already pointed out, but must also be closely related to the cultural and linguistic skills of deaf people and linked to a variety of social, cultural, historical, and political factors. In this sense, sign language interpretation is also a topic of study in translation studies inasmuch as it is concerned with institutionalized resources for qualified professional development and entry into the job market.

Translation studies also aims at theorizing on translation and interpretation practice by proposing fundamental questions about the performance of these practices. Note that translation and interpretation are treated as “sister areas” since the basic concepts are common to both of these translational practices. The nature of translation studies is based on the perception that theorizing is part of the observation of practice and of the institutionalization of the profession. Aubert (1994) explains that translation involves at least two kinds of competencies: linguistic and referential. Even though his reflections are directly related to translation per se, they can be extended to interpretation since these skills are common to both practices.

A well-known concept that serves as a category to define the quality of work in translation and interpretation is fidelity. This term is related to the understanding of translators’ and interpreters’ autonomy in terms of their theoretical concepts and reality. In this sense, Bassnett (2005) argues that the translator should consider autonomy and communication, and any theory of equivalence should take both of these aspects into account. Bassnett also says that equivalence does not correspond to equality.

Arrojo (1986) also problematizes the concept of fidelity, questions the possibility of a translation to be entirely faithful to the “original text,” and then proposes a redefinition of the concept. Discussing the process of meaning making, this author shows that a word does not have one single fixed meaning that can be immediately decipherable by anyone: “there is no language which is capable of neutralizing ambiguities, double meanings, variations in interpretation, changes brought about by time or context” (p. 17).

Both Aubert (1994) and Arrojo (1986) state that translators and interpreters inevitably construct images of reality that represent what they imagine are the expectations and needs of the target public and produce a suitable text in view of that context.

Regarding an empirical approach to fidelity, Gile (1995) explains that fidelity is the most common concept used to evaluate translations and points to the problem of direct correspondence between two languages in terms of their constitutive elements. Besides, there is also the inevitable intervention of translators and interpreters as a consequence of their social, historical, and temporal context.

To conclude this brief discussion of the act of translation and interpretation, we also consider it a process of decision making (Krings, 1986; Vasconcellos & Bartolomei, 2008), which helps translators and interpreters to consciously recognize what they do when translating and interpreting and be able to expose and clearly explain what lies behind their choices. However, translators and interpreters also need to develop the skill of talking about their actions in a systematized way so as to develop their self-knowledge as professionals and accept the responsibility of identifying and providing solutions to the problems encountered in translation and interpretation.

THE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER: GENDER TRAITS

Recent debates on language and gender do not place fixed, binary boundaries between male and female but situate gender within a continuum that explores the intersection with different and at times contradictory sociocultural and discursive practices. Heberle (2000, p. 301) states the following:

Gender has received several definitions and is seen as a socially constructed category, differentiated from the biological male/female opposition. It is placed in a continuum which intersects with other social variables such as . . . age, educational background, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, occupation, social class, sexual orientation, political and religious affiliation, etc. It can be seen, thus, that the social construction of gender is not monolithic and universal.
Butler (1990), whose work on gender has become canonical, proposes gender as an analytical category but not as a fixed and stable one. She explains, “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (p. 33). In other words, our social identities, such as our gender identities, are actualized when we habitually perform these identities. And Cameron (1995, p. 17) points out, “the repeated stylizations of the body” may refer to “appearance, dress, demeanour, gesture and gait,” as well as to language use.
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