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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Translation, Sociolinguistic, and Consumer Issues in Interpreting
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Interpreting: A Triadic Interaction

Interpreting involves a default of two language participants who wish to interact but do not share a common language, along with an interpreter, whose role it is to facilitate the interaction between these parties. In the classroom setting that our discussion focuses on, the main participants are the professor (a hearing man in his 50s); the Deaf students (both in the 30–45 age group; one male and one female), and the two female interpreters (both in their 30s). The hearing students attending the class are also participants, and we could say much about how the interpreters’ presence affects their time in class. However, in this chapter we focus on the interpreters, the Deaf students, and the professor. While we are particularly concerned with the issues that arise in a linguistics classroom, many of the topics we raise apply equally to other domains, whether in tertiary education or indeed outside the educational sphere. For example, we believe that interpreting at the tertiary education level and conference interpreting have much in common. Several contextual factors that are relevant to the classroom subject matter can influence interpretation, including the following:

  • Both interpreters know the Deaf students and work with them as teaching colleagues in another setting.
  • One of the interpreters has known the professor for more than a decade and works closely with him in an academic setting.
  • The interpreters have known each other for a decade and have worked closely in a wide range of settings.
As a result, some of the relationships between the participants in this setting extend beyond the actual assignment itself. In an Irish context, it is not unusual for interpreters and Deaf interpreters to know each other, often very well. The Irish Deaf community is very small: Matthews (1996) reports that there are approximately five thousand Deaf Irish Sign Language users in the Republic of Ireland. However, the country has very few interpreters—at present around fifty, but at the time of interpreting this course (2003), only about twenty-four interpreters were available. Given this, we can say that, especially in educational settings, where the same interpreter is working with the same Deaf students over an academic year, relationships evolve. This is reflected to some extent in the informal interaction that takes place between participants. As we will see, this in no way suggests that the interpreters become decision makers in interactions in which they should be impartial. Instead, we maintain that interpreters do make decisions about how to frame their target language (TL) output and, as the literature notes, about their responses to other participants in the interaction, the potential consequences of such decisions for the TL, the participants, the dynamics of the situation, their own professional standing, and that of their profession (for example, see Leeson, 2005a, 2005b). These factors interact with the fact that Irish Sign Language (ISL) is an evolving language that has been used in academic classrooms for fewer than twenty years. The consequences of this include lexical gaps for register-specific terminology, which is challenging for interpreters and students alike.

Course Aims and Objectives

When preparing for an interpreting assignment, interpreters draw on the context that they will be working in to frame their preliminary judgments regarding their task. In this classroom situation, the professor is a native English speaker, and the two Deaf students use ISL. The course is an introduction to semantics and pragmatics that is given in the first semester of a master’s degree program. The course focuses primarily on the semantics of English, and an English language textbook is used. The terminology that refers to semantic and pragmatic concepts is discussed and debated in class. Students are referred to particular textbook chapters that expand on the ideas discussed in class, and they are expected to read the relevant chapters and complete certain assignments before the following week’s class. Thus there is a bridging of expectation between the textbook and the lectures.

For interpreters, this raises the issue of dealing with concepts in interpretation versus transliteration. That is, even if an item can be interpreted into ISL, should the interpreter use the ISL sign, fingerspell the item, use a calque sign (a literal transfer of the morphemes of the source language item), or use a nonce sign (that is, a sign that will be used only for the duration of the interpretation)? For example, the term “logic” can be used in its generic sense in English, but the term is also used as a specialist term in formal semantics. Semanticists differentiate between different kinds of logic, including “propositional logic,” in which the truth effects of connectives are studied in formal semantics. This follows from the fact that semanticists call a sentence’s truth or falsehood a “truth value” (Saeed, 2003, pp. 89–90). Other logic-related issues discussed by semanticists include modal logic, logical operators, and predicate logic (see ibid., chapter 10, for an overview). Irish Sign Language, however, has a sign that we can gloss as logic, which is typically used in a generic way to mean “logical” or


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