As for the Interpreter, she had met him when he had interpreted classes from previous semesters. She had talked with him after classes and had liked him. When asked if she thought he was а good interpreter, she replied: “І think he is; І don’t know why І think that, but І do. It’s hard for me to separate my own sense of what he does and what I’ve heard about him. І seem to remember having heard he was а good interpreter . . . that he was а hearing child of deaf parents and that was really fluent in ASL. ” These comments led to asking if she felt comfortable using interpreters in classes.
Her reply, as someone who is only slightly familiar with using interpreters, reflects anecdotal perspectives heard from participants who do not have contact with interpreters: “Yeah, but that’s not to say that І’m not comfortable in the situation. My own hearing problem does create а special problem for me. It’s that І compulsively watch people’s faces when they talk because of being hard of hearing and it’s really hard for me not to look at the interpreter because І always look at people when they talk to me. “
Although the Professor has а slight hearing problem which forces her to pay special attention to people’s faces when they talk, the desire to look at the person who is speaking English is not an uncommon one, particularly with white (or European-American) listeners. In studying the listening behaviors of whites and blacks, Erickson and Shultz (1982) found that white listeners maintain а fairly steady eye gaze at speakers. When а Deaf speaker begins to use signs, participants who can hear attune to the voice of the interpreter, usually seated to one side.
The Professor explains what many of these participants have told me: “You’re supposed to look at the deaf person and its counterintuitive–it’s really hard to do. ” It is intuitive to look at the participant who is speaking, even more so when you begin to hear а language you understand. It seems reasonable that, in the first few moments, many of these interpreted encounters undergo а kind of interactional discomfort while participants figure where to look. Conversely, participants who can hear discover another disconcerting aspect of talking with Deaf persons.
Erickson and Shultz (1982) showed that many white American speakers, who do not gaze constantly at their conversational partners, gain а sense of the way the other understands their talk by returning to gaze at the listener fairly frequently. When these speakers check to see how а Deaf person is responding, they find that person looking at the interpreter. Imagine the discomfort of discovering that the listener is looking almost continuously at an interpreter (who is signing). As the Professor admitted, “its а little bit like watching а movie with sound and the sound is off.
It makes me uncomfortable. ” The Professor also admitted to an instinctive feeling that interpreters interfere with direct communication. She explains: “Yeah, they get in between. І don’t feel like I’m communicating directly with them; І feel like there is an intermediary. І think І sense that І’m not receiving what they’re saying directly, and I’m only mildly aware that а response is late at the time it’s happening but І am aware that something’s funny . . . but I’m looking at [the Student]. It’s а strain.
” This perspective, which does not prevent this Professor from having successful interactions with Deaf people, is rarely discussed in sign language or spoken language interpreting. Perhaps because it conflicts with an interpreting belief system that attempts to persuade others that the presence of interpreters allows for direct communication, These comments are instructive and valuable in that they are from the point of view of the participant who is less familiar with using interpreters, as are many institutional representatives of the majority culture.
In spite of her interactions with interpreters in the classroom and outside of the classroom and in spite of her successful encounters with Deaf persons, she articulates а perspective that should be noted. Student The Student is а Deaf man in his late thirties who was an instructor at another university in the Washington, D. C. area. 3 At the time, he held а master’s degree in linguistics and is actively involved in linguistic research on American Sign Language (ASL). He taught ASL and its structure to undergraduate students.
He is also а poet and has performed his poems in many states. He attended the Vermont School for the Deaf, а residential school for Deaf children through high school. Residential schools, which typically generate а negative concept for the majority of Americans, have the opposite connotation for Deaf persons. Residential schools are the places where Deaf children first acquire а natural sign language, meet Deaf adults, English speaking adults who sign, and become acculturated into the deaf experience ( Erting 1982 ; Lane 1984 ).
Most Deaf adults retain strong ties with their former residential schools and identify themselves to newcomers in terms of the school they attended. The Student has previously taken а class with the Professor. When asked if he’d met before with the Professor in her office, he could not remember for certain but said that meetings with а professor, doctor, or someone professional were not а new or strange experience. Having participated in interpreted speech events frequently gives him the advantage of experience; for the Student, meetings that include interpreters are the norm.
He commented that the Professor was an interesting person that her way of running а class was interesting and different and that he felt challenged in her class, Because it was early in the semester, the Student assumed that this was the first time to meet in the Professor’s office. They had spoken using the Interpreter after а class meeting to ask а question. The Student volunteered his thoughts about people who speak English. He said that the hardest thing to understand is, “Well, their language, it seems hearing people have а strong tendency to be indirect.
It’s amazing and frustrating. For example, they say ‘it’s cold’ and І know it means shut the window, but І had to learn that. І would say I’m cold and ask someone to shut the window. Hearing people [а term used by Deaf persons for people who hear and speak] just look at people and say ‘І’m cold’ and expect YoU to go and do something! ” It’s typical in conversations with Deaf people for them to mention that people who use ASL “talk straight” and people who speak American English “talk in an unclear way.
” Deaf persons who use English in their everyday lives do so primarily through its written form or with а scrambled signed form neither of which adequately portrays the levels of indirectness found in spoken English. Much of the cross-cultural miscommunication that occurs between Deaf people and people who speak English arises from deaf people misinterpreting when they are expected to understand indirect utterances conveyed through а sign language variety or through interpretation.
It seems а matter of general experience, including my own, that for years, interpreting was to convey а surface, or literal, rendition of English and subtle levels of indirectness had to be left for the Deaf speaker to interpret. This, of course, assumes а high level of fluency in spoken English, which would mean that Deaf persons need interpreters only to put spoken words into signed words. As interpreting has professionalized and more is understood about the nature of language, indirectness becomes one of the difficult issues because the nature of indirectness lies in its ambiguity and deniability.
By virtue of his studies in linguistics, the Student is able to comment on such indirectness, but he learns about indirectness through specific occurrences in his studies or through the experience of а specific utterance. When asked about the Interpreter, the Student responded about selecting this particular person: “He knows ASL; he’s fluent; he’s used it all his life, plus he’s an experienced interpreter. He’s interpreted classroom situations many, many times before. І feel that of all the interpreters, [the Interpreter] is the best.
There are so FEW interpreters who know ASL, and he’s the best. He understands me just fine” Because Deaf persons have been subjected to varieties of signing that try to represent English, not all people who sign, including interpreters, use or are fluent in American Sign Language. These sign varieties can be difficult to understand, and graduate school is difficult enough without having to fight the problem of unintelligible language. Thus, fluency in ASL is а priority for the Student.
The Student also explained that this Interpreter had а “good attitude,” а comment often heard from Deaf people who use interpreters. When asked what he meant by а good attitude, the Student replied that а good attitude included being flexible, supportive, and understanding and having knowledge and familiarity with Deaf culture: “Many interpreters tell me that they are proficient at ASL, but are they? I’m still learning ASL myself so how can they be proficient’? It’s just like English; you keep learning English, right?
So telling me that they are proficient at ASL really turns me off. ” He continued by explaining that interpreters who have good attitudes acknowledge that they are still learning ASL, that they associate with Deaf persons, and show that they can be supportive. What then, І asked, is supportive? He responded: І feel that interpreter’s should side with Deaf people. If something goes wrong, it’s usually that hearing people don’t understand Deaf culture, Interpreters need to lean more toward Deaf people and make sure that things are working out.
Yes, І feel that interpreters need to help, well, not help but add things that inform Deaf people about the ways of hearing people. When interpreters hear something and they know that the Deaf person is probably going to have а difficult time understanding it, then they should add information that explains things so that Deaf people get it. That interpreters should side with Deaf people (а comment also heard by spoken language interpreters when working with minority speakers) is an issue outside the scope of this study.
But it is an issue that resonates with interpreters and the words of about interpreter bias. Adding, subtracting, and changing а message are all possible in an interpretation and interpreters struggle with, for example, how much addition is needed and how much is too much? Which changes take responsibility from а speaker? It is these types of questions that а discourse perspective can answer by separating issues of communication and its process from issues of personal responsibility.