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Is Culture the Solution or the Problem?

The Interpreting Report

Just the other week, I wrote a post (here) on the importance of recognizing the problems with using the concept of culture to understand Deaf social relations. I just came across a great article about immigrant sociology that makes the same point called “Herder’s Heritage” for short. I will quote from it at length because the argument is much better than the one I made. The final paragraph is the most important one, and it corresponds to points #1–4 on my earlier post What do sign language interpreters need to accomplish? In other words, I think the framework that interpreters use to understand “Deaf culture”, and indeed the framework that has been taught to many in the Deaf community, needs massive revision. Andreas Wimmer explains why:

“In the eyes of 18th-century philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, the social world was populated by distinct peoples, analogous to the species of the natural…

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Why ASL Matters

The Interpreting Report

The intellectual history of ASL and Deaf studies is a fascinating one. It has yet to be written. But if I get to tell that story, here’s how part of that story will go.

Interpreters and hearing scholars, often working alongside Deaf collaborators, recognized that “Deaf gesturing” was much more than gesturing: it was an actual language. To legitimize calling it language, these scholars drew heavily upon the structural linguistics of their day to show that ASL could be studied and described as any other language, albeit without a written form. While Deaf advocates have always existed, this linguistic research drew upon the anthropological idea of culture to reinforce their claims that ASL belonged to a social minority and could be studied alongside a study of the everyday life of the Deaf community. A powerful idea was born, which, alongside the commodification of interpreting services and social service in general…

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How to become a sign language interpreter

The Interpreting Report

So you saw Lydia Callis interpreting for Mayor Bloomberg or you saw Marlee Matlin’s interpreter, Jack Jason, on Dancing with the Stars and you thought to yourself, “I wanna do that!” What’s next? Here’s what it takes to become an interpreter.

  1. Develop fluency in your local sign language and Deaf culture: That’s right – sign language is not universal. You will have to learn your country’s or region’s sign language. If you’re in the United States, much of Canada, and some parts of Latin America and Africa, that will some dialect of American Sign Language. If you’re in the U.K. that will be BSL, QLS in Quebec, and so on. Developing fluency will require a mix of college-level course work and community interaction.
  2. Develop explicit knowledge of your dominant language and dominant culture: Yes, you may have spoken English since birth, but that doesn’t mean you are knowledgeable about its…

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RID Response to Fake Interpreter Lacks Urgency, Misses Opportunity? (Updated and Corrected)

The Interpreting Report

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This post broadens our analysis of the fake interpreter episode by looking at responses from interpreting organizations, especially RID here in the United States.

I felt devastated and frustrated when I watched the interpreting disaster Mandela’s funeral last week. To me, it symbolized the systemic, global, unequal treatment of Deaf persons. But when I watched RID’s Dawn Whitcher’s response to the interpreter scandal, I felt a disappointment of a different kind. Sort of how I felt to watch the undefeated OSU Buckeyes lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game the other week.

Dawn is the president of RID, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, the organization that represents over 12,000 interpreters in the U.S. She is a talented and passionate interpreter, and I respect her commitment to RID. It takes courage to put yourself online with a public statement. However, the statement that RID released on…

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Interpreting for Judith Butler

The Interpreting Report

Interpreting can mean to facilitate communication between two languages, and to analyze a text to produce a useful and appropriate reading. In reality, these two activities are one and the same. Today I will rely on the second meaning of interpret to see what Judith Butler might add to the field of interpreting captured in the first meaning of the word.

Interpreting is both unteachable and teachable. It is unteachable in the sense that  all language work depends on a dialectic relationship between understanding and misunderstanding that cannot be formally outlined in advance of the communicative event. It is teachable in the sense that though normative models of language we can transform this dialectic into an apparently stable object of study that can be taught to students. In the attempt to make interpreting intelligible, however, we always run the risk of treating our methodological distinctions and actual distinctions, of treating our…

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Yosemite cuts sign language interpreters

The Interpreting Report

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In an article from Mashable called “Left Speechless”,Claire Trageser describes significant cuts to interpreter services at Yosemite National Park. In short, while the park used to have rangers who were–themselves–certified interpreters and/or fluent in sign language, the park now relies upon contract interpreters to serve the declining number of Deaf visitors.

This is too bad. Mainly because, in my view, the best way to fully serve members of the Deaf community is to create circumstances where professionals know sign language and can communicate directly, rather than relying in interpreters to fill in the language gap. In this sense, the institutional changes as Yosemite are the opposite of progress.

Do you know of any situation where a public or private entity has signing staff instead of hiring out interpreters? I’m sure it’s rare, but it must be out there.

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