It is tempting to write 2016 off and move immediately into the new year, but that would mean overlooking some of the profound and fundamental lessons shared by StreetLeverage contributors last year.
While public speaking is one of the most fearful things humans can do, expressing one’s thoughts and perspectives via social media in two languages is probably a close second. Still, StreetLeverage contributors continue to inspire and amaze, bringing new insights and conversations to the table on a regular basis. If we were to measure the year in the depth and breadth of perspectives shared, 2016 would definitely be setting us up for success in 2017. So, before we bid 2016 adieu, we wanted to highlight a few examples of the generosity and courageousness shown by sign language interpreters and industry stakeholders in the last 12 months.
For Auld Lang Syne
Before we dive into our retrospective, we’d like to express our deepest gratitude to everyone who contributed, in large and small ways, to the StreetLeverage endeavor. Without the writers, readers, volunteers, thought-leaders, videographers, editors, and friends who volunteer their time and efforts to support us, StreetLeverage could not begin to amplify the voice of sign language interpreters or attempt to change the way we understand, practice, and tell the story of the sign language interpreter. For all your work, we say: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
2016’s Nine Building Blocks for Success
1. Bring Social Consciousness to the Fore
As practitioners in the field of communication access, social consciousness is a critical aspect of the work of all signed language interpreters. Joseph Hill’s presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Practicing with a Socially Conscious Approach, at StreetLeverage – Live 2015 provides an avenue for us to start looking at identity and interpreting through a social justice lens. As we continue to delve into the skewed relationship between interpreter demographics and consumer realities, we look to thought leaders to help us find greater understanding and paths to improvement.
2. Reach Out to Deaf Interpreters
Another evolution in the field of interpreting that continued to manifest itself in 2016 was the reintroduction and strengthening of the presence of Deaf Interpreters in the field. While this evolution is happening, progress is slow and sometimes arduous as Jeremy Rogers explains in his article, Where’s the Welcome Mat? Opening the Door to Deaf Interpreters.
3. Look at Insider Discourse Under a Microscope
Semantics matter. As sign language interpreters, language is our currency. Despite this fact, we don’t always consider the impact language has on perspectives when it comes to the words we use to describe our work. Kelly Decker’s article, What Are We Really Saying? Perceptions of Sign Language Interpreting, showcases some current examples of language we use in our insider discourse that may impact perceptions about the work we do and those with whom we work. With lively conversation, this article lit up our comments board, and we hope it continues to do so.
4. Inject Humor and Humility into Our Practice
As one of the field’s most beloved teachers and mentors, Sharon Neumann Solow inserts equal parts humor, humility, and straight-forward talk into the conversation in her StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation, Genuine Confidence: Why Can’t It Be All About Me?. By sharing personal stories, Sharon’s presentation provides context for looking at confidence versus spotlight-stealing and illustrates why the differences matter.
5. Support Ethics with Pre-Assignment Considerations
Job readiness is a topic that comes up in most conversations about sign language interpreting at some point, whether one-on-one or at a conference. Michael Ballard provides a consumer’s perspective on the kind of preparation sign language interpreters could do to help determine their level of preparedness for an assignment in his article, Accept or Decline? Questions Sign Language Interpreters Should Ponder.
6. Join the Civility Revolution
With bullying and trolling in the news constantly, it was refreshing to have a conversation about civil discourse. Providing tools and suggestions for action, Diana MacDougall invited sign language interpreters to join a kinder, gentler conversation and revolution in her article, A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters.
7. Explore the Realities of the Modern World
In a year where violence of all kinds dominated headlines and conversations around the country and the world, Stephen Holter’s article, Keeping Sign Language Interpreters Safe in a Violent World, struck a chord with readers who also shared some of their own experiences and strategies for staying safe. While we hope no interpreter ever needs to utilize these tips and tools, it’s an important conversation to engage in.
8. Uncover the Intangible
In his deeply personal and profound StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation, Status Transaction: The “It” Factor in Sign Language Interpreting, Wing Butler shared his thoughts on the “It Factor” for sign language interpreters. In his exploration of the intangible qualities that raise community esteem for one sign language interpreter over another, Wing also gives us a formula for success. Skills are important, but there are other factors that create the elusive “It” interpreter.
9. Examine Personal Cultural Competence
Our final selection is a compilation of exemplary work from some of the brilliant minds in our field. Our 2016 workbook, Ignite, is a collection of posts designed to lead sign language interpreters and sign language interpreting students through a process of self-discovery regarding cultural competence. This free-to-download offering is an opportunity to look at a specific topic through a variety of lenses in order to gain a more well-rounded perspective. We hope this inaugural edition will be the first of many such workbooks.
Please Continue to Join Us in 2017 and Beyond
We hope this look back on 2016 will provide you with some valuable takeaways that can be foundations for a successful year ahead. Again, thank you for your support, sharing, comments, viewings, and readership. We hope you will continue to join us here on the blog and register to come meet us in St. Paul, MN for StreetLeverage – Live 2017. Please join us in raising our glasses in a toast to a bright new year. Welcome to 2017!
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Robert Lee presented Interpret + Person: Presentation of Self and Sign Language Interpreters at StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin. His talk explored how the identities of sign language interpreters as individuals cannot be removed from the communicative interactions of their work or the relations they have with the people with whom they work.
You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here.
[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Robert’s talk from StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Robert’s talk directly.]
Interpret + Person: Presentation of Self and Sign Language Interpreters
Hello, everyone. I’m going to start with a story.
I started learning to sign, and I do mean sign – it was not American Sign Language (ASL) – when I was about fifteen or sixteen. My father and I were going to take an adult education class together. When we saw a listing for “sign language” in the course catalogue, we thought it sounded good and signed up. We went to the class, but my father gave up after the first week. I persevered. The instructor for this class was hearing. I remember, on the first night of class, the person told us they would be teaching us to “sign” not that other thing that Deaf people did. Not knowing any better at the time, I continued in the class and learned to “sign”. Later on, I read about ASL. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more. ASL classes weren’t available in the Deaf Education programs at the time, and there were no Deaf Studies programs then. That left the Interpreter Training Program, so I entered the ITP with Eileen Forestal, fortunately for me.
Before entering the Interpreter Training Program though, I could “sign”. When I was working at a department store, I remember a situation that came up. One day, in the appliance department next to mine, a Deaf couple came in, signing with the hearing salesperson who was struggling to communicate. I approached them, signing in an attempt to work with them. They were an older married couple and both seemed very nice. They were trying to purchase a microwave that day. I worked with them as they decided on their purchase and everything worked out pretty well. When they were checking out, the clerk asked if they were interested in having a credit card. They were, so the wife proceeded to fill out the application and signed it. The clerk then indicated that the husband would need to sign the form, as well. When the gentleman signed the form, he merely wrote an “X” on the paper. I was struck by that moment – not in judgment. I was intrigued and perplexed by the situation. Anyway, later on, I went into the Interpreter Training Program and ended up at the Deaf Club. This was my first time there, so I was nervously sitting there when someone tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned, I was surprised to see the man from the department store. He remembered our encounter with enthusiasm and gave me his stamp of approval with a “two-thumbs-up” endorsement. That acceptance was a milestone for me. Where I had previously been a hearing person named #Robert #Lee (first and last name fingerspelled), I became “ROBERT LEE” (Speaker indicates name sign of the combined fingerspelled letters ‘R’ and ‘L’ shaken in neutral space on the right hand). In that moment, I became INTERPRETER, even though I hadn’t completed my training yet. He recognized “who I was” in that moment. It was the beginning of my personal journey.
“I am large. I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman
Angela Roth said it’s poetry day today, so in keeping with that theme, a quote from a poem, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Speaker indicates waistline when signing “I am large,” laughs and continues.) We each have many identities within us and various identities come to the forefront at different times. We’ll discuss that more later today.
Imagine an Interpreted Interaction
We can all imagine what an interpreted interaction looks like, am I right? In a given situation, we have the interpreter, and minimally, we have a Deaf person and a hearing person. The interpreter is in the middle between the other two participants, so to speak. Let’s talk about “who we are” as the interpreter standing at the center of this interaction and what we represent to the other participants in the interpreted event. Both parties have their own perspective.
Layers of Identity
The multitudes of identity referenced earlier are layers of identity. We are going to focus on three primary layers in this instance. The first layer, and the last one we learn as interpreters, is the professional layer. It is the one we learn in school as we become interpreters. In her plenary presentation, Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilinguals?, MJ Bienvenu talked about how interpreters use the mantra, “Code of Ethics, Code of Ethics, Code of Ethics,” as they take on a mechanized interpreter persona. She talks about how interpreters wear their professional identity as a shield rather than interacting and collaborating with others. As interpreters, we do have cultural and linguistic identities but they are subjugated by our professional identity. Essentially, we have discarded our human selves in favor of this mechanical “professional” interpreter identity. We keep ourselves separated by merely interpreting the words that are said and do not allow our other identities to surface. That behavior is odd. It’s odd and it is destructive. As interpreters, we stand between two people who do not share a language and therefore, cannot easily interact on their own. By removing our selves and trying to maintain that mechanical “professional” persona exclusively, by not utilizing the cultural and linguistic identities we have to communicate between the Deaf and Hearing parties more naturally, we end up creating more problems.
Interpreter – Interpret (verb) + Person (noun)
Angela Roth mentioned that it’s interesting what we learn by using a language. So, we have the ASL sign that represents “interpreter” – INTERPRET + PERSON. In English, the same concept is represented by the word “interpreter”, a single word utterance. Now, I’ve been pondering this idea. The ASL representation for “interpreter” consists of two parts: INTERPRET – an action, what we do, and PERSON – a noun, who does the action.
If we return to our interpreted interaction with a Deaf and Hearing person and our interpreter in the middle, what are those individuals seeing when they interact with the interpreter? Do they see the same identity? Do they see the identity the interpreter thinks they are portraying? The hearing party likely sees “hearing professional” but the interpreter may not have fully explored who they think they are. Ultimately, we have to question the likelihood that participants in interpreted events see interpreters the way they see themselves.
Identity: Experience vs. Perception
As an individual, I experience my own identity while others perceive it. Sometimes, the experience and the perception are the same, and other times, they are not. A famous British sociologist, Richard Jenkins, studied social identity. He said that we can’t create our identity on our own. Rather, we build identity through our relationships with other people. We cannot create identity for ourselves in isolation. We build our identities through interactions, our experiences and other people’s perceptions.
Tom Humphries and Carol Padden both talked about the physical body of the sign language interpreter. We use our bodies to interpret. American Sign Language, British Sign Language – other signed languages – are visual in nature. If you are using a written language, a person can record a translation in writing and pass that translation along, completely separate from the physical body of the translator. With signed languages, our “self” must always be present, whether we are interpreting on-site in 3D space or on video, interpreting to and from a flat screen, our body, our physical self, is always present. There is no way to remove ourselves from those interactions.
Presentation of Self: I Can Not Interpret Without My “Self”
As an interpreter, the only tool I have is me – my physical body, my facial expressions, my hands, my arms. I can’t become another person. I can use my body to express meaning for both parties in an interpreted event, but my physical self is always present. That’s important to remember. As a profession (and I confess, I’m guilty, as well), I think we have missed the mark in our attempts to ensure that we don’t influence the situations where we interpret. By virtue of taking on that “professional” persona, we are negatively impacting the interaction. This is a problem.
As interpreters, we don’t want to influence situations and we want to ensure that we are conveying meaning between the participants. At the same time, who we are – our selves – part of us, is still present. For example, I’m here presenting right now. Imagine if someone else came to present on this exact topic. Can you picture them? You are probably still seeing me as the presenter. Unfortunately, I’ve influenced you. You see me presenting this topic and it would be a challenge if someone came in and took over in the middle of the presentation. It would be quite jarring if someone came along and we tag-teamed the presentation. That would seem strange and yet, we use this technique all the time in interpreted interactions. We regularly switch interpreters midstream and believe, somehow, the meaning will still be conveyed. We tell ourselves that the Deaf people will adapt. Will they? It’s something to consider. I think we need to start being more aware of our selves as ourselves.
If we go back to the interaction we imagined, we have our interpreter and we have the perceptions the Deaf and hearing consumers have about the interpreter. What do they see? The problem is that they see what we choose to show them, whether on purpose or by accident.
I want to talk a little bit about some research done on racism. Often, we see a person’s actions and we interpret the meaning of their actions. In her talk, Self-Awareness: How Sign Language Interpreters Acknowledge Privilege and Influence, Stacey Storme talked about how we see an “angry Deaf person” and we wonder what they are so angry about. It’s interesting when you look at it. I think this next slide will help us understand our reaction.
Observer vs. Actor Perspective
We have an actor – a person. The person carries all kinds of context with them, consisting of their experiences, background, etc. In any given interaction, we see a tiny portion of that context. We only have access to small parts of an individual’s context. The rest of it is inaccessible to us. If we think about Stacey’s example yesterday with the “angry Deaf person” or MJ’s example that people only see black instead of seeing a whole person – we only see a miniscule part of any given person’s context. As interpreters, our job is to provide that context, to convey it to the participants in interpreted events.
Let’s look at the next slide.
Observer vs. Actor Perspective – Interpreted Interaction
The issue is that we have the interpreter, a person, standing in the middle of a situation with two other people who don’t share a language. The Deaf consumer may see one part of the interpreter’s context while the hearing consumer may see something different. No one can see all of another person’s context. Our job as interpreters is to reveal context, but the problem is that we are always in the middle of the situation. It is difficult to separate how we use language, how we talk about the work and how we discuss our work with others. What kinds of language do we use when working with the Deaf consumer versus the hearing consumer? How can we convey more of the context that is implicit in the communication so that we can make more of each person’s context more explicit? Unfortunately, we haven’t had these conversations much yet. We need some way to provide consumers the opportunity to see through the interpreter’s presence to the reality of the other participants in the situation.
We Are Lenses, but Lenses Can Be Tinted
The context we bring to any situation can be considered a “tint”. For example, I’m a man. I’m white. I’m hearing and I’m an American. I started thinking about this particular topic when I moved to England six years ago. After I moved, I started to meet Deaf people there, started to learn British Sign Language, and started interacting with the language skills that I had. Interestingly, the British Deaf people I’ve met refer to me as “Interpreter.” I don’t interpret in England. I teach interpreting, but I don’t work as a sign language interpreter there – I never have. Still, their perception of me is “interpreter.” That’s how I fit into their community, their schema, their lens. I don’t fit any of their typical categories – my parents are hearing – I’m not a CODA, I’m not Deaf. The category that seems to fit best for that community is “interpreter” – that’s the label I’ve been assigned. I don’t have any issue with that – it’s fine with me. That label is how I fit into their world – it provides context about me. Those people have an idea of what “interpreter” means to them. This is similar to the story I told earlier about the older gentleman at the Deaf Club. Once I had his seal of approval, it served to say to others in the community, “He can be with us.” I was accepted and given a role.
It has been interesting to see that even though I don’t interpret in England, “interpreter” is my assigned role. That’s how the Deaf Community perceives me. Even after numerous attempts to explain that I’m a teacher, the community maintains their perception. I accept the label – I don’t mind being referred to in that way. It’s important to realize that this is a social identity – that identity was created through interactions and relationships I have had. It would be inappropriate for me to declare my own identity as “teacher” when that is not my social identity. My paychecks may say I’m a teacher, but the community’s view is that I’m an interpreter. That’s fine. It’s important for us, regardless of our contexts – interpreter, co-worker, Deaf Community member, etc., to consider the fact that other people’s perceptions and our own may not always match. What we think we are presenting as our identity, our context, may not be what others perceive. How we partner, how we express that is critical. This issue is very important for us. So, what should we be thinking about in terms of how we present ourselves?
Presentation of Self: Identities, Privilege(s) and Language(s)
Some of our identities are obvious. Things like race, gender, general age range, can be seen while others may be less obvious or visible. In England, I can “pass” as a British person until I speak. Once I do, it is easy for people to identify that I am not British. I’m not working towards picking up a fake British accent – at all. Some of my vocabulary has changed since moving to England, but still, when I speak, people can easily and swiftly recognize that I am not British.
I had an interesting experience with this. One night, I went to a pub with a British friend of mine who was hearing. After I ordered a drink, I noticed a man staring at me pretty intently. I acknowledged him and he finally asked if I was Canadian. I corrected him, letting him know that I was an American. He responded to the news by calling out to others that I was American. I was a little taken aback, but asked him about his response. Obviously, my accent is different, but I didn’t know why he had assumed I was Canadian. He explained that he knew I wasn’t British due to my accent, but after observing me in the pub, he realized that I seemed to know the cultural norms of the pub and how to behave appropriately.
To briefly explain, pub behavior in the U.K. is different than in the United States. For example, in the U.S., once patrons have paid for their drinks at the bar, they tend to leave their change there as their tab. In Britain, patrons put their change away after receiving it – they never leave the change on the table the way Americans do. That’s one example of a social rule. Another rule is related to tipping. In England, if a patron likes the service they receive, they may offer the server money to buy a drink for themselves instead of a tip as we know it in the United States.
I’ve learned some of these pub rules and follow them. So, while it was clear that I was a foreigner based on my accent, the man also noted my adherence to pub social rules, so he started ruling out options until he was left with Canadian or American. From there, he made an assumption based on what he had experienced with other Americans. He noted that Americans tend to be loud and exhibit brash behavior and struggle with British currency. When I did not behave that way, he guessed that I was Canadian. I wasn’t sure if I was being complimented, but I thanked him for discussing his perceptions with me.
In this instance, I was obviously an “other” – not “THE other”, but it did take some time for him to determine which “other” I was. My own experience is that I’m an American, but his perception of me was different based on my behavior and his experience. Again, in MJ’s talk, she discussed the way interpreters behave while interpreting versus when they are interacting and how they move between the two. We must recognize that our behavior is how we present ourselves to others.
So, we have our identity and we also have our privilege(s). Stacey talked about privilege in her sessions. My privileges – I’m white, male, I work at a University – I carry multiple privileges. There are other parts of my identity which are not privileged – being gay – sometimes that is not privileged. So, we each carry a balance of privileges and areas where we are not privileged. Ultimately, I choose how I present myself and to whom.
In terms of languages, MJ talked about bi-lingualism and Angela talked about multi-lingualism. I know ASL and English and also I use British Sign Language (BSL) on a daily basis, so that is my third language and a part of how I present myself.
Carol Padden talked about the concept of accent in her talk, Do Sign Language Interpreter Accents Compromise Comprehension? When I sign BSL, most BSL users can immediately note that I am not a native BSL user. They see something about my accent that identifies me as a foreign user of the language. It’s fascinating. So, language is important – how and when we choose to use our language(s) is important. Here at StreetLeverage – Live 2014 in Austin, everyone is using ASL. If we decided not to use ASL here, what would that mean? If I know the language of a country and I refuse to use the language while I’m there, what does that imply? In that instance, that particular identity is not at the forefront. It is, in effect, removed from view. Purposely withholding parts of our identity from other people is a powerful statement. As interpreters, standing in the middle of interpreted interactions, we have to proceed with caution and care. We are in a powerful position.
Recall – INTERPRET (verb) PERSON (noun)
If you remember, we started with the sign for “interpreter” – INTERPRET + PERSON. Again, by using the language, using the ASL sign for “interpreter”, we can come to many understandings about the work, the person behind the work, etc. Maybe we have this concept wrong. Maybe we should consider something else.
Maybe Instead: PERSON (noun) INTERPRET (verb)
We could change the order from INTERPRET+PERSON to PERSON+INTERPRET. We need to explore who we are, our baggage. We need to unpack that baggage, straighten up our clothes a bit and then we can present ourselves to others. Only then can we begin to interpret. Without this self-exploration, everything else is meaningless. The problem MJ talked about – the “interpreter-as-machine” phenomenon – that model is the verb only. It is interpreting without the person. It is important to know the person – who they are. That occurs through negotiations with the Deaf and hearing participants in the interpreted event. Whether the interpreter should present more or less of their personal self can be negotiated. In some situations, it may be appropriate to reveal more of oneself – in settings where the interpreter works on a regular or daily basis, perhaps. Compare that to one-time-only interpreting assignments. At this type of event, it would be inappropriate to be overly effusive with the participants, even if the interpreter knows them well. The negotiation process is critical. It is important to consider how we negotiate and with whom, when we negotiate, etc.
In closing, if we consider the interpreter as a person first, remembering who we are and what we bring, we can then effectively interpret.
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“Who are you? Where are you from?”These are seemingly simple questions. However, I find them incredibly complicated to answer, especially in the past the last few years. Part of my complication in answering has to do with where I currently am in my life, both personally and professionally. At the time of writing, I am a 40+ year old American who has been living and working in England for the past 6 years. I am not a CODA, but I have been using ASL for more than half my life and have been RID certified for over 20 years. I now use British Sign language (BSL) on an almost daily basis. The change in context has opened me up to the ideas of the multiple identities we have, how we acquire them, maintain them, and how they can change over time. It is clear that we all have multiple identities (e.g. parent, partner, employee, friend, etc.) and present those that are most salient to the interactions in which we find ourselves. Using myself as an example, I would like to discuss both how we see our own identities as well as how we are seen by the Deaf and hearing people with which we work.
“Through others we become ourselves.”
– Lev S. Vygotsky
Origins of Identity
Not all of our identities come from the same place. From the circumstances of our birth, to the opportunities we encounter and avail ourselves of, there are a variety of ways in which we acquire identities throughout our lives. Generally speaking, we can break down our identities as coming from four possible places, biologically-determined (or pre-dispostional), circumstances of where/when we are born, those that we choose, and those that are given to us by others (whether we want them or not). These categories are separate but there are obvious interactions amongst them (e.g. because of who I am due to my biology may open some choices for me that are closed to others). The chart below gives you some examples in each category:
Irish (family heritage)
In the first column are those that are more or less biologically determined. In my case, I am a blue-eyed, red-haired, somewhat tall, Caucasian hearing male who is rather near-sighted. While it may be true that environmental factors can play a part (for example, my eye-sight might have a genetic predisposition, but how I use or abuse my sight can also have an effect). Also, in some cultures, certain biological traits may be valued more highly than others (e.g. preference for gender of children, or value placed upon height).
Because of when, where and to whom I was born (New York City, 1960’s, to a working class, nominally Catholic mostly Irish-American family with 2 children already), I acquired the identities listed in the second column.
One isn’t born one’s self. One is born with a mass of expectations, a mass of
other people’s ideas—and you have to work through it all.
-V. S. Naipaul
With the foundation of the first two categories, I have been able to acquire other identities, many by choice. (It should be noted that some of these identities may provide me with privilege; the fact that I am a hearing Caucasian male is not trivial. Some of this privilege can allow me to avail myself of opportunities that other may not have access to.) I was born an American Citizen by virtue of the place of my birth; however, I gained Irish citizenship (through a process of paperwork) because of the national origin of my grandparents. Thus as (now) a citizen of the European Union, I can legally reside and work in the United Kingdom. Professionally, I was fortunate to discover ASL and the Deaf Community and train as a sign language interpreter. Personally, I choose to openly and outwardly identify as a Gay man and make many of my choices (who I affiliate with, relationships, where I socialise) based on that identity.
Social Identity is never unilateral.
Individual identity— embodied in selfhood— is not meaningful in isolation
from the social world of other people.
Finally, there are some identities that are ‘given’ to me by others. It is clear from my accent (both spoken and signed I am told) that I am not British so I am recognised (and sometimes labelled as) a ‘foreigner’ living in the UK. Also, as I am not Deaf (and I am not a CODA), Deaf people often label me as ‘hearing’ to distinguish me from Deaf signers. Both of these externally gained identities can be seen as either positive or negative (depending on who is labelling me). Also because of the support I received from Deaf friends, I became a sign language interpreter (even though it is in the ‘Choice’ column). My experience living in the UK (where I do less interpreting than when living in the US) is that many Deaf people here perceive me as an ‘interpreter’ because that is a common identity familiar to Deaf people. Even though I may think I have a certain identity (e.g. University Lecturer), external factors are very important in our identity formation and labeling.
Also, I may choose to present anyone of my identities as primary in a given situation. At the eye doctor’s, my near-sightedness is most prominent, at Passport Control in the airport, my Citizenship is the most salient. Thus, I choose to present myself in a way that is appropriate to the situation.
Presentation of Self
In his classic work, the Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Goffman 1990), Erving Goffman explores the various ways in which we ‘act out’ various identities in the course of our lives. He argues that much of the work we do in social interactions is to avoid embarrassing ourselves and others. Thus, we modify how we present ourselves on a constant basis in relation to others around us. In addition, we can view our multiple identities as nested; we do not ‘lose’ identities, but bring to the front the one(s) most appropriate for the situation we are in (so, in a professional context my identity as ‘friend’ or ‘partner’ may not be relevant to the specific interaction).
A simplistic example is of an interpreter who spends all her time in elementary school settings who is then asked to interpret for a job interview at the professional level. That interpreter would have to assess her own skills: Does she know what interviews at this level sound like? Is she comfortable with the jargon of that field in both languages? Does she have the cadence of a professional? What kinds of utterances are typically produced there – short declaratory sentences or longer, denser utterances? Her goals would be to ensure that if the Deaf person presents himself as a genuine and credible professional, that she then renders his message in an accurate and professional manner so that the hearing party sees him as genuine and credible without the interpretation getting in the way.
In addition, it is worth asking ourselves, how do we present ourselves to Deaf people (both in interpreting contexts as well as in social contexts)? How does how we present ourselves to hearing people reflect upon the Deaf people we work with? Stephanie Feyne continues:
… we interpreters, myself included, need to ensure we broaden our range of communication so that it is sufficiently wide to cover all the arenas in which we may find ourselves working. We interpreters must explore our own communicative norms so that when they arise in an interpreted setting we can acknowledge them and elect to disregard them consciously rather than having them control our interpreting decisions.
Personal and Professional Identities
Unlike those in other professions, I feel strongly that for sign language interpreters, there needs to be a close connection between some of our personal and professional identities. If we are not prepared to have personal and professional parts of our lives involved with Deaf people, then we cannot be effective as interpreters. In terms of development of the profession, Lynnette Taylor in Modern Questor: Connecting the Past to the Future of the Field reminds us that:
The role of the interpreter was shaping itself in response to the changing needs of the community. All of us, interpreters, D/deaf people, and even non signers, were engaging in conversations about how to work together, sharing world views, problem solving ethical conflicts, and it was through these conversations and interactions that we began to learn our place in the story. But perhaps more important, these interpreted interactions and witnessing of stories helped us understand the complexities of our community.
Interpreters who have no interactions with Deaf people outside of work miss much of the collective history and current burning issues that show up in interpreted interactions and collegial discussions. How can interpreters who hide behind their interpretation of the Code of Professional Conduct–instead of taking responsibility to intervene–employ strategies that are culturally appropriate to solve problems?
It is incumbent upon us as professionals (who, as mentioned before, often have privilege on the basis of identities such as of hearing status, color, gender, and socio-economic status) as well as members of a community that we actively engage with Deaf people and not just in interpreted interactions. We need also to be clear about what identities we hold and how we present ourselves in our daily interactions.
Presenting ourselves with Integrity
So how do we present ourselves in a genuine way to the people we interact with? We are all individuals and those with whom we interact (Deaf and Hearing alike) will expect us to behave in ways that are consistent with who we and how we identify ourselves. One of the issues of the machine model (see for example, (Witter-Merithew 1986), (Baker-Shenk 1991), and (McIntire, Sanderson 1993), among others) was that sign language interpreters were told that they were not allowed to present themselves. This had an alienating effect on all participants, Deaf and hearing alike. While we must be incredibly careful not to “take over” situations, we need to be mindful that how we present ourselves to the participants in an interpreted interaction needs to be genuine, respectful and following the expectations of those participants. Some questions to ponder:
– Are we familiar with the expectations of how people present themselves in the range of situations in which we interpret (for example an office staff meeting vs. a vocational training course vs. a social networking even)?
– Are we familiar with (and do we use) the expected cultural norms of the Deaf and hearing people with whom we interact?
– Are we respectful of the language choices of the Deaf and hearing people we work with?
– Are we familiar with a range of Deaf and hearing people (in terms of age, race, gender, etc.) and how they expect to interact with us in their language(s)?
– Are we comfortable discussing who we are and what to expect when working with us in appropriate ways
– Do we present ourselves differently to Deaf and hearing people that we know and have worked with before as opposed to people are meeting for the first time?
– Does how we present ourselves engender trust?
A Final Point
If we cannot accurately present ourselves with integrity it will not be possible to accurately represent the participants through our interpretations. Integrity starts with each one of us.
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BAKER-SHENK, C., 1991. The Interpreter: Machine, Advocate, or Ally? J. PLANT-MOELLER, ed. In: Expanding Horizons: Proceedings of The 1991 RID Convention 1991, RID Publications, pp. 120-140.
GOFFMAN, E., 1990. The presentation of self in everyday life. London : Penguin.
JENKINS, R., 1996. Social identity. London: Routledge.
MCINTIRE, M. and SANDERSON, G., 1993. Bye-bye! Bi-bi!: Questions of Empowerment and Role, A Confluence of Diverse Relationships: Proceedings of the Thirteenth National Convention of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf 1993, RID Publications, pp. 94-118.
WITTER-MERITHEW, A., 1986. Claiming our destiny. RID Views, October 12.