Sign Language in Action

by Jemina Napier

Click here to see this blog in International Sign, British Sign Language or Irish Sign Language

Jemina book

Sign Language in Action is a new book just published by Palgrave as part of the Research & Practice in Applied Linguistics series.

The book is co-authored by Jemina Napier and Lorraine Leeson, who both have extensive experience as sign language researchers, educators and interpreter practitioners – Jemina in the UK and Australia, and Lorraine in Ireland, with briefer stints in Belgium, the UK and the USA.

We have both conducted research and written extensively on various topics which can be considered under the umbrella of applied linguistics, including sign linguistics, sign language discourse, sign language and identity, sign language learning and teaching, and sign language interpreting and translation.

After many conversations on our mutual research interests, we decided to collaborate on writing this book to draw together all the threads from our research into one overview.

So the book defines the notion of applied sign linguistics by drawing on data from projects that have explored sign language in action in various domains. The data sources have been drawn from various studies have been conducted by us both.

As well as defining key concepts and giving an overview of existing research, the book provides clear guidance on conducting applied sign linguistics research, with suggestions for new research topics.

The book is targeted at sign language and sign language interpreting students, sign language teachers, researchers, interpreter practitioners and educators, Deaf Studies teachers and students, educators working with deaf children, and policy makers.

It will also be of interest to other people working with minority language communities and to scholars and practitioners in applied linguistics research more generally.

Following on from an earlier blog post by Jemina that discussed the ethics of conducting sign language interpreting research without deaf people involved, we feel it necessary to position ourselves in relation to the focus of this book, as neither of us are deaf.

So here, we discuss our role as hearing people doing sign language research, and our goals in writing this book.

The involvement of non-deaf people in the deaf community has been an on-going and vexatious issue. There has been long recognition of the value that ‘hearing’ people bring to the deaf community if they embrace the values of the community and can sign fluently enough to engage with deaf people.

There have been attempts to separate the identity of hearing people that are involved in the deaf community from those ‘other’ non-deaf people who do not use sign language and who are considered as ‘outsiders’ (see Napier, 2002; Ladd, 2003).

In the USA, there is currently much debate about the notion of interpreters having ‘Deaf-HEART’.

Others have suggested that there should be no reference to audiological status, and instead we should refer to a community of ‘sign language users’ (Bahan, 1997), ‘sign language persons’ (Jokinen, 2001) or ‘sign language peoples’ (Batterbury, 2012; Batterbury, Ladd & Gulliver, 2007).

Whichever convention you prefer, we identify ourselves as hearing people; we align ourselves with deaf people and their values based on our long involvement in the community, and we bring that subjectivity to our research and our writing.

There is also much debate in the deaf community and among researchers about the potential oppression that deaf people face in having non-deaf people conduct research on their community, with emphasis on the need for research to be with deaf sign language users (Sutherland & Young, 2014; Turner & Harrington, 2000) and to adopt a ‘community participatory approach’ (Emery, 2011; Napier & Sabolcec, et al, 2013; Young & Temple, 2014).

Consequently there is an emerging body of work that explores the need for ethical approaches to conducting sign language research in order to ensure that there is involvement from deaf sign language users in conducting the research; that deaf people’s views are taken into consideration; and that the research is ‘deaf-led’ (see Harris, Holmes & Mertens, 2009; Hochgesang , Villanueva, Mathur, Lillo-Martin, 2010; Mertens, 2010; Singleton, Jones & Hanumantha, 2012; Singleton, Martin & Morgan, 2015)

We do not see ourselves as positioned only in Deaf Studies. As linguists and interpreting studies researchers we see our work within a broader context of applied linguistics and intercultural communication, and the languages that we work with happen to include signed languages.

Thus our focus in our book is on sign language use, and not deafness.

We acknowledge though that although we are allies of the deaf community, we are not deaf, and therefore do not have shared life experience with deaf people. We are guests in the deaf community (as suggested by O’Brien & Emery, 2013), but we do have a strong philosophy of collaboration with the deaf community collectively and individually in all our research and practice.

We believe that it is important for deaf and hearing researchers to work together for the best interests of the worldwide deaf community, but we recognise the power we have as hearing people in the community and the historical backdrop of hearing researchers dominating the field.

We have ‘hearing privilege’, but privilege does not always have to occupy a negative position. We would assert that we accept the responsibility of having hearing privilege (Storme, 2014), and we use our hearing privilege positively to broker engagement and educate inside and outside the community.

 Because of our hearing privilege we get invited to do things like write a book, but we believe that we act in a way that is congruent with deaf cultural norms and values, and one of those values is reciprocity.

Adam (2015) talks about the importance of disseminating information about sign language research in sign language, and you will notice that the majority of blog posts about sign language research on the LifeinLINCS page have links to signed versions (including this one).

We would like to take this one step further – all the royalties from this book will be donated to the World Federation of the Deaf to support their on-going work with deaf sign language users throughout the world. So we are using our hearing privilege to give back to the deaf community.

This book focuses on sign language in action; where and how it is used, who by, and how we can research sign language in action in order to better understand the relationship between sign language use, culture and identity. For us, we have deliberately focussed our discussion on how deaf and hearing people use sign language, and the implications for learning and teaching and professional practice, in the hope that the information in the book will benefit all sign language users and the values of the deaf community worldwide.

InDialog in Berlin

By Stacey Webb

19-21 November 2015 if you were looking for Ursula Böser, Jemina Napier, Stacey Webb, Eloisa Monteoliva Garcia or Yvonne Waddell you wouldn’t have found them around Heriot-Watt campus or anywhere in Edinburgh, as this lot was deep ‘in dialogue’ in Berlin Germany! The InDialog conference, “Community Interpreting In Dialogue With Technology” was the second InDialog conference held at Russisches Haus für Wissenschaft und Kultura. This conference is dedicated entirely to the many facets of community interpreting. Themes included, Technology & Practice; Legal Settings; Quality and Best Practice; Highly Sensitive Settings, Training for Practice; Research Methodology; Community Issues; National Perspectives; and Healthcare Settings.

Heriot-Watt staff and students are truly doing some interesting research and I am proud to work amongst them. Below is a brief description of the papers presented by LINCS colleagues.

Ursula Böser, Professor of Intercultural Studies and Languages, presented a paper aiming to contribute to the formulation of best practice in the mediated co-construction of evidence, which involves child speakers of foreign languages. Combining research findings about child interviewing and studies in face-to-face interpreting, this paper focused on the importance of engaging the minor in the interpreting process in a child-aware fashion; arguing that setting, rehearsing and maintaining ground rules of mediated communication is crucial in ensuring the integrity of interviews in the highly sensitive setting of bilingual child interviews. Drawing on the example of children to highlight the heterogeneity of profiles of non-institutional users of PSI it highlighted questions, which arise from the perspective of a specific group of users in the wider context of PSI practice and research.

Jemina Napier, Head of Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies, gave two presentations.  First she gave an overview of research findings from the Insign project she led in 2014 with other colleagues from LINCS: Prof Graham Turner and Robert Skinner. This project, funded by the Directorate General Justice of the European Commission, aimed to develop a web-based service platform, enabling European Deaf and Hard of Hearing citizens to have dialogue with EU Institutions and Members of the European Parliament in their preferred sign language.  Jemina explained that the Insign project broke ground as it was the first Video Relay Service of its kind to provide access to deaf people in more than one spoken-signed language pair.  All other services focus on national spoken and signed languages. The role of the research team was to evaluate the communicative outcomes of the Insign VRS, and they analysed recordings of VRS calls between Deaf sign language users and hearing people, as well as ethnographic observation field notes, surveys and interviews with Deaf people, interpreters, captioners/respeakers and MEPs.

Jemina’s second presentation was a co-authored presentation with Prof Lorraine Leeson from Trinity College Dublin (who was not able to be at the conference) and was on the benefits of using mixed-methods in community interpreting research.  The paper gave an overview of how the mixed-methods approach was adopted in two related studies exploring deaf people’s participation in, and access to, justice: 1) The Deaf Juror Project and 2) The Justisigns project. By using a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative and qualitative methods such as surveys, interviews, non-participant observation, simulation, discourse analysis, these researchers were able to triangulate data in each study to look at the overarching research questions from varying perspectives to provide a deeper understanding of the issues being investigated, and validating findings gleaned from different sources.  (Be sure to check out Jemina’s book, co-authored with Sandra Hale, on varying research methods to use in your interpreting related research. If you mix your methods you may find it to be very beneficial!)

Stacey Webb, Assistant Professor of Sign Language Studies, presented on her doctoral research, which explores the job demands, and job resources interpreter educators have and how they perceive such demands as influencing student learning outcomes. Through the Job Demand Resource Survey-Interpreter Educators (JDRSIE), developed by Webb based on an initial scoping study (see Webb and Napier 2015), preliminary findings show that interpreter educators do not feel they have enough time or resources to fully prepare students.  Although respondents feel they are doing the best with what they have, they also feel their students are not prepared as they should be upon graduation (e.g. 50% have agreed to passing students who were deemed not ready to advance).  Although this research explores sign language interpreters, Ineke Crezee from Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand expressed how she strongly relates to the findings of this work and hopes to see this study replicated for spoken language interpreter educators in the future.

Eloisa Monteoliva Garcia, doctoral researcher, shared her paper focusing on hybridity in a case study of interpreter-mediated police interviews. Drawing on her ongoing PhD research, she highlighted the particular ways in which triadic sequences mediated by a qualified interpreter and same-language interaction between primary participants are combined in police interviews conducted in English with Spanish-speaking suspects. Her research explores how interaction occurs when transparency is acknowledged and limited resources in the other’s languages are used even if an interpreter is present.  Thus, she presented preliminary findings of a CA-based study of multimodal interaction, and stresses the particular dynamics observed in the hybrid communicative format used in the specific context of the police interview as a discourse genre, an event that plays a vital role in the criminal process.

Yvonne Waddell, doctoral researcher, presented on an initial scoping study as part of her doctoral research. This study included participant observation methods to explore the language and communication strategies utilized by a psychiatric nurse over a 3- month period when interacting with deaf patients on his case load, who use British Sign Language (BSL) and a BSL/English Interpreter, working within a specialist mental health service for deaf people in Scotland. Two major themes emerged from her thematic analysis of her field notes and semi structured interviews: 1) The establishment and maintenance of a therapeutic relationship with Deaf patients and 2) The development of a collaborative working relationship with the interpreter.  She explains how her research may be of benefit to understanding the communicative strategies nurses use with their patients when working with an interpreter and could contribute to pedagogical practice of both psychiatric nurses and interpreters working in community mental health settings.

For more information on this Indialog conference and to learn about future conferences click here

Signposting Professional Practice: Intercultural Communication and Interpretation

Everyone was there.

LINCS staff from all sections, students, colleagues from universities all over the UK, Heads of Schools, Vice-Principals, technicians, photographers, interpreters, representatives from Deaf organisations, Deaf friends. A little girl with long blonde hair was laughing and signing happily with her grandparents, who were all dressed to the nines for the occasion.

It was the inaugural lecture of Prof Jemina Napier, Head of Department of LINCS, entitled “Signposting Professional Practice: Intercultural Communication and Interpretation”.

Jemina started her lecture in British Sign Language, stating, through the voice of her interpreter, Yvonne Waddell, that she would like to speak in her mother tongue. She not only has Deaf parents and Deaf in-laws (the proud grandparents of the young girl mentioned earlier), but she also comes from a family of 4 generations of Deaf people. She explained how she grew up in a bilingual, bicultural environment (English <> BSL), which led her, among other things, to feature in the Sign and Say books as a child, demonstrating everyday terms such as “doctor”, “teach”, “Australia”, all prophetic with regard to her later career development. This also led to her first BSL interpreting assignment at age 17 (!). She showed footage of her various interpreting jobs, including interpreting during Princess Diana’s funeral and for the Australian Prime Minister in 2011.

But when she was still starting out around 20 years ago, there was no formal training for BSL interpreters. Back then, unfortunately, being bilingual was enough. Later on, as a practising interpreter, she had the opportunity to study for an MA in BSL/ English Interpreting at Durham University. This sparked her interest in research and so she went to Australia to pursue her PhD in Sign Language Interpreting at Macquarie University. Along the way, she also managed to learn Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN), American Sign Language (ASL) and International Sign, which is no mean feat, as Signed Languages are by no means similar, even though some of them belong to language families like spoken languages. For example, American Sign Language and French Sign Language belong to the same language family, which is quite distinct from BSL and AUSLAN, which belong to a different language family.

At this point, Jemina switched from BSL to English. She explained that she learned to tell stories in BSL, her mother tongue, but she learned to talk about research in English. For the hearing members of the audience, it seemed that Jemina learned to tell stories with a thick Scottish accent (Yvonne Waddell!) and to talk about her research with a slight Australian twang (Jemina’s own accent, developed while living in Australia for 15 years). Yvonne was Jemina’s voice for the first half of the lecture and Brenda MacKay was Jemina’s hands for the second half.

So the story moves to research. With a PhD under her belt, Jemina started developing her research profile in intercultural communication. She established the Postgraduate Diploma in Auslan/ English Interpreting in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University in Sydney in 2002, and became Head of Translation & Interpreting and Director of the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Research at Macquarie University from 2007 until 2012.

She identified policy, practice, pedagogy and provision of interpreting services as her four main areas of interest. All this research focuses on removing the barriers to allow access for and participation in citizenship for the Deaf community. Her sign language interpreting research focuses on medical, legal, education and workplace interpreting settings. Part of her research into legal settings has included running a two-day mock trial with 11 hearing jurors and one Deaf juror.

Jemina finished off by emphasising that being bilingual is not enough to become an interpreter and that interpreter education is vital for professional practice. She ended on a positive note on the potential for research collaborations between signed and spoken languages. BSL is now recognised in Scotland on a par with other minority languages, such as Gaelic, which is a huge achievement both for BSL users and for Scottish society as a whole. Jemina was asked how Heriot-Watt can capitalise on the recent BSL (Scotland) Bill. She replied that “we now have the chance to become the BSL hub for Scotland”.

The best is yet to come.

For a Storify version of the lecture, click here.

For a video of the full lecture, click here.

Final-year BSL students at the Scottish Parliament

Reflections from a teacher

by Stacey Webb, Assistant Professor in Sign Language Studies

It is not every day you get to bring your classroom to the real world.  So often we try to bring the real world to the classroom and it just never replicates real life!  Recently we listened and practised interpreting a graduation speech given by Steve Jobs to a group of university graduates. Although it was an inspiring speech, can you imagine the energy at the ceremony on the day?  Imagine the excited students, the proud parents and teachers.  Imagine how that energy can influence the overall interpretation. Imagine seeing the actual graduate in the audience.  I believe that the simple fact of knowing the interpretation is real, that it matters to someone, makes an incredible difference in an interpreter’s performance. However, we only have so much time to prepare our students to become interpreters, ultimately leaving much of our work to occur artificially in the classroom.  So when opportunities present themselves to have our students safely work in real settings, we as educators must do what we can to grab those opportunities and provide them to our students.

I know that for our students, week 1 of year 4 may seem a bit too soon to have the complete real life interpreting experience! Yet could it have been more perfect timing that the final stage of the BSL (Scotland) Bill was being debated in the Scottish Parliament on the same day of our first Advanced Interpreting class?  I call that a unique opportunity. With many thanks to Ruth Connelly at Scottish Parliament and our own Fanny Chouc  in LINCS, our students were given the opportunity to be part of one of the most historical days for Scotland’s Deaf Community. We hosted our class in the real world (we hosted our class at the Scottish Parliament!)

Heriot-Watt students were dressed for success when they signed in with security as ‘real’ interpreters, received official Parliament contractor badges, made their way up to the interpreting booths (where so many professional interpreters have worked before) and practised interpreting a session in Parliament (and again.. not just any session but the BSL Bill (Scotland) session). So if you were at Parliament on 17 September 2015 and happened to lookup at the booths to see several bodies signing and began to wonder, “Who are they?” “What are they doing up there?”- I am here to tell you they were Heriot-Watt students busy at work observing the professional interpreters, practising their own interpretations, reflecting on the formal register of the environment and realizing just how difficult interpreting is. One phrase that seemed to be said over and over again after Parliament was, “Wow, the bar has really been set high”.

Sure, I could have played Mark Griffins speech in support of the bill in our classroom, but the energy wouldn’t have been the same, it wouldn’t have been real. We wouldn’t have dressed a bit sharper, we wouldn’t have signed in with security, and we definitely wouldn’t have felt the energy and excitement from the Deaf community. So although our students were still only practising it was so much more real than it ever could have been in a classroom.  And on that note, my heart felt thanks goes out to the Deaf community, working interpreters, and Scottish Parliament staff, who have played a real role in preparing the next generation of Sign Language interpreters.

Reflections from a student

by Marie Elliot, 4th Year LINCS Student (BSL)

If you were anywhere near the bottom of the Royal Mile on September 17th, you may have felt a tremor emanating from the Scottish Parliament Buildings.

And if you have read the previous post from Professor Graham Turner, then you’ll already know the reason why!

On that afternoon, the final Stage 3 reading of the British Sign language (Scotland) Bill took place. The Bill was passed unanimously and the long-awaited decision to give BSL legal recognition was made. This is a historic event in Deaf history, and the result of years of hard work and campaigning by many individuals and organisations. I would like to comment on the personal impact of being present and witnessing that amazing afternoon.

We 4th-years from the Heriot-Watt BSL/English Interpreting course were not only provided with tickets to join the audience, but were given the unique opportunity to view the proceedings from the interpreter booths. As interpreting students, it was valuable experience to see the processes at work, the high standard of interpreting required, and real-life applications of what we had learnt in theory.

There was a real air of excitement and expectation while everyone waited for other business to be concluded in the chamber, before the BSL (Scotland) Bill was reached in the agenda. So many interested parties were represented in the audience: organisation staff; Deaf and Deaf/blind individuals; People with Hearing dogs; interpreters and others with connections to the Deaf community. There were numerous interpreters, using BSL, Manual interpreting, relay interpreting, and all interpreting in their own style, giving us so many opportunities to observe how different interpreters work, the choices they make, and how they work together with other interpreters. As students in our final year, hoping to join the interpreting profession, it was an invaluable experience. There was so much going on that we could learn from, that we had to focus intensely, as we tried to take it all in.

When it came to the moment of announcing the result of the vote, we were not alone in holding our breath. It seemed that everyone in the audience was doing the same, and I’m sure there were countless others watching online who were also leaning forward with bated breath. The actual announcement produced an incredible moment, with cheers, smiles and waves of delight from the audience, and not a few tears of relief and joy. It was a privilege to join the audience in the foyer, where strangers were hugging each other in delight. After such a long history of oppression and exclusion, everyone was talking hopefully after future change, and increased opportunities for future generations of Deaf children.

Scotland has led the way, and Terry Riley of the British Deaf Association (BDA) expressed it perfectly, when he told me he hoped this event would have the effect of ripples growing into a tsunami, spreading their impact on national and international Deaf communities.

This really was an unforgettable event, and we are all very grateful to the staff at the Scottish Parliament and Heriot-Watt staff, who co-operated in allowing us to be so involved in this historic decision. Parliament staff made us very welcome, and we were impressed to see so many staff using some level of signing. This would have been appreciated by BSL-using visitors, as being respectful to them, and also to the importance attached by the Deaf community to this event.

The day was finished in the most marvellous way, celebrating in a nearby pub. Every single person in the room was able to use some level of signing. It was incredible to look around and see a room packed with people all using the language the Deaf community has fought so hard for, and knowing that language had just been shown respect by the Scottish Parliament. We are grateful to have been allowed to join in this unique moment, so thanks are due to the Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) who arranged the after-party, for allowing us to slip in and be a part of it, even though we were technically gate-crashing!

Hopefully there will be many more reasons in the future to celebrate with the Deaf community, after this ground-breaking Scottish Parliament decision.

Progression 2015:  A two-day celebration of Deaf Arts

by Michael Richardson

Only ten days into my Ph.D. research programme, exploring the engagement of the Deaf community and the use of British Sign Language (BSL) in theatre, I was fortunate to be able to attend a two day conference in Glasgow celebrating Deaf Arts and the progress made in that arena over the last decade.

The conference was hosted by Solar Bear, a Glasgow-based organisation which among other things runs Deaf Youth Theatre, a group working in BSL with young people from across the Central Belt; and Deaf Theatre Club, which encourages Deaf people to attend theatre performances across Scotland with BSL interpreters provided.  Recently Solar Bear has also been a key contributor to the development of the new B.A. Performance in BSL and English which was launched at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland earlier this month.

Also represented at the conference and giving presentations were Graeae Theatre Company and the Deaf and Hearing Theatre Ensemble from England; Tyst Theater, the National Deaf Theatre of Sweden; ANO Nedoslov, a Russian company using sign language as the basis of its performance practice; and composer Dr. Oliver Searle, who has recently written a piece of music specially for Deaf and hard of hearing children.

The two days of the conference were filled with practical presentations, giving delegates the opportunity to learn by engaging in different processes of theatre making, as well as the presentation of work, both theatre and film, with subsequent question and answer sessions designed to shed further light on different methods of creating accessible work.

The range of material explored at the conference was both exciting and stimulating.  Jenny Sealey, whose company Graeae creates work by and for Deaf, visually impaired and disabled people, advocates a fully accessible approach to theatre making that uses spoken English and BSL as well as sound effects and music.  Their practice aims to bring physical expression and audio description to bear as part of the communication from the stage:  this is accessibility in action, in the context of making great theatre.

In contrast, the Deaf and Hearing Ensemble have developed an approach which could conversely be described as theatre making in action, in the context of providing effective accessibility.  The ensemble is a group of theatre-makers with a range of skills who work in a fully collaborative way to produce theatre which is ripe with symbolism and emotional expression.  They use every possible mode of communication available to them including spoken English, BSL, movement, mime, projections (of text and images) and music and soundscapes to ensure that the meaning they want to put across is conveyed accessibly to Deaf and hearing audiences alike.

Using BSL as a communication tool within the production was central to all the work I saw during the conference, but there was an interesting variety in the ways in which BSL was used as a language within the different performance styles.  The two companies thus far described sat in the middle of the spectrum of techniques employed, as did the performance project created by Tyst Theater during the course of the second day.  But two other presentations sat at opposite extremes of the sign language as performance spectrum.

At one extreme was Deaf Youth Theatre, who had made a film, A Love Divided, with Deaf actors. The result was accessible to Deaf and hearing audiences, as a result of using body language, music and effective moving image story telling techniques to communicate to the audience.  However, almost no signed or spoken language was used, and the former was only intelligible through lip-reading:  no dialogue was heard.

At the other extreme was the Russian company ANO Nedoslov, for whom the use of sign language was a full theatrical statement  in itself.  Using techniques similar to those explored by Pollitt in Signart:  (British) sign language poetry as Gesamtkunstwerk (2014), the energetic physical actors and dancers of this company used the different linguistic components of signing to create a language of performance that was communicative, creative and beautiful.  During their presentation one of the actors signified the sport of skiing using a mix of facial expression, body language, hand shapes,  iconic signs and role shift to stunningly demonstrate to his audience a clear picture of the skis, the act of skiing, the snow, the landscape, the terrain, and finally the sheer emotional joy of completing the run successfully.  It was a perfect introduction to their techniques that set up high expectations for their later performance which were not disappointed.

In summary, the two days were a fantastic introduction to my field of research.  Having already some experience in creating theatre with Deaf people and using different techniques to include BSL in performance, it introduced me to approaches being used in other parts of the UK and further afield; and to the people involved in developing them.  I returned to my desk today energised and eager to explore the topic further over the coming years.

 Michael Richardson is a PhD student in the BSL section in LINCS

17th September 2015: A momentous day for the BSL Community

by Graham Turner
On a most extraordinary afternoon last week (17th September 2015, a date to be remembered), it seemed that half of Heriot-Watt’s Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies re-located to the Scottish Parliament for a few hours. Why? It was the Stage 3 (final) reading in the chamber of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill.
 
The Bill passed with unanimous support from the assembled Members of the Scottish Parliament, and will be fully ratified following Royal Assent in 4-8 weeks’ time.
 
We can state it dispassionately in the clear light of a later week, but this was anything but a calm and sober occasion. For evidence, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u61__M7dUS4. You can watch the whole debate from about 1:03:00. But you really only need to see the audience reaction to the final vote (from about 2:35:00) to get a feel for the electrifying nature of the moment.
 
You could ask any one of LINCS’ eight British Sign Language (BSL) staff members, or our six research students, or indeed any of the 60-odd undergraduate students now enrolled in years 1-4 of our honours degree programme, and they would be able to tell you why this was such a momentous day for the BSL community.
 
You can read, or watch in BSL, a perspective about the thinking behind the Bill from Heriot-Watt’s Professor Graham Turner (published last year to encourage engagement with the first draft of the Bill) here: http://limpingchicken.com/2014/12/05/turner-bsl-bill/.
 
There’s an excellent blog summarising what the Bill does (and doesn’t do) here: http://bristol.verbeeld.be/2015/09/17/british-sign-language-scotland-bill-passed-final-hurdle/. It is designed to create an ongoing framework for national planning around BSL which will lead to continuous, incremental improvement in the way BSL is protected and, crucially, promoted across Scottish public life. The community’s priorities will need to be elicited and sustainably enacted: some future scenarios are contained in evidence (http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_EducationandCultureCommittee/BSL%20Bill/TurnerProfessorGHHeriotWattUniversity.pdf)  sent from Heriot-Watt  to the Parliamentary committee which reviewed the Bill.
You can see from sources like this http://scotlandfutureforum.org/assets/library/files/application/BSL_Report.pdf that Heriot-Watt has championed this cause from the front since at least 2010. In fact, five years’ campaigning doesn’t even scratch the surface of the deep and painful history that underpins last week’s success. Heriot-Watt BSL staff can tell you story after story after story of friends, family and colleagues who have lived and died in pursuit of proper respect and recognition for BSL.
 
As Avril Hepner, the British Deaf Association’s Community Development Manager in Scotland, told Parliament in her evidence before the Bill passed, this legislation finally enables BSL users to feel that they belong in Scotland, and Scotland belongs to them along with everyone else.
 
Scotland therefore becomes the only part of the United Kingdom to secure legal recognition of BSL to date. Needless to say, campaigners everywhere will be encouraging Westminster to follow Scotland’s lead, and Heriot-Watt staff will be fully engaged in supporting their efforts.
 
So if you see a BSL user anywhere in the UK in the next wee while with a huge, undimmable grin on their face – you now know why. This is huge. Shake their hand.

WASLI 2015 Istanbul: The conference

by Jill Gallacher, Virginia Dugo-Marmalejo and Jude Caldwell

We were fortunate to receive funding from the Heriot Watt Alumni fund to attend the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters conference in Istanbul as it was seen as an opportunity that was too great to miss. As interpreting students, we were not sure what to expect, but having had theoretical training and coming out of our 3rd year language placements we were ready for the WASLI experience. And what an experience that was.

The theme of the 2015 conference was “Human Rights: Where do Interpreters fit in?”

Twenty-eight presentations and two keynote speeches took place over the two main days of the conference.

The first keynote speech was from Dr Robert Adam from the Deafness Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre at University College London (UCL) and Dr Christopher Stone from UCL. They took as their theme “Human rights, Deaf People and Interpreting – Navigating the woods”. Using the analogy of trees in the woods, they delivered a fascinating and enlightening presentation delving into the history of Human Rights and how we as interpreters “fit” into this complex branch network. This very much set the scene for the next two days

Liz Scott-Gibson, WASLI’s Honorary President and Markku Jokinen, Director of the Finnish Association of the Deaf, made the second keynote speech, introducing us to The Dragoman & the Bridge – The Way to Human Rights.  They spoke of the professionalisation of interpreters and the progress made over the years. They made reference to their idea that Interpreters and Deaf people working together is a “three-legged race” requiring total co-operation to work efficiently, and presented their ideas in an engaging relaxed, almost chatty manner.

Many of the presentations rendered material that we have been studying over the last three years into a relevant and understandable context using actual interpreter experience. An example of this was Eileen Forrestal’s The Teaming Model, which opened up discussion on “co-created dialogue” and whether a closed process (just pass on information, no discussion, no responsibility) or open process (discuss information before passing on) of interpreting is better for the Deaf client and how the open process should or could work.

Rico Peterson on “Becoming an Interpreter, a sense of place” was also particularly relevant to us and looked at a formal apprenticeship programme at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Data collected from a 2012 study of interpreter trainees was examined. This asked them how the newly qualified apprentices spent their time, and how they measured their work, and the data gathered gave a glimpse into the minds of the new interpreters as they moved from the symbolic world of the classroom into the new dynamic workplace. Of particular interest was the notion of a Deaf Mentor, who would observe the students in real time and give support and mentorship to allow self development.

Some presentations looked at the way interpreters are trained and examined the differing viewpoints from both the Deaf and the hearing worldview. Eileen Forrestal’s “Deaf Perspectives in Interpreter Education”, focused on the feeling of powerlessness felt by some in the Deaf community when access to the decision-making process surrounding there communication is denied. She explained her feeling that the inclusion of the Deaf viewpoint in interpreter education should play a critical role.

Other presentations delved into areas of new research, one of which was presented by  our own Stacey Webb, Assistant Professor in BSL, on the subject of the job demands and resources of interpreter educators. This took an existing area of research, the Job Demand-Resource Model (Demerouti et al 2001) and focused on one area of it as it pertains to teachers of interpreting.

Another area explored which was of great interest examined the ethical and moral dilemmas facing the interpreters today. McDermid presented “Human Rights for Deaf People: The Impact of Groupthink within Interpreter Cohorts” and Jefa Mweri on “The Deaf as a Vulnerable Group – When their human rights are violated are interpreters equipped to deal with it?”.

One very topical presentation looked at the impact of the “fake interpreter” at Nelson Mandela’s funeral scandal, debating whether the resultant popular awareness raising of signed language interpreting outweighed the damage done to the profession by the event.

The limitations of Deaf people’s access to justice, and the equality or lack thereof for Deaf people in legal settings was presented by the Justisigns team, which includes  LINCS professors Jemina Napier and Graham Turner.  The project’s remit is to develop training courses for sign language interpreters, legal professionals and sign language users in Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK.

Prof Jemina Napier and LINCS researcher Robert Skinner also presented an overview of the Insign project “Deaf citizens’ access to European institutions as a linguistic human right: An evaluation of the multilingual Insign project”. The research examined the views of deaf sign language users and interpreters about their experiences of VRS in general and also with the Insign project.

We learned a great deal about the cultural similarities of Deaf communities around the world and even more about the way that users of differing signed languages can utilise the iconicity of their own language to communicate far quicker than hearing people with different language are able to find common ground and communicate.

During the conference an event of great significance was the signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding” by the Federation of Interpreters and Translators (FIT). This organisation has over 100,000 members from around the world and the hope of the memorandum is that it will “unite the voice of professional associations of translators, interpreters and terminologists around the world” (FIT 2015)

WASLI 2015 finished with a boat cruise on the Bosporus in the evening of the last day of conference. This was an extremely valuable networking event as it was possible to talk to all of the presenters, volunteers, attendees both hearing and Deaf in a relaxed environment and discuss and reflect upon the areas that had interested and impacted upon us during the two days of conference. It was also great fun with a full evening of entertainment.

Apart from the invaluable information gained from the presented sessions and keynote speeches, the unquestionable gain from attendance at the WASLI conference was the networking opportunities and contacts we made. We have discussed and learned about the interpreter experience from all over the world, from countries with an established Interpreter training programme to those with a newly emerging profession and no established route to qualification.

We have discussed and debated during lunch and tea breaks various issues from the problems faced by interpreting organisations in some African countries which have a multitude of differing signed languages and their attempts to establish one as ‘official’ in order to facilitate interpreter training, to the problems faced by the interpreters and Deaf Schools in Nepal after the earthquake. We had to communicate in British Sign Language, International Sign and American Sign Language.

As a result of attending this event, we made friends from all over the world that will inform our choices and perhaps our careers for many years to come.

wasli_girls

Jill Gallacher, Virginia Dugo-Marmalejo, Jude Caldwell are 4th Year undergraduates at our MA Honours Programme in BSL (Interpreting, Translating and Applied Language Studies)

 

Mental health interpreting – considering some of the challenges

By Yvonne Waddell

Work in mental health settings is often unique from other settings the community interpreter works in. When we consider that language is the principal investigative and therapeutic tool in psychiatry, (Farooq & Fear 104: 2003) the interpreting process will have a direct impact on the way that therapeutic tool is applied. As interpreters working between languages and cultures, the approach we take to interpreting utterances in this area should be considered, especially when a change in a patient’s language may have implications for their mental health state (Pedersen 2012).

As my colleague Jonathan described in his recent post, during the mental health session the interpreter will have access to the form of the language and specific linguistic information that the clinician does not since they do not understand the language of the patient. This information may be lost in translation where specific patterns of speech (such as clanging) are of a different form in the interpretation. If these types of examples are not discussed between clinician and interpreter, the subtle language-based cues indicative of illness may be missed. In addition to these linguistic and paralinguistic considerations, the area of mental health contains many challenges for the community interpreter.

The idea of considering the thought world of the other participants in the interpreted interaction is not a new one, the term first being introduced by Namy in 1977. The participant’s thought world as part of ethical decision making has been developed more extensively by Dean and Pollard (2013) in their textbook for interpreters as practice professionals.  For those of us interpreting in the community for minority languages, I would suggest that we most often consider things from our minority language users’ point of view, so it can be useful to take some time considering the thought world of our majority language user/hearing participant. Working with interpreters is rarely a daily occurrence for mental health professionals. Bear in mind that this type of interaction is probably new to the professional, and the vast majority of medical professionals are only trained in the typical medical interview, where there is one other person in the room (the patient) and they share a language and culture (Rosenberg et al 2007).

Those of us in interpreting studies are aware of the advances the profession has gone through in terms of the role, degree of involvement and appropriate strategies of the interpreter. However, professionals express a preference for a conduit model of interpreter and consider a word-for-word literal translation as the most accurate (Dysart-Gale 2005, Rosenberg et al 2007, Hsieh 2010). While this fixed translation approach may be problematic for ensuring accuracy of meaning, this preference may reflect the importance of how something is said both by professionals and patients in mental health settings. The mental health professional will use deliberate and considered phrasing in their approach, and they are keen for that to be preserved in the interpretation.

However, mental health professionals who are unfamiliar with the grammar of a minority language may not realise that literal interpretations of terms are not always possible and perhaps two words in English may require several sentences in the minority language to accurately relay the meaning. If we consider an example of BSL (British Sign Language) as one of those minority languages, professionals who do not realise that BSL is a full and distinct language from English and assume that BSL is simply ‘English on the hands’, may expect the interpreter to stop signing once they have stopped speaking.  As the interpreter continues to sign, although they are accurately relaying the meaning of the original utterance, if the professional doesn’t have access to what they are saying in this expanded interpretation, they may begin to feel left out of the conversation, or suspicious of what is being signed after they have stopped speaking.

In anticipation of these moments of tension that can arise, one strategy might be for the interpreter to keep the professional in the loop as to when a term may need expansion in the second language. The ideal time to have these types of discussions would be in the brief meeting the interpreter has with the professional before the appointment, or afterwards at the debriefing.  While best practice in mental health interpreting research may describe the benefits and necessity of these briefing sessions (Chovaz 2013, Tribe & Lane 2009, De Bruin & Brugmans 2006, Messent 2003,) I also work in health boards across Scotland as a community interpreter, and am aware of how rare those briefing sessions can be when you are a freelance interpreter booked for a one-off job, and dilemmas occur often.

When we are faced with a dilemma in mental health settings, being aware of the mental health professionals’ communication objectives is also important in helping us come to a decision.

Let’s take another example:

Imagine you are interpreting at a counselling session. In response to one of the counselor’s questions, the client’s answer lasts for 20 minutes. The counselor actively listens to this narrative but does not interrupt. The client is signing (or speaking) very quickly and displaying strong emotions, and you are struggling to pick up some of the names and other details that are being described. You feel like you should interrupt and clarify because you might have got something wrong, and you are missing details, but you also don’t want to stop them as they are in full flow, it’s the first time they’ve really opened up about this and the counselor does not seem to be making any moves to interrupt them. This is an example of where interpreting values (such as accuracy) come into conflict with the values of the setting (the counselors’ priority of the client’s narrative). This is where dilemmas arise for interpreters. Since both values are valid, deciding which value to forfeit is a process suited to careful consideration of all contextual factors relevant to the situation. I’ve found Dean & Pollard’s Demand – Control Schema an effective taxonomy to frame this consideration of the interpreted interaction.  If we know in advance that the counselor’s goal for this session is to allow the client the space to communicate their story uninterrupted and feel listened to, then we may decide to prioritise the value of the setting over repeatedly interrupting the patient to clarify terms in order to preserve accuracy. This can leave us with an uneasy feeling of, ‘I didn’t interpret properly, I should have interrupted to clarify that name.’ That uncomfortable feeling is due to the forfeiting of interpreting values, which is never an easy decision, but that feeling isn’t something we need to carry around with us, affecting our confidence and making us uncertain over whether we ‘did the right thing’. The feeling can be understood and explored in the context of a supervision session, or in debriefing with the counselor who may assure you that they were more keen on having the person express themselves that having them interrupted for less important details (for more on value conflict for interpreters see Dean & Pollard 2013 and Dean & Pollard 2015).

While interpreting in mental health settings may always be challenging, by continuing to be reflective practitioners, engaging in CPD, conducting further research in this area, and sharing good practice, perhaps we can move towards a more effective interpreting experience for all involved.

Yvonne E Waddell is a registered BSL/English Interpreter, working in community and conference settings. If you’re a regular attendee at the EdSign Lecture series you’ve probably heard her work into English, or seen her interpreting into BSL. She is currently a doctoral candidate in LINCS exploring strategies employed by mental health nurses when working with Deaf patients and sign language interpreters.

References

Chovaz, C. J. (2013). Intersectionality: Mental Health Interpreters and Clinicians or Finding the “sweet spot” in therapy. International Journal on Mental Health and Deafness3(1).

Dean, R. K., & Pollard, R. Q. (2013). The demand control schema: Interpreting as a practice profession. CreateSpace.

Dean, R. K., & Pollard, R. Q. (2015 in press). Re-discovering Normative Ethics in the Practice Profession of Interpreting. In L. Roberson & S. Shaw (Eds.), Signed Language Interpreting in 21st Century: Foundations and Practice. Gallaudet University Press.

De Bruin, E. & Brugmans, P. (2006) The Psychotherapist and the Sign Langauge Interpreter. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.  11:3 Summer 2006

Dysart-Gale, D. (2005). Communication models, professionalization, and the work of medical interpreters. Health Communication, 17, 91-103.

Farooq, S., & Fear, C. (2003). Working through interpreters. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment9(2), 104-109.

Hsieh, E. et al (2010) Dimensions of trust: the tensions and challenges in provider-interpreter trust. Qualitative Health Research. 20 (2) 170-181

Messent, P. (2003) From postmen to makers of meaning: a model for collaborative work between clinicians and interpreters. In R. Tribe & H. Raval (Eds.), Working with interpreters in mental health. London & New York: Routledge

Namy, C. (1977) ‘Reflections on the training of simultaneous interpreters: A metalinguistic approach.’ In Gerver, D., & Sinaiko, H. W. Eds. Language interpretation and communication (Vol. 6). New York. Plenum Publishing Corporation. p25-33

Pedersen, D. D. (2013). Psych Notes: Clinical Pocket Guide. FA Davis.

Rosenberg, E., Leanza, Y., & Seller, R. (2007). Doctor-patient communication in primary care with an interpreter: Physi- cian perceptions of professional and family interpreters. Patient Education and Counseling, 67, 286-292.

Sutton-Spence, R., & Woll, B. (1998). The linguistics of British Sign Language: an introduction. Cambridge University Press.

Tribe, R., & Lane, P. (2009). Working with interpreters across language and culture in mental health. Journal of Mental Health, 18(3), 233–241.

As If We Weren't There

by Jonathan Downie

Neutrality has often been touted as one of the cornerstones of interpreting ethics. The general view seemed to be that interpreters should be so good that the multilingual event would run as if everyone spoke the same language. In other words, it should be as if we weren’t even there.

Now, I have already publicly said that I have serious doubts about using “as if we weren’t there” as a basis for our practice but let’s pretend that it works absolutely fine and let’s simply ask the question: “what does it mean to make the event run as if we weren’t there?”

For many interpreters, the answer will be that, whenever we are faced with ethical issues, we should either do nothing or stay inside our roles as interpreters. If we are asked to hold a baby while a woman has a gynaecological exam, we should say ‘no’ and explain why. If we are asked our opinion by a lawyer, we should decline. If we notice someone being taken advantage of, we should do nothing at all.

The odd thing is that, the more we think about those kinds of dilemmas, the more we realise that doing nothing and standing back is the exact opposite of making it ‘as if we weren’t there.’ For instance, the fact that a witness does not speak the same language as the rest of the court, automatically puts everyone involved in a weaker position than they would be if they all spoke the same language. The jury will find it harder to pick up linguistic cues, the lawyers will find it harder to wrestle the nuances out of responses, the judge will find it harder to assure that the witness is not being badgered and so on. For that reason, if we don’t ask for side benches when necessary, a bilingual court becomes less fair than a monolingual one since not all the necessary information is available to everyone who needs it.

How about mental health interpreting? My colleague, Dr Robyn Dean once shared an ethical scenario presented to sign language interpreters which goes a bit like this.

You are interpreting for a Deaf person who is receiving care from a psychologist. After the meeting, the Deaf person leaves the room and the psychologist turns to you and says, “so what do you think?” What should you do?

The ‘right answer’ given in one handbook was that the interpreters should refuse to comment, since it is not their place or training to pass judgment. Yet, if it is our job to restore things to the way they would be if we weren’t there then refusing to pass on the kind of information that the psychologist would pick up if their patient did not need an interpreter puts both parties at a disadvantage.

Obviously, it is not the place of the interpreter to make clinical judgements on the person’s mental state. There could be a case to be made, however, for the interpreter to pass on the kinds of signals that a trained psychologist could read in a patient who spoke their language. So, it may be useful and relevant to say, ‘his signing space was small’ or ‘he tended to reverse the normal grammatical sentence order’ or, ‘when you asked him about his childhood, his signing became sharper and more intense.’

In this case, the interpreter is not doing the psychologist’s job for them but simply passing on the kind of information they need to do their job effectively. If they don’t, we could easily argue that someone seeing a psychologist with the help of an interpreter would be at a disadvantage compared to someone who didn’t need one.

If these cases seem controversial, it’s only because we are not used to actually thinking about the outcomes of our decisions. We are more used to defending our space as interpreters by telling people what we don’t do than thinking about our responsibility as interpreters and what we should do. We are not used to realising that there are consequences for every decision, especially deciding to do nothing.

In short, if it is our job to make it ‘as if we weren’t there’ then we have to realise that our work would necessarily include addressing the imbalances of power, differences in knowledge, and variations in cultural norms that arise when two people do not share the same language. Doing nothing or declining to act actually makes these differences more pronounced, which would seem to go against what we think we are doing when we try to make it ‘as if we weren’t there.’

I remain to be convinced that trying to do that is a sound basis for ethics. But I am definitely not of the opinion that declining to act is any better. There must be some better basis upon which interpreters can make decisions responsibly, what might that be? Let’s hear your views.