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Dissertation Abstracts

All views or conclusions are those of the authors of the articles and not necessarily those of the editorial staff or the publisher.
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In this section, we feature abstracts of recently completed doctoral or master’s theses. If you have recently completed a master’s or PhD thesis in this field and would like it to be included, please send an abstract of 200–300 words to We urge all academic supervisors to encourage their students to submit abstracts of their completed dissertations for inclusion in the next issue of the journal, in order to help disseminate new research relating to interpreter and translator education.

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Storied Realities: An Examination of the Lived Experiences of Deaf Translators

Janis Cole
Department of Interpretation and Translation, Gallaudet University
Degree: PhD thesis, Gallaudet University
A growing body of research about translation between written and signed languages, specifically as performed by Deaf translators, has raised questions about the Deaf individuals who perform this work. What, if any, unique perspectives do Deaf bilinguals bring to the work of translation? How have the personal and professional experiences of Deaf individuals influenced their development as translators? How do their experiences within a dominant English-speaking society impact the linguistic decisions made by Deaf translators? To address these and other questions, I investigated four key societal elements – social, educational, political, and cultural – in relation to the work of Deaf translators. Drawing on Mertova and Webster’s (2009) construct of critical event narratives, I conducted a series of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with six Deaf translators to collect seminal moments in their lives as they relate to their work as translators. Applying frameworks of social constructionism, feminism, and Deaf Studies to the critical events that emerged in the data, I found the identities of the Deaf translators were constructed and shaped by their experiences in societal systems. This qualitative study provides, for the first time, a rich description of individuals who, over time, constructed their identities as Deaf individuals who perform translation work. The results position translation by Deaf bilinguals within the field of Translation Studies, with the larger aim of better understanding the identity of Deaf translators. Critically, the study brings Deaf voices into the conversation about translation.
Keywords: translation studies, ideology, social constructionism, feminism, deaf studies

Crossing the Chasm: Embodied Empathy in Medical Interpreter Assessment

Nicole Lan Wei
Hong Kong Baptist University
Degree: PhD dissertation, Hong Kong Baptist University
Research on medical interpreters (MIs) in recent years has informed us of the visible and active participating roles that MIs play in the doctor-interpreter-patient triadic encounter. The use of multi-faceted, authentic data has also allowed both verbal and nonverbal nuances to be studied. However, while empirical studies have shown that physician empathy in medical communication is beneficial to the patient’s healthcare outcomes, empathy in medical interpreting, especially the one that is expressed nonverbally, is rarely examined in medical interpreting research, even though the MI is the key communication facilitator and in principle shares a communicative goal with the doctor. This study aims to acquire a deeper understanding of how an MI’s empathy is constructed nonverbally and perceived by service users, and how it affects interlocutors and the communication process. This research argues that MI empathy in communication is desirable and should be incorporated in the training, assessment, and most importantly, in interpreting practice. Three sets of research questions were formed: (1) How is empathy constructed in an interpreter-mediated medical encounter? What are the differences in the interpreters’ performance under different scenarios impinging on the communication process? (2) How do the other medical interview participants (doctor and patient) and observers (video observers) perceive the empathic performance of the interpreters? Is there any discrepancy? Why? (3) How do internal and external influencing factors affect empathic communication such as nonverbal sensitivity, personal traits, attitude of empathy, context of empathy communication, language and interpreting skills, and the other interlocutors’ (the doctor and patient) actions and reactions?
A role-play assessment of 26 MI trainees was conducted and videotaped, with real medical professionals as the doctor and experienced practising medical interpreters as the patient, covering twelve languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Nepali, Japanese, Korean and Cantonese. The role-play script was adapted from an authentic conversation recorded in a public hospital in Hong Kong and consisted of both medicine-world and lifeworld content that could elicit empathic opportunities. Observer and participant ratings of the MIs’ empathic performance were obtained to determine high and low empathy perception. Two surveys (i.e., MiniPONS and Interpersonal Reactivity Index) on nonverbal sensitivity and dispositional characteristics were administered to find out how these factors were related to empathy. Video recordings were then transcribed and coded for analysis from two dimensions: turn-taking management and relation management.
The findings verified the importance of authenticity and nonverbal attunement to empathy and could inform medical interpreting training and assessment, and enhance doctors’ awareness of the roles of MIs so that a more patient-centred and empathic communication environment can be nurtured.
Keywords: empathy, medical interpreting, interpreter education, training and assessment, authenticity

Sharing the Chairing? A case study investigating practices and impacts of sign language interpretation in meetings with deaf and hearing chairpersons

Rosie Henley
School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Victoria University of Wellington
Degree: Master’s thesis, Victoria University of Wellington
Signed and spoken languages employ different language modalities which incur distinct interactional norms and behaviours. When deaf and hearing participants jointly engage in ‘mixed’ meetings, the presence of a sign language interpreter is generally assumed to accommodate these differences (Roy, 1989, 1993; Van Herreweghe, 2002). How interpreters bridge this gap, and whether they facilitate equitable deaf participation in meetings, remains under-researched. Findings to date suggest that mixed meeting interaction tends towards hearing interactional norms (Van Herreweghe, 2002), but whether this differs under a deaf Chairperson remains un-investigated. In interactive encounters, interpreters take an active role in coordinating interaction (Metzger, 2000) but few studies have specifically addressed what ‘relational work’ (Napier, 2007; Major, 2014) interpreters do in meetings to negotiate the intersect between their role and that of the Chairperson, or to collaborate with participants to facilitate meeting interaction.
This empirical study examines both the interactional management work done by interpreters in the discourse of meetings with a deaf and hearing chairperson respectively, and the perspectives of participants on this. Analysis draws on the Role-Space model (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2014) which builds on interactional understandings of interpreters as participants of the encounters they mediate (Wadensjo, 1993). By applying the model to meeting-talk, the subtle and substantive things interpreters do and say (i.e. ‘stepping out of role’ to coordinate interaction or engage in small talk) are examined as relational work which impacts on the ‘success’ of the interpreter-mediated interaction.
Findings confirm that deaf and hearing participants of mixed meetings cannot directly do the transactional and relational work they would in a shared language (Holmes & Stubbe, 2003). For deaf participants, a deaf chairperson enhanced their participation. While both deaf and hearing participants accommodated bilingual bimodal interaction, the data suggests that deaf participants actively monitored and deciphered the interpreting process as the interaction unfolded. The interpreters also appeared to collaborate and align with deaf participants more overtly. The interpreters’ role-space in these meetings was found to be dynamically contingent, responding to how the Chair moderated meeting talk and the extent to which participants accommodated the interpreting process.
Keywords: interpreted meeting, role-space, deaf chairperson, interaction management, cooperation