Jack Hoza
Northeastern University

Historical Perspective | Toward an Interpreter Sensibility | Interpreter Education | Summary | References
The field of American Sign Language – English interpretation is currently pursuing a Bilingual/Bicultural Model of interpretation. As we explore this model, we are finding it is having a major impact on our understanding of the interpreter’s role and ethical considerations. Traditional approaches to teaching and exploring role and ethics by covering the RID Code of Ethics, values clarification, and the decision-making process will need to be expanded.
Ethics, by definition, is a judgment. More specifically, it is a judgment or decision made within a social context, and it has three primary factors. It involves the person making the decision and other people who notably will be affected by the decision. It also involves some type of standard or expectation. In the case of ASL-English interpreters, we talk about professional standards and usually point to the RID Code of Ethics for guidelines. All three of these factors are crucial to reexamine as we develop this new model. What is the best way to reach the appropriate ethical decision given our current understanding of interpretation?
We are becoming increasingly aware of the many variables we need to consider in the ethical decision-making process. Fundamentally, we must be aware of the cultural values and norms of the communities which use the respective languages, the linguistic structures of both languages, and the impact of these on interpreter role and ethics. Also, we must recognize that interpretation occurs between linguistic groups of varying power, and consideration of the implications of power relations is an integral part of our work as interpreters. We must also face the interpreter’s relative power, whether real or perceived. The role of oppression and power relationships is a crucial part of this emerging model. Equally important are majority and minority identity development and the implications of identity development for interpreters and the people with whom we work, and the roles we playas members of what we have come to call “third culture.” Most importantly, cross-cultural considerations need to be explored by using direct application to case studies, role-plays, and practical experiences, which is essential for synthesis.
In this paper, we begin by tracing historical approaches to viewing and teaching ethics. We will then explore the concept of an “interpreter sensibility” which is crucial to ethical decision-making, and we will review an approach to teaching or exploring interpreter role and ethics which is compatible with the Bilingual/Bicultural Model and which can enhance interpreting students’ development of this interpreter sensibility.

Historical Perspective

To understand current issues and trends and where we are headed in our teaching of ethics, we need to have a clear understanding of our history in the area of ethics and ethics education. How have we traditionally approached ethics and what kinds of changes should we look at as we reassess our approach? In the 1980s, we followed the lead of the introductory texts on interpretation by looking at the basic principles behind the RID Code of Ethics, and prior to that time, we went almost exclusively by the literal interpretation of the Code of Ethics itself. So let us step back in time and see how ethics has been viewed by the field and interpreter education, and then we will address the need for an interpreter sensibility and look at how interpreters and interpreting students can develop such a sensibility within a Bilingual/Bicultural Model.

The Early Models

The first book on our field, Interpreting for Deaf People (Quigley 1965), devoted only two pages to ethics. It provides us with only a copy of the RID Code of Ethics without any discussion of the tenets of the Code or any recommendations for considerations in decision-making. The assumption seems obvious: the Code of Ethics is the “law,” i.e., the Code provides us with mandates which are not subject to interpretation. This is how we first taught ethics, as the “commandments” of interpretation. Our field understood that to be a profession we needed to have a Code of Ethics, especially since there were no “trained” interpreters at the time of the conception of the Code and there was no way to
ensure that interpreters would behave ethically. By establishing these tenets, it was hoped that interpreters would be compelled to follow them unquestioningly.
The Code of Ethics and the establishment of the RID mark the transition between the “Helping Model” (when interpreters were untrained and often unqualified volunteers) and the “Conduit ModeL” In the Conduit Model, “interpreters perceived themselves as ‘machines,’ whose sole responsibility was to transmit information between people. This narrow perception was the result of our wish to dissociate ourselves from the ‘helping’ view of the task” (WitterMerithew 1986). Interpreting students in the 1970s learned under the Conduit Model.
This rigid view of the role of the interpreter has changed over time. Interpreters had jumped from one extreme to the other: from being overly involved in the interpreting situation under the Helper Model to almost no involvement under the Conduit Model. Interpreters were split on which “Model” was most appropriate. By the mid-70s, another model, the Communication Facilitator Model, had emerged which continued into the late 1980s (and I feel it is still the most common model in practice). This model sought to clarify the “rightful responsibilities” of the interpreter. The duties of the interpreter were clarified. Interpreters were encouraged to meet with clients beforehand, to make arrangements for the physical setup, to seek professional development, and to explore communication models. Essentially, these roles and responsibilities were tagged onto the Conduit Model.
It was in keeping with this view of the interpreter as Communication Facilitator that Ford (1981) proposed a communication model of interpretation which describes the interpreter as a “communication specialist.” She describes the interpreter as decoding the information from one person, understanding the message, and then encoding the idea by stating it in the language used by the other person. Ford states that the interpreting process “is not a triangle. It is a communication dyad of two persons with an interpreter interposed between the two communicators” (p. 96). She further warns that if the interpreter takes on any additional function other than interpreting, the interpreting process breaks down. She tells us that participants may have reactions that vary from confusion to frustration and distrust to inferiority or feeling of exploitation.
The view of the 1970s and early 1980s is clear: interpreting is best accomplished without any input from the interpreter. Ford states, “Implicit in this model is the assumption that deaf persons are capable of sustaining inter-language communicative interaction independently if the function of the interpreter is limited to interpreting between the two languages” (p. 98). Also, Ford tells us, implicit is the interpreter’s fluency in the respective languages and expertise in interpretation. How accurate is this view and these assumptions? Some participants may have this flexibility and others may not. What about the large number who do not? Are we doing them a service by making such assumptions? And, then, how are we to facilitate communication without being inappropriate? These are important questions which our field needs to address on both a profes
sional and personal level, and which we will discuss later in this paper.
During this same time period, interpreting programs used three primary texts: Introduction to Interpreting (Caccamise 1980), Sign Language Interpreting: A Basic Resource Book (Neumann Solow 1981) and Interpreting: An Introduction (Frishberg 1986). Although the texts vary to some degree, they basically approach the study of ethics from a similar perspective. The tenets of the Code of Ethics are presented as the professional standard and there is little discussion of how to interpret the Code. Along with a brief discussion of desirable traits for interpreters, the tenets of the Code of Ethics are presented as a guide for interpreters, yet decision-making is not addressed. There is no mention of variance from the Code; it is presented as the only model for ethics.

The Bilingual/Bicultural Model

In recent times we have begun to explore the Bilingual/Bicultural Model. This model is primarily bilingualJbicultural in nature, but it is more of a multilinguaV multicultural model in which consideration of linguistic and cultural diversity is the foremost factor. This Model, although not fully developed, has become popular since the middle 1980s. Although it has gained in popularity, we are only now beginning to understand it. Briefly put, this model focuses on the interpreted message and the process of interpretation within the context of at least two linguistic and cultural groups. This Model “places the highest emphasis on the integrity and accuracy of the interpretation, and requires the practitioner to recognize that language and culture are inseparable” (Witter-Merithew, p. 12). With this awareness comes the complex task of understanding what interpretation requires and, of concern to us here, what ethical decisionmaking entails given this Model.
Two models of interpretation have been presented which address the bilingual/ bicultural nature of our work. Cokely’s sociolinguistic model of interpretation (1984) provides a detailed account of the psycholinguistic processes used in the act of interpretation as well as a description of how the interpreter derives linguistic meaning from the message, and the impact of culture and natural discourse on the interpreting process. Cokely also includes cross-cultural factors and social markers to help in our understanding of the scope of meaning and interpretation. Cokely stresses the importance of lag time, or process time, which is necessary to derive full meaning given all the factors involved in an interpretation.
Colonomos developed an integrative model (1989; Ingram 1984). The Colonomos model, like the Cokely model, focuses on sociolinguistic context and speaker’s goal. Also, Colonomos addresses the impact of preparation, knowledge, and the interpreter’s linguistic and cultural competencies on the interpreting process. Both Cokely and Colonomos stress the linguistic variability of clients’ preferences, and the cultural and linguistic adaptations that the interpreter needs to make.
These models have helped clarify the interpreting process. Interpretation involves the consideration of a myriad of variables: linguistic, social, knowledgebased, and cultural. However, little has been written about ethical decision
making within a BilinguallBicultural Model. Since interpreters are dealing with different linguistic/cultural groups, what are the implications on decisionmaking?
How can interpreters deal with minority issues? How do we deal with the pathological and cultural views of deafness? What do we do about our ambiguous status? Our field is just now beginning to explore these questions, and we will look at a philosophical framework with which to address these issues, which will comprise the remainder of this paper.
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Toward an Interpreter Sensibility

Interpretation is primarily a human interaction. It is not merely the exchange of words or ideas, but rather an interaction involving at least two primary communicators and at least one interpreter, and as such, the interpreter is an integral part of the group dynamics. This means that we as interpreters can make or break the communication process, and we need to have a good sense of why we behave as we do.
We know that ethical decisions are rarely black and white. We go into new and changing situations and deal with a variety of people who have their own goals, values, and needs. What we need is an “interpreter sensibility” which can work for us. This interpreter sensibility involves sensitive awareness and the capacity to respond perceptively to the following:

Just as with the act of interpretation, we must consider a variety of variables in our interactions as interpreters. Ethical decision-making requires a deep understanding of people, how they interact, our own needs as a person and a professional, and ethical decision-making skills.
The interpreter sensibility involves an awareness, sensitivity, and responsiveness to different groups. We need to be tuned into group dynamics, being aware of how people are interacting and how the interpreter is part of the interaction. Awareness of respective worldviews is important. Likewise, the particulars of the situation in terms of the individuals’ goal, needs, and values are equally important. The role and needs of the interpreter are other important considerations.
I am convinced that it is this sensibility that leads to trust between interpreters and persons for whom we work. It involves cultural sensitivity, acceptance, and understanding on the part of the interpreter. It also engenders respect for the interpreter’s judgment; the interpreter is seen as worthy of trust by the communicators in the situation and not just given that trust out of necessity.
This interpreter sensibility can be seen in more experienced and trusted interpreters, and it is something that is constantly growing and developing. The sensibility goes beyond the tenets of the Code of Ethics, although it uses the Code as a general guide. The Code of Ethics is one of the many variables that come into playas one interacts with other human beings in the role of an interpreter and on a personal level.
With this sensibility, “the Code of Ethics says so” is seen as a superficial reason for decisions which have an impact on other human beings. We must be careful not to dehumanize others nor to dehumanize ourselves, especially with our increased understanding of the interpreting process and the bicultural interaction. At the other extreme, we need to be wary of making arbitrary decisions or depending totally on “common sense,” as there is more to the interpreter’s decision-making process than just what one thinks is best. It is what one knows and is aware of that can make all the difference.
How can interpreters develop skills necessary for making the best possible ethical decisions? What is needed for this interpreter sensibility? There are many things, of course. First, interpreters need to have some type of model by which they function. If interpreters do not have an established model that they follow or have adapted, they are still following some type of “model” which will develop unconsciously by default. Our field has done exactly that over the years. As our field is coming to understand, a conscious exploration of the process and review of models is crucial. Second, interpreters must be socially aware. They need to be cognizant of different cultures, and how different people interact and speak in a variety of settings. In other words, they must have a rich experiential base from which to draw. Third, they need to be aware of their own values and beliefs (assumptions and biases). The decisions we are addressing here fall on the shoulders of the interpreter, so the interpreter on the personal level is pivotal in the decisionmaking process. Self-awareness is crucial so that we look beyond our own presumptions. Fourth, interpreters must develop excellent problem-solving skills. They must have a process by which they can make decisions that is effective and supports their efforts of interpreting and the people for whom they are interpreting.
We can look at the models of interpret ation offered by Cokely and Colonomos as well as others for clarification of the interpreting process. For increased social experience, we need to increase experiences with a wide variety of people. This includes a variety of experiences with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as people with different hearinglDeaf statuses. Also, we need to do some self-exploration about not only our own values, but also our own biases of which we may be unaware.
These four aspects are important to address. Without an interpreting model, social awareness, self-awareness, and an effective problem-solving process, the study of role and ethics may be for naught. Without these four ingredients, interpreters may fall back on limited ethical considerations based on limited situations presented in class or on a rigid interpretation of the Code of Ethics instead of making use of situational cues and trusting their knowledge and experience to make an appropriate decision. As instructors, it is our goal to have students be able to function on their own, but how do we accomplish this with ethical decision-making? That is what we will address here. Now that we have talked about requisites for sound ethical decision-making, let us look at how we can better meet the challenge as educators.
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Interpreter Education

We have reviewed the history and teaching of role and ethics and have discussed the idea of an interpreter sensibility. We can now look at ways in which the teaching of role and ethics can best be approached. We will briefly look at the traditional components of coursework in role and ethics, prerequisites to such a course, and additional ideas/components which can be incorporated to enhance students’ development in their “interpreter sensibility.”

Traditional Components

The traditional components of ethics, values clarification, and the decisionmaking process are crucial. However, we need to expand upon these components. For example, professional ethics must be an extension of a person’s personal ethics and be framed within the bicultural value systems with which we work. Ethics go beyond the mere study of the RID Code of Ethics. Interpreters need to “own” professional ethics, just as they have always “owned” their own ethics and values. Ethics should not be seen as something that is forced from without, but rather as something that emerges from within and is consistent with personal values that are used according to a variety of situations. Cassell (1984) discusses exploring a “personal code of ethics” with interpreting students prior to studying the RID Code of Ethics. Cassell recommends that students develop “Recommendations for Interpersonal Dealings.” Then the Code of Ethics is presented and explored in terms of consistency, or inconsistency, with the “personal code” which allows students to relate the Code to their “personal code.”
The discussion of ethics, then, is inseparable from the discussion of values. Gish (1987) has students explore personal and societal values and beliefs. Gish also has students discuss conflicts and explore their own values system by providing them with “forced choices.” Both of these approaches allow for personalizing professional ethics.
Beyond values and ethics, interpreters need good decision-making skills. Scheibe (1984) provides us with some good guidelines for ethical decisionmaking. Scheibe provides us the framework with which we can approach a variety of dilemmas. Application of such decision-making models is crucial, as the interpreter sensibility needs to be fostered using such approaches. What one considers or overlooks becomes crucial here. Awareness of variables which previously have been disregarded will be addressed under “Important Components.” Mowl (1986) asks us to think about ethical dilemmas as being one of three possible types of decisions: interpreting (Code of Ethics), personal, or legal. This distinction is helpful in sorting out and prioritizing options and variables as well.
In summary, traditional approaches to teaching role and ethics have explored ethics, values clarification, and the decision-making process. These components must be maintained; however, how they are approached is crucial. Ethics should grow out of personal values and values clarification, and the decision-making process must incorporate a variety of components especially those addressed under “Important Components” in this paper.


Each program handles courses differently; however, there are areas of study that must precede the in-depth study of interpreter role and ethics. Among these are a clear understanding of the interpreting process by investigating Bilingual/Bicultural Models, comparing and contrasting cultural values and norms, and contrastive linguistics. Students need a good sense of what a Bilingual/Bicultural Model entails. This will serve as a basis for their growth as interpreters. Likewise, their understanding of ethics will fit into this conceptual framework.
Any of the components discussed here which are not covered in a Role and Ethics course should be covered in previous coursework. For example, oppression and power issues are an important area of study. A course in this area would benefit interpreters before taking Role and Ethics. Values clarification is another example of an area that may not be covered in a Role and Ethics course, but should appear in the curriculum.
Although I am presuming that the indepth study of ethics occurs later in an interpreting student’s program, this is not to say that ethics is not an essential part of a student’s education from the beginning. The components mentioned in this paper should be presented to students in a spiraling manner as they progress through the program and increase in depth and complexity as they grow in their interpreter sensibility. However, an in-depth course near the end of the program will provide students with an opportunity to discuss and explore ethics after more experience and study. Again, ethics and the interpreter sensibility are a part of every situation. The goal here is to elaborate on what ethics and the interpreter sensibility are and to discuss ways in which these can be addressed in a program, including traditional approaches and new approaches.

Important Components

Now let us look at important components in the education process which have not traditionally been used in teaching role and ethics. These components are a direct result of an increased awareness created by coming to understand the Bilingual/Bicultural Model. I have used the following units to further students’ exploration of role and ethics, and I will go into depth about what we cover in each unit:

Third Culture

Students first review and discuss “third culture.” The reason for beginning with third culture is because the experiences we have had in third culture have had a major impact on how we see the world. By virtue of being interpreters who are “in-between” cultures, our worldview has changed. The result is that we have common experiences which differ from most Americans. To best understand ourselves and the respective cultures with which we work, we must understand third culture, especially given that third culture “is neither permanent nor stable. It varies constantly, depending on the immediate reason for the contact. It is a very flexible, changeable, and temporary phenomenon” (Bienvenu 1987). Despite this variability, third culture has some consistent characteristics which it behooves us to explore.
We need to understand how we deal with people as a result of this third culture experience (both when we are involved in a third culture interaction or when we are involved in an interaction in our own culture). Also, we need to clarify what third culture is and how American Deaf culture and general American culture differ from third culture. Students may confuse third culture with Deaf culture, for example.
Bienvenu discusses the purposes of third culture. Third culture provides hearing individuals with an opportunity to learn to sign and to meet D/deafpeople. Third culture also provides political clout by providing a place for cooperative efforts of D/deaf and hearing people for political purposes. Third culture also provides D/ deaf people an opportunity to learn more about the hearing community. Bienvenu stresses the variability of third culture and warns those who are involved in third culture to not lose their own cultural identity. She is encouraging us toward biculturalism, not the hodgepodge that makes up third culture.
We all vary in our relative bilingualism and biculturalism. How we behave and interact and how we are perceived vary accordingly (Nash and Nash 1978). Third culture incorporates all these variations from those closely tied to the core Deaf community on the one end to those on the fringe of the community on the other end. There is a significant difference between the two extremes with the one involving more true crosscultural experiences. This difference usually results from close cross-cultural relationships as opposed to superficial relationships or in relationships where there is a significant difference in status, e.g., counselor and client or teacher and student. Brislin (1986) discusses several characteristics of persons who have close intercultural relationships. People with cross-cultural experiences may often:

It is helpful to discuss such “characteristics” of people like ourselves who interact with other cultures and who interact heavily with “third culture.” We need to recognize that we are not “typical” of the population, that our perspective is different and we need to recognize the perspectives of those who are monocultural. Also, we need to realize how third culture differs from the respective cultures. Our understanding of third culture values is crucial when doing values clarification as well.

Moral Development Theory

Students also study moral development theories. Two primary perspectives on self, relationships, and morality are addressed. These two perspectives provide a dichotomy which allows for students to better understand their own morality development, what types of considerations interpreters need to take into account in ethical decision-making, and the diversity of perspectives which interpreters will encounter when working with a variety of people.
Kohlberg’s “morality of justice” is contrasted with Gilligan’s “morality of response and care.” The view of self in relationships and in terms of morality differs greatly. Kohlberg describes the self as separate/objective in relation to others and relationships are comprised of reciprocity between separate individuals. Rules are established to maintain justice and fairness and reinforce roles which derive from duties of obligation and commitment. The emphasis is on individual rights.
Gilligan, in contrast, describes the self in terms of connectedness with others and relationships are viewed in terms of response to others on their own terms. The emphasis is on interdependence/ interconnectedness of people and activity of care sustains caring and connection in relationships. Emphasis is on responsibility. (See Lyons 1988 for further discussion.)
Students also look at the stages of development offered by Kohlberg and Gilligan. Kohlberg (Crain 1985), who studied the morality development of boys and men, has six stages of moral development. The early stages are characterized by the fear of punishment for wrongdoing; as children, we all behave certain ways because of this fear of punishment. The middle stages involve loyalty to the expectations of one’s social group. This loyalty results in one’s following rules and maintaining social rules. In the final stages, moral values and principles are seen as separate from society. The individual sees justice as universal. There is a juggling act between society and respecting its mores and norms, and universal principles which may conflict with societal standards and laws. Civil disobedience may be one result of the final stage of morality development.
Gilligan (1987), who studied the morality development of girls and women, presents us with three levels of morality development with a transition stage between each level. At the first level the self is held back by lack of power. With Transition I, “selfishness” is sacrificed for the responsibility of moral choice. At Level II, others are seen as responsible for decisions made for the individual, and yet the individual holds others responsible for the choices s/he has made. With Transition II, there is a transition from “goodness” to “truth.” How others see moral decisions and the intentions and consequences of these decisions become increasingly important. At Level III, there is a morality of care and nonviolence. Responsibility is taken for the care of self and others, and there is an understood obligation not to hurt which is seen as a universal guide and a moral choice.
The historical development of interpreter role and ethics is viewed through the stages of morality development and through the interpreter service models (helper, conduit, communication facilitator, and bilingualJbicultural models). Also, role and ethics are viewed through the moral development of the individual interpreter. Students also explore implications for their own decision-making, using the upper levels of the theories as models for what is involved in ethical decision-making. Obviously, the theories provide different perspectives, and those perspectives are explored to better understand EasternlWestern, majority/ minority, and male/female ways oflooking at ethics and morality.
The benefits of exploring moral development in these ways allows for a deeper understanding of one’s own moral development and decision-making process. It also provides us with a deeper understanding of the types of considerations we can make, e.g., we can make use of both the morality of justice and the morality of response and care. Additionally, we can be aware of different options we have as interpreters. We may, at times, wish to respond in a variety of ways. Perhaps a response from Gilligan’s Level II or KohIberg’s Level I would be the most appropriate response. Not only can the study of moral development help us with our own decisionmaking, but we can better understand and work with other interpreters and the people for whom we interpret.


Our field has recognized ASL and English as the primary languages of the Deaf Community and has recognized the minority status of the Deaf Community. As a minority, the Deaf Community has experienced oppression and has been denied power in matters that directly affect it. As members of the larger community (most of us are members of the hearing community), we mayor may not be “part of the problem.” We must look honestly at our use of power and our assumptions about D/deaf people, hearing people, and ourselves.
Kizuwanda (Peery 1989) discusses the broader social context, the professional context, and personal context of the interpreter. She addresses the “pecking order” present in our society; power seems to be granted groups based on several factors, among them the following:

We can, of course, add other factors, for example our discussion here which focuses on hearing/Deaf status.
Kizuwanda reminds us that the fact “certain groups are treated differently… has to do with power: Oppressed people lack power as a group” (p. 1). It is in this social context that we interpret, and being human, we are a part of the context.
ASL-English interpreters, like spoken language interpreters, mediate between different linguistic and cultural groups. “However, signed language interpreters additionally function as mediators between members of the powerful majority (hearing) and members of an oppressed minority (deaf). And most signed language interpreters, by virtue of their hearing status, are members of that powerful majority” (Baker-Shenk 1986, p. 59). So what does this mean for us and for the people for whom we interpret? The purpose of this unit, the topic of which dominates the course and the entire curriculum alongside linguistic and cultural issues, is to explore ourselves and others in terms of power relations. Baker-Shenk warns us that this difference in oppressor/oppressed status is “of critical importance for understanding the context in which interpreters work, and they need to be examined openly if we are to get beyond the mutual hurting and confusion that permeate the field of signed language interpreting” (p. 59).
We must not only concern ourselves with the Deaf Community, but also other minority groups and the majority group. We may be part of a minority group ourselves. We need to understand how our majority and minority statuses affect our perception and behavior, and how we are perceived.

Language and power are so intimately related that an interpreter cannot translate a single word, cannot even appear on the scene without communicating messages about group loyalty. Much of what the interpreter mediates between two cultures, explicitly and implicitly, is a struggle for power (Lane 1986, p.1).

Oppression and power relationships, then, are an integral part of the interpreter sensibility. Indeed, this sensibility cannot be understood without a thorough understanding of oppression and power relations. Again, interpretation involves human interaction which is to a large degree socially determined. Interpreters are a product of society as are the people with whom we work.
By virtue of our role and bilingual status, we have power over the communication situation. We can align with one party or the other. There may be biases we carry with us into the situation of which we may not be aware; it is crucial that we become aware of such biases and explore these in light of our personal values, oppression, and professional ethics. This is especially important since any bias by the interpreter tends to be in the direction of the interpreter’s dominant language or mother tongue (Anderson 1976). Some important questions to ask ourselves are: Were we as “neutral” as we thought when we used the Conduit and Communication Facilitator Models? Who were the losers? How is the Bilingua1/Bicultural Model different? And what is the ethically responsible position of the interpreter?
The professional context occurs within a larger social context. Do all people receive equal treatment by professionals? It is clear in American society that the pecking order Kizuwanda talks about permeates the professions as well. Where does the field of ASL-English interpretation fall in this scenario? Are we part of the solution or part of the problem? These are central issues we need to address before we can further explore ethics and decision-making.
We are a result of our own cultural upbringing. What, then, is the personal context like in the interpreting situation? Kizuwanda admonishes us to explore our true feelings about Deaflhearing interactions.

Let’s say there’s a hearing person, a Deafperson, and the (hearing)interpreter. What do we have? We have TWO members of the oppressor group. How does the Deaf person feel in that situation? Two against one! Do we ever talk about what it feels like to be in that position? How about when a Deaf person acts more like a hearing person? Do you reward it?… Who are your best friends? Are these the people who don’t act very Deaf? Are you more comfortable with less culturally Deaf people? (p. 2)

Central to any ethical decision-making is the person’s “gut feelings” or values. We need to address the questions Kizuwanda asks us because “transcending unconscious culture cannot be accomplished without some degree of self-awareness” (Hall quoted in Brislin 1986, p. 19). The perpetuation of racism and oppression is largely due to “innocence” or “blaming,” i.e., by not exploring or acknowledging the need for personal change and growth or by blaming the other group for existing conditions, these conditions continue (Steele 1988). Likewise, interpreters-through unwitting actions or denial-can perpetuate oppression.
Students explore the characteristics of oppressor and oppressed peoples, and investigate implications for interpreters. (See Baker-Shenk for further discussion.) This helps in clarifying one’s perceived power relationship in a situation. For people to move beyond the oppressed consciousness and the oppressor consciousness, they “must take into account their behavior, their view of the world, and their ethics” (Freire 1970, p. 40). To be good ethical decision-makers, we must be keenly aware of the impact of our behavior, our worldview, and our ethics on others. This element of exploration cannot be underestimated.
Students also differentiate between the role of advocate and ally. An advocate is an “outsider” who takes a leadership role for a community; “advocates, unless they are members of the oppressed community, tend to get all tangled up and stand in the way… Being an ally, on the other hand, means you support the goals of the community and you accept leadership from the oppressed group, in this case the Deaf Community” (Peery, p. 2).
Oppression and power relations are central to the study of ethics and, in fact, to interpretation itself. The study of interpretation is best couched in the context of oppression and power relations.

Identity Development Theories

We need to also look at our own identity development and its impact on situations and our ethical decision-making. Whether we are male or female, Black or white or Hispanic or Native American, Deaf or hearing, gay or lesbian or straight, we will respond to situations in different ways. However, these different statuses do not determine everything. Each of us has different feelings about our racial, sexual, and Deaf/hearing status. To understand the impact of our identity development, exploration of development theories is helpful.
What is one’s identity? Mottez (1990) differentiates between identification and identity. Identification involves particular traits, characteristics, or attributes that can be identified and used to generalize about a person. These traits are shared with a large number of people and generally become a type of “normalizing mode1.” Identity on the other hand is the unique whole that makes an individual special and different from others. If we focus on identification and not identity, we may not see the forest for the trees!
One’s identity develops over time, and we have used two main theories to explore identity development. Jackson (1976) discusses Black Identity Theory and Hardiman (1979) discusses White Identity Development. By looking at these two statuses in American society, we can better understand not only racial tensions and issues in interpretation, but also the impact of other statuses on the interpreting context. Both the statuses of participants and our statuses as interpreters have a significant effect on the process.
What happens when a young, white, hearing woman interprets for an older, Black, Deaf man? Does the interpreter’s age, race, and gender make a difference? These are the issues that identity development theories allow us to address. Also, we each have different reactions to these various statuses within ourselves and within others due to our own perceptions and value structures which are largely influenced by society and our experiences. Let us explore the specific theories, then relate them to interpreting situations and to us as interpreters in the process of decision-making.
Jackson (1976) identifies four stages of Black Identity Development. Jackson tells us that in Stage One – Passive Acceptance, Black individuals accept and conform to the social, cultural, and institutional standards of the white society. In the attempt to gain resources, one’s Blackness is devalued and rejected. That is, to gain approval, to have a sense of worth, and to acquire goods, money, and power, one seeks validation from white society.
At Stage Two – Active Resistance, the obverse occurs. Jackson says that Black individuals reject all that is white. Blacks begin to learn a great deal about the area of personal and political power. With both of these stages, the focus is on “white goals,” i.e., one’s identity is defined in relation to white society.
Stage Three – Redirection sees a shift toward developing uniquely Black values, goals, and behaviors. Reacting to whites seems like a waste of time and becomes irrelevant. There is a withdrawal from white society and an immersion into the Black Community, focusing on enhancing that community and the individual him/herself.
Stage Four – Internalization is evidenced by a synthesis of the developed positive sense of self as a Black person with the other aspects of his/her personhood. A sense of wholeness is sought. With this final stage, individuals respond to a variety of situations and problems without being compromised by external individual and societal pressure (Le., white racism or reactions to white racism).
Hardiman (1979) identifies five stages of White Identity Development. Hardiman tells us that in Stage One – Active Acceptance, white individuals actively accept and live by racist notions; those notions are unconsciously internalized while growing up. Differences in race are seen as social, moral, and intellectual differences, with white being superior to Black.
At Stage Two – Passive Acceptance, white people passively, or unconsciously, accept racist notions and are unaware of their racism. Their intentions are to help Blacks and other minorities assimilate or integrate into white society by helping them adopt white values and behaviors.
Stage Three – Resistance is the stage at which change starts to take place. The white individual recognizes racism in society and in him/herself and sees the destructive effects on whites and nonwhites. The person begins to take responsibility for it as a white problem. There is resistance to racism by either becoming actively involved in such activities as demonstrations and boycotts, or by dropping out of white/mainstream society.
The individual moves beyond reacting to racism in Stage Four – Redefinition. Up to this point, the focus has been on the problem of minorities and “white sickness.” The goal here is to redefine whiteness in non-racist terms, i.e., what white people are, not what they should be against. This redefinition is independent of perceived positive or negative qualities of other races.
The final stage, Stage Five – Internalization, is when the new non-racist sense of whiteness (from Stage Four) is internalized. This new sense of values, beliefs, and characteristics have an impact on how the white individual relates to others in all aspects of life. The white person also becomes aware of and concerned about all forms of oppression, not just racism.
We look at Black Identity Development (BID) and White Identity Development (WID) first in terms of race. Then we draw parallels between BID and minority identity development in general, and between WID and majority identity development. The study of the identity development theories is helpful in understanding how people perceive others and interact with each other. It helps us understand and enhance our own perspectives so that we can better understand our role and impact as an interpreter. It also can come into play in our ethical decision-making.
By being aware of how people are perceiving their relative status -majority or minority status, we can more accurately interpret and make decisions that are more in tune to their perceptions and goals. How do women see themselves? At what “stage” might a D/deaf person be “at”? Where are we as interpreters in our own minority status(es)? What effect does our level of minority identity development have on a given situation?
How do men see themselves? At what “stage” might a hearing person be “at”? Where are we as interpreters in our own majority status(es)? And, again, what effect does our level of majority identity development have on a given situation?
These questions are crucial to our following the Code of Ethics and in ethical decision-making. Ifwe never explore such issues at length, we may unwittingly violate the Code and our own sense of values. The study of majority and minority identity development personalizes Role and Ethics. This part of the course is a difficult one because it forces students to evaluate these aspects of themselves, but it provides much growth, and it allows students to pull everything together from third culture to values clarification to oppression and power relations.


In this paper we have addressed the need for improving the approach we take in teaching Interpreter Role and Ethics now that our field is beginning to understand the Bilingual/Bicultural Model. We traced the historical perspective of role and ethics in the field and how we have traditionally taught role and ethics. We discussed the concept of an “interpreter sensibility” which is an ability to be sensitive, aware, and responsive to interactions at a deep moral and intellectual level. We also addressed how interpreter education can nurture this interpreter sensibility.
We looked at traditional components of Role and Ethics courses: Code of Ethics, values clarification, and the decisionmaking process, and we addressed the need for expanding our study of these components. We delineated prerequisites for a Role and Ethics course. These prerequisites are essentially an understanding of the Bilingual/Bicultural philosophy or, more aptly, the multilingual/multicultural philosophy.
We looked at important components which have not traditionally been used in teaching Role and Ethics. These are third culture, moral development theories, oppression and power relations, and identity development theories. We showed how these areas help enhance interpreting students’ sense of who they are both as a person and as an interpreter and how people see each other. The awareness of these different aspects of ourselves and others will enrich the analysis and discussion of case studies and role-plays, which further deepens students’ “interpreter sensibility” and results in better decision-making overall.
It is by understanding the social, professional, and personal context of interpreting within a BiIingual/Bicultural Model that we can best understand the interpreting task and how we interact with others. With this understanding, we increase our ability to assess situations and our impact on them. We also increase our awareness of the bilingual context and the importance of the sociolinguistic variables which make us and the people with whom we work who we are. By focusing on human beings and their interactions and perceptions, we will enhance our ability to work with people and our ability to make sound ethical decisions.


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