. . . that’s like what?
The idea of this “clean language” question is to get at a range of metaphors for the intercultural communication process of simultaneous interpretation. Most sign language interpreters know that popular metaphors are flawed because they seem to justify a “machine model” use of role space by the interpreter.
At the RID Region II conference in Fort Lauderdale this summer (2012), a small group of workshop participants did some brainstorming in response to this question: “When you’re interpreting at your best, that’s like what?” We generated a list of six of seven responses, most of them obviously metaphorical. Then we subdivided into two smaller groups, each picking one of the metaphors to try to develop more fully. FYI: the design of the Region II workshop was rooted in a research methodology requiring Informed Consent for participation in Human Subjects Research. (More on this below.)
“They got their money’s worth”
Here’s my take on this metaphor (anyone is welcome to add, disagree with, embellish upon, etc. in the comments section below). This metaphor is rooted in a principle of exchange or trade, with money as the ultimate measurement of value. “They” refers to the clients – however we label them, consumers, interlocutors – I wonder how inclusive this “they” is: does it include everyone in the situation or some subset groupings, or primary interlocutors only, or is it code for the payor? I can imagine “they” varies according to many factors.
The absence in this metaphor is intriguing too. I wonder what are the implications of the emphasis on them? The interpreter is hidden, a subtle devaluation which definitely has an influence on movement in role space.
“Having a clean mind”
This metaphor is, in some ways, practically the opposite of the money’s worth metaphor. The emphasis is completely internal, on the interpreter’s state of well-being, rather than focused externally on the experience of the interlocutors. The effect of this metaphorical framing is to elevate the interpreter’s position and perspective as the sole determinant of whether intercultural communication is successful or not.
The CIT pre-conference session, Introduction to Communication Theory for Simultaneous Interpreters, will touch on this exploration of … what shall we call them? Commonsense metaphors? Grassroots metaphors? Metaphors from the front line?
Experiments in action learning
Action learning is a “live” research methodology, technically it is a sub-field of action research (AR). The basic principle is that participants, including the researcher(s), agree to document a learning process together. AR is a qualitative methodology for studying people-in-groups that took off in the field of management (organization studies) during the 1970s and ’80s but has roots going back to group dynamics research in the 1940s. After WWII there were all these incredible social dynamics as soldiers – who had been racially integrated during combat – returned to societies (specifically the US and the UK) that were still segregated. In other words, AR and action learning are both rooted in how people solve social challenges.
The social challenge of intercultural communication
The main hypothesis of the action learning research that I have been pursuing for several years is that participation in practices of simultaneous interpretation provides the best opportunity for connecting with “Others” who are really different than oneself. (Or, maybe not so different, but how can a person ever find out if there is no communication?)
Briefly, going back to my first presentation – in 2001 – at RID’s 17th national conference in Orlando (see “Interpreter Decisions and Group Dynamics” in the Proceedings), every workshop I’ve presented has been following a thread or otherwise engaging some aspect of the question, “Why is participating in simultaneous interpretation so hard?” In the beginning, the “action learning” was really just my own experiential learning cycle (see Kolb, 1975).
Some years ago I began conducting human subjects research with interlocutors at various jobs (mostly college classroom, academic interpreting). Along the way, I have sometimes extended the participatory element of the action learning research to participants in workshops. Basically this means I want to be able to quote what people say spontaneously about interpreting. In other words, even though individual consent is necessary, the actual object of study are discourses about simultaneous interpretation. My intuition is that if we can understand better how these discourses work through us (the professionals associated with sign language interpreting), we may be able to generate models and metaphors for simultaneous interpretation that enable many more interlocutors to become skilled collaborators in the best uses of role space.