Visual Language Interpreting/Tools of the Trade
Top - General: Intro. - Tools - Process - Logistics - Teams - IEthics - Settings: Private Practice - Educational - Medical/Mental Health - Legal - Religious - Other - Deaf-Blind - Issues: Development - Epilogue
- 1 Who are our clients?
- 2 Visual Languages of North America
- 3 Interpreting Defined
- 4 Consecutive Interpreting
- 5 References
Who are our clients?
Visual Languages of North America
American Sign Language
Contrary to popular belief, sign language is not international. Wherever communities of deaf people exist, sign languages develop. As with spoken languages, these vary from country to country. They are not based on the spoken language in the country of origin. And like spoken languages, they developed in antiquity: sign languages are not new, and are no more or less amendable than any spoken language.
Sign language can also be used in other contexts, where normal speech cannot be used. Native American were known to use a signed pidgin to facilitate communication among tribes who used different spoken languages.
American Sign Language is the dominant sign language in the United States, Canada and parts of Mexico. American Sign Language is usually abbreviated ASL though it has also been known as Ameslan. As with other sign languages, its grammar and syntax are separate and distinct from the spoken language(s) spoken in its area of influence. Etymologically, ASL's origins stem from a nineteenth century blending of French Sign Language (LSF) and other American regional and indigenous signed language systems (e.g. Martha's Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), used by the residents of the Massachusetts island). Since there is no written form of ASL, there may be other underdocumented influences on the language.
ASL is a natural language as proved to the satisfaction of the linguistic community by William Stokoe. It is a manual language meaning that the information is expressed not with combinations of sounds but with combinations of handshapes, movements of the hands, arms and body, and facial expressions.
Although it often seems as though the signs are meaningful of themselves, in fact they are as arbitrary as words in spoken language. For example, hearing children often make the mistake of using "you" to refer to themselves, since others refer to them as "you." Children who acquire the sign YOU (pointing at one's interlocutor) make similar mistakes - they will point at others to mean themselves, indicating that even something as seemingly explicit as pointing is an arbitrary sign in ASL, like words in a spoken language.
Manual Codes of English
Manual codes of English (MCE) are signing systems (not languages) that utilize the manual component of a signed (read: nonverbal) language to convey the grammatical and syntactical structure of spoken English. They do not share the grammatical and syntactical structure of American Sign Language. Historically, there have been several attempted MCE systems, viz:
Signed English (SE)
Signed English is a simplified English-based code, SE only added fourteen grammatical markers. SE was developed in the mid-1970s by Harry Bornstein at Gallaudet College, and further explored in 1983 by Bornstein, Saulnier, & Hamilton. (See Gustason, G. (1990). Signing exact English and Bornstein, H. (1990). Signed English. In H. Bornstein (ed.) Manual Communication: Implications for Education. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.)
Seeing Essential English, or, formerly ‘SEE1’
Intended to reinforce basic English morphemic structure, in SEE1:
- compound words are formed with separate signs (‘butter’+‘fly’)
- the same sign is used for homonyms (‘bear’ and ‘bare’)
- there is a heavy use of initialization (haVe)
- affixes, articles, and ‘to be’ verb were added
SEE1 was developed in 1966 by David Anthony at Gallaudet College. SEE1 is no longer in use today.
Signing Exact English, or, formerly ‘SEE2’
SEE2 is very similar to SEE1, however:
- compound words are conceptually accurate (‘butterfly,’ not ‘butter’+ ‘fly’)
- more ASL signs (one sounded word = one sign) are used
- there are at least seventy artificial/invented signs and affixes added to this system
SEE2 was developed in 1972 by Gerilee Gustason; SEE2 is currently the “signed English” that is used in American school systems. (This is the ‘Signing Exact English‘ referred to below.)
Linguistics of Visual English (LOVE)
The LOVE system was a chirography system based on Seeing Essential English modes; it used the Stokoe Notation System (tab-dez-sig) to codify sentence structure. Unfortunately, there is very little explanation and/or examples extant of the LOVE system. LOVE was developed in 1972 by Dennis Wampler.
The Rochester Method
So-called because it was developed in 1878 by Zenas Westervelt, a teacher at the Western New York Institute for Deaf-Mutes (later Rochester School for the Deaf), in the Rochester Method, every word is fingerspelled. Sometimes used in tactile signing situations, some Deaf adults still use this method.
Signing Exact English
Signing Exact English (SEE) is a system of signing that strives to be an exact representation of English. It is an artificial system that was devised in 1972. It takes much of its vocabulary of signs from American Sign Language (ASL). However, it often modifies the handshapes used in the ASL signs in order to incorporate the handshape used for the first letter of the English word that the SEE sign is meant to represent. SEE can be thought of as a code for visually representing spoken English. It is used most often with Deaf children in educational settings - the initial goal of SEE was to facilitate the learning of English. It often finds use in the home too, however, as it is often welcomed as an alternative to ASL by hearing parents of Deaf children because it does not require them to learn a new grammar or syntax. Therfore, it is easier learn for people who have already internalized English. It is not often used by adult Deaf people except to communicate with hearing people who know some sign but who are not fluent users of ASL. SEE is not a single coded sign: there is SEE1, SEE2, L.O.V.E, MCE, and more.
As with almost every aspect of the education of deaf children, the use of SEE is mired in controversy concerning its efficacy and utility. In a way, it is a slight variation of the oralist vs. manualist controversy which has pitted those that have supported the use of sign language against those that believed in lipreading and speech therapy as the best way to educate deaf children. This debate has raged for centuries.
Cued speech is a manual system which, when produced near the mouth while speaking, helps the Deaf disambiguate the phonemes in spoken language. Cued speech combines eight arbitrary handshapes and four locations to visually and phonetically approximate the sounds of English. While not a signed language, it is a visual means of representing spoken language segments. Developed in 1966 by Dr. Robert Cornett, an engineer at Gallaudet College, as an educational and communicative tool for the Deaf.
Interpreting vs. Signing
Certified Deaf Interpreter
In its purest form, consecutive interpretation is a mode in which the interpreter begins their interpretation of a complete message after the speaker has stopped producing the source utterance. At the time that the interpretation is rendered the interpreter is the only person in the communication environment who is producing a message. In practice, a consecutive interpretation may be rendered when the interpreter does not have a text in its entirety, that is, the person delivering the source utterance may have more to say, but the interpreter has enough information to deliver a message that could stand alone if need be. It is important to note that although the person who originated the message has ceased their delivery of new information, this speaker has not necessarily given up the floor and, once the interpretation has been delivered, the speaker may resume delivery of their message.
Though most people may be more familiar with simultaneous interpretation, where the interpreter renders their interpretation while still receiving the source utterance, consecutive interpretation has distinct advantages in certain interpreting situations, not the least of which is that consecutive interpretations render more accurate, equivalent[i], and complete target texts. In fact, the two modes, when performed successfully, employ the same cognitive processing skills, with the only difference being the amount of time that elapses between the delivery of the source utterance and the delivery of theinterpretation. This being the case, mastery of techniques used in consecutive interpretation can enhance an interpreter’s ability to work in the simultaneous mode. The Interpreting Process
Before we continue I would like to take a moment to explain the interpreting process in order to explain how consecutive interpretations produce more accurate and equivalent target texts. In order to interpret a text the interpreter must be able to receive and understand the incoming message and then express it’s meaning in the target language. In order to accomplish this task, the interpreter must go through an overlapping series of cognitive processing activities. These include: attending to the message, concentrating on the task at hand, remembering the message, comprehending the meaning of the message, analyzing the message for meaning, visualizing the message nonverbally, and finally reformulating the message in the target language[ii]. Seleskovitch (1978) compresses these tasks into three steps, noting that the second step includes the, “Immediate and deliberate discarding of the wording and retention of the mental representation of the message” (Seleskovitch, 8); interpreters often refer to this as “dropping form.” By discarding the form (words, structure etc.) of the source text the interpreter is free to concentrate on extracting and analyzing the meaning of the text, and conceiving strategies for reformulating the message into the target language.
Seleskovitch, among others, points out that there is another practical reason for the interpreter to discard the form of the source text, there is only so much that a person can hold in their short-term memory. As the interpreter receives the source text the information passes initially through their short-term memory. If the interpreter does not do anything with this information it will soon disappear. Smith (1985) notes that, “Short term memory...has a very limited duration. We can remember...six or seven items only as long as we give all of our attention to them” (Smith, 38). If an interpreter attempts to retain the form of a source utterance their short-term memory will be quickly filled with individual lexical items, which may not even compose a full sentence. If the interpreter then attempts to find a corresponding lexical item in the target language for each of the source language forms in their short-term memory all of their attention will be wasted on translating these six items rather than attending to the incoming message, as Smith points out, “as long as pay attention to short-term memory we cannot attend to anything else” (Smith, 38). In a consecutively interpreted situation this would result in the interpreter stopping the speaker every six or seven words so that the interpreter could clear their short-term memory and prepare to receive new information. Cleary this is not a preferable manner in which to communicate, and, as Seleskovitch points out, it would require the interpreter to know every existing word in both languages.
It is because of the limitations of short-term memory that interpreters are required to drop form and concentrate on meaning. Both Seleskovitch and Smith propose that meaningful segments of great size can be placed into long-term memory and retrieved later. Of course a chunk of information must be understood in order to be meaningful. To demonstrate this idea Seleskovitch uses the example of a person who has just seen a movie, after viewing the film the person will be able to relate the plot and many of the details of the of the film. If the person continues to discuss the film with others the details will remain fresh in their mind for a longer period of time. In this example the person is able to remember the film because they understood it, and are, “conversant with the various themes found in films...the movie-goer can easily and fully process the ‘information’ conveyed...and for this reason he remembers” (Seleskovitch, 1979, 32). Smith adds, “it takes no longer to put a rich and relevant chunk of meaning into long-term memory than it does a useless letter or word” (Smith, 45), because of this the moviegoer will probably be able to relate the salient points of the film in a fraction of the time it took them to receive the information. Since the information was understood, its salient points can be reformulated into another mode of communication. For example, when the moviegoer discusses the plot of the film they do not recreate its form, nor do they take two hours to render their “interpretation.”
Due to the greater ease of assimilating larger meaningful chunks of information it behooves the interpreter to focus their attention on these larger chunks. A larger chunk of text will usually contain a greater amount of meaning. It is this relationship that aids the interpreter’s understanding of the source text when working consecutively. As shown above, once a chunk of information is understood it can be reformulated into another form. As Seleskovitch (1978) points out, “In consecutive interpretation the interpreter has the advantage of knowing line of the argument before he interprets” (Seleskovitch, 28).
Interpreters are not charged with merely understanding the message, they must also be able to remember it, in order to deliver their interpretation. Seleskovitch notes that dropping form aids the interpreter’s memory because they are not concentrating on remembering the words, or even the structure of the source text. Instead, the interpreter understands the message, connects it to long-term memory, and is then able to reformulate it in much the same way the moviegoer can relate the points of a film. Of course the interpreter must provide a more equivalent target text than the moviegoer. To this end interpreters working consecutively will often make notes as they take in the source utterance. These notes help the interpreter retrieve the message from their long-term memory and consist of, “symbols, arrows, and a key word here or there” (Seleskovitch, 1991, 7). These few notes are effective because interpreters do not produce their target texts based on the form used by the speaker but on what they understood of the meaning of the source text. The “key words” may consist of words that will remind the interpreter of the speaker’s point, or of specific information “such as proper names, headings and certain numbers” (Seleskovitch, 1978, 36).
Seleskovitch also points to the time afforded an interpreter working in the consecutive mode as an asset in reformulating the message in the target language. Because the interpreter does not need to split their attention between receiving the message, and monitoring their output, as is required in simultaneous, they can devote more of their processing to analysis and reformulation of the text thereby producing a more accurate and equivalent interpretation.
Situations for Consecutive Interpreting
Even though the interpreter’s goal is always to produce the most accurate and equivalent target text possible consecutive interpretation is not always possible. Situations where one speaker maintains the floor, with little or no interaction with the audience and situations where there is rapid turn taking between a group of interlocutors may require the interpreter to work simultaneously. While Seleskovitch notes that spoken language interpreters working at international conferences may sometimes interpret entire speeches consecutively, the consecutive mode often requires some type of pause so that the interpreter may render the message.
That said, there are situations that lend themselves to consecutive interpretation, I would like to discuss three such situations, one general, and two specific. In general, consecutive interpretation can be employed successfully in one-on-one interpreted interactions. One-on-one interactions often allow for more structured turn taking behavior than large group situations. Interviews, parent teacher meetings, and various type of individual consultations may be interpreted consecutively with minimal disruption to the flow of communication perceived by the participants.
Specifically, there are two types of interpreted situations that, due to the consequences involved, require consecutive interpretation rather than simultaneous. These are legal and medical interpreted interactions. In these situations, where a person’s life or freedom is at stake, accuracy and equivalence are of the utmost priority; as we have seen, consecutive interpretation provides greater accuracy and equivalence than simultaneous does. Palma (1995) points out that the density and complexity of witness testimony requires the interpreter to work consecutively, and to be aware of how long a chunk they can manage effectively. Palma notes that, especially during expert witness testimony, where the language used can be highly technical and is more likely to use complex sentence constructions; a segment of text that is short in duration may be extremely dense in terms of the content and complexity of its ideas. In this case the consecutive mode has the added advantage of allowing the interpreter to ask speaker to pause so that the interpreter may deliver the message. The interpreter may also take advantage of the time in which they hold the floor to ask the speaker for clarification. Use of the consecutive mode is also helped by the fact that court officials (attorneys, judges etc.) may be familiar with the norms of consecutive interpretation and by the fact that turn taking between the witness and the attorney often proceeds with only one the two speaking at any one time.
In the case of medical interpreting accuracy and equivalence are also at a premium due to the possible consequences of a misdiagnosis. Like expert witness testimony, doctor-patient interactions may be filled with medical jargon or explanations of bodily systems that may be particularly dense for the interpreter. Again turn taking may be more structured in a one-on-one medical environment especially if the patient is in full control of theirfaculties. As in the legal setting, the medical interpreter may take advantage of the structure of a doctor-patient interaction in order to request for pauses and clarifications.
Generally, the logistics of a consecutively interpreted interaction must be established before the communication takes place. In the case of a single speaker who will have little or no interaction with the audience this means either the speaker will pause for the interpreter, or the interpreter, and hopefully the audience, knows that the interpretation will not be delivered until the speaker has finished. Establishing the logistics with all the parties involved, before the interpreted interaction takes place, can help prevent the uneasiness that participants often feel while waiting for the interpreter to begin.
Consecutive in Relation to Simultaneous
As mentioned above the primary difference between consecutive and simultaneous interpreting is involves the time lapse between the delivery of the speaker’s message and the beginning of the interpretation. While this is a significant difference, one that provides more challenges for the interpreter, at their roots consecutive and simultaneous interpreting modes stem from the same set of cognitive processes. These processes are described by many interpreting theorists, (Gish, 1986-1994; Colonomos, 1989; Isham, 1986), while Seleskovitch (1978) establishes the parallel between consecutive and simultaneous. According to Seleskovitch an interpreter working in the simultaneous mode uses the same strategies, dropping form, analyzing the message for meaning, and developing a linguistically equivalent reformulation, as does the interpreter working consecutively. After all, the goal is the same for both interpreters; to deliver an accurate and equivalent target text. The difference is that in the simultaneous mode the interpreter continues to receive and process new information while rendering, and monitoring the target for equivalence. Because interpreters working in the simultaneous mode are still interpreting meaning rather than form they also allow for a lag between themselves and the speaker. That is, the interpreter waits until the speaker has begun to develop their point before beginning to interpret. By allowing for lag time, and the interpreter ensures that they are interpreting meaning, not just individual lexical items, which Seleskovitch suggests would be an exercise in futility.
“Even memorizing a half dozen words would distract the interpreter, whose attention is already divided between listening to his own words, and those of the speaker...His memory does not store the words of the sentence delivered by the speaker, but only the meaning those words convey.” (Seleskovitch, 1978, 30-31)
Seleskovitch solidifies the correlation between the cognitive processes involved in each mode when she states, “simultaneous interpretation can be learned quite rapidly, assuming one has already learned the art of analysis in consecutive interpretation” (Seleskovitch, 30). This view has been adopted at interpreter training programs at both California State University Northridge and Gallaudet University, both of whom require classes teaching text analysis and consecutive interpreting skills prior to those dealing with simultaneous interpreting.
Rather than being two separate skills, mastery of consecutive interpretation is in fact a building block for successful simultaneous interpretations. In fact, thanks to the time allowed for comprehension and analysis of the source text consecutive interpretations offer greater accuracy and equivalence than do simultaneous interpretations. There are situations that lend themselves to consecutive interpretations (one-on-one interactions), and others still which require use of the consecutive mode (legal, medical) due to the consequences of a possible misinterpretation.
[i] For the purposes of this chapter, “accuracy” relates to the content of the text, while “equivalence” relates to the ability of the target text to convey the register, affect, and style of the source text. An “accurate” interpretation will provide the target language audience with all of the information contained in the source text, while an equivalent interpretation will provide the content, and also have the same effect on the target language audience as it would on a source language audience. By there definitions an interpretation may be accurate, without being totally equivalent, while an equivalent interpretation assumes accuracy.
[ii] List of cognitive processing skills taken from class notes in Risa Shaw’s Gallaudet University class “ITP 724, Cognitive Processing Skills; English” (2002)
- Becker, A.L. 1988, Language in Particular: A Lecture, in Tannen, D (ed.), Linguistics in Context: Connecting observation and understanding, Norwood, NJ
- Cokely, D. 2001, Interpreting Culturally Rich Realities: Research for Successful Interpretations in Watson, D. (ed.) The Journal of Interpretation, RID Publications, Alexandria, VA
- Colonomos, B. 1992, Processes in Interpreting and Transliterating: Making Them Work for You, Front Range Community College, Maryland
- Evans, E.E. and Teschner, R.V. 2000. Analyzing the Grammar of English: A Brief Undergraduate Textbook (second edition), Georgetown University Press, Washington DC