Visual Language Interpreting/Introduction
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A few assumptions
Visual Language interpreters may be found in nearly every part of public life, and so it is expected that those who look as this text will hardly be approaching without some opinion and background knowledge. Opinions and backgrounds vary widely, however, so it makes sense to outline the assumptions made by the authors of this book with respect to its readership.
What this book is for
This book is written for those with a strong interest in interpreting where at least one of the languages is visual (more on that below). Many of the readers will probably be on the cusp or in the process of formal education to become an interpreter. Others may be consumers of interpreting services who wish to have a greater appreciation and understanding of the interpreter's task.
The expectation is that most readers will know at least one visual language, in addition to a spoken language. For those wishing to become interpreters, it is expected that command of the spoken and visual languages will approach that of an educated native speaker; if there are any deficiencies in either language, it is vital for potential interpreters to make the necessary effort to ameliorate any problems.
What this book is not for
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when there were no courses on interpreting, no textbooks, no linguistic research. But there were still interpreters. So it is possible to be an interpreter and a skilled one without any hint of formal training. But what is possible is not always what is best, and in this case it is possible to be an interpreter without training in the way that it is possible to row a small boat across an ocean. The benefits of formal training outweigh any cost, and the cost of avoiding formal training are not paid for by any benefit.
Neither this nor any other book can be used as a substitute for a serious multi-year course of instruction by experts skilled both in the art interpretation and in the art of of teaching the art. Interpreting is not a "teach-it-yourself" occupation; the more experienced eyes are on you, the more feedback and instruction you receive, the greater the chanced that you will excel.
This is also not a textbook on a visual language. Although many examples of proper translations of sentences into visual languages (notably American Sign Language (ASL) are given, these are given in the context of the interpreting process. Natural conversation in a language is a qualitatively different cognitive task, and the two should not be confused.
There are setting when communication occurs in a visual medium, such as underwater among SCUBA divers or in a military/police operation. This is not a book about interpreting those situations.
Why "Visual Language?"
Given the fact that interpreters typically work between a spoken and a signed language, the term visual language may seem unnecessarily convoluted. Why not "sign language interpreting" or "interpreting for the deaf?"
The short answer (which will be elaborated on in the following chapters) is that such interpreting is not simply for those who are deaf (Note: following common convention, Deaf is capitalized when referring to members of a linguistic and cultural group which uses a signed language as the first language). Not only does this piece of verbal legerdemain place the deaf in the position of being helpless, it ignores the fact that in situations where there are deaf and hearing consumers of interpreting services, both sides are in need of such services. In fact, there are situations in which both consumers are hearing, but one may have a disorder such as an aphasia which necessitates the use of a visual language.
Furthermore, not all visual languages are signed languages. There are systems such as Cued Speech which, although they do not qualify as signed languages, are used under same circumstances as those encountered by sign language interpreters. For this reason, this book uses visual language, a decision which mirrors that of bodies such as the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada.
A history of the field
"Field" or "Profession?"
It is often said that visual language interpreting is a profession, and many interpreters, when discussing professional practices compare interpreting to law, medicine, or another field of endeavor within the same societal rank.
Others agree that while that is a worthy goal, a profession has a complicated body of knowledge which takes years to master. Interpreting certainly is a complex and demanding task which is acquired on the order of years; the best interpreters are still learning. Still, there is no broad agreement on how that knowledge is to be effectively transmitted. Furthermore, the level of education is still a matter hotly debated within the profession. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) has recently passed a motion phasing in a degree requirement in the coming decade: first an associate's degree then a bachelor's degree will be required. There are also indications of growing pains in other areas which, the argument goes, are signs that visual language interpreting is not yet a profession in the strict sense.
Still others assert that aspiring to professional status is elitist, and that visual language interpreting has done fine without being in such highfalutin' company as the learned professions. Furthermore, they would argue, formal education is no guarantee of quality, and to pretend to do so ignores current facts on the ground. Many interpreters are "home-grown", and provide superior service. To them, interpreting is a trade, learned by long apprenticeship, but not necessarily in a college classroom.
Each of these viewpoints (and others) have powerful arguments both for and against them, and many of the authors of this text will hold to one or another of these views. In the interests of harmony, and while the debate is still far from concluded, this textbook will use the more neutral term field, which may be applied equally to medicine and cosmetology.
Conventions Used in this Book
Since sections of this book will be concerned with a particular brand of visual language, namely ASL, there are times when it will be necessary to represent utterances in that language. To that end, every effort will be made to include videos and illustrations as needed. However, sometimes the use of glosses will suffice, and standard glossing conventions as found in most standard ASL textbooks and research journals will be used. The glosses will be written in the format given below:
_cond_______________________________________________ _[smiling]__ SUPPOSE IX.2 READ IX."glossing on screen" UNDERSTAND, NONE PROBLEM.