What that means to me: The Tireless and Tiresome Search for Meaning

Part I

This is a conservation area and so there’s no bins or double-glazing.”  This is just one of the many sentences spoken to me since moving to Edinburgh two months ago where I had no idea what the person meant.  And, mind you, English is my first language!

What that means to me:

I have been a community sign language interpreter in the US for over twenty-one years and here I am in my forties pursuing my PhD.  It is safe to suggest this reveals a tireless commitment to meaning and understanding (linguistic and existential) and yet, here in these instances, having to figure out what people mean is tiresome.  Out of the sheer need to conserve limited energy, meaning and understanding have not always been my top priorities. I have learned to “pick my battles” and ask for clarification only on important topics.

What that means to me:

As I result of this experience, I now need to remind myself that when Deaf people give what’s known in the Deaf Community as “the Deaf nod” or feign understanding (I’ve been told it’s similar for immigrants), it is likely not due to their lack of commitment. This (mis)perception was often a source of frustration for me as an interpreter especially working in medical settings when misunderstandings can be dangerous.

What that means to me:

How different we can be from the people with whom we share a language but not life’s experiences – not just those from the minority language/culture but even from the service providers in our community work.  My frustration with service providers in medical settings centres on what appears to be a lack of concern for patients.  Of course, this too is a misperception. Following a clinician around for a day can quickly change that.

Perceptions can lead to frustrations. Understanding can lead to empathy. I would suggest that the work of a frustrated interpreter will be compromised and that seeking empathy is not just an act of altruism, but a technique toward effectiveness.

To be continued…

Robyn Dean

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