BSL team growing in LINCS

By Jemina Napier and Graham H. Turner

In October 2013, Jemina made a post that gave an overview of ‘Who’s who?’ in the BSL team in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS) at Heriot-Watt University. The blog introduced various members of staff and also PhD students whose topics focus on sign language related areas of research.

In this blog we are delighted to announce that the team has expanded with an additional two deaf and two hearing people: three members of staff and one PhD student.

We are all very excited to see the BSL team growing so rapidly. We now have eight members of staff and six (7) PhD students (staff member Gary Quinn is also doing his PhD part time). In addition to PhD student research topics on a description of prosody in BSL, job demands for interpreter educators, ethical discourse among sign language interpreters, the impact of interpreters on the practice of mental health professionals, sign language interpreting on television in China, comparative interpreting strategies of  deaf and hearing interpreters and power and privilege in educational interpreting contexts, the team are working on a range of research projects, that investigate deaf jurors, legal interpreting across Europe (Justisigns), video remote interpreting and captioning for access to EU institutions (Insign) and sign language brokering, with plans for new projects in the pipeline to start next year. It is envisaged that with more staff and PhD students there will be greater scope to attract further research funding and embark on a wider range of projects.

Below you will see a brief profile of each new member of the team, along with a link to a video clip where they introduce themselves in British Sign Language (BSL).

Dr Steve Emery (deaf) is a BSL-using researcher who has joined the team as an Assistant Professor. His research interests focus on deaf citizenship, minority group rights and Deafhood and genetics. He has worked before at Heriot-Watt University and Bristol University as a postdoctoral researcher on various research projects, and also spent time at Gallaudet University as a visiting scholar. Steve will be teaching subjects primarily linked to Deaf culture and history, and Deaf people in society.

Mark MacQueen (deaf) is a native Scottish BSL-using sign language teacher who has joined the team as BSL Language Assistant.  After being thrown in at the deep end and starting to teach at Falkirk College, he later went on to work for the British Deaf Association in the delivery of their BSL curriculum. After studying linguistics and participating in the Heriot-Watt University Train the Trainers of BSL teaching course, Mark brings a wealth of expertise to the role. He now has over 14 years of experience of sign language teaching in a range of settings,and his priority is to ensure that Heriot-Watt BSL students develop a high level of fluency in BSL.

Rob Skinner (hearing) is employed as a Research Associate on the Insign project funded by the EU DG Justice. He grew up in the Deaf community with deaf parents as a native BSL user, and has worked as a sign language interpreter for many years specialising in media/ TV, mental health, and video relay interpreting (at Sign Video). He has also worked as a research assistant at the centre for Deafness Cognition and Language (DCAL) research at University College London on various sign language related projects. Once Rob’s contract on the Insign project finishes in December 2014, he will be continuing work on the Justisigns project.

Heather Mole has a background in BSL/English interpreting (a degree in Deaf Studies from Bristol University) and a masters in Disability Studies from Leeds University after which she was an adviser to disabled students in a university setting for 8 years. In that time she has reflected on the power dynamics of service provision and interpreting and plans to research the dimensions of power and privilege to see what impact they may or may not have on the interpreter.

Why we all need double vision

by Jonathan Downie

Why would an interpreter who was beginning to get valuable clients spend his non-working time reading research papers? Why would a translator who was learning to network start applying for conferences on Translation Studies rather than for a nice CAT tool presentation?

Those are good questions. In fact, they are questions I asked myself for a while. You see, for most translators and interpreters, the word “research” makes them think about termbanks and parallel texts rather than participant observation and statistical analysis. Research for them is all about getting the next job right and maybe, if you find the time, keeping an eye on the markets you work in.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of research. To translate and interpret well, you need to be a good researcher, or more correctly a good “information finder.” You can often get away with thinking no further than your next job.

This begins to explain why I started swapping translation work for interpreting research and writing, alongside my interpreting work. What I found myself wanting, especially on those days between jobs when I had done lots of marketing and still no clients were biting, was a longer range perspective. Surely there had to be something more than simply finding information and applying it to the current job.

Now, truth be told, I am not much of a philosopher. I have never been attracted to questions like “what are we doing when we translate?” or “how can we define equivalence?” On the other hand, I am interested in how we can learn and become more effective, how we can better understand our clients’ needs and how we can improve the status of translators and interpreters. Answering that kind of question leads very quickly to finding ways of giving practical help to translators and interpreters.

Believe it or not, I actually believe that translators and interpreters can help themselves. They already have a better understanding of the questions I posed than most researchers. If your livelihood depends on it, you had better get very good at determining what your clients want! If you want to increase your earning power, you had better get a good understanding of how you could improve.

What’s missing is what researchers call “generalizability.” Learning techniques that work for you might be pretty useless for someone else. Your clients probably communicate in a very different way than mine. What we all need then is a kind of double vision. We need to be able to focus intently on the job we are doing now while still taking an interest in wider issues.

Take the infamous debate over court and police interpreter conditions in the UK. During one government enquiry, one interpreter representative made the claim that members of their association had watched court proceedings under the new contract and had noticed that the quality had dropped massively. A good researcher would instantly want to ask what they meant by “quality” and how they could tell it had dropped. A very good researcher would want to know whether all the interpreters watching the same case found the quality to be the same.

That little piece of evidence could have been much more telling if the person concerned had been able to say something like “we assessed interpreting at 10 courts and found that, on average, interpreters under the new contract omitted 50% more information than those who were working under a different contract.” The added precision is the kind of thing that can be gained when we have the double vision I was talking about.

The truth is, if any long-term improvements are going to happen in any area of translation and interpreting, it will take a combination of hard campaigning and strong data. It will take people who are excellent at the work they are doing now and yet are far sighted enough to think about the bigger questions behind their work. Those bigger questions are why I became a researcher and an interpreter and they are we why all need double vision.

Back to School ?

by Katerina Strani

The new Academic Year has started and LINCS is full of students again. It’s good to see enthusiastic freshers, new MSc and PhD students as well as old familiar faces.

But even though undergraduate students get a break from uni during the summer, staff and postgraduate students are busier than ever. So what did we do over the summer?

  • Held the annual Edinburgh Interpreting Research Summer School (30 June – 4 July): Intensive research training for existing and future scholars in any field of interpreting. 5 days of seminars on research design and methods, lectures on current trends in conference, public service and sign-language interpreting, workshops on writing a literature review to maximising research impact, presentations by participants. Oh, and guest lectures by Barbara Moser-Mercer and Franz Pöchhacker.
  • Held the annual Applied English and Interpreting Summer Course (4-22 August): Intensive interpreting training (CPD) for professional interpreters. One week of British Culture and Society, British and Scots Law and public speaking, two weeks of intensive consecutive and simultaneous interpreting into English, including multilingual mini-conferences.
  • Ran Academic English Programmes to enable students to reach the required entry levels for English language and to prepare to study in a UK context. 450 students attended 12, 6 and 3-week courses with an overall pass rate of 98% ! These courses use Access EAP: Frameworks, co-authored by Olwyn Alexander, Academic Director of the English section and nominated for an ELTon award in 2014. The pre-sessional courses are accredited by BALEAP and were inspected for re-accreditation in August. Innovations this year include a strand of subject-specific seminars to enable Business Management students to prepare to engage with postgraduate study. There were also a series of Open Days within Academic Schools to welcome new students to the university.

We’ve also been busy with Public Engagement activities, such as:

  • BSL summer school for school kids, voted as the No.1 school experience day for kids this year! For more information, contact Gary Quinn.

Finally, we secured funding for three collaborative research projects:

1. Dr Raquel de Pedro Ricoy secured AHRC Research Innovation Grant funding under the Translating Cultures theme. The project, entitled “Translating cultures and the legislated mediation of indigenous rights in Peru”, to be conducted over 20 months (October 2014 – June 2016), has been awarded over £200,000. The aim of this project is to examine translation and interpreting processes between Spanish and indigenous languages in contexts of consultation between agents of the state, outside bodies and members of the indigenous communities against the background of escalating industrial exploitation of the natural resources lying below indigenous lands. The research team includes Professor Rosaleen Howard (Chair of Hispanic Studies, Newcastle University) and Dr Luis Andrade (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Lima), and will work with Peru’s Ministry of Culture and the NGO Servicios Educativos Rurales as Project Partners.

2. Professor Jemina Napier also secured AHRC Research Innovation Grant funding under the Translating Cultures theme for a project entitled “Translating the Deaf Self”. The project will be conducted over 18 months (January 2015- June 2016) and has been awarded over £198,000. Its aims are to investigate translation as constitutive of culture and as pertinent to the well being of Deaf people who sign and rely on mediated communication to be understood and participate in the majority. The deaf-hearing sign bilingual research team, co-led by Professor Napier and Professor Alys Young (Professor of Social Work Education & Research at the University of Manchester) will include deaf researcher Rosemary Oram and another deaf research assistant, and will work with Action Deafness in Leicester as Project Partner.

3. Dr Katerina Strani secured funding by the European Commission Directorate General for Justice for a project entitled “RADAR: Regulating Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Racism”. The project involves 9 partners, it will be conducted over 24 months (November 2014 – October 2016) and Heriot-Watt has been awarded over £33,000. The  aim is to provide law enforcement officials and legal professionals with the necessary tools to facilitate the identification of “racially motivated” hate communication. For this purpose, a communication-based training model will be developed for professionals at the national level and for trainers at the international level, as well as online learning resources. Finally, the project aims at producing a multilingual publication with concrete tools, recommendations and best practice examples to facilitate anti-discrimination and anti-racist actions and regulations.

So after a busy summer, it looks like we have an even busier year ahead.

Bring it on!

Understanding understanding *

“I want people to understand each other” –

That was the best I could come up with when asked to sum up my research in fewer than 10 words during last year’s Heriot-Watt Crucible. But it did prompt people to ask me questions such as how are you planning to achieve this, why do you want people to understand each other, what is the scope of your research, can you give us a bit more context etc. But nobody asked me what I meant by “understanding”.

Understanding is a hugely complex cognitive process that involves great uncertainty, yet it is fundamental in communication. It is also taken for granted or tends to be assumed too quickly.

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas believes that what is crucial in achieving understanding is intersubjectivity. This places emphasis on a distinct common social world shared by people when they speak. It requires us to overcome our biased, subjective views so that, instead of communicating our own subjectivities, we are communicating intersubjectively. And understanding is reached when people relate to something in “the one objective world” (which I don’t agree with, but that’s another story), something in the common social world that they have created through communication and something in each one’s subjective world.

This model is certainly not without its flaws, but it highlights the fact that understanding is a shared process. Even in the absence of others, when we read a book alone, for example, we try to understand by relating what we read to past shared communications. And that involves great uncertainty. In many cases, people assume they have understood each other even though they have created different images in their head that do not coincide. Understanding in this case is reduced to a “fictional coupling of expectations”, as my former PhD supervisor neatly put it.

And we haven’t talked about different languages yet.

In a recent conference in Cork organised by the University Association of Contemporary European Studies, I presented a paper on “The impact of multilingualism in public sphere communication” (abstract here). I tried to show that multilingualism is an integral part of post-national citizenship but it is frequently ignored in political communication. Because of multiculturalism and multilingualism, we have seen the profusion of new publics – subnational, diasporic publics, for example. And let’s not forget the EU public sphere, where 24 different languages are used! How do people argue when they speak a language different from their language of habitual use? How is debate transformed when interpreters are used? (Nicole Doerr from Mount Holyoke College has written extensively on this, looking at interpreted debate during the European Social Forum). How do we negotiate and establish meaning, understanding and ultimately consensus?

One of the questions I was asked was if language was actually important in communication and understanding. The argument was that, even when we speak different languages, we reach understanding one way or another (through paralinguistic communication, educated guesses (!) or through interpreters). So if understanding is achieved, it doesn’t matter what language you speak. The focus should be on the message and not on the language used to convey it.

IF understanding is achieved. That’s a big IF. Even in monolingual, unicultural environments we get “fictional coupling of expectations” instead of complete understanding. Multilingual environments add another level of complexity because when we speak a different language, we become different people (or do we?). If language is linked to culture, then when we speak a different language do we acquire different cultural traits? I joked once that I would probably be more efficient if I spoke better German.

But bold claims aside, we do change when we speak a different language. We do start to think differently. And if understanding is a shared process, this ultimately influences how we communicate our thoughts, our perceptions of meaning and ultimately the way we argue.

Multilingualism does not impede on our communication, but it adds another dimension to our understanding of meanings and perceptions that we must take into account.  Recognition and awareness is a good start.

Katerina Strani

* The title is borrowed by Heinz von Foerster’s book Understanding understanding: Essays on Cybernetics and Cognition, Springer, 2002.

Insign project update

Back in March 2014 I reported on a new research project that we are involved in at The Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies Scotland at Heriot-Watt University called the Insign project. This pilot project has been funded by the European Commission DG Justice to develop a platform to provide access to European institutions to deaf and hard of hearing people across Europe, either through sign language interpretation or respeaking/ captioning services. We are working in a consortium of partners with the European Union of the DeafSign VideoIVèSefsli, and Designit, and the project runs from January – December 2014. The Heriot-Watt University team includes myself, Professor Graham Turner, and Robert Skinner as Research Associate.

The project involves 5 key tasks:

Task 1: Review of current practices

Task 2: Description of platform

Task 3: Description of interpreting services

Task 4: Demonstration of platform

Task 5: Conceptualising sustainable platform

The Heriot-Watt University team led on Task 1 – to review current practices world-wide through a combination of desk research to review existing policies, guidelines and research; and also through surveys with deaf users of telecommunications services, and interpreters with experience of working in video relay call centres.

The Heriot-Watt University team are also involved in Task 4 – to evaluate the communicative aspects of the calls made during demonstrations of the platform. Our evaluations take place through observation, focus groups, interviews, and analyses of recorded calls. So far there have been two demonstrations: one at the EU Parliament in Brussels on 9th April, and the other at a workshop for participants attending general assembly of the European Union of the Deaf in Athens on 15th May.

We have now completed a summary of the results from the user survey and the interpreter survey for Task 1, which are presented by Robert Skinner in International Sign with English captions (20 minutes long):

Basically we found that deaf users and interpreters have varied experiences with video relay services, but that in principle people are keen to see a service such as Insign, so that people can access European institutions in their preferred language and mode of communication.

We have also completed a research update report, which summarises all the work we have completed on Tasks 1 and 4 during the first 6-months of the project from January to June 2014. The report provides recommendations on how the Insign platform can be improved to ensure a quality service, which will feed in to the final demonstration, and the final recommendations to the European Commission.

If you would like a copy of the written English report, please email me at: j.napier@hw.ac.uk

The final demonstration will be at the EU Parliament on 25th September, and deaf and hard of hearing people are encouraged to attend.