What’s in a name?

Click here to see British Sign Language version of this post

You may have seen earlier blog posts from me where I discuss the research that I am currently leading on language brokering experiences in the Deaf community. In that research I am replicating the work that has been done on child language brokering with spoken language brokering to explore how, when, where and why it happens in the Deaf community, and the experiences language brokers in mediating information for their family members.

The term brokering “focuses attention on the whole cultural meaning of such an event, in which any interpretation is simply a part” (Hall, 2004, p.285), and language brokering is typically conducted by children and young people that are more adept at a particular language than their parents, for example in migrant families where children may learn to speak the language of their new country more quickly than their parents. Child language brokering literature has identified that the typical age for children to begin brokering is 7 or 8 years old, once they have sufficiently acquired proficiency in the new language to mediate for their parents; and that children broker in a range of contexts, including medical, educational, retail and legal situations (Tse, 1996; Wiesskirch & Alva, 2002).

In the Deaf community, brokering is performed by children with deaf parents. As they are exposed to both spoken and signed languages from birth, however, it seems that these children begin to broker as early as age 4 or 5 (Napier, in press).

Children who are hearing that have deaf parents are typically referred to as Codas (Children of Deaf Adults), and there are organisations to support these people as kids and as adults to share their experiences (e.g., CODA UK &Ireland, CODA Australia, CODA International). Research has been conducted with Codas to explore their identity and describe their struggles with how they felt being ‘hearing in a deaf world’ (Preston, 1994; Adams, 2008).

But it’s not a struggle for everybody. I am a ‘Coda’, but I have never felt comfortable with the term, as I have written elsewhere (Napier, 2008). Firstly, I am not a child, and my parents are not just ‘adults’, they are my parents. I don’t mind being identified as someone who grew up in the Deaf community, in fact I am proud of my language and cultural heritage, but the term ‘Coda’ conjures up too many pejorative connotations about kids taking on responsibilities to ‘take care’ of their parents from a young age through brokering. I also resist labelling of this kind as I believe that we all have multiple identities. Not only am I a daughter, but I am also a wife, a mother, an interpreter, a researcher, a teacher. My ‘Coda’ inheritance is only one part of my identity.

Another reason that I am not comfortable with the ‘Coda’ label is the assumption that it is only hearing people that grow up with deaf parents that take on a brokering role. My research has shown that deaf people with deaf parents also broker – often because their language skills are better, or they can speak better than their parents, or are just more confident (Napier, in press, 2014).

There is a term to refer to these people – as ‘Dodas’ (Deaf of Deaf Adults), and there is a closed group on Facebook, but it’s not a particularly popular term. And these people are typically excluded from Coda events and organisations. But they may well have similar experiences to share.

I think it is important that both hearing and deaf people who have grown up with deaf parents should have their language and cultural heritage acknowledged, especially in relation to what they bring to the sign language interpreting profession, given that there is increasing recognition of the work of deaf interpreters (Adam, Stone, Collins & Metzger, 2014).

I believe that, to quote a participant at the recent Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK (ASLI) conference where I presented, the term ‘Coda’ is “outdated and outmoded” (Jennifer Smith, Twitter [@jennifersmithuk], 28 September 2014). We also need to think more broadly about people who have grown up with sign language – not only with parents, but also siblings and extended family.

So I suggest a new, more all encompassing, convention – to refer to “People from Deaf Families” (PDFs), which includes deaf or hearing people that have grown up using sign language regularly with one or more deaf members of their family.

This term includes both deaf and hearing people, and also does not distinguish between children or adults, and does not focus only on people that have deaf parents.

In the same way that it’s difficult to make changes to a pdf document, we can’t change who we are. Being a PDF should not be taboo. The professionalisation of sign language interpreting has meant more focus for training on recruiting L2 sign language learners in to the profession, which has been invaluable to the Deaf community. But we shouldn’t forget the deaf and hearing people that grow up in the community have a wealth of experience to bring (Williamson, 2012). Various authors (e.g., Stone, 2008) have discussed how the Deaf community are less engaged with selecting people to become interpreters, and many interpreter education programmes are trying to re-engage with the community through service learning (see Shaw, 2012). The swing to professionalism has led to a situation where it seems that PDFs are almost apologising for having sign language heritage. It could be seen that this is a form of intangible cultural heritage.

I don’t want to be divisive. We all have the same goal in mind – let’s work together to provide the highest quality interpreting and translation services for the Deaf community. So let’s embrace deaf and hearing PDFs, recognise and value their heritage; in the same way we should recognise and value the life experiences of others who have chosen to learn our language and be a part of our community – they chose us.

After holding a discussion group at the ASLI conference in September 2014 with sign language interpreters about the topic of language brokering, the majority of whom did not have sign language heritage, I first suggested this PDF term. Comments from the group were very positive and people responded well to this more all-encompassing term.

What are your thoughts…?

IRC Guest Lecture: Culture and Power among Palestinians in Tel Aviv

The IRC Guest Lecture series kicked off last week, with journalist and anthropologist Andreas Hackl’s talk on “Culture and Power among Palestinians in Tel Aviv: An Intercultural Perspective”.

With his natural flair for storytelling, Andreas took us on a journey to modern-day Israel, where the Palestinian citizens of Israel have taken part in an ongoing struggle to preserve identity, culture and a national identity while at the same time living in the midst of Israeli society.

Making up some 1.3 million or 17 percent of Israel’s population today, the Palestinian citizens of Israel are the descendants of those Palestinian Arabs who did not become refugees in 1948 – when Israel was created – but were incorporated within the boundaries of this state that continues to define itself as Jewish (and democratic). What is important is that the Palestinian or Arab citizens of Israel are not a minority that immigrated into a majority-society, but rather an indigenous former majority to which a foreign colonial project and a state had forcibly immigrated. Palestinians in Israel are then dealing with the condition of ‘exile at home’ in their everyday lives. This includes the complex and difficult balancing of power and culture by individual members of this ‘marginalized minority’.

The everyday political and cultural dilemmas are specifically severe among Palestinians in Tel Aviv, a city often imagined to be an exclusively Jewish-Israeli place. Here, Palestinians’ historic luggage and their national and cultural identities often stand in sharp contrast to the social and cultural environment in the city and Tel Aviv’s own discursive identity. The result of Palestinians’ opportunity-oriented inclusion into Tel Aviv – whether in search for work, education, or an urban lifestyle – is often the uneasy coexistence of everyday struggles with power and culture on the one hand, and the often innovative and empowering tactics of individual Palestinians on the other.

For Palestinians in the city of Tel Aviv, conflict and peace, or resistance and cooperation, coexist.

Andreas’s talk raised some serious questions on the issues of plurality but at the same time partiality of identity. The ‘exile at home’ takes the traditional anthropological view of liminality to new levels. Important questions were also raised on multilingualism in modern-day Israel. As a journalist and a researcher he relied on interviews and ethnographic engagement to capture and convey the ‘voice’ of the community he was studying. As the Palestinian citizens of Israel often switch between languages depending on context, he too had to be sensitive to the special requirements of each situation – Arabic, Hebrew and English intermixed in many ways. You could write a whole paper about the dynamics of these interviews based on the language used for communication, before you move on to the more crucial power dynamics examined in his work.

Andreas is also a member of the International Doctoral Programme Transformations in European Societies, a collaboration between the universities of Munich, Murcia, Tel Aviv, Graz, Basel, Copenhagen and Heriot-Watt and is one of the editors of the Transformations blog. He is a PhD student in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and DOC-fellow of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Interpreting Needs Troublemakers

Author: Jonathan Downie

I was in London on Saturday for a meeting and I got chatting to some fellow interpreters about the ways that research is challenging how we think about and practise interpreting. Here in LINCS, for example, Robyn Dean is arguing for us to fundamentally shift how we think about ethics, Penny Karanasiou is asking tough questions about the role(s) of interpreters in business negotiations and I am beginning to think that experienced clients might have more helpful views of our work than we do!

All this spells trouble. Doing research like this means threatening some of the most cherished ideas of our profession. Who doesn’t like to coddle the comforting thought that we know better than our clients about, well, everything? If you start talking too openly about problems with mainstream interpreting ethics, you remove one of the few firm foundations in our profession. And as for discussing whether interpreters can do more than “just interpret”, it’s probably safer to just leave that well alone!

But the thing is, all the good researchers I know are very bad are just leaving things alone. Safe is not a word we tend to like. In fact, I was accused of enjoying stirring things up on Saturday. Me? As if!

All joking aside, I do really think that challenging preconceived ideas is exactly what our profession needs. If we discover flaws in our practice or training or in the way we sell our work then of course, it must be confronted. This is where research is at its best. When researchers get their hands dirty and ask difficult questions, sparks begin to fly.

Take Robyn’s work in interpreter training. Rather than just sit back and criticise, she actively trains interpreters to apply the case conferencing techniques used by doctors. I know of many other researchers who do groundbreaking research and then take the brave step of presenting it to professionals so they can apply it.

If interpreting is to thrive in today’s high-tech, always-on world, we need to be able to adjust. This doesn’t just mean adopting some new technology or learning to be fashionable. It means asking the though questions about what we need to change in our practice to meet our clients’ real needs and growing expectations.

Is it scary? Yes! Is it necessary? You bet. But that’s why I do research: to do work that can benefit the wider world. Maybe it’s time we all did the same.

Introducing our new PhD students

Our vibrant PhD cohort is growing!

Yanmei Wu has joined LINCS as a PhD student in Heritage and Performance. Her study will look into Chinese Kunqu Opera as intangible heritage, as well as its recent revival in 21st century China. Her supervisors are Dr Chris Tinker and Dr Kerstin Pfeiffer.

Yanmei studied ethnomusicology at SOAS, visual anthropology at Goldsmith’s and teaching Chinese as a foreign language at Sheffield. She taught Chinese at Manchester Metropolitan University for three years before deciding to pursue her PhD studies in Heriot-Watt.

In addition to her teaching career and study, Yanmei has worked extensively as a performing artist. Originally from Jiangsu province in China, she was trained in traditional Chinese dance and music from an early age. She performs different styles of trasitinoal Chinese dance as well as zheng, the Chinese zither.

Heather Mole has also joined us this year to embark on her PhD research on sign language interpreting. Her supervisors are Prof Jemina Napier and Dr Katerina Strani.

Heather’s background includes BSL/English interpreting (a degree in Deaf Studies from Bristol University) and a Masters in Disability Studies from Leeds University.

She has worked as an adviser to disabled students in a university setting for 8 years. In that time, Heather reflected on the power dynamics of service provision and interpreting. She has also been fascinated by the concept of “white privilege” and the transposition of this onto “hearing privilege”. Heather hopes to research these two dimensions to see what impact they may or may not have on the interpreter.

For more information on our PhD programmes in LINCS, you can visit this page for research on Translation and Interpreting and this page for intercultural research.