When dealing with the police, deaf people are at a major disadvantage

by Jemina Napier

This article was originally published in The Conversation by , Professor and Chair of Intercultural Communication, Heriot-Watt University. Jemina Napier has received co-funding for JUSTISIGNS through the European Commission’s Leonardo Da Vinci Lifelong Learning programme, and from the UK arts and humanities research council.

 

When dealing with the police, deaf people are at a major disadvantage

Are you receiving me? Matt Antonio

We all have occasions when we need to deal with the police. Perhaps your car has been stolen and you have to report it; or perhaps you have witnessed a mugging and you have been called to the police station to be interviewed and provide a witness statement. Or perhaps you have been accused of shoplifting and the security guard has detained you in the back room until the police arrive.

Interacting with the police can be stressful, regardless of whether you are a witness, a victim or a culprit. Most of us have one very useful advantage, however: we can hear. Anyone who is deaf and has dealt with the police may have found communication a major problem. Too often, the forces in the UK and elsewhere in Europe struggle to provide sign language interpreters at short notice or even to understand the needs of deaf people. It hampers their access to justice and needs to be addressed urgently.

The first thing to make clear is that we are talking about quite a substantial number of people. The European Union of the Deaf estimates there are approximately a million deaf sign language users in Europe. In the UK, there are estimated to be approximately 70,000 deaf people who use British Sign Language as their first or preferred language.

This is a linguistic and cultural minority group with its own accepted norms of behaviour. And most people probably don’t realise that deaf people use different sign languages in every country around the world. They identify one another on that basis in the same way that a British person might identify a German or Spaniard through the way they talk.

Interpreter rights

When it comes to the justice system as a whole, deaf people’s right to interpreters has increasingly been recognised – even if this is typically enshrined in disability discrimination law rather than laws to protect cultural minorities. But while there are now established systems for providing interpreters in courts and tribunals, and clear guidelines on booking them for police interviews and solicitor consultations in the UK and some other countries across Europe, researchers have repeatedly found that deaf people encounter barriers.

The issues are often to do with people in the justice system not being aware of the need to book interpreters to ensure that deaf people can communicate. This can usually be resolved in time for court cases or for courses in prison, but what happens in police encounters at short notice?

Sitting comfortably? Boogaloo

There are reports of police misreading a deaf person’s attempts to communicate. On some occasions, deaf people have had to wait many hours before an interpreter can be found and they can be interviewed by police.

There are recurring cases of people giving witness statements without an interpreter (or with an unqualified person). The statement is then admitted as evidence in court, and the deaf person doesn’t understand the process they have been involved in or the consequences of signing the statement. As the police interview is the first point of contact in a legal process, it is essential that people understand their rights and the process. This can’t happen for deaf people if they don’t have a professional qualified interpreter in the interview.

JUSTISIGNS

To better understand the problem in police settings and address the barriers, I have been collaborating with a team of international specialists for the past three years. The JUSTISIGNS project includes seven universities and sign language professional bodies from the UK, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland.

We found that there is no uniform approach across Europe to training or certifying legal sign language interpreters or making such people available for deaf people in the justice system. Through a series of focus groups and interviews with police officers, deaf people and interpreters in the four countries, our findings included:

  • Police officers are unaware that sign-language users need to have an interpreter present as they cannot necessarily lipread or write notes; and are unclear on the qualifications or level of expertise required of sign language interpreters. There are no clear guidelines for how interpreters and police can work together;
  • Some police forces have policies to guide officers when it comes to interviewing deaf suspects/witnesses/victims – in the UK, some forces have begun to develop online videos for example – but police officers do not always know about best practice;

  • There are not enough interpreters available at short notice to meet recommendations that only qualified and experienced practitioners be used in the legal system;
  • Though some interpreters have received legal training, interpreters are often nervous of working in police interviews in case they get called as a witness in a later court case;
  • There is a lack of established legal terminology in British Sign Language and other sign languages.
Best practice rarely followed. Photographee.eu

On the back of this evidence, JUSTISIGNS held masterclasses and training workshops for police officers and interpreters in the partner countries; and events and meetings to inform deaf people and other relevant organisations and professionals of the project. In the UK, it helped develop best practice guidelines on legal interpreting and worked with Police Scotland on a British Sign Language translation of the Scottish law caution and an explanation of what it means.

The hope is that in years to come, deaf people will be able to deal with the police in unexpected situations without any disadvantage. That is certainly what they are entitled to expect.

The Manchester terror drill – and why we must stop linking Arabic with fanatics

This article was first published in ‘The Conversation’ https://theconversation.com/uk

by Máiréad Nic Craith

Greater Manchester Police staged a mock attack featuring a suicide bomber late on the night of Monday May 9. It began at the Trafford Centre shopping complex when a man in black walked into the centre of the main foyer and shouted “Allahu Akbar” – “God is great” – several times at the crowd. Moments later, an explosion rocked the food hall. The 800 volunteers dropped to the floor or ran into cafes and shops screaming for help, many of them made up to look as if they had horrific injuries.

The reaction has been largely negative, with many making the point that using the words “Allahu Akbar” reinforced the stereotype that terrorists are primarily Muslim. They rightly said that in reality, anyone can be a terrorist. By enforcing the Muslim stereotype, the exercise divided rather than united people and could increase anti-Muslim hate crime.

The police force was quick to put up a senior officer to respond. Stressing that “Allahu Akbar” was not scripted, he called the phrase “unacceptable” and apologised on behalf of the force since it “vocally linked this exercise with Islam”.

End of story? Actually an important point has been overlooked. The commentary has focused on the fact that the attack associated Islam and terrorism, but something else was associated with terrorism, too – the Arabic language. Spoken by an estimated 422m people, it is one of the most common languages in the world. Have we become so used to associating politics with particular languages that the matter is not considered exceptional or worthy of discussion?

UK connotations

This issue goes much wider than Arabic. Staying with the UK, other languages are associated with political ideologies, too. I worked in Northern Ireland for 11 years and could not fail to notice the political stereotypes around the Irish language. I worried that my beautiful Irish language name would generate the perception that my intentions were political – although friends assured me that given I was from the South, the issue did not arise.

Since the days of the hunger striker Bobby Sands, who taught himself and other fellow prisoners Irish in the H-Blocks, Sinn Féin has often been accused of politicising Irish. Linking Irish with political intent makes it uncomfortable for some people without nationalist aspirations to speak it in public.

Last year, for instance, the Belfast Telegraph columnist Claire Harrison wrote that she stopped her university course in Irish partly because of “a growing discomfort with a general assumption that I was a raving republican”.

Sinn Féin conference in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Niall Carson

The perception that Irish is political has been greatly enhanced by politicians from non-nationalist parties seizing the opportunity to score a point at the expense of the Irish culture. Linda Ervine, a prominent unionist Irish-language speaker, last year accused Nelson McCausland of the unionist DUP of politicising the Irish language in exactly the same manner he claims republicans are guilty of. It’s not as if it has to be this way. Many of my friends in Northern Ireland who speak Irish on a regular basis do not associate it with politics and are motivated only by a love of Irish culture.

Over the Irish Sea in Scotland, we are seeing signs of something similar. In my recent TEDx talk on living heritage I noted that Scots has gained a new visibility and credibility as the culture has become more self-confident in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum. Pro-independence daily The National now features a weekly column in Scots, for instance. Yet the emergence of Scots cannot escape the political undertones. As the culture scholar Scott Hames wrote a few months ago, the “question of Scots is now becoming hyper-politicised in crude and distorting ways”. He argued that “national identity is undoubtedly part of the picture; but it needn’t be the whole picture”.

Many of us have heard the slogan that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy”. Languages now considered “neutral” or “official” have often gained their visibility and credibility with the support of political structures – a fact often forgotten at the beginning of the 21st century.

So how to respond? The Irish-language activist Aodán Mac Poilín has suggested that, rather than attempting to depoliticise languages and break their link with specific communities, we should think about making them appropriate for many communities and in many spheres – multi-politicising them, if you will. With this in mind, it is good to read about the latest Arabic initiative in London, in which “Subhan Allah” (or “Glory be to God”) is appearing on posters on the sides of the red buses. This initiative by Islamic Relief is designed to change the negativity about Islam and foster understanding between different communities.

Sadiq Khan. Dominic Lipinski/PA

A few days ago, London elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan. The most recent winner of the Great British Bake Off was the Muslim Nadiya Hussain. With more events like these and fewer ill-conceived terror drills and such like, it raises the possibility of multi-politicising Arabic. Perhaps there will come a time when we don’t immediately think of terrorism when we hear the word “Allah”. Perhaps we might think instead about justice, human rights and good food.

Les publics multilingues

by Katerina Strani

This post was originally published in the CREM research blog Publics en Question. For a similar (but not identical) English version, please visit this page.

Welcome_multilingual_Guernsey_tourism-672x372

Il a longtemps été prouvé que notre langage a un impact sur la façon dont nous pensons et, finalement, la façon dont nous soutenons nos arguments (Whorf, 1956). Notre langage façonne notre pensée et notre vision du monde. C’est par la langue que nous devenons des êtres politiques. Le philosophe Ludwig Wittgenstein a dit que les « limites de ma langue sont les limites de mon monde ». Dai Vaughan a adapté cette citation célèbre en déclarant que« les limites de ma langue sont les limites de ton monde ».

Qu’est-ce que cela signifie quand nous parlons des langues différentes dans les sphères publiques?

L’argumentation constitue la pierre angulaire de la sphère publique, mais, malgré l’importance du multilinguisme sur la construction sociale des sphères publiques contemporaines, ceci reste relativement sous-exploré. Les sphères publiques ne sont pas statiques, mais dynamiques et en pleine évolution. La citoyenneté post-nationale (comme la citoyenneté de l’UE), les sphères publiques sous-nationales (assemblées, collectivités locales, etc.), les langues minoritaires dans l’administration publique, les publics diasporiques en raison de l’augmentation des migrations ont abouti à la communication publique multilingue augmentée. Si on ajoute à cela les nouveaux médias et des « tiers-espaces » de communication (Bhabha, 1994), on voit que la communication multilingue a modifié la composition de la sphère publique non seulement en termes de structure mais aussi en termes de nature communicative. Les interprètes sont de plus en plus utilisés pour parvenir à la compréhension et favoriser le débat dans un environnement multilingue (voir les sphères publiques de l’UE). La reconnaissance des différences culturelles et la thématisation de l’«altérité» font désormais partie du débat multilingue (Doerr, 2012). Les logiciels de traduction deviennent également populaires dans les forums multilingues en ligne, bien que parfois avec des résultats mitigés.

Cependant, malgré la réalité multilingue évidente, il reste quand même une idéologie monolingualiste (Doerr, 2012 ; Pym, 2013) et une hypothèse erronée de l’homogénéité linguistique des sphères publiques. Et cela est encore plus alarmant quand on sait que le multilinguisme dans la sphère publique n’est pas quelque chose de nouveau. Rappelons-nous de l’Empire des Habsbourg, de l’Empire Ottoman, ou bien de la France du 19e siècle ; et aujourd’hui, des pays comme la Belgique, la Suisse, le Canada, l’Afrique du Sud ou l’Inde sont officiellement bilingues or multilingues.

Le multilinguisme continue à constituer une partie intégrante de la sphère publique contemporaine, dans laquelle l’argumentation politique peut défier les barrières linguistiques. Comme Thomas Risse et Marianne Van de Steeg (2003) l’ont fait valoir, il n’est « pas besoin de parler la même langue pour communiquer d’une manière significative » ; comme Nicole Doerr (2012) l’a démontré dans ses recherches sur le Forum social européen, malgré le pluralisme linguistique et les compétences linguistiques asymétriques des participants, les débats multilingues sont plus inclusifs que les monolingues. D’un bout à l’autre, la communication devient peu à peu détachée du fonds linguistique.

Bien sûr, cela a des implications pratiques ainsi que normatives. La compréhension semble de plus en plus inaccessible. Une autre langue ajoute un niveau supplémentaire à la contingence (et au risque de mécompréhension ). En outre, les différences de pouvoir dans les sphères publiques multilingues peuvent non seulement être enracinées dans le statut, l’éducation ou l’accès, mais aussi dans la langue choisie pour la communication ou enfin dans la façon dont la langue dominante est parlée (Doerr, 2012 ; Fraser 2007). Le manque d’une langue commune dans l’UE, par exemple, n’empêche pas l’hégémonie linguistique; et toute lingua franca ne sera probablement parlée que par les élites où les éduqués (Fraser, 2007).

Mais il faut considérer ceci : quand nous parlons une langue différente, nous devenons essentiellement des personnes différentes. Quand nous pensons dans une langue différente, nous pensons d’une manière différente. Les langues représentent les cultures, les systèmes de croyance, les mondes vécus. Si nous passons à une autre langue, nous passons à une vision du monde différente. Forcer les gens à parler la même langue, en particulier dans le débat politique, revient à les forcer à penser différemment et à avoir des arguments différents. Certaines personnes considèrent cette obligation comme une forme d’oppression.

Pourquoi dire que l’anglais en Grande-Bretagne, le français en France, etc., est la seule langue admise de débat critique rationnel ? Il est arrogant de penser qu’une langue dominante est la langue de la raison et la seule pourvoyeuse de la vérité. Voilà pourquoi nous devons adopter le multilinguisme, nous devons le favoriser et l’encourager, surtout en politique, où il est le plus vital. Il encourage le pluralisme dans la pensée et l’expression, ce qui est au cœur de la démocratie.

Références

Bhabha H., 1994, The Location of Culture, London, New York, Routledge.Doerr N., 2012, « Translating democracy : how activists in the European Social Forum practice multilingual deliberation », European Political Science Review, 4 (3), pp. 361-384.

Fraser N., 2007, « Transnationalizing the Public Sphere : On the Legitimacy and Efficacy of Public Opinion in a Post-Westphalian World », European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, doi : 10.1177/0263276407080090.

Pym A., 2013, « Translation as an instrument for multilingual democracy », Critical Multilingualism Studies, 1(2), pp. 78-95.

Risse T., Van de Steeg M., 2003, « An emerging European public sphere ? Empirical evidence and theoretical clarifications » : Conference on the Europeanisation of Public Spheres, Political Mobilisation, Public Communication and the European Union, Science Center Berlin, 20-21 juin.

Whorf B.L., 1956, « The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language », pp. 134-59, in : Carroll, J. B. et al. (dir.), Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, Cambridge, MIT Press.

Top 5 Lessons Learned in Edinburgh

You read her guest post last month. Now read what Michelle Hof, aka InterpDiaries thought of the first ever Edinburgh International Research Summer School.

The Interpreter Diaries

Recently, I treated myself to a week in Edinburgh. No, it wasn’t a last-minute getaway or family holiday. I went to attend the Edinburgh Interpreting Research Summer School (EIRSS) organised by Heriot-Watt’s School of Management and Languages. The EIRSS brought together some 30 interpreting researchers, students and practitioners for an intensive course in all things interpreting studies-related (you can consult the full programme here). All those in attendance agreed that the EIRSS was a resounding success and that the organisers did an excellent job of putting together the inaugural edition of what is intended to become an annual event. (For a full review of the EIRSS and a look at the event’s photo album, click here.)

While I am not entirely sure my readers would be interested in learning about the virtues of qualitative vs. quantitative research or hearing about the best apps for bibliographical reference management…

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This post first appeared on 12th December, 2011. It is worth another read, especially for those considering their career choices.

LifeinLINCS

On Friday, we announced the beginning of undergraduate BSL courses here at Heriot-Watt. This is the first time that BSL has been taught at undergraduate level at a Translation and Interpreting school. To celebrate this breakthrough, here are three excellent reasons why BSL interpreting is a profession with potential.

1.    There is lots of work for signing professionals to do. While Scotland, for example, has a few dozen qualified sign language interpreters, a similar-sized country such as Finland has hundreds. Legislation UK-wide entitles Deaf people to interpreting provision, but these rights have yet to be met by an adequate supply of professionals. Could this be you?

2.    Working as a BSL/English interpreter, you are assured that no two days will ever be alike. “Every day is different and you never stop learning… I have also met some amazing people both colleagues and clients, and ended up interpreting for…

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