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.

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.

Is it still “B”SL if Scotland votes ‘Yes’?

Author: Graham H. Turner

Fewer than 100 days remain until Scotland makes a weighty decision – to remain ‘United’ with the rest of the Kingdom’, or to strike out as an independent nation http://www.scotreferendum.com/.

In the background of the democratic process lurk many questions about language. Scots, Americans, Australians and others routinely experience the dissonance of hearing their language called ‘English’. The same problem would start to apply to users of sign language in an independent Scotland – because their language is currently known as ‘British Sign Language’.

So, when we gaze into our crystal ball, what can be foreseen in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th? Odd as it may seem, scholars take the view that languages are not defined by their linguistic content, but by their socio-political status: “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” as Max Weinreich pithily declared.

So if Scottish signers chose to exert their political muscles, they could start using the term ‘Scottish Sign Language’ tomorrow, if they wanted to, referring to the eloquent and powerful signing they already produce every day – and the language itself wouldn’t need to change one iota.

Strictly in terms of linguistic structures, signing throughout these islands post-referendum is likely to remain more-or-less as united as it has previously been, no matter what the result of the vote. Languages change pretty slowly, after all. And as can be seen in the British Sign Language [BSL] Corpus (for which Heriot-Watt University was the Scottish partner), there is already significant regional variation in signing, including what are considered distinctly Scottish signs. That kind of variation comfortably exists within many languages – including English – without people feeling the need to change their view that ‘it’s all still one language really’.

But politically, things may be different for communities in an independent Scotland. A lot will depend on social attitudes on both sides of the border. It’s possible that linguistic divisions may harden over time – but we’d be talking generations, not months.

The other thing that is crucial is how key aspects of government policy in London and Edinburgh develop after the referendum. I published a paper in 2003 – “On Policies and Prospects for British Sign Language” – saying that one of the problems with making progress in improving BSL’s status is that the UK has always lacked any specific LANGUAGE policy about BSL.

We have policies in health, social care, justice, education etc, all of which have implications for BSL – but nowhere do we take the language itself, and the signing community, as the focus for policy development. The result is the kind of incoherence and inconsistency we see in the Westminster government’s approach to BSL at present. Is that how things will continue if Scotland becomes independent?

Some of the messages are discouraging. Scotland already has autonomy over its education policy (as part of the ‘devolved’ parliamentary arrangements) – but it cannot be said to have transformed the lives of Scottish Deaf young people as a result, as a recent report shows. So we can’t be complacent.

On the other hand, the Scottish Funding Council provides ring-fenced resources which have allowed Heriot-Watt University to create a unique, full-time, 4-year degree course in BSL/English interpreting and to keep recruiting new students every year for the foreseeable future.

So there are encouraging indications. And thanks to Mark Griffin MSP, the Scottish Parliament is due to consider a BSL Bill during 2014 – for once, putting the policy focus squarely on the language. That should be an encouraging signal that Scotland is moving towards seeing its sign language – whatever we call it – as part of its own cultural heritage, like Gaelic and Scots, to be treasured and protected.

Research on, for and with translators

Author: Graham H. Turner

There are many topics one may be well advised to avoid in polite company – and here we are in polite company, so don’t ask me to name them. You know.

But in this age of social media free-for-all, if people are discussing their lives in the blogosphere, is that material openly available to be treated as data by researchers?

A recent paper (http://www.vakki.net/publications/2013/VAKKI2013_Dam.pdf) by Professor Helle Vrønning Dam, from the Department of Business Communication at Aarhus University in Denmark, has stirred up a degree of controversy among professional translators.

Professor Dam’s (http://pure.au.dk/portal/en/persons/id(a0254d63-e724-4476-bd70-5b7642cf0e53).html) work (2013) describes an ongoing project analysing translators’ self-presentation in their weblogs. Some 21 freelance practitioners are said to “use their weblogs to enhance their own and their profession’s status and, ultimately, seek empowerment”.

The paper is characterised by the author as an illustration of ‘the translator approach’, “a new research perspective in translation studies that posits translators, rather than for example translations or translating, as the primary and explicit focus of research”.

I’d be the last to knock any researcher who wants to keep real human beings squarely in focus. There are more than enough analysts out there who appear content to reduce the soul to a desiccated set of metrics (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/fashion/the-united-states-of-metrics.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0).

But if this is ‘new’ to translation studies, it really shouldn’t be. And there are models available that would help enormously to overcome the disconnect between researcher and researched that seems to have caused friction (https://www.facebook.com/groups/extraordinarytranslators/) among some readers of Dam’s study.

Back in the days when I still had hair on my head (no, I did, really), one the books that made the strongest impression on me was Cameron, D., E. Frazer, P. Harvey, M.B.H. Rampton, and K. Richardson. 1992. Researching language: issues of power and method. New York: Routledge. (Astonishingly, it’s not available from the publisher, it appears, but can be bought from as little as £0.01 from certain online outlets.)

As a young academic, I was captivated by the clarity and social solidarity of the authors’ approach. Long before ‘public engagement’, ‘knowledge exchange’ and the need for ‘impact’ became familiar to most academics, Professor Deborah Cameron (http://www.english.ox.ac.uk/about-faculty/faculty-members/language-and-linguistics/cameron-professor-deborah) and colleagues set out three simple ‘programmatic precepts’:

  • “People are not objects and should not be treated as objects.
  • Subjects have their own agendas and research should try to address them.
  • If knowledge is worth having, it is worth sharing.”

Elegant and brilliant. I am convinced that, taken in a serious and considered manner, these principles really work. They have for me for over 20 years. The beauty of them in the human sciences is that, at a stroke, they enhance both aspects of the equation – our humanity and our science.

Have they been applied in our field? Well over a decade ago, I led on a paper called ‘Issues of Power and Method in Interpreting Research’ (see http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781900650441/ for details) which wears its debt to Cameron et al quite explicitly. The work of Heriot-Watt’s Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland (www.ctiss.hw.ac.uk) has underscored this approach in many ways. ‘Empowering’ methods are highlighted in our Summer Schools (http://www.sml.hw.ac.uk/departments/languages-intercultural-studies/edinburgh-interpreting-research-summer-school.htm) and publications (eg https://benjamins.com/#catalog/books/btl.99.11hes/details).

So empowerment of practitioners by practitioners, as Dam discusses, is one significant step. But it is also eminently possible for researchers and practitioners to combine forces for mutual benefit. And the ultimate target is, of course, a ‘cycle of empowerment’ (as described here https://benjamins.com/#catalog/books/btl.70.21tur/details) which advances the interests of both groups, plus – most importantly of all – the service users in whose interests interpreters, translators and researchers are all ultimately operating.

ARTWORK COMPETITION! Sign language brokering experiences in the Deaf community

<<Click here to see this information in BSL>>

Do you have deaf parents that use sign language?

Have you had experience of helping your parents to communicate with hearing people or translating information for your parents?

Even if you are deaf or hearing – it means you have done what is called ‘language brokering’

Language brokering is something that children do to help their parents with communication, for example, if the family has migrated from another country and the parents don’t speak the language. Children can learn new languages more quickly than their parents, which is why they will help their parents to communicate in different situations.

Research has shown that children in the UK who speak a different language at home with their parents, like Chinese or Polish, often broker for their parents in different situations, like at the bank, the shop, at school or at the doctor. They can also broker by telling their parents what letters say, or information brochures, or help them fill in forms. This research has also shown that children who broker for their parents have different feelings about it – some feel good about it, some feel not so good about it.

We know that hearing and deaf kids who have deaf parents that use sign language also do this ‘language brokering’. But we don’t really know much about where it happens or why, and how the kids feel about it. We also know that even when people are grown up, they still broker for their deaf parents.

So this is a new project to find out about sign language brokering in the Deaf community in the UK. We want people to tell us about their experiences.

The project has different stages – we have already done a survey of 240 deaf and hearing Codas from 14 different countries and found that many of them began brokering as early as 4 or 5 years old. They also said that they broker in different situations, like other kids with spoken languages. We have also interviewed 11 people in Australia, ranging from 13 years old to over 50 years old, who have talked to us about their language brokering experience.

For the next stage of the research we are holding an artwork competition – so you can draw a picture, take a photo or make a short 5-minute movie to show us how you feel about your sign language brokering experience. We want deaf and hearing kids and adults to submit your artwork.

All the submissions will be judged by a panel of deaf and hearing people that have deaf parents or are involved in the Deaf community.

There will be 9 prizes of a £50 gift voucher for one person in each age and submission category. Winners will be emailed with a voucher.

Each piece of artwork will be analysed to get an understanding of how people feel about their sign language brokering experiences in the Deaf community.

So that children, deaf parents and other members of the Deaf community, hearing professionals that work with deaf people, and interpreters can benefit from this information, we would like to share this artwork with different audiences in different ways: like on a website or at an artwork exhibition. We will only show your artwork with your permission.

Competition rules:

1. This competition is only open to UK residents.

2. There are three age categories: Under 13, 13-18, Over 18

3. There are three artwork categories: (1) Draw/ paint a picture, (2) Take a photo, (3) Make a short movie.

4. Movie submissions should be no longer than 5 minutes long and should ideally be provided through a link to a YouTube or Vimeo clip. If USB sticks or DVDs are posted, they cannot be returned.

5. Deadline for competition entries is MONDAY 30th JUNE 2014.

6. Entries can be posted or sent by email

7. All entries must include a submission form. If no form is included it will not be entered into the competition.

 

<<Click here to download the artwork competition submission form>>

<<Click here to download the Artwork competition poster>>

This project is being managed by Jemina Napier, who is a sign language interpreter and researcher and also teaches interpreters. Jemina is hearing and grew up in a large deaf family in London, so has used British Sign Language all her life.

<<Click here for more information about Jemina in English>>

<<Click here for more information about Jemina in BSL>>

This project is also being carried out with support from key organisations who represent the Deaf, sign language interpreting and Coda communities, including: CODA UK & Ireland, the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI), the Scottish Council on Deafness (SCOD), Deaf Parenting UK and the British Deaf Association (BDA). It is vital to carry out this project in collaboration with the Deaf community, deaf parents and sign language interpreters in order to ensure that the communities can directly benefit from the research findings.

To see more information about the project in English and International Sign: << Click here>> 

If you have any questions please contact the project manager Jemina Napier by email – childlanguagebrokering@gmail.com and she can answer your questions by email or arrange a skype conversation if you would prefer to talk in BSL.

Author: Jemina Napier

 

Insign: Breaking new ground in video remote interpreting research

insign_logo

Pioneered in Sweden, both video remote interpreting (VRI) and video relay service (VRS) platforms use web-based video technology to enable Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (HoH) sign language users to talk to (hearing) non-sign language users using their preferred language (i.e., a signed language) via an interpreter, either with the interpreter situated remotely and the deaf and hearing person together in the same room (VRI) or the deaf and hearing people in different locations with the interpreter in a call centre (VRS). VRI and VRS is increasing exponentially worldwide, and as a result there is a growing area of research that investigates communication through VRI and VRS from linguistic and sociological perspectives (e.g., Taylor, 2005, 2009; Quinto-Pozos et al., 2010; Brunson, 2011Napier & Leneham, 2011Alley, 2012; Napier, 2013).

Insign is a new pilot project that was launched in December 2013 to develop a web-based service platform, enabling European Deaf and HoH citizens to communicate independently and to contact their EU Institutions and MEPs. The platform (known as a Total Conversation platform) will offer the option of communicating via a sign language interpreter and/or real time captioning. The Insign project is funded through the DG Justice of the European Commission and is led by the European Union of the Deaf with a consortium of organisations from four European member states (Sign VideoIVèSefsliDesignit) and including BSL researchers in The Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies Scotland at Heriot-Watt University.

The project methodology involves key stages to review existing VRI/ VRS practices, develop the platform, demonstrate and test the platform, and make recommendations to the DG Justice for future implementation. Heriot-Watt University’s role is to provide the research evaluation component of the project. The Principal Investigator is Prof Jemina Napier, working with Co-Investigator Prof Graham Turner, and Research Associate and experienced VRI interpreter Robert Skinner.

This project is breaking new ground in two ways:

(1) It is the first VRI/ VRS of its kind to provide access to deaf people in more than one spoken-signed language pair. All other services focus on national spoken and signed languages (e.g., English and British Sign Language in the UK). Insign, however, will involve the provision of 6 signed languages: British Sign Language, Dutch Sign Language, French Sign Language, Hungarian Sign Language, Spanish Sign Language, and International Sign; and 5 spoken languages: Dutch, English, French, Hungarian, Spanish.

(2) It is the first international research study that will have access to natural (not simulated) data of VRS calls between Deaf sign language users and hearing people, as well as data from surveys and interviews with Deaf people, interpreters and captioners/re-speakers.

The first stage of data collection has begun, with the launch of a survey questionnaire to collect views from Deaf sign language users, interpreters and re-speakers on general VRI/VRS service experiences and the need for a specific EU-based solution.

You can participate in the survey by clicking on one of the following links – depending on whether you are Deaf or HoH person, an interpreter, or a re-speaker. Each of the surveys is in English, and the survey for Deaf and HoH users is also available in International Sign (IS) with the option of having a follow-up conversation in IS by Skype.

The results of these questionnaires will feed into the development of the Insign service, which will be demonstrated and tested throughout the year. One of the key principles of this project is to involve the key stakeholders in informing the development of the service and to evaluate the feasibility and sustainability of such a multilingual service. This especially includes Deaf sign language users and sign language interpreters.

This is your opportunity for your ‘voice’ to be heard…

Authored by: Jemina Napier

Interpreting for deaf jurors

 

http://youtu.be/_7uYtXD_J34 (BSL version)

Jury service in adversarial court systems is an important civic duty and responsibility. Jurors have to understand and weigh up evidence presented, assess the credibility of witnesses and decide on the likelihood of certain events having occurred in the light of their own personal experiences.

There has been increasing interest in whether deaf sign language users should be permitted to serve as jurors. In the USA deaf people have been serving as jurors in criminal trials since 1979. Legal challenges in the UK and Ireland have established that deaf people have the capacity to make decisions as jurors, and can sufficiently comprehend courtroom discourse and jury deliberations through a sign language interpreter (Heffernan, 2010). A deaf woman served on an inquest jury in the UK in 2011, and in Ireland they have increased the pool of potential jurors, but deaf people still cannot serve as jurors in criminal trials in either country (Farrell, 2013).

In early 2014, Gaye Lyons in Australia lost her discrimination case for being turned away from jury service, and may take a complaint to the United Nations. On a positive note, more recently Drisana Levitzke-Gray was the first deaf sign language user in Australia to participate in the jury selection process with an interpreter, although she did not get selected onto the final jury. This month a deaf woman in Scotland has been summoned for jury service and intends to ask for an interpreter.

The sticking point is the long-held common law that there cannot be a non-juror ‘stranger’ (i.e., an interpreter) as a 13th person in the jury room. The main concern has been that interpreters would inappropriately participate in confidential jury deliberations. As interpreters, we know that we are bound by a code of ethics, which requires us to remain impartial and uphold confidentiality.

There is no evidence for the impact that an interpreter may have as 13th person in the jury room on the sanctity of jury deliberations, either negative or positive. The only empirical research on deaf jurors to date has been conducted by Jemina Napier and David Spencer (2006, 2008), which has provided evidence that deaf and hearing jurors equally misunderstood content of jury instructions, and therefore deaf people are not disadvantaged by relying on sign language interpreters; and that legal professionals and sign language interpreters surveyed perceive that with supportive and clear policies and guidelines, and sufficient training for interpreters and court staff/stakeholders, deaf people can successfully serve as jurors (Napier, 2013).

Yet there is a lack of evidence for what actually happens in the jury deliberation room, and whether the assumption that the presence of an interpreter could impact (negatively) on the deliberation process is valid. Currently, Jemina Napier and David Spencer are working with a bigger team of experts in interpreting and law research, including Sandra Hale, Debra Russell and Mehera San Roque, on an Australian Research Council funded project to conduct a case study of a mock- criminal trial and jury deliberations with a deaf juror and interpreters to focus specifically on the analysis of interactions in the jury deliberation room.

The outcomes of this research have the potential to pioneer law reform worldwide, and have an impact on the provision of interpreting services in courts for deaf people. Watch this space…

Author: Jemina Napier

Do “new speakers” of English in the UK face exclusion?

Just before Christmas the UK government announced that migrants will only be able to claim benefits if they pass a series of tough new tests.

One of these includes a check on their fluency in English. These tests are now to be done without the assistance of a translator or interpreter. There are also talks of stopping the printing of welfare paperwork in foreign languages.

These moves come ahead of the removal of transitional controls on Romanian and Bulgarian workers.  If government proposals are followed through, all foreign-born benefit claimants will face a rigorous testing of their proficiency in English.

But what exactly does proficiency mean? What counts as fluency? Who decides this? And what are the consequences of these decisions?

Acquiring, knowing and using a new language is a complicated process. It does not happen overnight. Even when a “new speaker” becomes proficient in a language in some contexts, this does not necessarily apply to all others.

Asking for a pint of milk at the corner shop does not require the same vocabulary as filling out a legal document. That is why translation and interpreting services are necessary.

Becoming a “new speaker” of a language takes time. It is often fraught by prejudicial beliefs about what counts as the correct way of speaking and by who is considered a legitimate speaker. Having a “foreign” accent is often equated with a lack of fluency and thus a point of discrimination.

Britons returning after living abroad will come under similar scrutiny and will also be challenged to demonstrate their “proficiency” in English.

But having lived abroad can also make people sound as if they have a “foreign” accent. Any of us who have lived abroad for a considerable period of time will know that we sometimes feel like we have “lost” some of our native language.

We lose some of the colloquialisms of the language and sometimes borrow words, intonation or accent from the other languages we have been exposed to. People tell us that we don’t sound “natural”.

Will this lack of “naturalness” be classified as lacking proficiency ? Could it mean failing the language test?

Globalization and European integration create a context for increased geographical mobility and the generation of “new speakers” in countries such as the United Kingdom.

For most immigrants and transnational workers, acquiring the language of their host community is essential to becoming part of their new community and playing their part in its economic, social, political and artistic life.

As one former Tory Minister put it,  “the ability to speak English is one of the most empowering tools in the labour  market and we should be encouraging as many people as possible to learn it”.

Nobody is disputing this. But what can be questioned is the expectation that becoming a “new speaker” of English, or any other language for that matter, is something that happens automatically. Learning a language takes time. Cutting support services such as translation and interpreting will not change this.