Designated or preferred? A deaf academic and two signed language interpreters working together for a PhD defence: A case study of best practice

Maartje De Meulder[1]
University of Namur

Jemina Napier
Heriot-Watt University

Christopher Stone
University of Wolverhampton

All views or conclusions are those of the authors of the articles and not necessarily those of the editorial staff or the publisher.

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Abstract

In this paper we present an appreciative inquiry case study of our work together in a PhD defence, which we believe demonstrates a best practice in the field of signed language interpreting. We call into question the meaning and relevance of the ‘designated interpreter’ model, examining whether there is a ‘perfect formula’ for deaf academics and interpreters working together, not only in PhD defences, but also in academia more generally. We also challenge the very system for the provision of interpreter services as an institution creating structural inequalities, because it is heavily based on privilege. We argue that what is key is preference (i.e. the ability to exercise real choice) and familiarity, rather than the assignation of a ‘designated’ interpreter, and that simply achieving a degree in interpreting cannot guarantee that an interpreter will be prepared to meet the needs of deaf professionals. We also argue that sign language interpreter education needs to focus more than it does now on training to work into English (and/or other spoken languages in non-English-speaking countries), on performing visibly comfortable language work, and on specific specializations linked to deaf professional access and continuing professional development.

Keywords: sign language, signed language interpreting, academics, deaf, PhD defence, designated interpreter model.

[1]Correspondence to: Maartje De Meulder (maartje.demeulder@unamur.be)

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Example 1

In response to the question about which of the research questions were the most difficult to answer:

Christopher: “ … when you look at the different recognitions occur, the different languages, the different people, to try to actually disambiguate some of the information that was quite tricky to do, the typological issues made it quite complex.”

Only the excerpt above is captioned. The video before and after this excerpt is provided to give you context for the interpretation.  

Example 2

About d/Deaf terminology:

Christopher: “So, I follow that convention in terms of the fact that “small-d deaf: is about being a deaf person and in some ways “big D” and “deaf d” is quite antiquated and not positive and it tries to take a simplistic approach to the lived reality of deaf people. We have multiple identities, we have multiple ways of being in the world at different moments, so it does not really deal with the notion of intersectionality in some ways.”

Only the excerpt above is captioned. The video before and after this excerpt is provided to give you context for the interpretation.  

Example 3

About key authors:

Jemina: “So any recognition of sign language has to take into account the multilingual practices of deaf people and the fact that there is linguistic diversity within signing communities.”

Only the excerpt above is captioned. The video before and after this excerpt is provided to give you context for the interpretation.  

Example 4

About the role of participant observation as one of the research methods:

Jemina: “… because I perhaps could go at a conference and see somebody present a paper and say ‘yes we have sign language recognition in my country’, but when I examined the actual paperwork, the legislation I was able to see exactly what level of recognition they were talking about and enabled me to draw down to a deeper level to find out exactly what kind of legislation exists across different countries.”

Only the excerpt above is captioned. The video before and after this excerpt is provided to give you context for the interpretation.  

Example 5

About the limitations and opportunities of specificity and universalism:

Jemina: “You can’t assume that sign language recognition functions on an international level because you have to take into account the language policy, the political system, the government framework, the legislative history, the infrastructures that are available within each respective country in order to implement any kind of sign language recognition.”

Only the excerpt above is captioned. The video before and after this excerpt is provided to give you context for the interpretation.  

Example 6

About vitality of sign languages:

Christopher: “It’s also important for us to not see that as a risk of sign languages changing, but actually as a positive process and part of natural languaging processes.”

Only the excerpt above is captioned. The video before and after this excerpt is provided to give you context for the interpretation.