LINGUIST List 15.1726

Mon Jun 7 2004

Review: Translation: Brunette, et al. (2003)

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  • Sophie Cacciaguidi-Fahy, The Critical Link 3: Interpreters in the Community

    Message 1: The Critical Link 3: Interpreters in the Community

    Date: Sun, 6 Jun 2004 19:33:57 -0400 (EDT)
    From: Sophie Cacciaguidi-Fahy <>
    Subject: The Critical Link 3: Interpreters in the Community

    Brunette, Louise, Georges Bastin, Isabelle Hemlin and Heather Clarke, ed. (2003) The Critical Link 3: Interpreters in the Community, John Benjamins, Benjamin Translation Library.

    Announced at

    Sophie Cacciaguidi-Fahy, National University of Ireland, Galway


    The Critical Link 3 is the third book from the Benjamins Translation Library in the Critical Link series, presenting selected papers from the third international conference on interpreting in legal, health and social service settings. In keeping with the theme of the two earlier monographs, the editors introduce a collection of papers which seeks to assist practitioners, academics and researchers to build a more complete understanding of interpreting practices and stimulate dialogue between interpreters, trainers, service providers and the wider community.

    The bilingual French and English preface reiterates the overarching goal of the international Critical Link conferences (building a network of professional experts and stimulating the dialogue among community interpreters) and the theme of the 2001 meeting (addressing the complexity of the profession) held in Montr�al. It is followed by a short bilingual introduction summarizing the main themes of each 21 articles, and the five principal sections addressing the dynamics of cross-cultural communication in interpreting theory and practice, the interpreter interaction with the end-users as well as the service providers, the needs and realities of interpreter training, the role of the interpreter in various legal jurisdictions and finally the complexity of the profession itself.

    The first section collates theory, practice and empirical research and starts with the results of an empirical study by Angelelli on the interpersonal role of the interpreter in cross-cultural communication based on data from Canada, the US and Mexico. She questions the conventional model of the ''invisible'' interpreter and puts forward an alternative model where the interpreter is viewed as an important social actor influencing the communication process. In a similar vein, Bot explores the theme of the ''neutral'' role of the interpreter as usually defined in judicial settings. She submits empirical evidence from psychotherapeutic studies suggesting that when involved in particular professional contexts such as health care, interpreters become active participants in what she calls a ''three- person psychology''. She again challenges the ethical requirement for the interpreter to remain a passive actor, acting as a mere ''voice box'' in the communication process and argues that depending on context, the functionality of the interpreter varies. Using anecdotal examples and scenarios, the final paper by Eighinger and Karlin proposes a more socio-linguistic approach to the role of the interpreter by demonstrating how interpreters can use feminist-relational event management techniques such as value listening, consensus building, cooperation and experience to promote empowerment and social justice through their work.

    B�langer opens the second section on compromise and collaboration in the multidimensional communication processes by examining the relationship between interpreters and those they work with. The results of her qualitative study using ''communication mediated by a French-Quebec sign language interpreter'' (p. 10) concur with previous studies by Roy (1989) and Wadensj� (1992). By examining the co-directed and multi faceted nature of the interaction/relationships between the sender, the interpreter and the receiver, she demonstrates how the interpreter influences the communication situation and create multi-layered communication processes. Again, she challenges the traditional linear relational communicative schema and proposes a more triadic model, based on co- directing interaction while suggesting that interpreter training should now incorporate pragmatic and relational competences. Meyer et al. adopt a multi disciplinary approach informed by the literature on functional pragmatics, conversion analysis, interpreting studies and health sciences to explore doctor-patient communication. They suggest that an interdisciplinary approach to authentic discourse data can lead to an enhanced understanding of the multiple dimensions and functions of language in mediated doctor-patient communication. The final paper could equally have been included in the following section on the training of interpreters as it deals with the development and implementation of training programs for service providers in the health sector. While Teble's paper lacks some of the theoretical insights of the earlier ones, it does demonstrate the role which academics can play in improving the delivery of community interpreting services.

    The next section focusing on realities, needs and challenges posed by interpreter training occupies a central place with no fewer than six papers addressing issues such as the selection, evaluation, training, as well as the contentious issue of certification and regulation. Three of the papers offer reviews of current practices and challenges in specific ''geographies''. Beltran Avery reports on the experiences with respect to the certification of basic level competence of medical interpreters in Massachusetts and includes a detailed description of the prototype assessment tool used. As a case study of interpreter assessment, it does provide useful insights into the contribution of assessment theory to developing reliable models of certification. Dubslaff and Martisen investigate standards of community interpreting skills provided for refugees and immigrants in Denmark using a representative survey among interpreters and service providers. The results highlight the poverty of existing training programs and the paradoxical impact of training on standards. while the authors suggest that the solution must be comprehensive (quality training, assessment, facilities) and viewed as a long-term effort and investment from either the community and/or the interpreter. Fiola explores the challenges of selecting, training and evaluating interpreters when dealing with minority languages in Canada, which rely primarily on oral tradition, barely using the written word such as in the aborigine culture. He stresses the role and the impact of culture on the interpreting process when dealing with language policies, linguistic equivalence, socio-cultural and ethnographic differences. Valero Garc�s highlights the challenges placed on interpreting services in a rapidly and forever changing political, cultural and social settings in Spain.

    The other two papers in this section look at the demands, which a particular interpreting context or setting places on the training of interpreters. Oda and Joyette consider the unique requirements of the quasi-judicial setting in their work on interpreting with perpetrators of domestic violence. Their study highlights the need for interpreting theory to provide actionable knowledge to address the realities of interpreter selection and screening for specific circumstances. One of the most interesting papers is the detailed account by Straker and Watts of their experiences of building a university level certificate and diploma in interpretation, pointing to the need for a partnership-based approach drawing on the wider target community as a basis for success.

    The role of interpreters in the police and court environments is the subject of the penultimate section. Here the expressed ethical and professional dilemma faced by interpreters are mostly based on case studies drawn from the UK, Malaysia, Denmark and Venezuela. In a small case study, Fowler focuses on the role of the interpreter when faced by police interviewing techniques. She points towards discrepancies in the theory and practice of recording interpreted statements and the subsequent ethical and linguistic dilemmas the interpreters face. By contrast, the larger sample size analyzed by Ibrahim and Bell offers interesting insights into the decline of what was in the past a well developed legal and court interpreting service in Malaysia. Changing economic, population, educational and cultural patterns, language planning policies have combined to reduce the number of interpreters available and this in turn affects all levels of the judicial system. From this macro level of analysis, we move to a more micro-focus and probably one of the more thorough analyses of interpreting dynamics with Jacobsen examining additions made to source messages by Danish court interpreters in their efforts to maintain a faithful version of the original message while Vilela Biasi comments on the new role taken by Venezuelan interpreters following recent legal changes in the criminal legal system.

    The final section appraises the status of the interpreting profession with particular reference to the complexities and challenges it now faces. Crezee explores cross-cultural communication barriers faced by interpreters and patients in the health care system In New Zealand, and the solutions which have emerged from their practice. Using a mixed research approach involving a case study of health interpreting service and a small sample survey of health interpreters, she brings forward recommendations for improving the community interpreting services and offers advice to both policy makers and practitioners. Bowen and Kaufert take a more economic approach and examine the financial costs involved when setting up health interpreter programs and the impact cost rationalization have on the right to an interpreter in the health services. Chesher et al. in association with the Australian FIT describe a worldwide community based interpreting survey from the interpreter's perspective in relation to the challenges the profession faces and how interpreters view their role within the community. Corsellis et al. report on the Grotius project funded by the EU, the only comparative study on the status of legal translation and interpreting services provided in the 15 member states with the aim to harmonize standards. The closing paper by Thomas reflects briefly on the professional status of interpreters in international post-conflict areas, including their role, protection and security, using the service of interpreters in Kosovo as a case study.

    Finally an extremely useful bibliography of the works cited in all papers is to be found at the end, written in a very economical and clearly laid out manner. The index refers to works cited in French and English respectively in the original language, followed by the lists of tables, figures and appendices as well as the Benjamins Translation Library titles - a useful tool indeed for all neophytes wishing to research the topics of translation or interpreting.


    In selecting the issues raised by the various presentations, the editors' aim are twofold: to bridge the gap between theory and practice in community interpreting and simultaneously to provide useful insights into the specific nature of their task as community interpreters for those who collaborate with them or those who employ them. It is to be used as much as a tool for the practice of community interpreting as a set of theories about interpreting in the legal and health and social strata in multi-jurisdictional settings. The wide variety of papers portrays the interpreter as the pivot of cross-cultural communication processes without which communication itself cannot occur. From a practical point of view, the logical structure of the book facilitates a rapid consultation by sections or articles, allowing the reader to select articles independently without having to read the text in its entirety.

    The analysis of some of the papers, in particular in the third section where five of the six papers used what might be loosely termed as case study based research approach need to be further explored. As such they provide rich and useful insights into particular settings or jurisdictions but one wonder if the time is not ripe for larger samples or more longitudinal studies which findings may have wider applicability. The debate to date on interpreter training is characterized by a large number of ''once off'' studies and what some in the more traditional vein might call anecdotal evidence. If more widely applicable actionable knowledge on the question of interpreter training is to emerge, it will require researchers to take the tentative research conclusions that are emerging from this type of work and test them in larger sample settings.

    There are no doubts that community based interpreting reflects complex social events, which cannot be studied in isolation. The sheer messiness of the legal and health environments is bound to influence the linguistic as well as social and cultural dynamics between the interpreter and the other actors involved in the communication process, thereby re-defining the communication model and hence the role and function of community interpreters as proposed by some authors (Angelelli, Bot, B�langer). However many of the research issues concerning interpreting and arising in this volume lack testable hypotheses which can capture the complexity of these dynamics though most authors make highly commendable attempts to do so (Oda and Joyette, Straker and Watts, Jacobsen). Indeed, the problems we face when researching such complex contexts is the multiplicity and choice of methods one need to use to analyze the complexity of the profession.

    Should we apply quantitative or qualitative methods or use both, as did Creeze, to obtain a more holistic perception of the intricacies involved when acting as an interpreter? Overall the proceedings focus on the anthropological, sociological, interpersonal issues arising in the profession as opposed to linguistic problems (Fiola). What is important though and what the volume does impart well is that self-awareness of the difficulties and challenges of some of the research issues is the first step towards improving the quality of interpreting provided for and to the community. I am a strong believer that in such type of applied research involving various fields and professionals, discovery and not justification is the key to solving any problems arising in the field of interpreting. Researchers, students, professional must embark together upon a voyage of discovery to find out what need to be changed. In-depth fieldwork consisting of interviews, observations, and case study analyses, such as the ones carried out, are necessary to identify issues concerning the complexity of interpreters in the community and create actionable knowledge, prompting a model of service delivery and not just language delivery.

    There is no doubt that the proceedings of Critical Link 3 truly reflects the strong social and community commitment of those involved in the Critical Link conferences, evidenced in the range and diversity of the papers selected for the monograph. They provide a continuous contribution to practices and challenges faced by the interpreting profession while highlighting the paucity of professional community interpreters and the underdeveloped system of formalized interpreting supports they continue to face. This collection is an asset for anyone interested in researching the profession of interpreting as opposed to the dialectic of interpreting. It is more a tool of reference for community interpreting professionals, which they can refer to tackle the various obstacles encountered in the complexity of their daily work rather than a research tool conceived for the theoreticians of interpreting. No doubt that the professionals involved in the Critical Link will continue to stimulate and expand the debate on community interpreting.


    Roy, C. B. (1989) A Sociolinguistic analysis of the Interpreter's Role in the turn exchanges of an Interpreter Event. PH. D. diss., Gerogetwon University, Washington D.C.

    Wadensj� C. (1992) Interpreting as Interaction: on Dialogue Interpreting in Immigration Hearings on Medical Encounters. Link�ping Studies in Arts and Science: 83, Link�ping: Tema University.


    Sophie Cacciaguidi-Fahy is a lecturer in law (Legal French) in the Law Faculty of the National University of Ireland, Galway. Her research publications, presentations and interests concentrates on intercultural legal and business communication, legal interpreting and translation, legal semiotics and language and the law.