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Review of  Interpreting As Interaction

Reviewer: Cynthia B Roy
Book Title: Interpreting As Interaction
Book Author: Cecilia Wadensjö
Publisher: Pearson Linguistics
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 10.658

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Wadensjo, Cecilia. Interpreting as Interaction. New York: Addison
Wesley Longman, Ltd. 312 pp. (softbound)

[Editor's note: The 'o' in Dr. Wadensjo's last name has an umlaut over it.
Unfortunately, the Linguist Listserv cannot yet deal with diacritics. Our

Reviewed by Cynthia Roy, University of New Orleans

Synopsis: In Wadensjo's own words: "This book is about
interpreter-mediated conversations as a mode of communication, about
interpreters and their responsibilities, about what they do, what they
think they should do, and what others expect them to do in face-to-face,
institutional encounters" (2). The heart of the book examines empirical
data - audio-recorded, interpreted encounters within medical, legal, and
social service settings - to show us how interpreters and primary
speakers make 'sense' of the interaction at the time it is occurring and
as they talk to each other.
Wadensjo's work is theoretically grounded in analytical frameworks
about the nature of social organization (Goffman) and in the dialogic
theory of language and interaction (Bahktin). She offers a seminal
perspective of the interpreter as an engaged actor solving not only
problems of translation but problems of mutual understanding in situated
interaction. Her analysis demonstrates that interpreting requires two
interdependent activities - translation and coordination - established
by the fact that interpreters create two kinds of talk: talk that is
generated from relaying the messages of the other speakers, and talk
that is generated from the interpreter to assist (or mediate) the flow
of talk. She provides examples of utterances directed at the
interpreter and from the interpreter which are not about the content of
the relayed message. Thus, the progression of talk is both a
co-ordinated activity among the participants, and a responsibility of
the interpreter. "In an interpreter-mediated conversation, the
progression and substance of talk, the distribution of responsibility
for this among co-interlocuters, and what, as a result of interaction,
becomes mutual and shared understanding - all will to some extent depend
on the interpreter's words and deeds" (195).
Exploring further the interpreter-mediated conversation as situtated
activity and interpreter rights and responsibilities, Wadensjo
problematizes 'understanding' in conversation and its opposite
'miscommunication' by showing three different ways interpreters handle
miscommunication while on duty. The ways in which interpreters deal
with miscommunication reveals their perspectives on what constitutes
sufficient understanding among the participants and how the primary
parties achieve shared and mutual understanding.
Towards the end, Wadensjo explores the interpreter's performance as
an art of reporting others' words. How interpreters relate as narrators
of others' speech to convey impressions of self as a person using
others' words or to "re-present the expressiveness of preceding talk" is
how interpreters mark the distinction between their own and others'
responsibilities for meaning.
For the general public and newcomers, interpreters often explain
their role and responsibility with an old adage "just translate and
translate everything." But it is not useful for defining or explaining
the everyday experience of interpreting work. Nor does it define
interpreting as a profession. Wadensjo has opened a vast new
perspective for understanding, researching, and teaching the work of

Much of the research and writing about interpreting focuses on
interpreters interpreting a single speaker, or 'conference
interpreting.' Much of the research derives from cognitive,
psycholinguistic frameworks which focus on the transmission of a message
in one direction. However, the bulk of interpreting work world-wide is
that of an interpreter with two primary other participants all of whom
are engaged in an immediate effort to understand each other and
accomplish a goal. This has proved a complex and difficult
communicative event to unravel. Wadensjo has given us the first
full-length work to suggest that we can understand the task of
interpreting much better if we alter our perspective to account for the
interactivity of the primary participants, rather than looking only at
the interpreter and/or the interpreted message. The frameworks of
social interaction and discourse analysis provide a deeper, more complex
understanding of the nature of rights and responsibilities within an
interpreter-mediated encounter. Wadensjo's detailed, meticulous,
brilliant analysis has thrown open avenues of research that will be
explored for years to come.
When Goffman (1981) introduced his notions of participation
framework, the complex ways in which speakers relate to their utterances
and to other speakers, he did not explore the complexities within the
role of listener. Wadensjo does. She develops the notion of reception
formats corresponding to that of Goffman's 'production formats.'
Distinguishing between production roles is a way of making explicit in
what sense speakers display their own and others' opinions or attitudes,
the gain in distinguishing different modes of listening is to more
thoroughly elucidate how individuals demonstrate "their own opinions and
atttidues concerning rights and responsibilities in interaction" (92).
This is a major contribution to linguistics, social interaction, and
communication theory.
An interpreter's role, as both a social role and a role that
performs an activity is realized through interaction with others. With
analytical precision and detail, Wadensjo explains how interpreters both
listen and speak within shifting stances of their own participation,
shifting from relaying to coordinating the interaction. Thus, they
change the level and degree of their participation. This is significant
because it profoundly changes the current vision of what interpreters
are doing. In fact, the pas de troix is the basic, fundamental
encounter of interpreting and other models should be seen as deriving
from it. It changes teaching the process of interpreting and the ways
in which interpreters are certified. It changes everything.

Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press.

Cynthia B. Roy, Ph.D., has just accepted a new position as Associate
Professor and Director of an American Sign Language/English Interpreting
Program at Indiana U/Purdue U Indianapolis. Her book, Interpreting as a
Discourse Process, published by Oxford University Press, is due out in
early fall.

Cynthia B. Roy, Ph.D.
Dept. of English
University of New Orleans
New Orleans LA 70148
504-280-7323; 280-7334 (fax)
[email protected]