More on Extralinguistic Knowledge


by Naomi Sheneman

I was thrilled to see how my recent blog post generated so much discussion.  Let’s dig a bit deeper into the concept of extralinguistic knowledge.  Some of the discussions included the idea that we need to broaden our horizons.  While that is a good idea, it is not always possible as we have no control over the type of incidental learning that may emerge in our daily lives.  It is little things that appear in our conversations that help build our extralinguistic knowledge.

 You may have caught information from scrolling down your Facebook feed and were able to apply it to your interpreting work.  Or you may have seen a conversation about a topic at a gathering that eventually benefited you in your interpreting work. Or you may have learned something new from a book you were reading.

Sometimes when I share a tip with someone on how to do something I get asked how I came to this knowledge.  There have been instances when I was unable to remember specifically where I picked up this piece of information.  I just could not quite put my finger on where specifically it came from.  We are exposed to so much daily that it’s hard to identify what we have learned if the learning was implicit.  It is only realized when you later apply that knowledge in different situations.

Granted, it could be argued that one’s extralinguistic knowledge is limited if the person chooses not to live and experience things.  The same could be said about someone not being up to date on the current events of the world.   However, you cannot control what knowledge you pick up along the way. The point is not to just live, but to keep yourself open to new opportunities to learn through interacting with people, keeping up with the news, and participating in various activities.  If you are open, you will be surprised by all the golden nuggets of knowledge you come across that could be beneficial in a future interpreting situation.

I spoke with a Deaf person recently explaining the meaning of extralinguistic knowledge.  He said that sometimes he meets interpreters who have all the right hard skills, referring to signing fluency with clear facial expressions, but that he can easily tell if the interpreter appears lost.  He beautifully described this phenomenon in ASL: INTERPRETER DON’T-KNOW TOPIC, MEAN NOT UNDERSTAND… MEAN INTERPRET NO-GOOD THEN ME STUMPED.  Translation: When the interpreter doesn’t know the topic, this is an indication that the topic/message is not understood.  This in turn makes the interpretation no good and in the end, I do not understand the intended message.

 

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