Extralinguistic Knowledge: Why Is It So Important in Interpreting?


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by Naomi Sheneman

In the interpreting profession, we often talk about how important it is to take jobs tied to topic manners that we are familiar with. For example, someone who hates or knows nothing about cooking may not be best suited for interpreting for a culinary arts student. The interpreter may not be prepared to provide a conceptually clear interpretation of “Fold in the eggs.” How would one express the ASL interpretation for the word, fold in? There is actually a name for that contextual knowledge that is discussed in spoken language interpreting research: extralinguistic knowledge (ELK). Daniel Gile (1995) was the first known researcher to present the idea of extralinguistic knowledge. Let’s first dissect the word, extralinguistic. Extra- outside. Linguistic- language. Extralinguistic knowledge essentially means any knowledge one possesses that is outside knowledge of the language. As sign language interpreters in the United States, we know English and American Sign Language. Those two languages make up our linguistic knowledge. Everything else is knowledge that we built upon throughout in our lives through our experiences, including implicit and explicit learning.

Gile (1995) proposes a formula to represent the relationship between extralinguistic knowledge (ELK) and knowledge of language (KL): C= KL + ELK. The letter C is comprehension. Gile’s premise is that if one has the right type of extralinguistic knowledge, there will be comprehension which is necessary for processing interpretation or translation outputs. Back to the example I mentioned earlier, the phrase “fold in” would not be understood by the interpreter which in turn compels them to go with the form typically used for the words FOLD IN. If the interpreter chooses to go with the form rather than meaning-based interpretation, the consumers will then not understand what is going on. It is in my belief that with the right type of extralinguistic knowledge and language knowledge, the interpreter is able to let go of form and focus on the meaning, opening them up to range of sign choices appropriate for the interpretation. Research in spoken language interpreting thus far has supported the value of having the right extralinguistic knowledge for any given situation. Several studies have reached the conclusion that the right type of extralinguistic knowledge improves the quality of interpreters and translators (Kościałkowska-Okońska, 2012; Kim, 2006; Wu, 1994).

What does this all mean? I am challenging the notion that many interpreters usually take by calling themselves “medical interpreter”, “educational interpreter,”, and “legal interpreter.” Those labels are very broad and do not offer the actual picture of what those interpreters know. One medical interpreter who is familiar with oncology and without any familiarity in cardiology might not be fit to interpret for cardiology appointments and would be best for oncology appointments. Notably, sign language interpreting is a vocation that many depend on as the sole source of income. In order to ensure livelihood, it is easy for many of us to focus on that automatically without considering carefully whether we are the right fit for the job. Remember, it is about providing optimal communication access to Deaf consumers. The second tenet of the RID’s CPC states: “Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting,” (RID, 2005, p. 2). Interpreters and translators with appropriate extralinguistic base could greatly benefit the Deaf consumers that they serve.

 


References:

Gile, D. (1995). Basic concepts and models for interpreter and translator training. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.

Kim, R. (2006, June). Use of extralinguistic knowledge in translation. Meta, 51(2), 284-303.

Kościałkowska-Okońska (2012). Translation professionalism and translation quality in

interpreter training: A survey. In L. Bogucki & M. Deckert (Eds.), Teaching translation

and interpreting: Advances and perspectives (p. 93-106).

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2005). NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. Retrieved from http://www.rid.org/UserFiles/File/NAD_RID_ETHICS.pdf.

Wu, J. (1994). Task-oriented and comprehensive training of translators and interpreters. In R.K. Seymour & C.C. Liu (Eds.), Translation and interpreting: Bridging east and west. Selected conference papers Volume 8 (p. 85-98). Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature.

 


 

Naomi Sheneman, M.A., M.S., & CDI

Naomi Sheneman, M.A., M.S., & CDI has been working professionally in the interpreting profession since 2000 in various roles. She is currently working as the Vice President of Business Affairs for Network Interpreting Service and as an adjunct ASL-English interpreter education faculty at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. She is also a doctoral candidate at Gallaudet University in the Interpretation program. She co-developed ASL-English Interpreting Diagnostic Assessment Rubrics. She co-authored a case study of hearing and Deaf interpreters’ work in an international conference involving several sign languages. She recently published her study of Deaf interpreters’ ethics.

Why didn’t I get those hours!?


Michelle Schoonderwoerd

“Why didn’t ‘I get those hours!?”
The attitude of entitlement in the interpreting community

by Michelle Schoonderwoerd

We’ve all been there… we have worked an ongoing gig, or got wind that we would be requested for future work. It’s a boost to the old ego for sure (and for the bank account as this is our source of income)! But have you checked yourself recently and paid attention to your response and/or body language when you realized you ‘didn’t’ get that job?

Have you found yourself blatantly asking the consumer questions you really shouldn’t, such as, “Well then, who is coming?” Or, “They found someone else?” Or maybe you looked at the deaf person and said, “I was available, remember, I checked my calendar.” Or maybe you aren’t as ballsy as that, but a simple, “Darn, I have NO work this week and that would have been nice!” Maybe you think a comment like that can be innocent, but have you considered how unprofessional it can be, or how you can make a consumer feel when pressuring them for information?

If we sit back and look at all the possible variables of the “why” the job went to someone else… we may start taking things less personally (which could do wonders for our self-esteem, relationships, and the acne that is presenting itself on our faces because of the unnecessary stress of wondering why the hours are not “ours”).

Here are just a handful of variables that come to mind when trying to create the perfect schedule… I am not listing them in order of importance, just jotting down what comes to mind. I am sure we could add to the list, but let’s start with these. 🙂

Client/Consumer Conflicts- These are the big kahunas that fall under the CPC. These are also the intuitive feelings that arise when you take a job and then immediately regret doing so. There may be no rhyme or reason for the conflict… it could be just because!

Teams Jiving or Hiving- This means the scheduling office may know of an issue or issues with specific teams working together, and maybe they are choosing to NOT put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, so you lost hours because you can’t play nice with others (or vice versa). Side note- we should have followed our mother’s advice and been nice to others.  

Subject Conflicts- Maybe math just ain’t your cup of tea… maybe you failed history yourself and you should NOT be interpreting this subject, or, maybe blood and guts gross you out so biology is not an option. We all have strengths and weaknesses and it’s great when our coordinators know this about us because it saves us a ton of embarrassment and anxiety when we struggle in such subjects (see the bright side of that one?). Subject and venue conflicts shouldn’t be taken personally.

Requests from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and/or the Hearing Consumers- Maybe your team got requested to do another gig with that specific client, but you didn’t… stop taking it personally and instead find a way to grab some coffee and a bran muffin with an old friend. The big points here are, we need to realize that Deaf people also have freedom of choice and they DON’T have to pick you, and they also don’t have to explain their decisions or justify their reasons.

Hours of the Day and Specific Times- Maybe you’re not a night owl and getting called at 10pm to go to the hospital isn’t something you wanted to do…so don’t be offended if a follow-up appointment of some sort is given to a different interpreter on a different day. Days and times tend to get the most blame from people when they insist “but, I ‘was’ available!” As I have explained above, though, it isn’t as easy as fitting an interpreter into a time-slot with no other variables involved.

Location- If you live 20 miles away, and another person lives 5 miles away… the closer interpreter may be asked to run over and fill a last minute gig and honestly, if we step back and look at what’s “best for the consumers”, I think we can all agree that a ‘put-together and on time interpreter’ is better than a ‘frazzled and late one.’

Skill Set- There are times  when various skills are needed for certain environments. I’m talking about soft skills (the playing nice with others), talents, personality matches, etc… The examples that immediately come to mind are: the platform interpreter that doesn’t mind the audience attention; the K-12 interpreter and the patience that it requires to work in that environment all day long; the mental health interpreter that has a natural ability and niche in that venue; and others that I am not thinking of…. These variables are also considered when scheduling and querying interpreters for jobs.

Thank goodness we come in various sizes, shapes and colors… we can’t fit square pegs in round holes and scheduling offices are basically trying to figure out how to sand down the corners of the peg to make the darn thing fit in the hole! And kudos to them… let’s toast and raise a hat to the coordinators that run through a list of all these variables on a job by job basis. I challenge my fellow rock star interpreters: Instead of asking the “whys” and “whos”, let’s start focusing on the “Yay, another Deaf person got their needs met and communication was facilitated.”

In conclusion, the next time we find out we “didn’t” get that gig… let’s professionally smile, thank the entity for the work we DID get, acknowledge and thank the Deaf consumer as well, and then scoot out to our car to drive across town to the next job. Thank goodness for the snacks and jerky in that messy car to keep us company as we drive away telling ourselves “it’s not ALL about me.” And it shouldn’t be either.