EFSLI Conference Report, Vienna, Austria – Part 2

Cormac Leonard’s EFSLI Report, 2012 Conference (Part 2)

Guten morgen!

Here’s part 2 of my report from EFSLI.

First of all, the costume ball was fantastic – definitely a visual spectacle at the Palais Auersperg, where participants dressed in all kinds of fabulous gowns and getups. Former and current efsli board members were remembered and honoured. It was certainly a hedonistic night to match those of the Austrian Emperor’s court in the eighteenth century! I got talking to British, Italian, German, American and Australian terps and once again was amazed at the differences – and similarities – between us. While many partied long into the wee hours of the night, I wended my way homeward at a respectable enough 2am!

I think it only fair to say that I missed the first presentation on Sunday morning – hey, this international networking takes a lot out of a person, recharging is needed!! – but Patricia Bruck’s “Power and Responsibility in Interpreting Situations: The Views of Austrian Deaf Customers” received good feedback from those present.

Deb Russell’s presentation ” Interpreting Decisions and Power: Legal Discourse or Legal Discord?” (co written with Risa Shaw) looked at Deaf/hearing interpreter teams in legal settings – the interplay of power and teamwork in these situations and how that power can sometimes be misused. Alongside the outlining of the ‘dream team”s configuration and the ideal teamwork and preparation needed for these assignments, points were raised in Q&A about the ever growing issue of money – what to do when courts will not pay for a second hearing interpreter, let alone a Deaf interpreter(s) added to the team? Deb felt that we as interpreters needed to use the language of the courts to influence decisions to bring in Deaf interpreters – to stress accuracy, comfort, lessening the risk of retrials etc. when such a configuration was used as best practice. She also mentioned the power hearing interpreters have to ‘gatekeep’ in recommending – or not recommending – that Deaf interpreters be brought in to a situation to begin with.

Following a break there was a plenary session where participants could make contributions in International Sign, English, or OGS (Austrian Sign Language). The results of the parallel sessions from the previous day were given by rapporteurs. Christopher Tester reported that his group had discussed team work’s advantages; 1 + 1 = far more than 2! Working with a colleague brought something far more valuable and advanced to the situation.

Ingeborg Skaten’s group had gone over issues relating to our profession, such as – who gets to define our work? If we do not, how are we a profession? Can a profession exist in the first place without a national association? In these cases, it may be problematic to call ourselves (on a pan-European basis) a ‘profession’ when these features were often missing for member countries. Yet Ingeborg raised the point that we do have a collective identity and were in many ways, if not a profession, then certainly a ‘family’ – sharing common experiences, practices and skills. Zane Hema, in his usual charismatic and incisive style, reported back on his group’s work on Codes of Ethics co-existing with the interpreter’s own judgements as a person, and the power management aspect of this.

There then followed an open discussion which was wide ranging. There was much talk of the relationship between Deaf and hearing interpreters, a subject which seemed to dominate the conference; Zane Hema and Chris Stone pointed to the long and illustrious history of Deaf interpreters and made the point that this long expertise as well as the common experience within Deaf communities of interpreting for each other, regardless of qualifications, was a resource we needed to use. Verena Krausneker made a lovely analogy towards the end of proceedings; to date hearing interpreters have been sitting in their own compartments of an old fashioned train. Now, Deaf interpreters are asking to take their seat in the compartment. Hearing interpreters sometimes grumble at having to share their space; others may welcome the company. Others still may talk eagerly to their new travel companions… whereas some may even leave the train together and find a house to share domestic bliss together!

The issue of signing at such efsli conferences was also raised; some participants objected to the use of speech among participants, but other interpreters were quick to point out that their knowledge of IS was often zero and therefore it was difficult to begin. On a personal note, I found it lovely to try my best to communicate in IS, and it’s a rewarding experience, but I can empathise with the point that without some knowledge of it, it’s hard to confidently begin that conversation. EFSLI would do well to produce some kind of beginner’s ‘survival guide’ to IS for attendees, so that those arriving would be able to have some toehold – and through networking and socialising, be able to climb up the IS ‘ladder’.

After this discussion was wrapped up, Darja from Slovenia presented on the 2013 efsli conference, to be held in Ljubjana. I was charmed by her hilarious presentation – and am certainly now aware that she is in fact not the only Slovenian in the world, and that her country is shaped ‘like a chicken’! The conference will focus on technology and its relationship to interpreting. See here for more details:http://www.efsli.org/efsli/efslievents/2013/efsli2013.php

Overall I had a fantastic time in Vienna and was impressed by a well-run conference. As always I was blown away by the work of the Deaf/hearing interpreting teams working with International Sign, but praise is also due to the team of OGS interpreters working from English, into German, then into Austrian Sign.

Right, time to sightsee and buy pressies for everyone. Auf Wiedersehen!

EFSLI Conference Report, Vienna, Austria – Part 1

Cormac Leonard’s EFSLI Report, 2012 Conference

Gruss gott von Oesterreich!

It’s been a really lovely time here so far in Vienna, where I’m attending the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (efsli)’s 2012 Conference, “Power and Responsibility in the field of Sign Language Interpreters”.

I definitely cannot fault the choice of location and venue. It’s my first time in Austria and I cannot get over how breathtakingly beautiful the city is. Everywhere you look, works of art are proudly positioned at street corners, every building is an architectural wonder. Fans of history (check!) will lose themselves in the broad streets and fans of coffee (check!) will love the chance to while away an hour sipping a latte – even if they are a little pricey!

The AGM was held yesterday, but I wasn’t able to make it, so today was my first taste of the international and cosmopolitan scene that is an efsli event. I’m also meeting my friend Bec Schultz, an Aussie interpreter whom I met at WASLI in 2007, and her fiancé, and have already bumped into a number of other familiar faces!

The conference began with the announcement that Marinella Salami has been made the new efsli president. As well as this, a historic agreement has been signed between efsli and the European Deaf Blind Union. Exciting times. The conference will focus heavily on the relationship between interpreter organisations and Deaf organisations, something of interest to Irish interpreters as we look back on our first year of CISLI and our structural links with the IDS.

Patricia Shores-Hermann, currently based in Switzerland, began the presentations by looking at ‘Issues of Power and Responsibility in Sign Language Interpreting and Within Sign Language User Communities’. She analysed what ‘power’ was and reflected that individual signed languages’ signs for the concept may in fact be misleading; power was in fact an ability to control rather than to be controlled. Her presentation reflected many of the issues that have faced us here in Ireland in IASLI and following its demise, in the negotiation for a new organisation, as well of course as touching on many of the day to day concerns we have felt and articulated to each other.

Flora Savvalidou of Greece gave a fascinating talk on ‘Identity Issues in Sign Language Interpreting: The Power and Responsibility of Representing the Identities of Others’. As individuals, hearing people, Deaf people, interpreters – all of us have a selection of identities which we construct from elements of meaning, and are constantly comparing our self-image and notion of our own identity at the time, with the feedback we receive from others that bolsters, or challenges, this self view. So when we approach the interpreted interaction, which of our identities is pre-eminent in us? Can our interpreter-mediated contributions cause responses that are reactions to our identity, rather than the other interlocutor? Are we sometimes too attached to our interpreter identity and are convinced that a bad interpretation on our part will make us appear to be a bad person? This was a fascinating tool to analyse interactions and our own positioning in the interpreted event.

Mark Wheatley of the European Union of the Deaf discussed his efforts to lobby MEPs at Strasbourg during a recent successful subtitling access campaign, and how vital it was to have interpreters when lobbying the MEPs face to face. Of particular importance was sourcing interpreters fluent in multiple spoken / signed languages, as well as matching those interpreters with Deaf campaigners who would be knocking on office doors in the European Parliament. Power and status related discussions were key to a smooth and effective match between lobbyist and interpreter, and ultimately to the successful campaign. An entrancing look into the world of sign language interpreting at the highest echelons within the EU.

Isabelle Heyerich of Belgium (assisted via International Sign videoclips by Maartje de Meulder, her Deaf interpreter colleague) discussed the pilot use of interpreters on Flemish television – in particular a situation whereby a Deaf and a hearing interpreter were selected, and the issues around control, fluency, language ownership and perceived competition that arose. The Flemish national broadcaster piloted the use of Deaf interpreters for the news in 2011, and it certainly made me proud to think that Ireland has actually had at least 35 years of signed news, and for decades we have had Deaf interpreters carrying this out – though it is only recently that we have begun to think of these colleagues as ‘interpreters’. My conversations with other conference attendees makes me realise how very rare this is around the world.

Following lunch and a poster exhibition, there were three parallel sessions, and I attended Ingeborg Skaten (from Bergen University) discussing ‘The power of the profession, taken for granted?’ which took as its starting point the definition of ‘a profession’. (One very interesting point for me was a definition used that said ‘A profession cannot be said to exist without a national association’, as well as stating that most people who carry out the specific work in question need to be doing it on a fulltime basis.) Ingeborg looked at Norway’s interpreter provision system – a highly advanced one where a government funded agency deals the vast majority of interpreting, but where recent proposed changes involve a possible re-examination of the role of the interpreter – possibly without full discussion with the interpreting and Deaf communities. A lively workshop followed.

And that was all for the day. Now it’s time to get my dancing shoes on and prepare for tonight’s ‘Night of Costumes’ 20th efsli aniversary ball. I’m being extremely unimaginative and dressing as… well, pretty much as an interpreter! But as disguises go, I reckon it’s quite an easy one to slip into …!