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Conversational Interpreted Events

In discourse events, the direction and flow of talk and interaction are influenced by many factors. one of the most influential is the role participants are cast in for particular situations. Interpreters typically interpret in circumstances where primary participants are not co-conversationalists (Goffman 1981), but whose concomitant roles and relationships are characterized at different levels. For instance, if the two participants are an employer and an employee, the employer may ask а greater number of questions, as well as different kinds of questions, than the employee can or is willing to ask.

Then, factors such as status and authority render the flow and character of the talk different from ordinary conversation. In situations or events where interpreters appear, the participants are rarely equals. one participant usually has greater status or authority than the other participant by virtue of real or perceived status, or by the authority invested in а role, or by the participant’s membership in the majority culture. The other participant is typically а member of а linguistic, ethnic or cultural minority and may be undereducated and/or underemployed.

That is not to say that interpreters do not appear in situations where people are equal. For example, visitors to the United States from Russia engage interpreters to tour the country and meet Americans. However, these situations are clearly different and not as common as interpreted situations in which а European-American is talking to а Hispanic-American of immigrant or alien status. For these reasons, the goals of conversation are multiple and individual to each participant. The purpose of а meeting as perceived by one participant may be vastly different from the purpose perceived by another participant.

One participant may have come to а meeting to complain, and the other may have come to avoid accepting responsibility for а problem. Both of these participants may even have secondary reasons for meeting. The complaining participant may ultimately want leadership of the next project, for example. Primary participants have specific interactional goals to accomplish, and conversation is the way these goals are achieved. For example, let’s examine а meeting between а people а bank officer about а loan.

For the person, the task here is to get the loan by convincing the bank officer of her trustworthiness and ability to pay back the loan. For the bank officer, the task is to make an evaluation of the borrower to be and to determine whether or not а loan will be made. So, ashas pointed out, it is the accomplishment of this goal, or work as he terms it, that the conversationalists have as their chief concern, not the utterances: “one clearly finds, then, that coordinated task activity–not conversation–is what lots of words are part of” (1981: 143).

In addition to accomplishing а primary goal, speaker portrays images of themselves-images perceived by others. The talk that emerges is not only about the task or goal at hand but is significant in the way participants signal to each other what is going on moment by moment and how to interpret those moments (McDermott and Tylbor 1983). Commands, apologies, compliments, and other speech acts underlie much of the meaning of the words that are said.

It is in these conversational, interactive events that interpreters, by the workings of conversation, must take on an active role in the exchange of talk. Consequently, defining these events along interactional dimensions assists researchers, students, educators, and examiners in examining and portraying the work of interpreting. Boundaries of Interpreted Events Interpreted events, constrained by interaction and participant roles, can be described then in terms of the features used to analyze any communicative event.

Hymes (1974) noted that speech events are usually bounded; people know when the event begins and ends in interpreting events, the boundaries are clear in two ways. First, interpreting events are bounded as any discourse event with а speech community–that is, most interpreted events are also the common events of а nation or society’s cultural and institutional life. For example, а medical exam begins when the doctor enters and asks, “What’s wrong? ” or “What can І do for you today?

” Just as this question forms the boundary of а medical exam for most Americans, it also acts as the same kind of boundary in interpreted events. А second, yet important, way in which interpreted events are bounded is by the presence of an interpreter. The moment an interpreter is present, the event is different. If the interpreter leaves at any time, the event changes, the presence of an interpreter underscores whatever the specific event is, Thus, а medical exam becomes an interpreted medical exam. Interpreters shape events differently for all the participants.

For some participants, it is а relief to have an interpreter present so that all or а substantial part of the information is communicated. For other participants, it can be unusual, awkward, and, at times, frustrating or annoying to have an interpreter because their presence is intrusive and odd. Moreover, participants often switch between recognizing the interpreter’s presence and ignoring the interpreter’s presence, а disconcerting stance in addition to the requirements of the ongoing event. Perhaps this discussion seems fairly obvious.

However, it is common to read about interpreted events where the presence of the interpreter goes un-remarked and where it is assumed that а discourse event proceeds as it would without an interpreter present. As research has demonstrated, the presence of an interpreter changes the event. Interpreting makes interaction possible; more important, the interpreter’s presence alters the interaction by changing the expectations and assumptions that the primary participants have about the way such events precede.

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