Designated or preferred? A deaf academic and two sign language interpreters working together for a PhD defence

by: Maartje De Meulder and Jemina Napier

Maartje: The paper Jemina, Christopher and I wrote is a presentation of best practice based on my PhD defence experience in 2016 at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. A Finnish PhD defence is a public event open to anyone. I had to talk about my research and one person of the jury asked questions and discussed the dissertation with me. For this specific defence, I decided to work with Jemina and Christopher. This turned out to be a very good experience. We thought it was important to share this experience and discuss how deaf academics, through their collaboration with interpreters, can ensure their PhD defence is successful.

Jemina: Yes the defence was a very smooth process and we believe this demonstrates a presentation of best practice. That it went smooth doesn’t mean it was easy; it was hard work. We want to discuss what factors enabled us to achieve this successful outcome. This might be useful for others to know as a good model, an example of best practice.

Maartje: In the paper we discuss the preparations before the defence, the defence itself (which lasted some three hours) and reflect back on the defence. For example afterwards, my parents said that Jemina “sounded just like me if I would speak” with the same tone of voice, intonation, word choice etc. Also some people approached me and asked if Jemina, Christopher and I had worked together a lot already. They were often surprised when I said that it was actually the first time. So this made us think about the relevance and meaning of the ‘designated interpreter’ model.

Jemina: What we also discuss in the paper are different interpreting strategies Christopher and I used, for example establishing cues with Maartje for unobtrusive clarification, strategies to ensure smooth collaboration, and interpreter support strategies. The paper has several examples of this, illustrated with pictures and videos of Maartje signing and how this was interpreted by me and Christopher.

Christopher prompts Maartje.
Jemina prompts Christopher.

Christopher reassures Maartje.

We end with a few points, for example we argue that what is key is preference and familiarity rather than working with a ‘designated’ interpreter. We also discuss sign language interpreting as an institution.

Maartje: Yes, my PhD defence was a good experience but we also know that such a situation does not happen everyday: being able to choose which interpreters to work with, having the university to pay for them, being able to prepare very well, etc. There is a growing number of deaf people getting PhDs, and deaf academics working with interpreters. In the paper we also discuss what this means for the sustainability of sign language interpreting as a system, what it means for education and training of sign language interpreters, and for deaf academics’ working relationships with interpreters.

Jemina: The paper is published in the International Journal of Interpreter Education. We hope it can be food for thought and has impact on interpreter practice and training but also on deaf academics working with interpreters.

Maartje: The paper is open access, free to download. We hope you’ll like it and if there is anything you’d like to let us know or discuss with us, please get in touch!

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