This article describes some of the findings of a study whose aim was to shed light upon Norway’s Workplace Interpreting Scheme (TPA), which gives deaf sign language users the right to interpretation in the workplace. The study consists of qualitative interviews with a sample of interpreters who work in the scheme in its various forms. At issue was how interpreters experience being an interpreter in these settings, with the research question: How do professional, ethical, and practical aspects of workplace interpreting influence interpreters’ reflections on questions of language and role?
An earlier evaluation of the Workplace Interpreting Scheme (ECON, 2004) asked deaf and hearing users of the scheme whether they thought the scheme was an appropriate and satisfactory approach to workplace interpreting. The responses in both cases were generally very positive, with only one negative outcome being identified. However, this evaluation did not include the interpreters involved in the scheme. We believe that the interpreter possesses much valuable experience that can shed more light on various important aspects of the scheme and its consequences.
The data were comprised of qualitative interviews with 12 interpreters who work in various organizational forms of the scheme. The interviews were video-recorded and later transcribed. Analysis of the data using Grounded Theory produced several themes that were then analyzed in more depth.
One theme emerged, that of “being present in a good way”, that seemed to be a common thread binding together several other themes. This theme encapsulated an overarching ideal common to the expressions of all our respondents. It expresses the challenges to that ideal that are inherent in the interpreter’s work, especially that of feeling as if one is often in the way or that one is a “foreign body”, and of representing one’s clients and their message accurately to the other party.
Among the other themes described in the article is an examination of the ECON report’s only negative finding; that of the scheme being a crutch for hearing people that lessened their need to use or learn sign language. The question is posed here in terms of whether this is evidence of audism in such environments. Supporting evidence for this view is found in a discussion of language use in the workplace and the question of bilingualism, and of the interpreter’s expectations in this regard.
The article also discusses a related topic, that is, how interpreters’ relationships with others in the workplace are influenced by the perception of their role. Interpreters’ freedom to act, as well as their lack thereof, proves to be an important topic: A variable standard positioned on an ethical spectrum provides a source of conflict for respondents in both types of settings we examine. We argue that a more nuanced ethical practice is called for, and note that such practice decisions must not be made unilaterally by the institutions that regulate the interpreting field, but in cooperation with the user organizations served.
Seeing and being seen encompasses a single phenomenon from two very different perspectives. On the one hand, the interpreter’s vantage point makes him or her the only party who can fully “see” both sides, and as such, the one in the best position to see why communication works and why it sometimes falls apart. Interpreters struggle with a feeling of powerlessness when they see things they consider unjust. On the other hand, being seen refers both to the impossible ideal of the interpreter’s invisibility and to the concept of the “courtesy stigma” to which the interpreter, by the nature of his or her profession, is subject.
After a discussion of the findings, we conclude with implications for research, education and practice in a quickly evolving interpreting profession.