Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sociolinguistic Journals- Part 4

Contextual or Cultural?

Chapter 14 of Holmes discusses interviews, within the context of misunderstandings. Discourse is analyzed constantly by the participants, even while they are speaking. This analysis is how a participant decides what to say. When I was about 16, I went in for my first formal interview, without any job coaching at all. When I was asked why I wanted to work in that company, I told them I just needed a job. When they asked me what strengths and weaknesses I brought to the table, I listed them out with brutal honesty. As the reader can imagine, I bombed that interview. Although I answered the questions in the most appropriate way I knew how, given my knowledge of English as a native speaker, the interviewer was not actually asking for the information I gave him. If I, a native speaker, had such trouble understanding the contextually informed meaning, how much more would a non-native speaker? Holmes discusses this very situation, and outlines a case in which a man immigrated from Nepal blindly took an American interview for all its literal questions. I would like to present another case of similar situation, and discuss an ethical question we have often encountered as interpreters for the Deaf. Not only are Deaf clients working in the context of a second language, they are working through an interpreter, which further separates them from the interviewer, and also are dealing with a huge cultural gap. Deaf culture, as a rule, is a very straight forward culture, and its language- ASL- does not have much structure to allow for naturally evasive or circumvention communication. Due in part to the visual/spacial nature of the language, ASL is very literal, and although it is fully capable of discussing abstract ideas, does so explicitly. This concept of asking for one thing but desiring and expecting another is foreign to ASL. So when an interpreter is in this environment, mediating culturally and linguistically between a hearing English speaker, and a Deaf ASL signer, how much mediation can take place? If the hearing interviewer asks "What strengths and weaknesses will you bring to our company?", do I sign "STRENGTH WEAKNESS YOU BRING WHAT?", and elicit a literal response? Or do I sign "SKILL YOU HAVE CONNECT WORK HERE WHAT? SKILL IMPROVE YOU WANT WHAT?" and illicit the response the interviewer is expecting? How much of this misunderstanding is contextual (aka- because we are in an interview) and how much is cultural (aka-because one is Deaf and one is hearing)? If the difference is solely contextual, do I leave the responsibility on the Deaf interviewee, to learn his/her lesson the hard way, like I did at my first interview? The mere fact that I am there standing (metaphorically and somewhat physically) between them makes it more difficult for the Deaf person to get a read on the interviewee. He/she may find it impossible to discern why the interview went awry. 

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