Nicodemus, B. and Swabey, L., Eds. (2011) Advances in Interpreting Research

Nicodemus, B. and Swabey, L., Eds. (2011) Advances in Interpreting Research: Inquiry in Action. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

In the introduction to this volume, the editors mention “a need for publications for interpreters interested in research, aspiring researchers in interpreting studies, and interpreting educators” (p. 2). As a person who fits into at least two of those three categories, I found this volume to be an engrossing and extremely useful read.  Rather than give an in-depth review or synopsis of the whole book, I’m going to highlight specific chapters and concepts which I found most relevant to my own work.

Pocchacker, F. “Researching Interpreting: Approaches to Inquiry”

The author has written multiple pieces on interpreting research and paradigms. In this one, he looks at the paradigms, epistemology, and ontology underlying interpreting research. A brief review of interpreting research history is interspersed with reflections on various approaches to research and science as conceptualized by researchers from different backgrounds.  I recently read a book that focused a great deal on the epistemological and ontological foundations of science and research (a post on that book is forthcoming); the combination of that book and this chapter have helped me to engage in some reflection on my own conceptualization of knowledge and research.  On page 13, Pocchacker identifies three different ontological approaches–realism (“the objectivistic belief that there is a real world “out there” independent of human observers”), relativism (“assumes that there is no external reality independent of the human mind”) and pragmatism (“assumes that the meaning or truth of something is a function of its practical outcome (“truth is what works”)”).  He also contrasts empirical/positivist research with interpretive research, and comes to the conclusion that while the empirical/positivist stance may still be dominant, most researchers nowadays would “{allow} to some degree that facts are theory-laden and that the researcher’s background and values are likely to shape the process of inquiry” (p. 14).  He goes on to explore different relationships between theory and data, and how different methodologies and types of reasoning may be employed to different ends, depending on the research goals.  The section titled “Multiple methods” is particularly worth noting, as it describes specific ways to employ different methodologies for different purposes, depending on one’s philosophical or paradigmatic standpoint. In this section, the author draws on several IS publications from 2004, and uses them to illustrate how scholars from different backgrounds (both academic and conceptual) have employed a combination of methodologies that reflect their underlying philosophical and conceptual stances.

I personally am not of a very philosophical bent, but the reading I have done lately has been in my thoughts as I work on creating a research question and proposal for my PhD work.  I found Pocchacker’s application of concepts I had read about previously to the specific case of interpreting studies to be extremely helpful to me in this process. I want to do work that is relevant to the environment in which I work and teach, that is sound, and that will improve my teaching and my students’ learning.  Of course, I also want to increase knowledge in the field, but I am more strongly motivated by the desire to improve teaching and learning (and thus, it is understood, the ‘quality’ of my ex-students’ interpreting when they move from the classroom to real-world settings) than by the desire to create knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  Clarifying and making explicit the roots and purpose of my research is a useful step towards developing a sound methodology for the project.

Russell, D. “Designing a research project: Beginning with the end in mind.”

This chapter is a great overview of the process of selecting and developing a research question and methodology.  The style is clear and straightforward, and the author gives concrete examples from her own experience. 

The titles of the various sections are good indicators of the chapter’s content: Seeking inspiration, Refining focus: from topics of interest to researchable questions, But wait, don’t I need a hypothesis?, Evaluating your questions, Defining terms and assumptions, Inventory time, Now what? The art of being flexible, and Building your research agenda.

This is another article that presented ideas that were already familiar to me from a different perspective. I think this chapter would make excellent reading for anyone about to begin researching, or who is interested in doing research. I personally found the section on refining research questions especially helpful to me at this stage in my work. 

Metzger, M. and Roy, C. “The first three years of a three-year grant: When a research plan doesn’t go as planned.”

In this chapter the authors provide a wealth of detail about a research project they undertook which involved live videotaping of ASL-interpreted encounters in the community.  I found the information about the research project both interesting and educational–it’s good to hear about the nitty-gritty of carrying out such large projects as I decide how large a project I can reasonably undertake myself.

Of special interest to me in this chapter was the discussion of the difficulties involved in getting IRB and individual permission to observe and record encounters in medical settings.  They provide the text of the informed consent form they used with participants and providers, and give a brief overview of issues related to video-recording encounters which could later become evidence in legal proceedings.

Another fascinating part of this chapter is the transcription method they used for the data from the tapes.  The authors employed a “musical score format” (p. 71) for transcription of the interpreted encounter.  This is the first time I have seen this format; I’ve never seen it used for spoken-language interpreting data, but I think it could be fruitfully used in a spoken-language context as well.  The transcription has five lines, and reads left to right through time (that is, each turn in any language is notated in such a way that one can clearly appreciate the passage of time, as well as overlapping speech).  Each time block is five deep and has a line for the Deaf person speaking ASL, the interpreter in English, the service provider in English, and the interpreter in ASL. 

I made a sample version of how this would look for a spoken-language encounter (the times are made up… it might take more or less than a second for each turn!) and pasted it in below:



  0:05:10 0:05:11 0:05:12 0:05:13
Spanish-speaker (in Spanish) Me duele el oído.      
Interpreter—English   My ear hurts.    
Provider  (in English)     When did it start to hurt?  
Interpreter—Spanish       ¿Desde cuándo le duele?

I often find the transcriptions of interpreted discourse hard to follow–this kind of system might be profitably employed in work on spoken-language interpreting, especially in analysis of interpreters’ strategies for managing communication, etc–although one would need to come up with a way to record nonverbals as well, so that issues such as gestures and gaze can be included in the analysis.

Liu, M. “Methodology in interpreting studies: A methodological review of evidence-based research.”

This article is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the kinds of methodology that can be employed in empirical research into interpreting. I’m not going to discuss the findings in any detail, but it was interesting to read about the different types of studies that have been published in the journal Interpreting from 2004 to 2009. There are many useful citations of authors who have written about various methodologies; anyone wanting to engage in deeper research into the relative strengths of different methodologies would be well-advised to use this article and its references as a starting place. A table at the end of the article gives details of the methodologies, constructs, data collection methods, forms of data, and types of data analysis for each article. 

Napier, J. “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? The merits of publishing interpreting research.”

This is another thought-provoking and inspiring chapter which will be of great benefit to anyone thinking about doing research into interpreting.  The author discusses her own experience in publishing research, and makes a strong argument for anyone doing research in the field to seek publication. Napier is the editor of the International Journal of Interpreter Education, and makes a persuasive case for research and publication.  A portion of the article is in fact focused on the relationship between research and practice.  She also reviews a bit of the history of interpreting research, and then explores the possibilities for publishing by academics, educators, “practisearchers” (following Gile and Shlesinger–practitioners who become researchers), and practitioners.  The who, what, when, where, why, and how of interpreting research are all touched on, and supported with detail from the author’s own career.

Leeson, L. ” ‘Mark my words’: The linguistic, social, and political significance of the assessment of signed language interpreters.”

I found this article to be a useful follow-up to my previous reading and thinking on language and interpreting assessment.  The author’s focus is fairly specific: she is looking at assessment in the Irish sign language context and in light of the European Bologna process. However, I found her review of the basic concepts to be useful, and it led me to seek out some sources I had not previously read, especially on the subject of student self-assessments. I also appreciated the section on achievement vs proficiency testing.


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