"Interpretation theory" -interpretation defending the rights of deaf people-

Ito Shunsuke 1968

*This is a report on which current Japanese Sign-Language Interpretation theory is based.

In the history of deaf education and of the Deaf Movement, Interpretation Theory has never been discussed. But when you want to discuss both deaf people and sign language, or the Deaf Movement, I think Interpretation Theory plays a very important role.

I would like to explain what I mean by Interpretation Theory, based on the discussion among the members of the interpreters' group known as Mimizuku, located in Kyoto, Japan. I hope this will be read by lots of people, and that you will give us your opinions.

A. The necessity and Significance of Interpretation

Why is interpretation, including sign language, necessary for deaf people? Before starting a discussion of this issue, I want to bring up two real-life cases. The first case is that of Mr. A, a deaf man.

Mr. A had been educated diligently in the Oral Method. In other words, he had been taught by his eager parents and teachers to lip-read and speak, both in his house and in his workplace. He also learned to read and write Japanese.

Now, Mr.A had a problem in his house and he filed suit in a family court. All of the problems in his house were revealed to the judge and the member of an arbitration board. The problems were discussed, and, in the end, the secretary of the court wrote an arbitration proposal. The proposal was shown to Mr. A. It was not to his liking. In fact, it was completely different from what he had been insisting upon for a long period. But he was unable to make his objections known, and, therefore, everyone thought he had found the proposal acceptable.

In my opinion, a meeting is of value only if its members can express themselves and exchange opinions on the spot. In the case of Mr. A., he was not offered this opportunity, and he was forced to accept a proposal not to his liking. At that time, there were no interpreters present.

The second case revolves around a government official and a group of deaf people. The group had requested a sign-language interpreter. The official said the following:
"I fail to understand why sign-language interpreters are necessary for deaf people. Whether interpreters are a temporary necessity because deaf adults are not educated in the Oral Method, or whether interpreters will always be needed is beyond me. Will all of the civil servants in the ward offices, city offices and employment offices have to learn sign language? That's asking too much. I think deaf people who can communicate by writing have no problem wherever they go. Then there is no need for interpreters. Requesting an interpreter any time and anywhere, despite the level of education among deaf people, is a step backward, is it not?"

These two cases are very important when you consider the problems of deaf people and the problem of Interpretation Theory. The opinion of some people can be summed up as follows: "Education for deaf people is improving, both in matters of substance and technique. When all deaf people can understand spoken language perfectly, and deaf people can communicate well with hearing people by writing, lip-reading, and speaking, sign language interpreters will no longer be necessary." This is currently the view of legislators and others in the law profession.

Article 134 of the Civil Procedure Code and Article 175 and 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code all state the following: "If a deaf defendant is unable to communicate by reading and writing while in court, an interpreter should be provided. However, if the defendant can read and write, his responses can be elicited in writing." These statements correspond to the actions of the court mentioned in the first case, and to the statement of the government official mentioned in the second case. If deaf people were in agreement with these statements there would be no need to discuss this issue.

But this is not the case. Without interpreters, deaf people are at a disadvantage. For example, if Mr. A. in the case above had had access to an interpreter, he could have objected immediately to proposal that he had been given. Likewise, deaf people at the unemployment office might be introduced to better jobs. After all, in encounters with other people it is normal to be able to offer one's opinions and objections right away. By means of an interpreter, deaf people are able to understand the contents of a conversation immediately. Thus, they are able to speak up instantly.

The foundation of a democracy is the freedom of speech. For the deaf people living in a democracy, in order to become full members of society, interpreting play an essential role.

B. The Standpoint of the Interpreter

Interpreters are needed by deaf people during lectures, speeches, lessons, meetings, workshops and conversations--in short, any time there is spoken communication. And interpreters should be good at sign language as well as writing and finger-spelling, and should also be able to do the following: (1) grasp accurately what the speaker thinks, and (2) be able to express in sign language that which has been expressed in spoken language.

An interpreter may encounter any number of difficult situations. For example, an interpreter will need to adjust his or her sign-language technique to the interest, way of thinking, and linguistic level of the individual or group for whom he or she is interpreting. It is also up to the interpreter to encourage deaf people to offer their opinions and participate in the meeting or discussion. Furthermore, interpreters must refrain from expressing their own opinions, and, of course, they are unable to take written notes.

While interpreting, sometimes we get confused and it becomes difficult to interpret properly. For example, it would be extremely difficult to interpret in court on behalf of a deaf individual who has neither the ability to write nor the ability to use sign language. It may also be difficult to interpret in matters concerning complicated human relationships. Unfortunately, sometimes interpreters go beyond their duties as interpreters and align themselves with hearing people in opposition to deaf people. As almost of interpreters are hearing, they are apt to have this tendency.

The duty of interpreters to deaf people is not merely to serve as a neutral communicator between hearing and deaf people, nor to support the status quo. It is not accurate to look at hearing people as rulers and deaf people as the oppressed. But we hearing people impose our opinion on deaf people so often that sometimes it does seem that deaf people are oppressed. This is unacceptable. The fundamental duty of interpreters should be to ensure the livelihood of deaf people and to stand by them as they assert their human rights.

Sometimes interpreters have to observe deaf people and imbue in them a sense of human rights. Other times, interpreters must hone their skills as interpreters in order to properly convey the meaning of spoken Japanese via sign language. And to do this interpreters may have to learn from the requests and assertions of deaf people. Whether or not the interpreter did his or her job well or not should be determined only by these criteria.

For example, if you, as an interpreter, got a call from a factory boss and were told, "A deaf worker here often takes vacations in order to participate in events for deaf people. His colleagues are annoyed. He lacks common sense. Please scold him!" you may find yourself in a bind. But you must ask yourself why vacation with pay is not allowed at this company, and why this deaf man is not allowed to participate in events for deaf people with the assistance of a colleague.

In situations such as these, it is the duty of the interpreter not just to serve as a messenger between the company and deaf worker, but to comprehend the situation and to try to find a solution that would suit both the company and the worker.

Above, I wrote about the duties of interpreters to deaf people. Now I want to ask for your opinions on whether interpreters have the duties listed below.

  1. To defend the rights of deaf people, and to adopt those rights as their own.
  2. To understand, accept, and research not only the general problems of deaf people but also problems of each deaf individual.
  3. To participate in the aims of deaf people to develop and enhance their livelihood, to participate in the similar aims of people with other disabilities, and to participate in the national democratic movement.
  4. To act as counselors to deaf people who have problems in regard to their living arrangements or vocations, learning from the problems and requests of deaf people and acting accordingly.
  5. To continue studying sign language, finger-spelling and writing, with a view to enhancing one's skills.