NRCPD have this week announced that they have become a “separate and independent” company and registered charity which is also a “subsidiary of Signature”. We are told that this paradox is a step along a “transition” towards “full independence”; nonetheless, the adjective “independent” appears five times. The entity was born on 1 January 2017; NRCPD’s director attended a local workshop on 2 February and updated them on this new status, a full week before registrants themselves or the outside world were informed, nearly six weeks after the fact. The Strategic Plan was also revealed, in all its vague and unsubstantiated glory. Elsewhere, in an advert for an Honorary Treasurer, we can confirm that the new NRCPD is a “wholly owned subsidiary” of Signature (the trading name for CACDP, the actual legal entity: as we’re discussing legal entities, I’ll only use CACDP hereon). So what does “separate and independent” mean, exactly?
Post-truth. Alternative facts. Brexit is Brexit, and statutory regulation is statutory regulation.
I was unable to attend Signature’s statutory regulation meeting in January due to being unexpectedly hospitalised (I’m fine now). While waiting for my belly-button to resume normal service, I did a little bit of reading and uncovered a range of interesting and depressing responses to the statutory regulation struggle in the annals of several other professions. Many of these are the kind of practitioner-focused issues that have so far (to my knowledge) been absent from dialogue. This is a long post so let’s start with the main shakedown and then move on to the sources.
Key issues raised
- Statutory regulation encourages “medical model” approaches to practice which even healthcare professionals may find oppressive, let alone those in occupations which are patently not healthcare.
- Excessive regulation – increased inspection regimes, measurements and managerialism – can lead to increased “reactivity”, a term which describes practitioners feeling a pressure to select “easy wins”, reject more difficult work, abandon more difficult clients and “cover their backs” instead of acting from best professional judgement.
- Campaigns to promote statutory regulation above self-regulation have historically resulted in schisms and increased disunity within various professions. Almost all the campaigns resulted in failure and wasted resources, even for professions between thirty and two hundred times the size of BSL/English interpreting.
- A political will is required to take up the cause of state regulation, which brings with it political scrutiny, which entails unpredictable effects such as sudden reversals of support or unexpected spotlights on bad training/practice. Statutory regulation can stop being statutory at any time should political will or public support be withdrawn: the fight to keep your status may be even more effort than that expended to attain it. The current political will is opposed to statutory regulation even for highly specialist and expert clinical professions taught over and above postgraduate level, let alone social/linguist ones with a mixed bag of vocational qualifications that verify skills instead of teaching them.
- Meta-regulators such as the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) and its predecessor the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE) have long asserted that regulation must be based on empirical assessment of “actual harm” and not “possible risk”, i.e. regulation must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to solve. A regulator that creates sledgehammer/nut issues is incompetent.
- Given that absolutely none of above is even acknowledged, let alone addressed, by Signature’s meandering rationale for pursuing statutory regulation, it becomes necessary to ask whether the current governance of their “NRCPD service” is fit for purpose and their personnel are qualified to decide our profession’s future. Who watches the watchers?
- Finally, the concept of principled non-compliance may offer some solutions, or at least traction, to those with doubts and fears about the path ahead, while those who favour statutory regulation have a paradox to resolve.
I’m a little shell-shocked at the moment after completing my second round of post-graduate study and learning that my MSc dissertation (on the sociolinguistic variation of fingerspelling in the BSL Corpus) won a prize. This would not have been possible without the support, encouragement, challenges and insights imparted to me by all the members of the BSL Corpus team at DCAL. I’m really going to miss having that expertise on tap. I’m also privileged enough to have friends, colleagues, vaguely benevolent acquaintances and a partner who feed me, inspire me, tolerate me and kiss it all better (respectively).
Having said that, one of the best things about the BSL Corpus is that anyone can make use of it: video data and gloss annotations are available for download for various elicitation tasks for each of the 249 participants across 8 cities. Furthermore, both of the specialist software tools I used in my project (ELAN for annotation, searching and export, R for statistical analysis) are completely free for non-commercial use: neither of them are notably user-friendly but there is a wealth of support resources and a community of users out there on the ‘net to help you get to grips with them. Meanwhile BSL SignBank, based in large part on data from the Corpus, is also free to use: among other things, it acts as the lexical database reference for the corpus ID glosses (the unique text strings assigned to each signed utterance in the Corpus, which help to make it machine-searchable). It’s the first (and only?) online BSL dictionary to be both research- and usage-based, which makes it both a work in progress and very much a living dictionary: it needs input from the BSL-using community to thrive.
And this is the general point: research should not be thought of as an activity that’s owned by an elite group of career academics, hearing or Deaf. Anyone can get stuck in. Obviously it helps to have a mighty institution and its resources around you, but it’s not necessary. You will learn something by doing even quite dodgy research, even if your main take-home bullet point is just how not to cock it up next time: research betters you. It’s also an opportunity to work with others: my work ends up stronger and better when it’s open to challenges and other perspectives and I have juicy brains to pick. Nor does it have to be on a hugely weighty issue or be a mammoth undertaking: a project can last an hour or a lifetime, be relevant to just one individual or a universe. Interpreters have picked CPD and reflective practice off the shelf, both of which are forms of research in a way, research into our own practice, our own strengths and weaknesses: but do we really support each other to look outward as well?
My feeling is that too often, the (hyper)professional interpreting environment lacks a grounding in research, home-grown or otherwise. In the last few years we have repeatedly seen decisions being made about our work with little transparency and no evidence base, almost as though they are whims or at best hunches, with next to no input from either the academic or practitioner fields. The good news is that ultimately, it doesn’t matter. We own our work, both the bad and the good. We make it what it is, but we have the power and skills to demonstrate why it should be so, and my feeling is that this should be a responsibility, part of our sense of integrity.
If you’re not already a researcher-practitioner, ask yourself and your colleagues what’s stopping you.
A couple of months back, I had a rummage in the 2011 Census statistics, CRIDE 2014 surveys and regional NRCPD registration breakdowns. There was also a more speculative look at the state of communication support in Deaf Education. This proved to be a very popular post with a lot of sharing: hearty thanks to all.
I’m now very grateful to staff at NDCS, who have shared more detailed breakdowns of the CRIDE 2014 national survey with me, allowing for better reckoning of the education scene. I was also able to try and speculatively triangulate the Census reckoning of sign language users in the UK against CRIDE’s estimate of children and young people who sign. See the previous density of interpreters post for the full discussion on what the problems with the Census data are and why some people are very firm about how wrong it must be.
The end of my study at UCL is fast approaching. I’m currently finishing up my dissertation project, an exploration of how fingerspelling in BSL can become “nativised” (more “sign-like”), and an analysis of what kinds of fingerspelling Deaf community members across the UK are actually using, based on narratives and conversations in the BSL Corpus. If it’s accepted, I’ll blog about my findings later in the year.
Fingerspelling is a representation of a writing system. The presence of written foreign language elements in a signed language is interesting on many levels, but problematic for some. Just like the dusty “Immortals” in the Académie française who presumably feel vindicated now that the Walkman brand of personal music players has died off, and German complaints about Überfremdung (“over-foreignness”) in the face of the spread of “Denglisch“, there are occasional pockets of resistance in the British Deaf community to signs which have a perceived “hearing” (English) influence.
These anxieties are fully understandable if looked at in terms of oppression or privilege. I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that English has one of the largest vocabularies in the world but is also the preferred language of some of the most invasive and destructive empire-building nations in history. Likewise, it is difficult to formulate a decent explanation of the British “Deaf identity” without acknowledging the role of hearing English-users as oppressors who insist that specific articulators and receptors are used in the production of language. Nonetheless, language mixing is inevitable for all but the most repressive of societies. It is arguably proof that a language is alive and thriving.
I’m quite capable of writing seriously and in a proper academic style. But this is a blog. If I can’t have fun and speak my mind, why bother? Despite that, I think there may be some serious points and interesting finds here. I don’t think anyone has done this before: if I’m wrong, please let me know.
This mini-project used three data sets, all available to the public. One (a portion of the 2011 National Census) has questionable data. The next (CRIDE’s 2014 survey) comes with a warning attached that it should only be used for analysis and debate rather than drawing any hard conclusions. The last (NRCPD’s May 2015 registration breakdown) only represents those interpreters who choose to register with NRCPD. Therefore the following should also be taken as an exploration – stuff that is or is not likely – rather than solid fact. I’m the first to point out other people’s terrible use of stats and I hope I’ve been equally critical and honest about my own dalliances.
If you’re already bored you can skip ahead to the pretty maps.
NRCPD recently began releasing a breakdown of qualified registered interpreters by region for the first time. When I saw this, I realised there is the potential to have a pop at some very old questions: how many BSL users per interpreter are there? and where is the most work for interpreters? and where do Deaf people compete most for interpreter availability? The answers would obviously be of interest to those invested in Deaf Industry strategy and marketing, but there are political concerns as well. For example, I regret that it has been suggested to me more than once that there are “too many interpreters” (only by interpreters, obviously).
But counting registered interpreters is the trivial part. The question of how many Deaf people there are and where they are has always been problematic, because we don’t all necessarily agree on what they are. Humans always come unstuck on methods and definitions, because words don’t mean anything in themselves. For areas, grey is the new black. Determinations of identity are always going to be muddy, because people are fabulously muddy.
But if you don’t ever try, you don’t progress. Despite these issues, there is always some kind of data. Data trumps ideology every time. You just have to pull your finger out. [Read more…]
“Words don’t mean; people mean.” – commonly attributed to S.I. Hayakawa
In the Indian adage about a group of blind people feeling different parts of an elephant, each of them gives a very different account of what they learn: the one feeling the trunk says that an elephant is like a branch, the one feeling the tail says an elephant is like a rope, and so forth. It’s a parable about subjectivity and the limits of perception. What this story does not tell you is that all of the elephant-feelers immediately fall insensible to the floor, paralysed by a new appreciation of the sucking abyss that surrounds the elephant for light years in every direction.
I was a bit blown away by the interest in my Great Flounce – in just five days, it had double the total traffic of the last ten months – a little nerve-wracking. Some very fair criticisms were made: I agree completely with those who pointed out that it isn’t especially helpful to dismantle things without offering any kind of solution. This post is an attempt to redress that, pulling together bits and pieces I’ve rambled about here over the last year.
Here’s what would bring me back into the loving arms of my comrades, if a register (or equivalent) could manage it. It’s not a shopping list: they are my terms, which sounds super-butch but has that faint implication of compromise. Most of them (except possibly the first) have been talked through by others for decades, and they all overlap to some extent. If you don’t like longform (essay-length) blogs, here’s a quick list with soundbites.
- A twenty-first century register: the register as a “really useful” public-facing database interface, emphasising specific competencies
- Certification to work in critical domains: the death of the “pancake profession”, the birth of structure and progression
- Pupillage/internships: mandatory hours of supervised work experience for full registration status, post-qualification
- An end to deontology: no more stone tablets which contradict contemporary research and cripple us with dissonance
- Evidence-based decisions and practice: a permanent ban on blind faith and “off-the-shelf professionalism”
How many interpreters does it take to change a lightbulb? It depends.
In part 1, we looked at a few distinct ways in which people fail to make sense, and what we (as interpreters) can do about it, if anything. Some themes cropped up more than once:
- That we need to be able to “see with the mind’s eye” what things mean, either as an actual visualisation or as an abstraction (like the hovering multicoloured towers of Lego that followed me around and haunted my dreams when I was a programmer), and that if we can’t do that – if the input doesn’t create anything we can understand in languageless terms – we probably can’t produce anything very meaningful in the target language. One of the situations in which interpreters stop making sense is when they start acting as a conveyor belt, a translation machine that only works on a lexical level: a participant in a study I worked on expressed this as interpreters who “pass the parcel”.
- Following from that, we also need to understand language as discourse: where is it going, what is the point? Preparing for an interpreting assignment by looking up words, doing background research and making glossaries is all fine and good, but it might not be enough if we don’t understand why language is being uttered.
- That sometimes people don’t make sense on purpose, and we might need to collaborate with that aim. Interpreters are typically “explainers”: but sometimes a speaker needs to baffle, challenge, test their audience.
To explore some of these ideas in practice, I offer up a failure as example: a totally awful interpretation I was recently responsible for. I completely cocked it up and it was mostly my fault. But I learned something.