My apologies for the slightly off-topic salute to this year’s Academy Award-winning Best Song. The question I really want to ask is, of course, less silly and more important: is interpreting a technical profession or a practice profession?
Think of each of the following groups of professions; then consider which group you would place interpreting in:
1. Astronomy, medical research, product safety inspection, archaeology.
2. Medicine, law, law enforcement, pedagogy, ministry.
Can I get a show of hands?
So why the pop quiz?
I’m going to bet that most people would instinctively place interpreting into group #2, and therein lies the problem. It's not that #2 is the wrong answer (actually, I would argue that it’s more correct than we know!), but that we interpreters (of all stripes, but particularly
court interpreters) relate to our profession as if it belongs in group #1 ... causing ourselves no end of headaches, backbends, self-justification, defensive posturing, and guilt. (Really!)
Let’s explore what the professions in each group have in common.The professions in group #1 are all scientific and objective in their approach; they are called technical professions
. A technical profession follows a specified process to reach an unspecified end result. (For example, the Scientific Method: “First, define the question. Second, gather information and resources. Then, formulate a hypothesis...”) If the process is not strictly adhered to, then the end result is invalid.
The second group is a list of practice professions
, which are extremely context-dependent and subjective in their approach, despite requiring technical skills. A practice profession employs various processes to reach a specified end result. (For example, the Hippocratic Oath: “...I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism...”) A physician may get from point A (sick patient) to point B (applying required measures while avoiding over- and undertreatment) through many different techniques, based on the circumstances, and the context in which he or she works; but the goal is always the same.
Why does this matter to me?
Why do I say we treat interpreting (especially court interpreting) as if it were a technical, rather than a practice, profession?