21 Aug The Prima Donna Judiciary Interpreter
Posted at 00:17h in Court Interpreting, Ethics, Interpreting, Mentoring, New Ideas 16 Comments
Prima donna: A very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance. (Oxford Dictionary)
We all know at least one of those, don’t we? Or maybe we have been one at some point or another in our lives (gasp! Do we dare admit such a thing?)
Well, even if you don’t think you have ever been or acted like a prima donna, you could be perceived as one by your peers and co-workers if you:
(1) have strong dogmatic opinions about all matters related to interpreting (particularly judiciary interpreting), and dismiss all others that do not agree with yours because—of course!—they are wrong;
(2) expect—or even demand—certain comforts and concessions not ordinarily part of the work environment in the court where you are providing your services and complain bitterly or even threaten to walk out if you do not get them;
(3) hold prescriptive positions on terminology issues and are completely inflexible about accepting new meanings or different usages in other speech communities;
(4) display a contemptuous attitude towards any interpreter who has not had formal training or does not hold a degree in the field, and take every opportunity to bash interpreters who have no professional license or certification regardless of whether or not you know or have ever worked with one;
(5) brag openly about charging the highest fees in the market and quickly vilify anyone who charges less than you do;
(6) monopolize every conversation—mostly to talk about yourself—and expect to be the focus of everyone’s attention at all times;
(7) believe you are the most important person in the courtroom, and are absolutely indispensable and irreplaceable.
I could go on, but I think this short list paints a fairly clear picture of the prima donna interpreter. And it is not a pretty picture. Unfortunately, these attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors seem to be contagious, rather than something to be contained or even rejected by our peers. As the profession grows, so does the number of interpreters with such undesirable manners, to the point that it is starting to reflect negatively on the profession as a whole.
Now, as I recall, this was not the case 20 or 30 years ago, so I have to wonder, how did we get here? And most importantly: how do we stop this? Because, frankly, it is doing more harm than good to our profession right now. Any time a member of the legal community has an encounter with a prima donna judiciary interpreter, we all lose a bit of respect and credibility as members of this profession.
I suspect that as we, collectively, endeavored to create and increase awareness among the legal community as to the pivotal role judiciary interpreters play in the administration of justice and the protection of criminal defendants’ constitutional guarantees, some of us took all this to another level entirely and developed an inflated sense of self-importance. As the knowledge base for our discipline flourished and the credentialing processes matured, some of us seem to have also cultivated elitist values and attitudes that serve no good purpose.
We should be the ones to open the doors for those eager to learn, the ones to take the time to guide our new colleagues with proper educational tools so they can eventually join the ranks of competent—and certified—judiciary interpreters, which should be what we all want. We instead have small turf wars sprouting all over the country with individual interpreters jockeying for positions of personal prominence that have a devastating effect on the profession’s overall public image. Furthermore, it is sabotaging our ability to coalesce as a group with common goals and objectives; it undermines all the hard work done over the course of the past three or four decades.
Furthermore, there seems to be a nationwide backlash in the legal community against judiciary interpreters that is taking some of us back to the 1980s in terms of public perception, working conditions, and general respect for our profession.
Whenever a group of persons with similar interests starts to build a community where they can find mutual support to grow in positive directions, everyone wins. When that same community starts to disintegrate because of selfish interests and attitudes, everyone loses. It’s time for our community of judiciary interpreters to take a very honest and close look at ourselves and realize there are very negative repercussions to this prima donna-ish posturing by some members of the profession.
We are all talented, but not so extraordinary no one else can do what we do.
We all have above-average intelligence, but we are not infallible.
And we are all important… but never irreplaceable.