Time for a Paradigm Shift, Part II: Movin’ Right Along

Now that we’ve established in Part I that we’re going to think about interpreting in a teleological (outcome-based) way, the obvious next question is: What outcome are we talking about?

In this entry, I will use the term “goal” rather than “outcome.”

outcome Pronunciation: /ˈaʊtkʌm/• noun • the way a thing turns out; a consequence: it is the outcome of the vote that counts

goal Pronunciation: /gəʊl/• noun • 1(in football, rugby, hockey, and some other games) …2 the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result: he achieved his goal of becoming King of England

That is, an “outcome” is what eventually happens in a given situation. A “goal” is a desired result (outcome) that you put an effort into reaching. (Thanks to The Oxford Dictionaries Online.) Because, as a practice profession, we make decisions in such a way as to bring about the outcome we want (teleologically), we will refer to the desired outcome we are working towards as the “goal.”

Any situation in which we find ourselves has an ultimate goal, a desired end outcome. When we go to the grocery store, our ultimate goal is to acquire the things we need. We probably also have other, intermediate goals, such as not taking all day to get them all, not spending more than our budget permits, and so forth.  The same can be said for any situation in which we find ourselves interpreting.

What does the “situation” include?

The major components of an interpreting situation are the context (medical, legal, community, conference, etc.) and the setting (in the emergency room versus a private doctor’s office; in a courtroom versus an attorney-client interview room, etc.). Personally, I work almost exclusively in the legal context, and primarily in a courtroom setting. Other components relate to the participants (how many? what are their roles? their personalities?), to the exact nature of the proceeding being interpreted, etc.

Every situation has one, primary goal (with many contributing goals), and each participant within the situation has his or her own goal.

So what is the goal of the judicial setting?

It sounds very simple: the overall goal of the judicial setting is to do justice. There are countless contributing goals, each aimed at furthering the cause of justice in a specific way. The voir dire of the jury panel is meant to ensure the jury is as “blind” as possible to anything but the facts of the case. The audio recording or court reporter’s transcript allows decisions to be reviewed by a higher court. Defense attorneys are provided to those who cannot afford them so that defendants are all on equal footing regardless of their education level or income. And so on; for every step of the judicial process, you can see how it supports the goal of doing justice.

Do other situations where interpreters work have different goals?

Certainly. For example, the end goal of a health-care situation is for the patient to have the best possible health care outcome. The end goal of a parent-teacher conference is for the teacher and parent to be on the same page about the child. The end goal of an initial attorney-client conference is to acquaint the client with the attorney and vice-versa.

If each participant has his own goal, does that mean the interpreter does also?

Yes, of course. Every person in the situation is there to fulfill a function, which means each person has a specific goal of fulfilling that function.

So what is the interpreter’s ultimate goal in the judicial setting?

I couldn’t say it any better than NAJIT said it in the preamble to our very own Code of Ethics:

The function of court interpreters and translators is to remove the language barrier to the extent possible, so that such persons’ [i.e., non- or limited-English speakers] access to justice is the same as that of similarly-situated English speakers for whom no such barrier exists.

I bet that if someone asked you what the NAJIT Code of Ethics is, you could probably recite all or most of the 8 canons,… but you would omit the Preamble entirely. I would have! And yet…The Preamble is most important part. It’s the ultimate goal. It is the sum of what you need to know! If you always act in compliance with the Preamble, then you are always acting ethically.

What about the rest of the Code of Ethics?

Please don’t think that I am saying you should ignore the rest of the Code of Ethics! Quite on the contrary. The rest of the Code of Ethics is a list of what I would call our intermediate goals—the things we try to achieve in furtherance of the final outcome (like making a list of what we need before we go shopping, deciding how we’ll pay and determining a budget, etc.).

All of the Canons of our Code of Ethics are things that we strive to achieve in order to fulfill our function (ultimate goal, desired outcome). They deal with different aspects of our performance, but they all contribute to that ultimate goal.

That sounds simple enough…

It is simple enough to put into words, but much harder to put into practice. After all, I’m asking you to think of your decisions like move in a chess game: how will your action influence the situation not only in the immediate future, but all the way to the end of the hearing? the end of the case? How will it affect the participants’ view of you as an interpreter and of the profession as a whole? And in many cases, I’m asking you to do that while continuing to interpret at the same time.

You did say you were up for a challenge, didn’t you?

Next time:

  • We explore the myriad tiny elements that contribute to our situation (demands) and consider all the possible responses (controls), from the sublime to the ridiculous
  • We talk about liberalism and conservatism in the non-political sense (preview: going too far in either direction is unethical!)
  • I try to come up with yet another catchy Muppets tune for a title (Movin’ Right Along; Man or Muppet?)

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