And that is an important reminder – our unexplored norms can override our interpreting judgments. It is incumbent upon us as individuals to recognize our conversational norms in order for us to make conscious decisions about communication that will allow both parties to interact and see each other, and not see only the unintended results of our unconscious decisions.
We know most sign language interpreters don’t deliberately intend to control what Deaf people say, but many of us have not analyzed our own inner rules/norms for conversation. Many of us do not realize we have communicative norms that regulate our language, our understanding of what is polite and what is not. Do we interpreters know our own individual communicative style? Have we explored our tacit norms? Those unexplored norms can and do affect our interpretation choices, which then have an impact on the communication of the people we are there to serve.
I remember an occasion (quite some time ago) when my own unexplored norms impeded my interpretation. I had learned that interpreters were “cultural mediators.” When a Deaf male supervisor started dressing down a male employee I was so uncomfortable that I softened the tone – thinking that I was culturally mediating. In fact, I “girled” him. I hadn’t witnessed male-male conflict before and I was so uncomfortable I softened his conflict style – in effect, I feminized him. This was not an authentic representation of his message or of his identity. I later realized that even though I had been raised in the hearing world and assumed I knew all the rules, I didn’t truly understand gendered communication and confrontation styles. I hadn’t considered the fact that what I did not know actually inhibited my interpretation and their communication. After some study and self-reflection I now feel better prepared and welcome the opportunity to interpret these kinds of events – bring ‘em on.