ABSTRACT: Assessing Legal Interpreting: Including Sociology in Our Evaluations

Interpreting in a legal setting in the United States, and elsewhere, is a rule-based, hierarchal performance that must be understood as a socially organized event in which the interpreter finds herself.  The legal realm is a unique institution that has rules that when violated risk derailing justice.  A classroom interpreter who decides to include cultural information in an interpretation or accommodate for a possible deficiency caused by the absent of hearing does not run the risk of violating laws.  However, an interpreter working in a US courtroom who believes that an individual has language deprivation and decides she will expound upon a legal concept is, in fact, violating laws.  This could be perceived as legal advice and could lead to sanctions by the court or the criminal charges (Mathers 2006). 

To date, the field of sign language interpreting has struggled with a clear process for assessing an interpretation generally, but also in a way that can account for the social organization of an interpreted event. Jacobson (2009) calls for a measurement of interactional competencies for interpreters.  In her proposed rubric, Jacobson suggests that the focus be on two broad competencies: Discourse Management and Contextual Cues.  Both of these categories would have sub competencies. Although she is talking about healthcare interpreting, she admits her work could be applied to other settings. 

Jacobson’s work is a starting place from which a more comprehensive assessment about legal interpreting could be developed.  Every interaction, mediated or otherwise, is an event embedded in social relations that extends beyond the moment into regimes of organization (Smith 1990; 1999; 2005). While any assessment must include an understanding of the linguistics features used in the moment, it must also include a broader conceptualization.  I suggest “discursive practices” (Foucault 1972:117) provides this conceptualization.  Its use requires a look into regimes of power that manifest themselves into the mediated moment through the sign<>talk interaction.

Throughout this talk, I provide an overview of how legal interpreters trained, where area of the legal process we typically work, and current assessments.  I will also discuss Jacobson’s assessment proposal and how to include an assessment of discursive practices can fill a vital gap.

PowerPoint Handout: JBrunson PPT Handout XMU Panel slide ppt

  • Presented by Jeremy Brunson at the international Xiamen University 100th Anniversary Conference, Panel on Sign Language Interpreting Education & Assessment (April 2-3, 2021)
    • Presentation Language: spoken English, with English captions.
    • Run time: Approx. 11 minutes

Biography: Jeremy L. Brunson, Ph.D., CI/CT/SC:L has been an American Sign Language/English Interpreter for the for over 20 years. He is also an Independent Researcher. He holds master’s degrees in Justice and Social Inquiry and Sociology from Arizona State University and Syracuse University, respectively. He also holds a Certificate of Advanced Study in Disability Studies from Syracuse University where he also earned his doctorate in Sociology. He has provided hundreds of hours of mentoring and diagnostics to general and specialized interpreters for video relay service providers, local schools, referral agencies, persons in private practice, and local courts. He consultant on interpreting for federal, state, and municipal agencies as well as schools and local business.  He was also named a Fulbright and was stationed in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where he helped design skill enhancement seminars for local interpreters (deaf and non-deaf) and helped write the curriculum for the first interpreter education program in the country.  He has published on video relay service, the invisible work of deaf people, Interpreting Studies as an academic discipline (co-authored with Drs. Cynthia Roy and Christopher Stone), legal interpreting, and he is currently completing a third book (co-authored with Drs. Cynthia Roy and Christopher Stone) about the methods, methodologies, and epistemologies of Interpreting Studies.

In addition to a number of semester-long courses in the areas of disability, race and ethnic studies, and language and power, Dr. Brunson has provided a number of workshops, seminars, and modules, nationally and internationally that focus on power, privilege, and oppression.