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LANGUAGE

LANGUAGE?  CODE?  CONTACT?

At this point, we should probably let you know that starting now the whole learning-about-interpreting thing becomes a tad technical.  Why?  Because language and interpreting are complex subjects, requiring multi-faceted understanding and know-how.  And, because you can't become a whale-of-an-interpreter until you get it about language.  

Would a professional linguist (of the Ph.D. variety) say that professional interpreters are linguists in the sense that the linguist is?  Probably  not.  However, a well-informed professional interpreter has a better than average understanding of linguistics because s/he must.  A professional carpenter cannot effectively create with wood unless s/he knows how to use it and how it behaves; likewise a professional interpreter.  [What's the difference between an interpreter and a professional interpreter?  Click here for that discussion.  The discussion here is about language.]

The field of interpreting is rife with jargon.  In fact, for many of us, getting over the hump of written assessments encountered along the way is one of the biggest challenges.  Because the assessments are tricky?  Because the industry is trying to get one over on you?  Happily, the answer is no.  But, there are beaucoup words used to talk about what interpreters do and how they do it, and much of the terminology comes from the field of linguistics.  Most of the linguistics jargon is simply lifted and applied to ASL/English interpreting wholesale - because it's true and it works.  A little of the jargon gets lifted and then tweaked before being applied.  Why?  Because, as we've seen elsewhere on TerpTopics.com, there are cognition (knowing, understanding, reasoning, judgment) and production distinctions to be made relative to interpreters and language mode (here, mode means form, variety, or manner).

 


LANGUAGE?

Because an interpreter works between at least two languages plus a variety of language and communication systems, codes, and modes, it behooves us to know a few basics about what human language is, and how we get it, understand it and use it.

 


LINGUISTICS

How is linguistics different from language?  The terms seem to be used interchangeably, like they mean the same thing.  Not quite, but they are related.  The word linguistics is to language as archaeology is to artifact.  Linguistics is the study of language, like archaeology is the study of artifacts.  Just as archaeologists study artifacts (tools, chips of pottery, crumbled old buildings), where they came from, how people got them, how they evolved, and how they were used, linguists study language, where is came from, how it is acquired, how it evolves, and how it is used.  For a linguist, language is a thing, sort of a huge artifact, to be discovered and examined, discussed and written about, and then studied some more.

Blockbuster interpreters understand the basics of how languages are used and employ this knowledge to render the most complete and meaningful interpretation.  How do we do it?  TerpTopics.com takes a look at the idea of message completeness elsewhere.  Here, we will talk a little about the idea of message meaning.  After all, interpreters can't very well change a message into a different language until its meaning is known (imagine the chaos, holy cow!).

Among their many talents, great interpreters are master analysts.  They figure out what a person means with such lightening speed that to the uninitiated onlooker interpreting seems like a piece of cake - the easiest job in the world.  However, other interpreters know that what the master analysts do is nothing short of a miracle and are awed by such talent.

How do great interpreters extract meaning from a message?  They analyze it.  In this way, they understand it the way a linguist does.

 


MESSAGE ANALYSIS

"The Building Blocks"

How many interpreters have wished for an opportunity to halt the action long enough to put a client's message on a couch, grab a clipboard, don reading glasses, and ask probing questions like, "How long have you felt this way?  What do you wish to achieve?  How would you like to be perceived by others?"  Sorry.  No such luck.

While interpreters may not be able to psychoanalyze a message, they are able to - in fact, must - linguistically analyze a message and do so with varying degrees of skill and success.  Before we analyze meaning, it is convenient to construct a sort of meaning map that we can use to determine where we are in relation to other linguistic levels of expression and understanding.

 


Linguistic Levels of Meaning

A few of the students were feeling disheartened because, no matter how hard they studied, they simply could not grasp the mathematical concepts.
.

IDEA + EXAMPLE

 TERM


Unit (smallest distinct)

a-f-ew-o-f-th-e-s-t-u-d-en-ts-w-ere-f-ee-l-ing-d-i-s-h-ear-
t-ed-b-e-c-au-se-n-o-m-a-tt-er-h-ow-h-ar-d-th-ey-s-t-u-d-ie-
d-th-ey-s-i-m-p-l-y-c-oul-d-n-o-t-g-r-a-s-p-th-e-m-a-the-m-
a-t-i-c-al-c-o-n-c-e-pt-s

Phoneme


Unit (smallest meaningful)

a-few-of-the-student-s-were-feel-ing-dis-heart-en-ed-be-
cause-no-matter-how-hard-they-studi-ed-they-simpl-y-
could-not-grasp-the-mathemat-ic-al-con-cept-s

Morpheme


Word

a-few-of-the-students-were-feeling-disheartened-because-
no-matter-how-hard-they-studied-they-simply-could-
not-grasp-the-mathematical-concepts

Lexical


Phrase

a few of the students-were feeling disheartened because-
no matter now hard they studied-they simply could not grasp-the mathematical concepts

Phrasal


Sentence

A few of the students were feeling disheartened because, no matter how hard they studied, they simply could not grasp the mathematical concepts.

Sentential


Message

The students tried hard; but, a few couldn't understand the math, so they felt less confident. The presenter hoped to identify any flaws in teaching theory and methods, to avoid the same situation next semester.

Discourse

 
Meaningful Arrangement of Words

Same words; meaninglessly arranged:

Confident few because concepts a could mathematical of they the disheartened matter how no simply not studied they were the grasp hard not students.

Syntax

 


What is Language?

Language is a system (of symbols and rules) that is used for meaningful communication. A system of communication has to meet certain criteria in order to be considered a language:

  • A language uses symbols, which are sounds, gestures, or written characters that represent objects, actions, events, and ideas. Symbols enable people to refer to objects that are in another place or events that occurred at a different time.
    .

  • A language is meaningful and therefore can be understood by others who use the same language.
    .

  • A language is generative, which means that the symbols of a language can be combined to produce an infinite number of messages.
    .

  • A language has rules that govern how symbols can be arranged. These rules allow people to understand messages in that language even if they have never encountered those messages before.

.


Language Development in Children

Children develop language in a set sequence of stages, although sometimes particular skills develop at slightly different ages:

  • Three-month-old infants can distinguish between the phonemes from any language.
    .

  • At around six months, infants begin babbling, or producing sounds that resemble many different languages. As time goes on, these sounds begin to resemble more closely the words of the languages the infant hears.
    .

  • At about thirteen months, children begin to produce simple single words.
    .

  • By about twenty-four months, children begin to combine two or three words to make short sentences. At this stage, their speech is usually telegraphic. Telegraphic speech, like telegrams, contains no articles or prepositions.
    .

  • By about age three years, children can usually use tenses and plurals.
    .

  • Children’s language abilities continue to grow throughout the school-age years. They become able to recognize ambiguity and sarcasm in language and to use metaphors and puns. These abilities arise from metalinguistic awareness, or the capacity to think about how language is used.

.


Ambiguous Language

Language may sometimes be used correctly but still have an unclear meaning or multiple meanings. In these cases, language is ambiguous - it can be understood in several ways. Avoid biting dogs is an example of an ambiguous sentence. A person might interpret it as Keep out of the way of biting dogs or Don’t bite dogs.

 


LEXICON

A lexicon is a set of words known by an individual or a group.  These are the words people know and have available to use when expressing themselves or when trying to understand others.  When someone uses a word you don't know, we would say that word is not in your lexicon, the set of words you understand.  Then, after you learn the new word, and maybe use it a couple of times, the word is no longer new to you so is added to the other words you know, your lexicon of words.

Professional, national, social, or other peer groups have stores of words, lexicons, that members of other groups may not understand.  For example, the lexicon of U.S. Postal Service workers includes about a million acronyms that the rest of us probably do not understand.

Interpreters typically have lexicons that are extraordinary in size and scope because they have facilitated communication in any number of settings (and situations!).  Before an interpreter can be said to be qualified for an assignment, s/he must have a working familiarity with the anticipated lexicon that will be required.  Professional interpreters invest heavily in expanding their English and ASL vocabularies to be as prepared as possible for any assignment.

 


MODE

    Spoken

    Manual

    Written

... to be continued.

 


CODE?

Think Morse Code: Dots and dashes represent English text.  Morse Code is not English, but can represent English - in code.  Morse Code is not a language; it is, well, a code.

Additional examples of code are: semaphore (signals using flags); computer programming (programmers refer to themselves as coders); wartime communications (cryptic messages); and all written forms of a spoken language (writing it, is coding it).  Just for fun, here's a student worksheet about codes from Scholastic.com.

In its strictest sense, even spoken and signed languages are codes.  Because we are unable to communicate thoughts directly, we code them into language.  In this sense, art is also code, as the artist communicates using artistic expression.  

Because TerpTopics.com is a site written by interpreters about interpreting, for the most part we will use the word language when we mean "language used to represent thoughts" and we will use the word code when we mean "a language used to represent a different language " (e.g. ASL coded into written English).

 

CHALLENGES

Coding one language into another is not without its challenges.  Much original meaning is lost when a language is coded.  This becomes glaringly clear when coding a signed language through the use of a spoken language.

Signed languages are three-dimensional, using space.  For example, a signer can convey concepts, events, and places, all simultaneously.  Signed languages are non-linear.  

On the other hand (no pun intended), spoken languages (including their written code) are two-dimensional; they are linear (like a line).  Spoken languages are generally capable of conveying a single word at a time, then stringing them together to form a sentence, followed by more sentences, and so on.  

Coding a non-linear (three-dimensional) language through the use of a linear (two-dimensional) language cannot successfully convey the full meaning of the original message.

 

BENEFITS

We use coding, in spite of the shortfalls, because it is helpful to second-language learners.  

When you are learning ASL grammar, it is helpful to code an ASL utterance using English words.  Because you know English, it is a useful reference in comparing and contrasting a new language.  You can understand something about the new language when you can understand the ways in which it is different from or the same as the language you already know.  This is why we code.

 


GLOSS

... to be continued.

 


LANGUAGE SYSTEMS

Manually Represented Phonics

Signed English Systems

... to be continued.

 

            


CONTACT?

 

WHAT DOES "CONTACT LANGUAGE" MEAN?

LEXICAL BORROWING

PIDGINS

CREOLES

... to be continued.

 

This page was edited: 09/15/2009
This page has been visited Hit Counter times since: July 17, 2008.
TerpTopics is a trademark and service mark of TerpTopics, LLC. © 2008; 2009. All rights reserved.

TerpTopics™ is an independent entity; as such does not claim or attempt to claim, represent, or imply by any means whatsoever that it is associated with any other entity that may or may not offer services, goods, or information of interest to interpreter, Deaf, or student communities.  The opinions expressed here those of TerpTopics unless otherwise stated.  Please keep in mind that, while every effort is made to present correct, appropriate, and reasonable information that is based on our experience, anecdotal experiences of others, or developed during the general course of study and professional development, we do not represent TerpTopics as having cornered the market on wisdom (heck, no!) or experience; one reason why links to several other good and reliable resources are made available throughout this site, and we hope that earnest seekers of knowledge will take advantage of them.


 

 

 

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