Do You Suffer From Interpricide?

Does Nicole Kidman suffer from this? Probably not.

A few months ago, we received an email from our colleague Sarah Glendenning in Manchester, UK. We had not met her in person, and we always enjoy hearing from “new” colleagues, especially those in sign interpreting languages. We have to admit that we do a poor job at reaching out and collaborating with our colleagues in the sign languages interpreting profession, so we are thrilled that Sarah approached us to get our thoughts from the spoken languages interpreting perspective about something that Sarah, a registered BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter has termed interpricide. Let’s have her explain it in this interview. She previously wrote an article about this same topic for Newsli, the quarterly magazine for members of ASLI (The Association of Sign Language Interpreters) in 2009.  

Translation Times: Thanks for speaking to us! We’d never heard of interpricide until you contacted us. Can you explain what it is?
Sarah:  Interpricide is a term myself and a colleague came up with back in 2009 at a conference of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI).  A call was sent out for interpreters to interpret at the conference and we were trying to persuade our peer group that it would not be “interpricide,” that is, the fear of committing professional suicide by interpreting in front of other interpreters.  It was very much a tongue in cheek phrase but resonated with a lot of people in the room.  It struck me that it is actually a real fear.  Interpricide is “the act of committing professional suicide by interpreting in front of your peer group” (Llorca and Glendenning 2008).  I seem to remember Karl and I getting a lot of requests from student interpreters to read our article, we had to turn them down as an article hadn’t actually been written!


Translation Times: What is your goal in terms of talking about interprecide? Academic research? Awareness-building? How can we help?
At the moment it is purely for awareness building so linguists can start having these conversations. It is something that intrigues me and am looking forward to investigating this further by using different academic/medical theories. From the interpreters I have spoken to informally, many have stated they felt an increased pressure when they knew people in the audience could monitor both the L1 and L2 being used.  At this stage I am not sure if other professions have the same feelings or whether it is just within the interpreting field.  

Translation Times: Have you personally experienced interpricide?
Sarah: Most definitely.  Not so much now because I’ve been on the circuit for a long time, but when I was a trainee and newly qualified most definitely.  I was involved in a conference and my team consisted of four experienced interpreters plus myself.  We were a great team.  However, when I took to the stage to start interpreting, the footlights dimmed and I could see the audience, I could see in the audience some of my professors from University, ex bosses from different in-house positions I had held, some of the assessors who had marked my work throughout interpreter training and also some interpreters who in my view were demi gods and I looked up to them. 

I remember looking at my hands (being a sign language interpreter), and the meta notative comments in my head were on overdrive.  What had I been signing?  Did it make any sense?  Was I even good enough to be there? (Impostor Syndrome). What were my options? (Fleeing was a strong urge). My hands were sweating, my throat went dry, and my knees were shaking, but why?  Some interpreters will say interpricide is not a thing but for me it really is.

Now I have a question for you. Have you experienced interpricide as spoken languages interpreters? Have you seen it happen in your profession? I’d love to know more.

Translation Times: Good point. We hadn’t really thought about it too much until you brought it up – wait, we had thought about it, but we just didn’t have a name for it. Spoken language interpreters tend to be less “exposed” than sign language interpreter colleagues, because we don’t often stand in the front of a room. For our answer we will focus on conference interpreting in a booth first. In this situation, you always have a colleague sitting inches from you, and she or he is obviously quite able to evaluate your performance. There are certainly some nerves involved when you interpret next to a more experienced colleague, and we’ve seen it happen that some interpreters are unable to interpret at all and can’t get a word out. It doesn’t happen very often, and we don’t know if it happens because the interpreter is so intimidated by the colleague or simply overwhelmed by the task at hand. It could be both.

Now in legal interpreting, especially in the United States, you mostly work on your own with the exceptions of longer hearings and trials, for which we use team interpreting. However, oftentimes you will be in a courtroom with multiple interpreters (could be for several different languages) who are waiting for their cases to come up, or you may have an interpreter for both plaintiff and defendant, so in those cases your performance is also quite public to your colleague. That can be scary for interpreters, especially newly certified ones, and we will be the first ones to admit that it’s certainly made us nervous in the past. A few years ago, Judy interpreted in federal court next to a fellow federally certified Spanish interpreter she admires and turns out that the client had made a mistake and had double-booked the interpreters. So, both were there and Judy’s colleague asked Judy to go ahead and start interpreting and they’d take turns if the hearing lasted more than 20 minutes. It didn’t, and Judy interpreted the entire thing herself – while being quite nervous under the watchful eye of her more experienced colleague (for the record: everything went very well). For legal assignments that are not held in court, but usually at law firms, you could be in the situation that you are in, for instance, an arbitration for which both plaintiff and defendant have an interpreter. You’d sit on opposite ends of the table of the other interpreter –which can be uncomfortable for some, especially because you’ve been retained by opposing parties (even though we are, of course, neutral parties). Finally, some law firms have started hiring what is called “check interpreters,” a term we hadn’t heard until a few years ago. For instance, if the firm represents the plaintiff and the plaintiff is called in for a deposition (meaning they give testimony under oath) and the interpreter is hired by a third party (oftentimes the court-reporting firm), sometimes the plaintiff law firm will retain their own interpreter to check on the first interpreter. This is a new procedure, and the rules of professional behavior for interpreters (When should we intervene? How? What is inappropriate?) are still being defined. We are of two minds about this: it does seem troubling that interpreters are, essentially, not trusted, hence the check interpreter. We do have court certifications for a reason, and we are certainly trustworthy as professionals. The check interpreter system also puts both interpreters in an uncomfortable, sometimes adversarial position. On the other hand, this system can potentially double the amount of work available to court interpreters, so that’s a significant positive.

In general, we think all interpreters must have experienced some interpricide at one point in their careers – it’s only natural, and being surrounded by qualified professionals who can actually evaluate your performance keeps you humble and honest, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing.




Twin Translations: Thanks so much for your time and for telling us about this very interesting topic. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would love to know whether spoken language interpreters have similar experiences, so thanks for getting things started and sharing your own experiences here. As a sign language interpreter I am visually present in the room and therefore more accessible. It would also be great to see interpreters come together. It doesn’t matter which language we use; we can all learn from each other. Thank you for involving me in this blog.  I welcome your comments! My Twitter handle is @sginterpreting #interpricide.


About Sarah:
A registered sign language interpreter based in the UK. Passionate about her work and dedicated to teaching and training other interpreters.  A mentor and a member of ASLI (The Association of Sign Language Interpreters), regulated under The NRCPD (National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind  People). Widely read and open to discussion. Website: www.sginterpreting.co.uk



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