Note From Uncle Dale: Checking The Box.

Hi one and all. Uncle Dale once again busily typing with my thumbs.

Interpreter forums on social media (lightning and thunder).


They are the greatest blessing and most terrible curse to the interpreting community.

They are a fantastic way to “crowd source” for information and to get a little guidance.

They are also a good way to find out you are not alone in your frustrations or concerns or joys or confusion.

These forums allow interpreters to access hundreds of years of collective experience, a wellspring of knowledge unparalleled in history, making the library at Alexandria look like the “local attractions” pamphlet display in the lobby of a hotel.

Unfortunately, such forums have downsides as well.

They are fertile with confirmation bias. Bring the most outlandish idea to the circus and you can always find people who believe and support it.

These forums devolve very quickly into text book examples of “group think,” where one idea is held as sacred and unquestionable and any attempt to discuss it is treated as heresy to the point where tradition is defended for its own sake without regard to context or pragmatism.

Left unchecked these forums can be powder kegs for racism, sexism and almost any other “ism” you like.

I’m not trying to be alarmist or even speaking against Interpreters on social media. I’m just asking us all to be careful.

In the end I believe the good interpreter forums do vastly outweighs the danger, so long as you recognize that venturing in to these forums you are constantly sailing between Scilla and Charybdis.

If Uncle Dale can give one bit of advice about these forums it’s this:

There are no absolutes.

Beware the post or response that seeks a yes or no answer that applies to all situations at all times, because in interpreting almost every question is an open question.

That is tough for many of us because we came there looking for “an answer” not a discussion.

This starts a dangerous journey. Many read a question posted on one of these sites and think they know “the answer.” What they actually know is what they think they would or would not do in factually exactly the same situation.

But we never will be in factually the exact same situation. Ever.

Because although we may have been in similar situations and may well be in similar situations again, we have NEVER been in the exact same situation as the interpreter who posted the question, because we work in a world of humans and every human interaction is unique (tangent alert! Every situation is unique. It is NEVER “very unique.”

Unique means “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.

Unique is an absolute, not a a gradient. It either is or it is not. Something can not be “kind of unique” or “somewhat unique.”

It is or it is not.

That is actually important to our discussion).

Over the last couple of days I have either observed or been involved in discussions on a couple of different forums where a question is asked and the responses devolved into “if you don’t believe exactly as I do you are wrong.”

Nope I’m not. I just have a different perspective.

Now, let me set out this caveat-absolutes can exist in the world of interpreting, but they are rare! So very very rare.

They are rare because each interpreting situation is unique. That is an absolute.

Elements of one situation may have striking similarities to another situation, but no two situations are ever exactly the same.

No matter how detailed a post requesting feedback on what an interpreter should or should not do in any situation it can never paint a complete picture. There may be one detail, so insignificant in the mind of the interpreter posting question that it would never occur to them to include it, that would change my perspective and therefore my answer to the query.

This is the biggest danger posed by these social media discussions. We make sweeping pronouncements based on very little information.

The person making the post wants an answer to a question that the post only somewhat defines.

A specific answer.

A direct and specific answer.

A direct, specific and universally applicable answer.

Truth? There isn’t one. Even if the question is clearly defined there is rarely one single shining correct answer.

This is because in the world of humans interacting with other humans only correct answer to any question involving making decisions is, “it depends.”

That is infuriating, I know.


none-the-less it is true.

We want answers that allow us to check a box:

__ yes __ no

__ right __ wrong

__ do __ do not

We will not get these answers. That’s not how interpreting works.

One cannot have “check box absolute” answers for questions about a job constructed entirely of variables.

There is not a “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” answer to most interpreting related questions-only a generally or a generally not, because every situation is unique.

I have seen fantastic discussions where Interpreters explain what they have done is similar situations and why they chose to do it, and others propose a different perspective and why they would choose a different path and both are recognized as valid.

I have also seen these discussions devolve into Interpreters calling each other names, or calling each other to repentance for questioning or proposing a different perspective from their own.

I have seen the CPC wielded as a sword or a club to pummel those who disagree.

Perhaps the worst thing I have seen is discussions collapsing into racism and sexism.

This is not the norm, of course, but it happens often enough to raise concern. We cannot tolerate racism and sexism, but that is a different Note.

The CPC is by its own definition a means of expressing guiding principles. It is not yes or no or check box answers to any questions.

There are as many different interpretations of the CPC as there are situations where interpreting occurs.

Moreover, many Interpreters add their own unwritten or unspoken rules on top of the CPC. This is fine but you cannot enforce your personal rules on other Interpreters.

We have to remember that the job of an interpreter is to accurately and effectively interpret from Deaf Sign Language to Spoken Hearing and Spoken Hearing to Deaf Sign Language using any specialized vocabulary. Anything beyond that is an ethical or other consideration attached to the job, but not the job itself.

The CPC guides professionalism in doing the job described above in the most general sense but cannot anticipate all situations and actually says Interpreters are supposed to apply the CPC using their best judgement (look it up. No I’m not going to tell you where it says it. Read the CPC).

There are rare occasions where an interpreter on one of these forums may need to be corrected for something that is obviously counter to the CPC. The problem is it is not a rare occasion that it happens.

We as Interpreters need to learn the difference between “wrong” and “different than I would do.”

Because those two concepts are very, very different.

We are all in this together. Let’s take time to learn from each other and spend less time worrying about our way being the right way.