Toward a more perfect Interpreter Bill: on AB 2370

The California Federation of Interpreters (CFI) is sponsoring AB 2370, a.k.a. the Interpreter Bill. A copy of its text is here, as amended on May 13, 2014; a legislative analysis of the bill is here. It addresses a fundamental issue in California courts that use an interpreter: the basic lack of a simple and clear protocol to uniformly and adequately state on the record what the credentials are of an interpreter used in court proceedings. In plain English, it’s not clear that court interpreters in California who claim to have the proper credentials actually have them. However… In my opinion there are some critical gaps in that bill that urgently need mending. The fix isn’t really a fix. Here’s why, and how to fix the fix.
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Open Letter to CWA Local 39521

Dear colleague,

Please read this, in particular the comments underneath it:

I don’t know and frankly I don’t even CARE at this point anymore to know who or what is behind that website. But given its deliberate choice of name and obvious implication, it’s inescapable that the person or persons behind it pose as somehow representative of our local, and not our most directly representing professional body, i.e. CFI.

That being the case, I am hereby seeking an unambiguous statement of formal position from the local’s executive, concerning that website.
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The soft bigotry of low expectations (judiciary remix)

Ending that soft bigotry also takes affirmative, effective language assistance.I recall a poignant phrase that made the rounds during the presidential campaign of 2000, creating a bit of a wave in the electoral arena: “The soft bigotry of low expectations.” It propounded the notion of a stubborn yet hardly disguised institutional disdain toward the academic under-performance and dramatically high drop-out rates of students from certain disadvantaged backgrounds.

An injurious contempt, manifesting itself through ineffective accommodations that instead actually perpetuate that trend of performing systematically below their potential, and so end up reinforcing the structural disadvantages purportedly addressed. That suggestion, of good but ineffectual intentions and political correctness masking a bad case of de facto institutional contempt, projects a powerful image of insult added to injury.
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Mad Max, a sign language interpreter and a blind proctor walk into a bar

Note: I put this initially on my “after hours joint” but decided quite a while afterwards to move it over here to Reno Languages; after all, the topic is strongly tied to my work.

Mad Max hunting for sign language interpreter clowns

Illustration from the Mad Max video game

A sign language interpreter does serious business, so I expect news articles about the subject to match it in rigor. Sometimes, however, journalistic comedy ends up writing itself on the back of some ridiculous misunderstanding of the issues underlying the story at hand. Not so much due to a circumstantial lack of factual knowledge (because accidents can happen when trying to report both early and comprehensively, and I don’t count honest mistakes as farcical relief) but more due to a simple lack of common sense and basic analytic skills, applied to what is well-known already. It gets better still when it is accompanied by a straight-faced accusation of ridicule. In the case prompting me to write this, it tops all as it is served with an extra side of smug lecturing on incompetence (indeed) and topped generously with an undue projection of shortcomings, onto an entire nation no less.
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In favor of recording court interpreter performance

When it comes to defining professionalism I’m a bit old school; to me, it is a two-way street. I mean that the true determinant of a professional is neither being paid or the rate of the pay itself – ideally that merely reflects success in the market place – but the degree of accountability given by the profession. That may well sound like a somewhat meaningless truism but when applied to the current state of court interpreting in the United States, at least based on my own observations and experiences in Nevada and California, I’m not so sure we can collectively truly claim that we own that gold standard. What guarantee can we really offer an objectively observing layperson that we truly do a good job as qualified and professional state court interpreters?

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