Monday, January 11, 2010

More on Language Brokering (LB) from the USA

Lisa Dorner (see photo) has kindly sent me one of her recent articles. Although she’s actually at the University of St Louis-Missouri. I tend to think of her as one of the UCLA group that also includes Marjorie Faulstich (see September 19 post). Here’s the abstract.
Examines how immigrant adolescent development is shaped by the cultural and linguistic practice of language brokering.Framed by theories on interdependent/independent developmental scripts, the changing experiences and views of 12 Latino/a children of U.S. immigrants over 5 years were analyzed. It was found that translating is a relational, interdependent activity in which adolescents both help and receive help from family members. As adolescents, they extend this helping orientation beyond their household, but in these public spaces, they sometimes meet up with other developmental scripts. This article’s examination of brokering’s effects on immigrant adolescence leads to the discussion that one must consider the manner in which all adolescents and parents are negotiating independent and interdependent worlds.
The languages involved are of course Spanish and English. The locale is Chicago.

The things that struck me were the length of the study - five years, so it’s developmental - and the revelation that over such a period LB isn’t all plain sailing. Most LB researchers are not primarily translatologists concerned with the translation act itself, but sociologists and educationists for whom
Translating and interpreting are not solitary activities; they are social and relational events in which families engage together and in relation to society.
So it’s hardly surprising if they uncover interpersonal conflicts. For example, LB translators are typically children or adolescents and they have to cope with the attitudes of older people, who are often unreasonably demanding. Here’s an example from one of the interviews:
"It kind of bothers me when I’m watching TV and my mom’s sitting right next to me, and I’m trying to pay attention, like what they’re saying [in] a movie and something, when it’s really hard to understand, like what’s building up into the action. And then my mom’s like, 'Qué dijo? What did they say? Qué está pasando? Qué están haciendo?' [What’s happening? What are they doing?] I’ll be like, 'Mom, please let me listen and I’ll tell you.' She’s like 'Ay, yo ya me voy a dormir porque tú no me explicas. Yo aquí estoy bien aburrida y no le entiendo nada.' [Fine, I’m going to go sleep because you won’t explain it to me. I’m here totally bored, and I don’t understand anything.]"
For the most part, though, the difficulties are annoyances that don’t call into question the usefulness of LB nor the children’s disposition to help:
"When people call on the phone, from the phone company or something like that, and they [my parents] need a translator, then I’ll help. When we go to doctor’s, I help.”
This last task, accompanying elders to the doctor’s, places a good deal of responsibility and possibly emotional strain on children. It reminds me of a discussion I had at the Castelló symposium (see November 18 post) with Claudia Angelelli from San Diego State University. She teaches translation to bilingual adolescents who are classed as exceptionally gifted. She told me she constantly comes up against people who are opposed to such teaching, because they believe it encourages the imposition of a harmful burden of responsibility and stress. Well, I certainly think doctors and other health professionals should be told not to use children or indeed any other sort of untrained translators, not least because of the potentially serious consequences of any mistranslation. But for better or worse it clearly goes on a lot, and there are emergencies where it may be a choice between LB and complete incomprehension.

Because the study is developmental, we can see how the translators’ role can change over time and how younger family members may take over from older ones as the latter become busier with extra-family activities:
We have found that this passing down of the work (and sharing of it) is common in families with two elder children close in age.
That brings in another feature of LB: cooperative translation.

The few points I’ve picked out give only a taste of a study that draws on ”more than 2,500 pages of field notes, 140 journal entries, transcripts of 86 translation episodes, and transcripts of interviews with the adolescents, their teachers, and their parents.”

To be continued.

Lisa M. Dorner, Marjorie Faulstich Orellana and Rosa Jimenez. ‘“It’s one of those things that you do to help the family”: language brokering and the development of immigrant adolescents’. Journal of Adolescent Research 23: 5.515-543, 2008.


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