What Do We Actually Do to Make Calls Work? Exploring the Role of New Zealand Sign Language Video Interpreters
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Video interpreting is emerging as a specialised setting, in which signed language interpreters conduct their work online, facilitating interactions between deaf and hearing callers. This study explores the role of five skilled and experienced New Zealand Sign Language video interpreters. Discourse analysis was used to examine naturalistic mock video relay calls in order to understand interpreter decision-making at a detailed level. The study also draws on Llewellyn-Jones and Lee’s (2014) role-space theory to explore the different roles interpreters adopted across the dataset, and the ways they transitioned between these. I approached this study as a ‘practisearcher’; that is, an experienced video interpreter drawing on my own professional knowledge to inform the study design. The study reveals what video interpreters actually do to make video relay calls work. Their decisions are often driven by overall call goals, not only by translation choices at a message level. Findings highlight dynamic role shifts that occur particularly during call openings and closings. At times interpreters take a high level of control over the call, actively managing participants’ turn-taking to ensure smooth flow of the conversation, or to navigate challenges such as automatic menus or answerphone messages. Interpreters personalise their greetings and engage in social talk with callers. They act as allies with callers, saving face for the deaf caller who may have less awareness of telephone etiquette, and conforming to hearing callers’ telephone etiquette expectations. The findings challenge current expectations of the video interpreting role and demonstrate that the role(s) interpreters are actually performing are far more complex than the conduit-influenced role that is prescribed within the industry.