Lift the cover of this book with your thumb and the first thing you will see—even before the title page—is "Praise for Reading between the Signs and Anna Mindess." Filling that first page are complimentary paragraphs written by Nancy Frishberg, Jan Humphrey, William C. Stokoe, Harlan Lane, and Eileen Forestal, who are familiar to cohorts in the interpreting field. Their commendation of the book and the author is so emphatic that my first thought was that these people must be Anna Mindess's best friends. I settled down to reading the book while flying to and from Italy on a recent trip. By the time I arrived home, I had become one of Anna's "best friends," too.
Sharon Neumann Solow, renowned for her work in interpreter education, wrote the foreword, which notes that the model of interpretation has evolved from an initial easygoing, anybody-can-interpret model to the current sophisticated, multifaceted standard. From the early days, especially in the 1970s, when almost anyone who could sign was considered to be an interpreter, the profession has advanced to an awareness that signed language interpretation is an incredibly complex task. Solow recognized that language drills, lectures in ethics, grammatical lessons, and cultural aspects swiftly became incorporated into emerging interpreter education programs. Yet, she surmised, "there was a sense of something missing, but that something was elusive" (Mindess 2006, x).
Although interpreter education programs are consistently enriching and expanding their Deaf culture courses, the "elusive" intercultural information that characterizes the interpreting profession has been sparse. Many excellent texts deal with the history of interpreting, interpreting models, business-related issues, ethics, pragmatics of assignment settings, and the communicative task itself. But until Mindess's book appeared (first edition in 1999), an in-depth intercultural communication framework on interpreting between hearing and Deaf cultures was not readily available for interpreter educators or their students. Solow feels that this cultural knowledge is the "very factor that heightens or decreases our effectiveness" (Mindess 2006, x).
Without making the mistake that some interpreter education programs made—thwacking "Deaf culture versus Hearing culture" immediately into the unprepared consciousness of ASL students—Mindess wisely introduces the reader to a more intracultural point of view by first providing hundreds of supportive studies. She stresses that cultural differences exist between most ethnic groups. "Heavy" Deaf culture accounts are reserved for later in the book, which allows the reader to recognize that Deaf people are no more and no less unique in their cultural values and behaviors than any other group. At the same time, Mindess's book points out that when Anglo-Americans realize that other nations may not hold the same "universal truths" that we subscribe to in our society, "we may feel like the floor has dropped out from under us" (18).
Chapter 1 reminds us that our interpreting organization can proudly pinpoint the birth date and origin of its profession: 1964 at Ball State Teachers College, when the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf was established. In this chapter Mindess introduces the scope of her book and explains that she has written it for sign language interpreters and those students who hope to become interpreters. She takes the reader from the general to the specific, using what she explains is a typical, hearing, American discourse style. She metaphorically describes the critical nature of cultural understanding when interpreting: "Interpreting without a thorough grounding and appreciation of the cultural implications is like trying to hang pictures in a house with no wall. Without building a cultural framework that holds the house together, the pictures—words and signs—will crash to the floor" (16).
Chapters 2, 3, and 4 contrast Anglo-American customs with an array of cultural and communicative behaviors characteristic of various countries and peoples (e.g., Africans, African Americans, Arabs, Asians, Australians, Chinese, Dutch, Europeans, Filipinos, French, Germans, Greeks, Iranians, Israelis, Italians, Japanese, Latin Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Russians, South Americans, Swiss, Turks, West Indians, and Native Americans from tribes and pueblos such as Blackfoot, Hopi, Navajo, and Zia). Each chapter presents numerous studies that examined vivid behavioral mores. The research shows that any group of people can be perplexed or even disgusted by behaviors and...