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Deconstructing “common sense”: normative ethics and decision-making by sign language interpreters

30th July 2018 @ 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Presenter: Lourdes Calle Alberdi

Lourdes Calle-Alberdi is a qualified Spanish Sign Language interpreter and consultant. From 2011 until December 2015 she worked in efsli (European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters) as Project Coordinator. Among other responsibilities, she coordinated the European Model Curriculum for Sign Language Interpreters project (2011-2013) that resulted in the presentation of the publication “Learning Outcomes” at the European Parliament.  She has also participated in the Spanish National Commission chaired by CNLSE (Spanish Sign Language Standardization Centre) examining the future of the training of Spanish Sign Language interpreters at University level. In 2015, she obtained her master’s degree in the European Master of Sign Language Interpreting (EUMASLI). Her Master Thesis ‘Deconstructing “common sense”: Normative ethics and decision-making’ was supervised by Robyn Dean. Since 2016 she is working at FASOCIDE (Spanish Federation of the Deafblind).

The Webinar:

The wide range of settings and service users that interpreters have to work with necessitate making continuous context-based decisions. Considering that interpreting is a regulated profession, those decisions need to articulate the ethical normative material available in the profession, e.g. code of ethics and interpreter role metaphors. In this regard, different studies have reported a gap between what Dean and Pollard (2005) have called “rhetoric versus de facto” practice, meaning that what interpreters acknowledge as how professionals should conduct their work differs from what interpreters do in their current practice.

“I apply common sense”- this is a frequently used expression by Spanish interpreters when talking about an ethical decision made at work that does not fully comply with these interpreters’ understanding of the code of ethics (Calle-Alberdi, 2015a). This is also an expression that can be found in the academic literature tackling ethical issues in community interpreting. However, the meaning of this expression remains ambiguous. This presentation will report on how Spanish Sign Language interpreters understand the profession’s normative messages and articulate “common sense” in this regard. The data suggest that practitioners use this expression to legitimise decisions that tend to be “liberal”, meaning they imply action (Dean & Pollard, 2013). These decisions usually contradict what interpreters understand the normative material stipulates, especially the ideas presented by the “conduit” role metaphor that conveys the idea of the invisible interpreter whose responsibility is identified with the mere transfer of messages. In light of this contradiction, interpreters justify their decisions by calling for consideration of the factors present in a given situation; essentially, making context-based decisions. This approach challenges the rule-based approach to ethics present in most of the normative material available for Spanish interpreters.


  • Webinar participants will gain insight of the meaning of different concepts related to interpreting ethics research (e.g. normative ethics, meta-ethical approach, etc.).
  • Webinar participants will understand the difference between the normative role of code of ethics and the nature of role metaphors (e.g. “the interpreter as a conduct”).
  • Webinar participants will realize of the problematic nature of the deontological (or rule-based) approach to ethics when discussing sign language interpreting.
  • Webinar participants will learn how do Spanish Sign Language interpreters understand the profession’s normative messages.
  • Webinar participants will explore the reasoning patterns that emerge when Spanish Sign Language interpreters use the term “common sense” as an explanation for their decisions.

The ASLI webinar programme is an ASLI member benefit. Please email training@asli.org.uk to book your free place.


30th July 2018
7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
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