Lorraine Leeson (IE/USA), Marlon Cooper (USA), Ivy Drexel (USA), Casey Ferrara (USA), Peter Nilsson (USA) and Miranda Stewart (USA)

Sunday September 14th 2014

10:10 – 10:50       Lorraine Leeson (IE/USA), Marlon Cooper (USA), Ivy Drexel (USA), Casey Ferrara (USA), Peter Nilsson (USA) and Miranda Stewart (USA)

“A President for all of the Irish”: Performing Irishness in an interpreted Inaugural Presidential Speech

In 2011, President Michael D. Higgins was elected as the 9th President of the Republic of Ireland. In his inaugural speech, he outlines his goal to “serve as a symbol of Irishness of which we can all be proud”. Throughout the speech, President Higgins, code-switches between English and Ireland’s first official – but lesser used – language, Irish (Gaelic). He draws historical, cultural and poetic inferences that have the goal of creating community, a sense of shared purpose, and a return to “an older wisdom” that recognizes that many of the most valuable things in life cannot be measured.

This paper explores the key themes in President Higgins speech and reports on the challenges faced by three Irish Sign Language/English interpreters who, with minimal preparation, delivered an ISL version for an imagined TV audience. Given that none of the interpreters has Irish as a mother tongue, and the fact that Irish deaf people do not typically learn Irish at school, one of our focal points is the challenges that emerge when working trilingually. This has special significance in a context where the function of the use of the Irish language is part of the speaker’s broader goal to build community and “perform” Irishness through his use of Irish.

We are also interested in intersubjective components manifest in President Higgins’ speech that the TL offers convergent or divergent renderings of, for example, the ways in which the President establishes a shared set of meanings, evoked via language in context, to represent a shared historical and contemporary frame of reference with the Irish people. We consider how these are mediated, framed, and re-framed by the interpreters in our study. We employ the idea of ‘intersectionality’ to explore and cross-reference the linguistic and interpreting mechanisms – considered and embodied – in the interpreters’ rendering of their versions of the SL message for an imagined Irish Deaf audience. Finally, we consider ways in which the sense of community harnessed by President Higgins is leveraged, and to what degree, by the interpreters. Ultimately, if President Higgins is, as he intends, “President for all of the Irish”, we ask what cultural memes Deaf, ISL using citizens would gain access to relative to those of their fellow Irishmen and women via interpretation and what strategies interpreters employ to successfully encode “Irishness” in their target texts.