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Developing Situation Awareness Was Key

The greatest need for linguistic mediation was felt when foreign residents were trying to develop situation awareness in the 2011 disaster. In doing so, they came repeatedly into contact with the dominant language and culture of the disaster - i.e., Japanese - and therefore felt a greater need for mediation. Participants spoke of being able to get by using sign language and pictures or by copying the actions of those around them at the earliest phases of the disaster. However, it was in trying to find out more complex information about what was going on, especially about the nuclear disaster, and to make decisions on how to respond that they felt the need for more linguistic help.

Mediation of Live Speech by Volunteers Featured Frequently

A recurring pattern in the data was volunteers interpreting spontaneous acts of communication - often face-to-face, but sometimes over a television screen or public address system - for participants. Noticeably, the giving of instructions focused heavily on this ‘live speech’ mode of communication. The other communicative functions - warning, developing situation awareness, administering the disaster, supporting others - featured a greater variety of communicative modes, such as printed and electronic texts or recorded speech. The preponderance of live speech mediation in the 2011 disaster meant that the mediators needed to assist foreign residents were often volunteers on-the- ground. In support of findings in other research that not all volunteer translators or interpreters are untrained (see, for example, O’Hagan 2011), the data in this case study show that volunteer interpreters in the 2011 disaster were sometimes professional translators and interpreters working in a voluntary capacity. At other times, they were people in the disaster who possessed certain linguistic skills, and not all of these people would have identified themselves as either professional interpreters or translators.

 
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