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The Profile of the Employed Croatian Sign Language Interpreter

Nives Gotovac / 24.4.2024

This study was conducted in Croatia, focusing on the demographic and professional characteristics of 55 Croatian Sign Language (HZJ) interpreters, who are crucial intermediaries in facilitating communication between the deaf community and the hearing population.

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Given the paucity of research on HZJ interpreters, this study represents the first and most extensive exploration of this specialized profession in the Croatian context. Three central research questions guided the investigation:

  1. Who is an employed HZJ interpreter?
  2. How have HZJ interpreters been educated thus far?
  3. What measures are requisite to professionalize the sign language interpreting profession in Croatia?

Results pertaining to the first research question revealed a prototypical HZJ interpreter, characterized as a female, aged approximately 43 years, living in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. This interpreter is married and a mother of two children, possesses native proficiency in the Croatian language, and holds a four-year upper-secondary education. Proficiency in HZJ was predominantly acquired through interactions with deaf family members, with limited formal sign language training. Notably, these interpreters, on average, accumulate over a decade of full-time work experience, though their sign language training remains informal. The typical HZJ interpreter in this study holds a fixed-term employment contract, primarily undertakes sporadic work on supplementary projects, and express dissatisfaction with her current remuneration. The settings interpreters work the most are social welfare centres. Furthermore, these interpreters often engage in additional tasks within the organizations to which they are affiliated. In the Croatian context, the term "prevoditelj/ica" is commonly used to describe the role of an HZJ interpreter.

Consequently, the profile of HZJ interpreters outlined in this research demands several recommendations to enhance the professionalization of the sign language interpreting field in Croatia. Foremost among these recommendations is the establishment of formal education programmes in sign language interpreting, acknowledging the specialized skills and knowledge required for this profession. Additionally, a more equitable distribution of HZJ interpreters across the country is recommended to address regional disparities in access to interpreting services. Furthermore, HZJ interpreters should receive equitable compensation for their vital role in ensuring effective communication between the deaf and hearing populations. Lastly, the study highlights the need for greater clarity regarding the terminology used in Croatia to refer to professionals working with the deaf, including "stručni/a komunikacijski/a posrednik/ica," "prevoditelj/ica," and "tumač/ica."

Moreover, the research exposed a salient issue among HZJ interpreters: a lack of differentiation between interpreting skills and language proficiency, indicating the need for targeted educational interventions to address this misconception and enhance the quality of interpretation services. This study provides a foundational exploration of HZJ interpreters in Croatia and underscores the significance of further research and policy initiatives aimed at advancing this vital profession.

Read the whole study

The thesis is available on the Theseus database.