Adding another dimension to the music

Snoop Dogg has an ASL interpreter at his concerts, who is amazing? Yes, please. Maybe we should all learn ASL so we could be that expressive.


  1. latsot says

    The comedian Adam Hills uses a signer at his gigs, too. Very often with hilarious results.

  2. 00001000bit says

    PZ, I remember seeing your talk at RIT (Rochester, NY) back in March 2010 – I sat a few rows back on the side the ASL interpreter was working. At one point during your talk, there was a “shift rotation” where she traded off with another interpreter and, as she stepped down, I saw her lip “oh my god” to the oncoming interpreter.

    I recall watching the interpreters (I’m not deaf but know some ASL) and even though I’m sure you weren’t trying, your talk (which was heavy with proper names and science terms) left the interpreters having to drop to spelling much more frequently than during a “normal” conversation. Those poor women’s hands were probably smoking by the end of the night.

  3. zibble says

    I guess I’ll be the first to ask the dumb question: what’s the point of making the lyrics in sign language when the intended audience can’t hear the music?

    Not trying to be glib here, I really don’t get it. Is the signing for people who aren’t totally deaf? Do deaf people enjoying feeling the music (when it’s loud enough) vibrating their bodies even if they can’t “hear” it in the typical way? Is it so they can enjoy the poetry of the lyrics?

  4. kupo says

    zibble @ 7
    What I don’t understand is why, whenever something is made more accessible, there’s always someone asking people who are now being included to justify their inclusion.

  5. clamboy says

    zibble @7 –
    You live in the land of People Who Don’t Know But Who Might Wish To Know, and you have had responses from two citizens of the land People Who Might Know But Won’t Tell. In this instance, I live in the land of People Who Don’t Truly Know But Have Some Idea, so in that spirit, here is an inexpert answer:
    First, some usage: “Deaf,” in common American parlance, is used to delineate members of the American Deaf culture – those who use American Sign Language, ASL, as their primary language, and who identify primarily with this culture – its norms, values, etc. It does not (necessarily) have anything to do with audiological function. Lower-d “deaf” is used to refer to the medicalized description of a person who does not perceive for understanding, among other things, human speech.
    Now, why would a Deaf person seek out interpretations of music? Numerous reasons: remember that Deaf is not an audiologial but rather cultural description, and an interested person may well seek out the expressions of other cultures, for learning and for fun. I have had the good fortune of knowing Deaf deadheads, as well as Deaf aficionados of hiphop. They identify *culturally* as Deaf, while having residual hearing and interest to travel into the hearing world of music. Having an interpreter makes sense.
    Of course, there may be deaf people who learn ASL but don’t necessarily identify as Deaf, and who really enjoy Snoop Dogg and want greater access to his lyrics at a show. Having an interpreter makes sense.
    (NOTE: I am not Deaf, but have been taught ASL by native Deaf people, and have had a lot of exposure to Deaf culture.)
    Now, where PZ Myers deserves criticism is this: like most people, he sees a hearing interpreter and goes, “Isn’t that cool?!?” Over and over, the language examples of ASL that the majority population are exposed to are hearing people, non-native users of ASL interpreting English into ASL. If Dr. Myers wants to grant recognition to an historically oppressed culture, he would post videos of Deaf poetry, Deaf storytelling, etc. He would look up the term De’VIA, and do a post on that. In this instance, he lives in the land of People Who Don’t Know And Who Don’t Know They Don’t Know. There is a bridge out of there, but it requires recognizing one’s surroundings.
    zibble, your question was *really* inelegantly phrased, but gob knows how often I have screwed up in a similar manner. It is unfortunate that those who addressed your question first have a strain of Pharyngula Answer Syndrome, fairly common among the commentariot.

  6. The Mellow Monkey says

    zibble @ 7, music is quite popular in the Deaf and HOH community. I have a difficult time following speech, but I can hear and love music. People with less hearing than I have can still hear some, or can feel the music, and can enjoy the spectacle of the performance.

    Things heavy on bass and beat (and a great deal of hip hop is ideal for this) are especially nice, because “listening” can be a whole body experience rather than simply using ears. Here is a beautiful demonstration by Deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie.

  7. clamboy says

    If you want to dip your toes in just a smidgen, here is a performance of the American national anthem done by a Deaf person (who is deaf), prior to a Seattle Storm basketball game, a town with which Dr. Myers has some affiliation. This is true ASL, but note the interesting language by the announcer privileging English over ASL:

  8. kupo says

    Yeah, how date I respond in a way that might cause the poster to reflect on how they’re acting towards a group of people.

  9. numerobis says

    Put her on stage, next to Snoop Dogg, rather than down below as a second-class performer!

  10. clamboy says

    Some Deaf consumers of interpreting work who have seen the video have said to a hearing interpreter that I know, “I can’t understand this person.” Of course, camera angle, brief shots, the medium, these are all reasons for her work being difficult to grasp. The interpreter in this video may actually be doing a true interpretation of the meaning of the songs. However, the intent of the video in the post is not, “This is a true to message interpretation of a difficult work of song writing, and her facility with the target language should be applauded,” but rather, “I don’t understand any of it, but isn’t it so beautiful??? Those lucky hearing-impaired people, with their signers who are so helpful! I wish I knew signing, it’s so expressive!” Once again, it seems the views of the members of an oppressed linguistic and cultural minority are ignored.
    Another question to be raised is, couldn’t a Black certified interpreter be hired for the job? Or better yet, a Black CDI, Certified Deaf Interpreter?
    kupo @ 13 – yes, I was snarky, but I believe the larger problem is with Dr. Myers’s original post. When zibble asked their question, I dared to think that it was in good faith, and I made an attempt at an answer from that position.

  11. clamboy says

    Sorry, another post to kupo @ 13 – if you have objections to what I wrote in my original and subsequent replies, please post them. I don’t care for what you wrote to zibble, but I also hold no illusions about the accuracy of my statements – if I am wrong, I like to know.

  12. consciousness razor says

    Lyrics are in a language. English is a language, and ASL is a language. Translators can translate from one language to another. So, you may ask why you’d want someone to translate some lyrics from Spanish (if you don’t know it) into English (if you do know it). So you can ask; but then again, the answer looks obvious. Did you really have to ask?

    Music is not a language. It cannot be translated in that sense, and that is of course not what is happening in the Snoop Dogg video. There are various things like this which visually represent music. Western music notation is of course just a particular example of the same thing, although it comes in a surprisingly different form. It’s not adding information (or a “dimension” of I know not what); indeed, it’s leaving out an incredible amount. A common source of confusion for some people is that notation was really designed (over many centuries) as a way of encoding instructions to a performer, not as a tool for analysis (it does a really terrible job of the latter).

    The entire waveform, considered as an extremely detailed picture, gives you something equivalent; but that’s a very complicated thing, meaning it’s difficult for anybody to interpret, meaning it’s not terribly useful for such purposes. We could just as well write down a huge list of numbers, with amplitudes for every moment; but nobody would be very satisfied with that. So as a compromise, you can show some of the more interesting stuff (or at any rate certain stuff that’s easier to represent), by reducing it to a simpler type of representation, while leaving out the rest. There may be other reasons why you’d do it, but a visualization of some sort can help you understand what’s going on.

  13. says

    kupo @9

    “What I don’t understand is why, whenever something is made more accessible, there’s always someone asking people who are now being included to justify their inclusion.”

    Because able bodied folks still don’t see the disabled as actual people. We’re novelties, at best. Or something to be pitied. No way we could possibly have, like, hobbies and interests, and maybe want to go out and take in a concert, or a movie, or go to a fucking art gallery, like a “normal” person…

    clamboy @10

    “People Who Might Know But Won’t Tell.”

    Oh, what a load of shit! I’m disabled, cupcake.

    My answer may have been snarky, but it’s true. Disabled people — including the Deaf and the Blind — are just like you.

    I provided a perfectly coherent answer, and you are now ablesplaining.

    DO fuck off, you condescending jackass.

  14. methuseus says

    @zibble and others:

    If you are actually interested and not just being incredulous that Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals enjoy music (I am HoH, but have not, yet, learned ASL, much to my detriment) please take an ASL course at a local university or community college. They generally have you delve into the culture, just like any foreign language. I can tell you it was eye opening for me when my wife took a class. I’m still kicking myself I haven’t done more to learn ASL, especially since I will be deaf someday, even if I don’t integrate into the Deaf community.

    There are many worthwhile books, like Train Go Sorry, A Loss for Words, and Deaf Again (the last being about a “hearing” boy’s journey and rediscovering the Deaf community of his parents) that will help you understand, somewhat, what these people’s lives are like. There are also some documentaries on YouTube (I can’t seem to find them right now) about both the wonders of Deaf culture and the horrors they have had to endure, in many cases being considered brain damaged.
    They are regular, ordinary people who have loves and passions and everything else. I already knew that, but the depth of the culture, and how separate it is from regular American culture in many ways, was a little surprising to me. Yes, I feel a little shitty about that; it’s sort of like a white person realizing “Hey, those black people are real people, too!”

  15. methuseus says

    @WMDKitty — Survivor:
    I hope my comment doesn’t come off as ablesplaining. I thought your and kubo’s comments were perfectly fine, but wanted to give some context for people like zibble to be able to understand that, yes, things are a spectrum and there is much more to it than just “feeling” the music. I’m in that weird place where I’m not quite on the disabled side of the hearing spectrum (I can carry on conversations with many people in quieter settings, though background noise makes this hard in other settings), but I definitely will be some day.

  16. says

    @methuseus — nah, you’re one of us. A bit more abled than some, but still…

    I need to learn ASL for the times when I’m non-verbal (happens when I’m overtired or overloaded).

    All this reminds me of the push for accessible transit. The reaction from abled people was largely, “But cripples don’t ride the buses, why make this accessible?”

    The answer, of course, was that PWD weren’t using transit because of the lack of accessibility!

    Sure, most places have a Paratransit program where you can schedule a ride on what is, essentially, the grown-up short-bus. But Paratransit, in my experience, is inadequate. They don’t serve some areas of town. They don’t go out into the county. You can only schedule rides for certain areas on certain days (for those slightly-outside-town-but-not-quite-out-in-the-county). They’re constantly late for pick-ups. They expect you to tolerate said lateness and just be glad they showed up, while refusing you a ride if you’re not right there on the sidewalk waiting for them. It’s below freezing, you say? It’s raining? No ride for you if you wait indoors.

    The regular buses now have lifts and wheelchair bays, which is great! But now we have the problem of entitled parents wanting to use the bays for their oversized strollers*, and refusing to move for paying customers. Even though the rules clearly state that strollers MUST be collapsed and stored under a seat. Even though the rules explicitly state that those spaces are reserved for wheelchairs.

    Accessible loos have been taken over by baby change tables and paranoid parents who can’t bear to let their school-age children toilet independently.

    And the car park battles. I have the permit. I have a wheelchair. I legitimately need that space. But I constantly run into people who park there because, “I’ll only be a minute”, “nobody actually uses those spaces”, “it’s too far to walk [from other parts of the lot] with kids/a stroller”, and so forth.

    (…okay. Tangent much, Kitty? Focus. Focus!)

    Point is, literally EVERY accommodation made for the disabled is questioned. Endlessly. By people who, if they’re very lucky, will never need this or that accommodation. And when it’s an accommodation for wheelers, it’s taken over by able-bodied people, often parents, because it’s convenient for them.

    *When I say “oversized”, I’m talking about strollers as big as (or bigger than) my adult-sized motorised chair. They exist.

  17. clamboy says

    WMDKitty — Survivor @ 20 – again, if anything I wrote in any of my responses is incorrect, I want to know. But notice that you have equated Deaf with disabled, which for many Deaf people just doesn’t hold for their identities – in my experience, Deaf people in many countries identify as a cultural minority, NOT disabled. Many of the laws passed in the U.S., with the intent of securing rights and privileges for disabled people, have actually had net negative effects for Deaf people.
    As I said above, the problem here is with the original post and its exotifying of ASL and Deaf people, and its erasure of Deaf people as the models of ASL.

  18. lucifersbike says

    As a spoken language interpreter, I can only kneel in homage to Holly Maniatty. She’s wonderful.

  19. methuseus says

    @WMDKitty — Survivor #23-24:
    No need to apologize for the rant. clamboy is both minimizing and maximizing disabilities, blowing them out of proportion and dismissing them at the same time. It’s quite a feat, and it inspires rage in most people who know better. I won’t claim to understand any community I am not a part of, but I really don’t think anyone in the Deaf community would appreciate what clamboy is doing, though their heart is sort of in the right place.

    @clamboy #25:

    As I said above, the problem here is with the original post and its exotifying of ASL and Deaf people, and its erasure of Deaf people as the models of ASL.

    If you actually read, what PZ said was that maybe we should all learn ASL and be that expressive. He said nothing about the interpreter being hearing or not. How, pray tell, would a Deaf ASL interpreter be able to interpret a speaker? I have a feeling that Holly Maniatty is welcomed in the Deaf community. To minimize her efforts to bring another facet of life to the Deaf community is doing them a great disservice. Those who are disabled in other ways, or differently-abled, or however you want to talk about it, rely on those with other abilities to help them out from time to time.

    Yes, you are advocating for the fact that there is a Deaf community that sees these things different from others. No, PZ was not denigrating that community in any way. The Deaf community appreciates ASL interpreters. You seem to be saying that the Deaf community needs nobody who is hearing. Yes, Deaf art is impressive and inspiring on it’s own. This post is about and ASL interpreter helping deaf people experience artwork from outside the Deaf community.

    You really need to check your privilege, clamboy.

  20. says

    clamboy — Deafness is a disability under federal law, tho, meaning you’re also entitled to reasonable accommodations for your disability. And I, for one, am pretty much fighting for ALL of us under the “disability” label.

    I agree that many disabilities are little more than different ways of being and doing things, and the “impairments” are more social than physical.

    The problem isn’t that I’m on wheels. The problem is that society has decided that stairs are the standard.

    The problem isn’t Snoop providing an interpreter (and much love to him for that!). The problem is that hearing society has decided that Deaf people “can’t” enjoy music.

    Get where I’m going?

  21. clamboy says

    WMDKitty — Survivor –
    Thank you for your reply. You are right about deafness being a disability under law. And you are so so right about disability being something that is imposed upon a person, and not inherent in the person themself. I believe that the framing of the issue of disability must be on the social construction aspect, not on the individual and their body. In terms of interpreters at music performances, I attempted to explain above to zibble why that is, as they say, a thing.
    However, members of the Deaf culture/community may well insist on an additional framing, that of a cultural and linguistic minority. If you don’t mind, here is an example I witnessed: on the campus of the University of Washington, Seattle, there was established a Q Center some years ago, its aim to be a place of safety/community/expression, etc., for LGBTQ people on campus. Disabled students, faculty, and staff resolved to establish a similar Center, and reached out to Deaf faculty, asking for their endorsement and cooperation. These Deaf faculty demurred a little, explaining their identification as, like I say above, members of a culture, not as disabled people. The end result was the establishment of the Disability and Deaf Cultural Center, aka the D Center. This was a recognition of the overlapping interests of members of both communities, as well as their divergence. For what it is worth, I have other historical examples of Deaf people disassociating themselves from disabled people in much more dramatic, even quite disturbing, ways.
    methuseus @ 27 – you say the following, “How, pray tell, would a Deaf ASL interpreter be able to interpret a speaker?” I don’t know your background, but you appear to be ignorant (in the most neutral sense) of the work of ASL interpreters. If you look on YouTube, you will find an interview with a Deaf interpreter who interpreted the mayor of NYC when he was giving a statement on Ebola. This interpreter was even accused of faking! But tell you what, here’s the story about him, so you don’t have to go looking (with English interpretation for the signing-impaired, smile):
    Now, I have no idea what you mean by saying I should check my privilege when I say that, as a non-Deaf person, I think our language models of ASL should be native Deaf people who use ASL as their primary language.

  22. clamboy says

    And to methuseus – did you decide to simply ignore the video I posted with explanation at comment #12? This isn’t one of those Pharyngula threads that extends for page after page, much as I love them.

  23. methuseus says

    @clamboy #29:
    I watched that video, and, I’m sure the CDI was a better choice for the Ebola conference, or, really, any spoken word interpretation. I, personally, see the benefit to having a hearing person interpreting a musical performance, however, because of the difference in source material. I would like to find a Deaf person’s perspective on this, as Deaf people seem to enjoy Holly’s work. Yes, you seem to be advocating for the Deaf community, but you come across as the asshole who treats them as “special” that they rail against in their books and films. Again, since you are not Deaf, please stop trying to speak for them.
    As for the video, they state that interpreters for spoken languages generally translate from their second language to their first, which is not necessarily the norm. There are plenty of examples of two-way translation with one individual translating in both directions. That necessarily means they are only translating into their first language half of the time. There is also the fact that CDI requires a two-step translation which might not work for musical performances. You are not a CDI, so you cannot tell me that I am wrong on this. I am not saying I’m right. I am asking for you to point me to something where Deaf society states that CDI is better for musical performances.

    Again, nobody is trying to minimize Deaf culture. This is merely a post saying “hey, that’s nice that there’s an ASL interpreter. She looks really expressive.” It’s not saying “hey look, now deaf people can enjoy music”.You seem to be saying “Hey, Deaf people don’t need any stinking Hearing people to help them.” Deaf people won’t even say that. Otherwise they wouldn’t lobby for closed captioning or other things that, necessarily, require Hearing people to assist with on some level.

  24. methuseus says

    No, I didn’t ignore that video. I also take issue with saying the announcer preferred the hearing community in any way. the ASL was mentioned first, and the 8th grader was barely named. I know the Interpreter’s name (Jeremy) better than the girl’s name. Yes, it was an addition. Unless you have Deaf basketball leagues with no traditional singing or anything like that, you will have a blended experience. This is a good thing.
    I also contend that a scripted performance like that, which is basically always the same with very minor timing tweaks is different than a major stage show from a talented musician. For the Star-Spangled Banner, the words never change and are always in the same order. Live musicians, especially hip hop or rap, change things up often. This makes things more difficult, and are also why people love these live performances rather than just listening to the CDs.

  25. Matt Cramp says

    you’d think a thread about enjoying and supporting accessibility would not involve people attacking each other for being insufficiently woke

  26. blf says

    Matt Cramp@33, In a more ideal world, yeah, I broadly concur. This is not, of course, an ideal world, and on the general topic, the behaviours of far too many people really needs some work. As WMDKitty@20 wrote, “Because [most† –blf] able bodied folks still don’t see the disabled as actual people.” That matches up quite well with my own observations and experiences.‡ It’s an amazing, ah, blind spot.

    Here’s a related recent article touching on this (and other) problems, Yes, I make fun of Dad’s dementia — and he’d be delighted if he knew why.

      † The added qualifier “most” is mine, since otherwise the statement can be construed as too sweeping — an implicit “all” — but I wouldn’t object to the qualifier being “almost all” or similar.

      ‡ My own pet peeve is people thinking the occasional facility — access ramps, assorted audio equipment in theatres and street crossings, and so on — are sufficient (with an implied not much else is necessary), or, much much worse, not actually needed for reasons.

  27. Friendly says

    Judi Miller has been doing marvelous “performance ASL” in the filk community for years. Do a search on “Judi Miller ASL” on YouTube for some great examples.