Sign Language Interpretation

I am watching Mayor Bloomberg’s live hurricane emergency press conference right now. He is speaking monotonically and with a very flat affect in explaining mandatory evacuation from “Zone 1” low-lying waterfront areas of the City. In contrast, the sign language interpreter next to him is signing extremely dramatically and using strong facial expressions to add a lot of well-justified emphasis to his exhortations.


  1. rq says

    As a child I was always impressed with how much emotion my uncle put into simple, every-day conversations. He is deaf; sign language is extremely expressive.

  2. N. B. Day says

    That’s just the way ASL works. Much meaning is conveyed by facial expression and body language (outside of the arms, hands and fingers). Hearing people learning ASL have to be coached to not do it as if they were doing charades, but as if they were being Lassie trying to show that little Timmy is down the well again, and that’s just for ordinary stuff like “what I had for breakfast.”

  3. says

    Interesting. It sure looked to me like she was all like, “You fucken fuckers better get the fucken fucke out of there, or you’re all gonna fucken drown and don’t say we didn’t fucken warn you!!!11!!LELEBNYY!1!1!”

  4. says

    I went to see Biden speak (my friend gave me a free ticket) and I was transfixed on the interpreter for this reason.

    Have you ever seen a group of drunk deaf people have an argument? I have. For those who aren’t accustomed to that level of non-verbal expression…well, it was pretty terrifying.

  5. catsto says

    Deaf myself, one question I tend to get from hearing people is “how you know a deaf person is angry when they can’t talk?”


  6. says

    I just saw part of the clip you mention. Don’t call 911. Stay where you are! Don’t call about downed trees. Stay off the streets! Hey, get off the 911 line! Yes, I mean you.

  7. says

    Audio languages — those that you hear — rely very heavily on intonation to convey meaning. Non-audio languages must use some other way to convey that meaning. With online non-audio communications, one uses emoticons; in most gestural languages like ASL, one uses facial expression and the “tone” of the gesture. For example, in ASL, the sign for “hunger” is made using a cupping gesture at the throat, like you were massaging your esophagus. Make that same sign with a leer, however, and you are saying that sex.

    I didn’t see the presser, but I suspect that the interpreter was using firm gestures and a taut expression to convey seriousness and emphasis.

  8. clamboy says

    I watched the first several minutes of the video, and that is most definitely NOT “extremely dramatic” signing (disclosure: I am an interpreter myself). As others have pointed out, the grammar of ASL is not confined to the hands, but includes quite a lot of what are called non-manual grammatical signals.

    Another aspect of this that ought to be mentioned is the role of an interpreter, which is to provide true message equivalence. This interpreter did a great job of matching the mayor’s affect, but also the *intent* of what he was saying. He was laying down some heavy shit there, even though his intonation was low-key; she recognized that and styled her interpretation appropriately. So, yeah, to those unfamiliar with ASL and interpreting, it may look pretty wild, but she did her job well.

  9. eoraptor013 says

    As the (hearing) child of deaf parents, I was going to jump in here with all my expertise and experience. But, the real experts beat me to it…

    What I will say is that the signs, without the body-language and facial expressions, are almost unintelligible. While the uninitiated might think otherwise, it is very difficult to eavesdrop on an ASL conversation from across a room.

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