Saturday, February 21, 2015

The acclaim given to sign language interpreters

The Limping Chicken has today published a post titled 'Are Interpreters like #SignGuy, who sign during public emergencies, going viral for the right reasons?'.

The article goes on to discuss the hearing population's reactions to sign language interpreters they deem as particularly animated and amusing, and the reasons why the signing might be so expressive.  Please go read it.  There are linguistic reasons why some signing is bigger, more animated and larger than life, I guess.

I got to thinking whether hearing people would be so interested in a Deaf person's signing.  Would a Deaf person on telly get the same sort of social media fans, would they get a hashtag dedicated to them.  In my experience, hearing people, unless they are involved in the Deaf community and or learning BSL, have a special sort of admiration for Interpreters that they don't have interpreters or translators of other languages.  Part of this is the obvious beauty of BSL, when a language is visual it's easier to appreciate than a spoken language (or is that just me?).  But hearing people seem to have special credence and admiration for sign language terps, beyond the visual nature of it.

I think it's driven by the pretty low awareness people have of sign languages, so when they do pay attention they are impressed, and then they think a sign language is either really hard or really easy to learn, in a way they don't apply to spoken languages.  You'll see loads of people claiming that they can understand interpreters on the telly.  Unless you've studied the language you can't.  People don't do this with French or Japanese.

Then people seem to think that BSL Interpreters are performing a selfless act.  They think of the profession and skills as being really rewarding.  I used to volunteer in the local Deaf Centre's cafe.  I had someone tell me that must be really rewarding.  Erm, I served teas and coffee??  That's not rewarding.  I volunteered because it was a good break from my regular job and I really enjoyed the social side of it.  I liked chatting with the regulars.  I got far more from them than they got from me, not least because I can make really bad cups of tea and it took me months to remember the sign for kit-kat.

Some people can't see that interpreters get satisfaction from just doing a job well.  They don't see the intricacies of the job, or the difficulties, or the hard situations a terp might be places into.  They don't consider the pleasure in finding accurate interpretations for complex concepts.

So because of this they don't regard interpreting as a real job.  Yet when faced with an actual Deaf person who used BSL they'd be completely stuck and they wouldn't know what to do.  They'd feel awkward.  They wouldn't know how to speak to them.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this or how logical it is.  I think I'm just a bit put out that despite some peoples interest in BSL they wouldn't think to learn it or think of Deaf people as normal people.

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