In previous installments, I’ve written about the importance of matching the Deaf speaker’s mastery of language, vocabulary, and register, especially when it comes to our ability to produce spoken English that is worthy of that speaker’s signed language. In my last, somewhat “controversial,” column, I wrote about the dilemmas we must face as interpreters when Deaf speakers produce signed English that is “wrong” or “broken English,” (as many second language speakers do). I believe that some of the controversy really turns upon the issue of whether we are voice interpreting or voice transliterating. This article will examine more closely the process that we might use to determine whether a Deaf speaker is producing an ASL message that must be interpreted or a signed English message that must be transliterated.
I’d like to start off with the assertion that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Many of the sentences that Deaf people sign, either in ASL or some form of manually (and orally!) coded English, follow the same syntax as regular, spoken English sentences, and should be voiced exactly as they are signed. This means that we, as interpreters/transliterators, must constantly assess the speaker’s syntax and encoding system to ascertain whether each particular word, phrase, and sentence should be interpreted or transliterated. We must ask ourselves, “if I say exactly what they are signing (and mouthing), will the Hearing audience receive the same message as the Deaf speaker intended, or must I change the wording and/or phrasing in order to produce an equivalent message to the speaker’s intent?” My assertion is that, more often than some would have us believe, transliteration is the way to go. Continue reading