Poetic License in Interpreting

In my search for blog posts about ASL interpreting, I found this interesting post regarding poetry, interpretation in general, and the poetic license visible in ASL interpreting:

Reading Finnish Rhapsody in particular reminded me of watching a live sign-language interpreter while listening to a live speech. I experienced this while at a convention when one of the ASL interpreters was often more dynamic than the speaker in her communication. I do not know ASL and I was listening to the speaker, however I found that the way in which the interpreter communicated was much clearer on an emotional level. And even though she was obviously quite skilled, I was pretty certain she didn’t interpret the speech word-for-word.

Even though interpreters are charged with “render[ing] the message faithfully by conveying the content and spirit of what is being communicated,” (RID Code of Professional Conduct Section 2.3), sometimes an ASL interpretation is just more poetic and expressive than the English source message. Sometimes this is because there is an inherent passion in the words that is missing from the speaker’s facial expression and body language.

I remember one time interpreting for a reverend who was giving a sermon that had something to do with a “journey of a thousand miles and countless aeons.” When I conveyed the spatial and temporal aspects of the story by using intense facial grammar and gestural grammar that involved repetitive and circular motions, my deaf client said, “Sign Smaller!” I suppose she was embarrassed, fearing that I was calling attention to myself, and by association, to her. I didn’t argue with her, but in my defense, I was interpreting an “epic” tale, and I believe that my ASL facial and gestural grammar was appropriate to the story. If it seemed grander than the story the speaker was telling, perhaps it was only because the speaker’s subtle affect did not betray the grandeur of the message, but ASL, being a visual language, simply made the imaginary more visible.

On the other hand, it could be argued that I was enjoying myself a bit too much and getting carried away with the story, in which case, allow me to pull out my wallet and show you my poetic license! Just kidding.😉 In addition to interpreting faithfully and conveying content and spirit, interpreters must “conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific interpreting situation” (RID Code of Professional Conduct, Section 3.0). It just goes to show what a fine balancing act interpreting really is. And who knows? What was too much for this one client might have been just right for another client. Go know!

I also found a new blog out there. Welcome to the blogosphere, Erica! Her first post is a paper on what it takes to become an ASL interpreter.

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

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