Why I don’t tell people I’m a sign language interpreter

Instead of telling them I’m a sign language interpreter, I like to screw with people’s heads. I love to see whether they react differently to “interpreter” as opposed to “sign language interpreter” or “interpreter for the Deaf.” When I tell people I’m an interpreter, they inevitable ask what language. I can then say, “Sign language, American Sign Language” (like “Bond, James Bond”). When I ever-so-debonairly stress “American,” they usually ask, “Oh, isn’t sign language universal?” And BAM, that’s when I tell them it’s not!

This impresses upon them that:

1. An interpreter is an interpreter,
2. A signed language is a language, and
3. American Sign Language is not the only signed language.

What’s in a name? Oh so much.






3 responses to “Why I don’t tell people I’m a sign language interpreter”

  1. Bimodal interpreters, not just sign language interpreters | Daniel Greene Avatar

    […] to call myself an interpreter first, and an ASL/English interpreter second. I might even slip and call myself a sign language interpreter if I am careless. However, when talking about our work vis-à-vis the work of interpreters who […]


  2. The stigma of “signer” upon ASL-English interpreters | Daniel Greene's TerpTrans Avatar

    […] am an “interpreter” by introducing myself as an “interpreter,” not a “sign language interpreter.” I want them to perceive me and treat me just as they would a spoken-spoken language […]


  3. Natalie Williams (@nataliewms) Avatar

    I was JUST talking about the same thing with another interpreter. Maybe I’m biased, but I think this is totally the way to go! Sneak in some education when you can. ;o)


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