What interpreters can learn from HTML

What could HyperText Markup Language (HTML) possibly have to teach interpreters? I learned HTML in the nineties, and I made the connection to interpreting the other day when I watched a colleague’s interpretation. The English sentence she interpreted was:

Also you can take them to a consignment shop, which– they’ll buy your clothes, which gives you a little extra money.

My colleague’s ASL interpretation was:


Notice that my colleague prefaced “consignment shop” with “what’s called” and she changed “which…” to “which means” (I’m back-translating so you get the idea). She effectively marked her terms so that when the listener saw “called,” they would know what came next was a term, and when they saw “which means,” they would know what came next was a definition. This reminded me of a Definition List (DL) in HTML. Just like all elements in HTML, a DL has beginning and ending “tags” that mark the language in the container as having a semantic value, or being a certain “kind” of information; in other words, they give context to content. A DL is a list of Definition Term (DT) — Definition Description (DD) pairs. This site’s Interpreting Glossary is an example. This is the HTML code:

<dl><dt>ASL</dt>(Pronounced “A-S-L.”) American Sign Language, the signed language used by deaf and hard-of-hearing people throughout North America,with the exception of Quebec.<dt>CDI</dt><dd>Certified Deaf Interpreter</dd></dl>

And this is how your browser renders it:

(Pronounced “A-S-L.”) American Sign Language, the signed language used by deaf and hard-of-hearing people throughout North America, with the exception of Quebec.
Certified Deaf Interpreter

The opening tags in angled brackets and the closing tags in angled brackets with a slash show the beginning and end of each element. Marked-up language also shows the boundaries of semantic values; it contains discourse markers, sentence boundaries, and transitional phrases. Marked-up language helps the listener to parse the information, just as HTML helps a Web browser to parse the language on a Web page; it cues the listener to the genre so they can place it in a schema; in other words, it gives context to content. My colleague marked up her language just like HTML! I have never heard anyone compare interpreting to HTML before, but the idea of semantic markup in interpreting/translation is not new. I remember my mentor, Jean Kelly, taught me to preface a number with what it stands for such as ADDRESS / PHONE NUMBER / COST, etc. I am calling it semantic markup or data tagging for now, but I would love to know if there’s already a term for it. How about you? Do you appreciate semantic markup in interpretation/translation? Do you think interpreters can learn anything from HTML? As usual, all stakeholders are encouraged to comment, be they clients or practitioners, hearing or deaf, and whether they interpret, transliterate, or translate in spoken and/or signed languages. [1] About ASL notation Words in ALL CAPS are English glosses of ASL signs, H-Y-P-H-E-N-A-T-E-D words are fingerspelled, and lowercase words are meanings embedded within the three-dimensionality of signs, such as the directionality that creates pronomialization and dative case in “I-to-them” and “Them-to-me.” This is not the only way to notate ASL, but it is what I’m using here.



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4 responses to “What interpreters can learn from HTML”

  1. Digital interpreter « Stiod – Stupid Ideas of the day Avatar

    […] What interpreters can learn from HTML (terptrans.com) […]


  2. Machfudz Avatar

    hmmm… I just learn about HTML.. hoho


  3. aldo Avatar

    what I noticed is that your bio says “he is married with dogs”….. talk about a phrase that could be interpreted in various ways…


    1. Daniel Greene Avatar

      I know, Aldo. I’ve thought about changing that, but I wrote it as a play on the phrase “married with children.” No one thinks “married with children” means married “to” children. Since we don’t have children, our dogs are like our “children,” so I am “married with dogs.” Hey, it’s a conversation starter! 🙂


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