In my first column, back in June 1998, I wrote about how we as sign language interpreters for the Deaf are also “spoken language interpreters for the Hearing.” I emphasized the importance of brushing up on our English so that we could do justice to our clients—both Deaf and Hearing—when we voice-interpret. But is English really all we speak when we voice-interpret? Consider the following scenario:
You are interpreting for a Deaf man who is teaching a Deaf Culture class about the origins of ASL and how it differs from signed languages of foreign countries. How many foreign words and names, from how many different countries, are you going to need to pronounce? How many different speech-sound systems, or phonologies, do you need to have at least a passing familiarity with in order to successfully complete this assignment? How many phonemes will you be able to “pull out of your hat”? (Phonemes are the smallest units of meaningful sound in a language, for example, the sounds “f” and “th” [IPA
Θ] which make the difference between “deaf” and “death”—a distinction I’m sure many of us wish more people understood!)
In the above scenario, I guarantee you’ll be pronouncing such venerated French names as Abbé de l’Epée, Jean Massieu, and Laurent Clerc, and such mouthfuls as
La Langue des Signes Quebecquoise. You may even have to pronounce words like
chercher which sound nothing like they are spelled (the French verb to search,
chercher, is pronounced SHARE-SHAY, with the phoneme “r” pronounced as though you were gargling). Then, of course, there are the Spanish names like Ponce de Leon (which is pronounced more like PONE-SAY DAY LAY-OWN than PONTZ DUH LEE-ON, and which is much easier to pronounce than common names like Jorge Villapeña, which contain at least ten (10!) special phonemes that are unlike English). On top of that, you may have to pronounce phonemes from Japan, Italy, China, Africa, Russia, and the Czech Republic! Maybe, just for kicks, this teacher watches a lot of Seinfeld, and he’ll throw in some Yiddish along the way. And you thought all you’d have to speak was English? Oy, were you wrong!
No, my friends and colleagues, the wonderful truth is that (more…)