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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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International Perspectives on Sign Language Interpreter Education

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study classes, and organized sporting groups and annual camps; creating places and events where deaf people could meet. This social infrastructure supported further growth of the Deaf community and, indirectly, Fiji Sign Language (FJSL). It was also a vehicle for the expanded formal usage of ASE in Fiji. Harland offered to teach Bible classes at the Hilton Special School (formerly the Suva Crippled Children’s School). She recalls that she was specifically asked to use only ASE, and not the “deaf way of signing” (Harland, 2007).

Harland’s contacts with the American-based Christian Mission for the Deaf located Matthew Adedeji from Nigeria, who came to Fiji from 1997 to 2000. He worked with the CFD, leading Bible classes, preaching, and evangelizing. On his arrival in Fiji, Adedeji was using Nigerian Sign Language (NSI). Due to earlier American missionary influences in Nigeria, NSI derives from a blend of American Signed Exact English (SEE) and American Sign Language (ASL), with local Nigerian and Ghanaian signs. Adedeji then had to learn both ASE and what was then a nascent FJSL.

Seeing Fiji delegates at the World Federation of the Deaf Congress in Madrid in 2007, Adedeji noted the more localized form of FJSL that has emerged even in the 7 years since he left Fiji (Adedeji, 2007). As with the evolution of signed languages generally, once the framework of a Deaf community in Fiji started to form, the development of FJSL escalated.

Interpreting Roots

The first attempts at public interpreting began in the 1990s at the Gospel church in Suva. Harland acted as the interpreter in regular services, speechreading the pastor’s English, and passing the message on in ASE. At that time, interpreters sat alongside the deaf members of the congregation, rather than standing adjacent to the speaker, as is now the norm. The practice of deaf people interpreting for other deaf people is common in many Deaf communities, and provided the platform on which the emergent profession of deaf relay interpreting is based (Forestal, 2005).

When Adedeji arrived, Harland was working with a local interpreter, Tina Mareko, in a voluntary capacity for the church. Adedeji observed that both Harland and Mareko used ASE when they signed, and that less than half of the message was understood by the deaf audience (Adedeji, 2007). Although he did not have the job of training interpreters, he urged the interpreters to use whatever it took to get the message across to deaf people and to go beyond the limits of ASE.

In the late 1990s, Adedeji was instrumental in setting up the Gospel School for the Deaf and in 1999 another Nigerian deaf man, Wale Alade, was recruited as head teacher of the school. Alade arrived with his hearing wife, Modupe Alade, who also acted as his interpreter. He had become deaf at fifteen, was university educated, and fluent in NSI, SEE, and written and spoken English. When he first arrived in Fiji, he noted that:

What I saw then was the imposition of Signed Exact English (SEE) rather than the evolution of NATURAL SIGN language. But a closer look then also revealed a dichotomy within the Deaf community itself in which the more able imposed strict rules to the rest on how they should sign. So we have a sort of “assumed” hierarchy of language competence and language use even among the deaf. My view was, the less educated expressed themselves more fluently in their natural (broke, broke language) deaf language, than the more educated who embodied the SEE rigid structure of expressing themselves. (Alade, 2007)
Despite Alade’s insights, and his encouragement to break away from English syntax in signing, signed English forms were then, and still are, widely considered to be “proper” signing by deaf people, teachers of the deaf, and interpreters in Fiji. FJSL is still called “broke broke English” by many deaf people, and has not been fully accepted as a legitimate public communication form because it is regarded as a manual version of Fiji English, also perceived as inferior in the wider community.[1] Ironically, Alade’s own interpreting needs reinforced this view of FJSL inferiority. His bilingual competence allowed him to follow signed transliterations of spoken English, which then became a model for interpreting practice:
I preferred simultaneous interpreting in order for me to trail the thought flow of the speaker and in some situations to use similar technical language in my reponse. I felt my position and status in some situations needed to be acknowledged. And for these reasons I needed a literal interpretation. (Alade, 2007)
During Alade’s stay in Fiji, he was the main client for all interpreting work, so deaf people and interpreters assumed that his preferred signing mode was appropriate for all interpreting situations. The practice of interpreting for Alade in the literal, simultaneous manner was inadvertently carried over into all interpreting practice after he left in 2003.

1. Since the recent publication of The Macquarie Dictionary of English for the Fiji Islands (Mugler, Geraghty, & Tent, 2006), the written form of Fiji English has been legitimized. Recognition of Fiji Hindi as it is spoken and written by the Indians who live in Fiji remains an ongoing process.
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