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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Signed Language Interpreting in Brazil

Ronice Müller de Quadros, Earl Fleetwood, and Melanie Metzger, Editors

Chapter Six
Gender and Sign Language Interpretation

Silvana Nicoloso and Viviane Maria Heberle

Research on gender within the perspectives of cultural studies and/or translation studies has contributed to the broad discussion of how language reveals one’s identity, cultural values, and beliefs. Considering the issues of gender equality and professional development, this chapter presents research on gender traits in the simultaneous interpretation of Brazilian Sign Language (BSL).

Traditionally, interpretation is recognized as a linguistic and communicative manifestation of a specific social, historical, and cultural discursive event. Aspects such as neutrality and impartiality (within the translator/interpreter’s code of ethics), for instance, refer to the content, the message in the discursive event, and not to the translator’s performance, which conveys issues of gender and new kinds of expectations (Nicoloso, 2010).

Feminist translator Barbara Godard’s study on feminist literature shows that women’s publications have longer prefaces, more footnotes, and more appendices than do men’s (in Baumgartem, 2002; Campello, Hanciau & Santos, 2001). Thus, we decided to determine whether interpretation in BSL also conveys gender traits and influences discourse.

In Brazil, there is today little information on interpretation in sign language, especially in relation to the interpreters and their work. Thus, further investigation is needed so that, as professionals, interpreters may advance in terms of their social, legal, political, and educational development and also contribute with reflections on their performance.

It is well known that sign language interpreters interact in different environments and act as linguistic and cultural mediators between deaf and nondeaf communities. Cultural and social representations between men and women reverberate in the act of interpretation, and therefore they are also important factors to consider (Nicoloso, 2010).

In this chapter we first briefly discuss theoretical perspectives on translation and interpretation of sign language, aspects of gender, and modalities of translation and then discuss our study.


Nowadays translation and interpretation in sign language have become the object of study in different theoretical and converging perspectives within the humanities and social sciences, such as cultural studies, deaf studies, discourse analysis, and/or translation studies (e.g., Metzger & Bahan, 2001; Roy, 2000; Lima, 2006; Santos, 2006; Vieira, 2007; Nicoloso, 2010). These studies present a variety of concerns and emphasize the importance of the work of interpreters.

Cultural studies, as an interdisciplinary field that explores culture and society, including everyday cultural forms and social practices, “insists upon the constitutive role of culture in sustaining and changing the power relations enacted around issues of gender, sexuality, social class, race and ethnicity, colonialism and its legacies, and the geopolitics of space and place within globalization” (Lister & Wells, 2001, p. 62). As Lister and Wells (2001, p. 61) also point out, “Cultural studies centers on the study of the forms and practices of culture (not only its texts and artifacts), their relationships to social groups and the power relations between those groups as they are constructed and mediated by forms of culture.”

In terms of sign language translation and interpretation, cultural studies has contributed to the advancement of studies that investigate cultural spaces and relations of power in cultural processes, especially due to its nonadherence to preestablished cultural paradigms. From the perspective of cultural studies, all forms of culture are valued, and in terms of sign language translation and interpretation or within deaf studies, we can refer to analyses by Santos (2006), Lopes (2007), Rosa (2005), and Vieira (2007).

The environment in which the translator or interpreter works is replete with cultural and identity differences and relations of power; in other words, in such settings social relations between deaf and nondeaf individuals frequently occur and are mediated by the translator or interpreter. When translators or interpreters participate in the social interactions of deaf people with each other, they witness the Deaf community’s experiences and values. Very often they are influenced by and incorporate the deaf individuals’ worldviews and adapt their own views in terms of citizenship and professional development. There is, therefore, a demand related to the development of specific skills and strategies, mainly regarding visual attention, perception, and spatial orientation (Nicoloso, 2010).

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