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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Toward a Deaf Translation Norm

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The level of cultural information (expressing an intention) that can be included in a translation may depend upon which culture the T/Is come from. It also depends upon the skill of the individual T/Is to be able to identify and incorporate such information. Directionality acknowledges that T/Is are able to work in different directions, but naturalness is something I compare against native (linguistic and cultural) intuitions. Some of the judgments on intentionality and cultural relevance could differ depending on whether one is working in one’s mother tongue, irrespective of whether these decisions affect comprehensibility.

The T/Is in this research are either Deaf / Deaf (hearing) with their first language (L1) as BSL and second language (L2) English; or hearing with L1 English and L2 BSL. They all work in television, some of the Deaf T/Is also work in Web cast news, Web, and DVD translation. A discussion of their level of expertise can be found in the methodology section. Factors three and four are relevant to the research design; directionality of rendering (L1 to L2, or L2 to L1) is one of the principal factors being researched and can be explored by examining the translation ideology the Deaf T/Is discuss in interviews and the manifestations of this ideology in the TL.

The spectrum of texts is limited to broadcast news; this information-giving medium enables an analysis of how the T/Is situate themselves: either as passive conduits or active and empowered agents within television interpreting. Some of the data may be prepared translation by the T/Is from a script. Other pieces of data will have T/Is interpreting, that is, rendering unseen information they have had no time to prepare.

By examining the TL product and its blinking phenomena, and the process the T/Is undertake creating the TL, their preparedness can be seen. The level of preparedness shows the degree to which the T/Is give themselves the agency to construct an optimally relevant TL. Optimal relevance is achieved by expressing the communicative intent the T/Is perceive is being made manifest in the SL in a culturally appropriate way in the TL.


One of the central themes of both translation and interpreting is equivalence, both in terms of its conception and realization in the TL vis-à-vis the SL and/or vice-versa. As seen earlier (refer to fig. 1.1), equivalence can be judged as something orientated toward the SL or toward the TL. Equivalence can also be seen to be solely linguistic, or pragmatic, or cultural—or a combination of all of these. Generally the term “‘formal equivalence’” is used when a specific feature present in the SL is also present in the TL, and “functional equivalence” describes when there exists some difference between the SL and TL, but the translation functions in the same way as the SL (Pöchhacker 2004, 141). For example,

SL He put his hands in his pockets

TL Il a mis les mains dans ses poches

        b                     a
In TL a, the translation is word for word (exemplifying formal equivalence), while in TL b the third person possessive his/son is changed to the plural definite article the/les (exemplifying functional equivalence). In French this functions in this context in the same way as the English SL, since the possessive ses mains would only be used if he put his hands in someone else’s pockets!

Shlesinger (1995, 195) notes, “formal equivalence is (essentially a matching of surface forms commonly referred to as ‘literal translation’),” as opposed to “functional equivalence (essentially a matching of the ways in which the text will be used and understood).” This is also a theme Napier (2001) examines with sign language interpreters, using the terms “literal” and “free” interpretation, although these can be understood to mean the same as formal and functional equivalence. That is not to say that in some instances languages present things in the same way and so a surface-form translation fulfills a functional equivalence. The aim of this research is to use all three criteria of equivalence, linguistic, pragmatic and cultural, as defined by the Deaf T/Is through ethnographic interviews, to explore a Deaf translation norm from their perspective.

Ruuskanen (1996) provides a useful way of conceptualizing functional equivalence. She examines translators’ construction of their audience, which she calls “the pragmatic other.” In her analysis, translators construct their notion of equivalence by imagining who their audience will be. Ruuskanen discusses the preparation of a TL text within the context of the commission one is given. If the SL is a piece of technical language intended for medical doctors, the translators would construct their pragmatic other including that knowledge. The equivalence would then be judged by whether the technical text is understood and seen as appropriate by the medical doctors. If the same technical text is translated for a lay audience, the pragmatic other would be different, and as such the TL would be different. If the audience sees the text as appropriate for the context, it will have achieved equivalence even though the TL is different from that of the medical doctors.

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