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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Language and the Law in Deaf Communities

Ceil Lucas, Editor

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Read reviews: Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, The Sign Language Translator and Interpreter.

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The Ninth Volume in the Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities Series

From The Sign Language Translator and Interpreter, cont’d.

       Hoopes presents us with a case study where a Deaf defendant signed a waiver form after an ‘interpretation’ (my quotation marks) of the Miranda warning by a police officer and a consequent interrogation. The police officer in question “had completed less than ten weeks of a beginning sign language class” (p. 47). Considering that lonely column of zeros from the beginners’ ratings in the research formerly presented, displaying the complete absence of syntactical information, it is almost depressing that this is allowed to happen. Anecdotally, and from literature on sign language interpreting, we know that this happens in many jurisdictions.

       Throughout this chapter, this reader couldn’t help wondering how in many other jurisdictions where similar cautions exist and the concept of ‘rights’ isn’t in such common parlance as in the United States (e.g. the right to bear arms, the right to remain silent), there is possibly much more of a risk of misunderstanding. The caveat poses difficulty on a linguistic level for interpretation purposes and probably more for those deaf people who are on the periphery of any given Deaf community and have far more dalliances with the Legal system. This issue is not addressed in this chapter, however it is considered in Sarah S. Geer’s investigations into legal language (p. 84):

For example, the concept of a legal right to remain silent can be elusive to an ASL user, depending on whether the term right is rendered as a legal right (strong, mandatory term), as alright (a weak, permissive term) or as correct (an inappropriate term in this context). Each of these meanings has a great significance for the behaviour of a deaf person accused of a crime. Depending on how the suspect reacts to the Miranda warnings, his or her defence to a criminal charge may be either compromised or strengthened.

       In their paper ‘Court Interpreting for Signing Jurors: Just Transmitting or Interpreting?’, Susan Mather and Robert Mather consider a range of issues around the function of interpreting in the courtroom, more specifically for Deaf jurors. They attempt to break what will be a familiar old chestnut to many interpreters — the distinction between transliteration and translation, or interpretation. More importantly, they raise the all-pervasive assumption by the legal system that the written and spoken word is paramount. Brennan and Brown (1997) have previously discussed how Deaf people are often viewed as having ‘no language’ which, they suggest, puts them at the bottom of the linguistic heap. They support this claim and promote further reflection by quoting a prosecution barrister in a case involving Deaf people: “They could speak if they understood the concept of language” (Reed et al., 1995, cited in Brennan and Brown 1997:127).

       Mather and Mather start by describing the legal context for access to the courts in the United States, focusing intensely on Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although their explanation of the legislative background and case law is very necessary, Mather and Mather seem to fall short on providing a detailed schedule of recommendations. By their own admission in their introduction (p. 60),

These issues have been addressed at some length in the professional literature and in a few reported cases. Yet, they have not been completely resolved. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the results of our review of the case law and literature and make suggestions for courts to effectively cope with these issues, that is how to ensure the accuracy of court interpretation in sign language.
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Ceil Lucas Professor Emerita of Linguistics at Gallaudet University.

ISBN 978-1-56368-317-6, ISSN 1080-5494, 240 pages, tables, references, index

$69.95 e-book

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