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Toward a Deaf Translation Norm

Christopher Stone

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Read reviews: The Midwest Book Review, Interpreting, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.

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The Sixth Volume in the Studies in Interpretation Series

From Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

The Broadcasting Act of 1996 in the United Kingdom led to mainstream television programming being made accessible to Deaf viewers through British Sign Language (BSL) translation and English subtitles. Both deaf and hearing interpreters/translators (T/Is) have been employed to do this work. This sixth volume in the Studies in Interpretation Series addresses whether the work of deaf interpreters (T/Is) of BSL rendering broadcast news on British television is leading to the establishment of a deaf translation norm. It is based on translation/interpreting theories, as well as relevance theory and Deafhood-informed perspectives.

       The research examined how the deaf and hearing T/Is approached their translation work in the multimedia environment of news broadcasts. It identified a number of aspects including identity politics, fluency, and the engagement of the target audience, suggesting that a deaf translation norm has emerged in this context. Some of the differences, although not made explicit in the research, can be accounted for by how the task was approached by the deaf and hearing translators. Whereas deaf T/Is worked into their native language and used more features of a consecutive interpretation, hearing interpreters were interpreting into their second language and interpreted simultaneously.

       In terms of identity politics, role perceptions were viewed differently between the deaf and hearing T/Is. The deaf T/Is, all from multigenerational Deaf families and a collectivist culture, see their work as a performed translation; viewing the source text (read from auto cue) as an “information guide.” Their goal is to deliver a functionally equivalent interpretation with maximum relevance to the deaf audience. In fact, it appeared from comments made by the deaf T/Is that they did not want the “label” of interpreter used to describe their work because they see their role coming from their status as a community “insider,” a role typically not played by a hearing T/I. Several stated that they did not want to follow “hearing” models of interpreting and questioned the appropriateness of hearing interpreters working in this venue when a deaf person could effectively do the work.

       Perhaps not surprisingly, the lexical choices of the deaf and hearing T/Is did not differ greatly. The predominant differences occurred with the use of prosody; blinking behaviors and head/body movements that create cohesion in discourse. Of particular interest to this reviewer was the variation in the use of pragmatic shifts, enrichments and impoverishments used in the translation.

       The last major difference involved the T/Is attempts to engage their target audience. Deaf T/Is were highly cognizant of their target audience with the goal of delivering a culturally relevant message while minimizing the cognitive efforts of the deaf audience in comprehending it. Hearing T/I were less aware of the need to modify their interpretations based on audience needs and did not adjust their register nor “domesticate the target language in the same way as the Deaf T/Is” (p. 134).

       Clearly, these results will be of great interest to interpreter educators and deaf interpreters. The use of deaf T/Is in the United Kingdom is different than the use of Certified Deaf Interpreters in the United States. However, this research has implications for further research on how deaf interpreters approach the task of interpreting and how their work can inform the work of hearing interpreters. This book is a challenging but worthwhile read.

Christopher Stone is an associate professor in the Department of Interpretation at Gallaudet University.

Print Edition: ISBN 978-1-56368-418-0, ISSN 1545-7613, 6 x 9 casebound, 216 pages, 16 tables, 25 figures

$75.00s

E-Book: ISBN 978-1-56368-442-5

$75.00

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